Gratitude

This week, my wishes for a happy day of Thanksgiving. The fourth Thursday of November is a day in that is loaded in meaning for the citizens of The United States. It is a time when family and friends come together to celebrate a mythical event in US history. The myth is a happy one; the reality is much more complex and the contradictions and controversy have been much discussed elsewhere. This is an important conversation, but is not my purpose here.

From the historical accounts that I have read, the giving of thanks was an Algonkian tradition with six thanksgiving festivals over the course of the year. Thanksgiving was integral to a people who were of the earth –truly embedded in nature.  Gratitude is a powerful force, and in the Buddhist tradition, in which I practice, gratitude is an essential component of the spiritual life, and a key to true happiness. In an interview with the Huffington Post, the Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield eloquently said of gratitude:

"If we see the world as sacred, which is an expression of the spiritual life, then gratitude follows immediately and naturally. We've been given the extraordinary privilege of incarnating as human beings -- and of course the human incarnation entails the 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows, as it says in the Tao Te Ching -- but with it we have the privilege of the lavender color at sunset, the taste of a tangerine in our mouth, and the almost unbearable beauty of life around us, along with its troubles. It keeps recreating itself. We can either be lost in a smaller state of consciousness -- what in Buddhist psychology is called the "body of fear," which brings suffering to us and to others -- or we can bring the quality of love and appreciation, which I would call gratitude, to life. With it comes a kind of trust. The poet Pablo Neruda writes, "You can pick all the flowers, but you can't stop the spring." Life keeps recreating itself and presenting us with miracles every day."

I can imagine that the Algonkian may have held a similar view, and that for these indigenous peoples the six yearly festivals of thanksgiving were a celebration of the world as sacred and the cyclical renewal of life. For me, gratitude is essential to happiness, and tomorrow, when I sit down with friends and family to a meal of abundance, I will think of the Algonkian, generously sharing their tradition with the European colonials; I will give thanks for how fortunate I am to have been born into this abundance and, more significantly, I will give thanks for the opportunity to be human, on this earth, with all of its 10,000 joys and 10,000 sorrows.

Wishing you a day of gratitude, and the happiness that comes from holding this life (all of it!) with love and appreciation.

Happiness
Happiness, from Urban Reflections, 2014

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