Living Our Gratitude
In my book Joyful, Delicious, Vegan: Life Without Heart Disease, I tell the story of the loss of my mother, experiencing burnout at work, and beginning to show my own signs of hypertension nearly fourteen years ago. I went to a little health spa in the desert to create space for reflection and healing. The spa’s owner, Susana, who I describe in the book as the most energetic sixty-something year old I had ever seen, shared a health metaphor in one of the classes I attended. She described how our trillions of cells work tirelessly throughout our lifetime to keep us well. She talked about good health being given to us as a birthright, and then further described this as a gift of unconditional love. Because we can’t see this constant internal activity, which many scientists now describe as cellular intelligence, we don’t know how important it is, and we don’t appreciate it. Often, we undermine this gift of good health by the choices we make – the food we eat, poor self-care, and unhealthy lifestyle choices. With very basic knowledge about food and nutrition, we can literally feed our health or our illness.
I remember returning to my cabin that night, and after my evening meditation, I cried, literally sobbed, for what seemed like half an hour or so. I thought about how wrapped up I had been in my grief, the stresses at work, and how indifferent I had become to my own emotional and physical health. Susana’s words opened my eyes and heart to a different way of looking at my body and my health, and a new appreciation for this “unconditional love” that I never thought about at all and certainly not in the way that she described it. I began to feel a responsibility to support my own well-being, to return this love out of gratitude by learning which food and lifestyle choices either help or hinder my health and, most importantly, act on that knowledge. I thought about all the books, journals, articles, and studies I had read, which made it clear that drugs and medicine can’t cure disease; only the body can. To be sure, drugs are important, even critical, in some situations. However, they can only aid the body in its healing process.
The most profound shift for me as I look back was not the new information I was learning about the power of food and how natural good health can be; it was my attitude toward it. I had enjoyed good health most of my life, and now there was this tremendous feeling of gratitude, just as I was afraid my health was beginning to slip away. No matter how many bad food habits I had developed over the years, I now knew that my body was ready and able to respond to the changes I was learning how to make. And I was ready to make them out of sheer gratitude for my body’s patience and resilience!
A friend shared a video on social media recently entitled “Monk at the Airport.” An immigration officer asked the monk if he was married. He answered, “No, I’m a monk!” The officer then asked, “Don’t you think you are missing something?” The monk replied, “Of course I am – problems! He goes on to tell the officer that joking aside, he should never think that a monk has no problems, because we all do. “Nobody’s life is perfect, but we can choose to make our lives happier,” and then he said something that stuck with me. “It’s not the happy people who are thankful; it’s the thankful people who are happy.”
Gratitude keeps me joyful about the power of plant-based eating and a compassionate lifestyle. The monk in the airport story says that to express gratitude, it is easy to say thanks, harder to mean a thank you, and hardest to live a thank you. Many of us don’t realize how fortunate we are to have our health until we lose it. Living our thank you for our health means waking up every day and choosing out of love and gratitude to do the things for our bodies so that we live our thank you.