11/25/2014 04:44 pm ET Updated Jan 25, 2015

Inhale Love; Exhale Gratitude

Serg Myshkovsky via Getty Images

"It is through gratitude for the present moment that
the spiritual dimension of life opens up."
-Eckhart Tolle

Another step that awakens your spirit through adversity is gratitude.

The word "gratitude" comes from the root word gratus(Latin), which means pleasing. One interpretation of gratitude might be that when we are pleased with something or someone, we are grateful. If we look deeper within ourselves, we also might see that when we are feeling grateful, we are pleased with the world around us.

Gratitude reminds us to find our happiness in everything -- in exceptional things, in mundane things, in good things, in so-so things and even in terrible things.

Our aches and pains, our new grandchild's first smile, our moments of doubt and fear, our upbringing, what our teachers thought of us, what our friends think of us, what the state of our retirement plan is, our illness, aging, the process of dying, a phone call from an old friend -- all are part of an automatic feedback system directing us to pay attention.

We can be grateful in both large and small ways. When we are feeling thankful, we can be more receptive to making a difference in our world.

When our hearts are open, forgiveness and gratitude evolve simultaneously, each supporting and nurturing the other. Rather than focusing on the "what might have been more, better, or different," why not start being grateful for what you've chosen? In these moments, we find our blessings. And because of our blessings, we are grateful for our lives.

I believe that when people approach the end of their life and know they have only a short time left to live and no time to waste, they open up their hearts more profoundly, knowing they have less, not more, time to live. When I review my life and pay attention to the ways I might have studied a second language or had children or bought that water property in Florida, or my retirement, or traveled to Japan; I stop, slow down, remember who I am, and forgive myself, awakening to the depth of my compassion for myself.

Forgiveness takes on a life of its own. I now have a "bucket list" of what I want to accomplish before I pass on. Writing and completing my book, Wheelchair Wisdom before the end of the year was item #3 on that list!

I am so grateful to my spiritual teachers and my husband, Michael, who have supported me and encouraged me to look inward -- deeper and deeper, as I did my best to stay present and share this fantastic journey with you.

I am especially grateful to Michael, who unconditionally supports, believes in and loves me after 35 years of marriage, during most of which I have had Multiple Sclerosis. I know that when I take the time to be grateful, I become more loving, forgiving and respectful. When I am most grateful, I feel connected to the world and I can more easily look for only the good in all people and all events and leave the rest -- the responsibility of fixing the broken pieces -- to a higher power. It is only then that I can relax and truly cease to judge my own life.

I am also grateful for the simple action of using my thumbs, which I have always taken for granted; and which, in my present reality, I need to operate my electric scooter. I use my right thumb to accelerate my scooter (walk forward), and I use my left thumb to back up my scooter (walk backward). I am grateful for how my fingers grasp things and extend so I can type, or scratch my nose or even put on my lipstick and mascara.

I am grateful for my body. It never ceases to amaze me that my body produces and destroys blood cells every second, and that my heart needs only one minute to pump my blood through my network of cells and tissue and back again. It's been doing this minute by minute, day by day, for over 65 years. Obviously, this is a matter of life and death for me, but I have no idea how it works; and it seems to work remarkably well in spite of not knowing.

In January 2005, I was with my father in the last few days of his life, and I was reminded yet again that it is true that each of us has only a short time here on earth. Even though my dad was in a coma, I spoke to him. I shared with him everything that I always wanted to say -- how thankful I was that he gave me the opportunity to attend art school, how I stole quarters from the top drawer of his dresser when I was little, how he always believed in me and how he refereed the fights between my mother and me. My husband, Michael, is like my father in many ways; and for this, I am grateful for his kindness.

Gratitude is ultimately the work of the heart.

I am prepared. I do not fear death. With the calm, stillness and inner peace I have in my heart, I often wonder if I will have enough time to complete my life to the point where I can say at the end, "I am fulfilled." But whether I have enough time to attain that fulfillment or not, I am grateful for my life, the people in it, and the opportunities that have been presented to me. I know that whatever comes forward is timed perfectly.

I am grateful for the awareness to know that.

There are times when I must yank on my reins, stop and force myself to be reminded of my blessings. At such times, I look out my office window at the glorious fall foliage on the trees. I must force myself to slow down and enjoy a most glorious sunset. I remind myself to be silent and dwell only in the present moment, knowing it is the only moment there is. In the moment we find our blessings.

And with our blessings come our gratitude and contentment, which also exist in the present, with the self-love that naturally accompanies them.

Wishing you and yours a peaceful Thanksgiving,



Black Friday Special: My book, Wheelchair Wisdom, is now available on Amazon.

"...A book brimming with fearlessness, optimism, and a sense of possibility."
-Arianna Huffington, President and Editor-in-chief, The Huffington Post Media Group