Thanksgiving is that strange holiday when you try to get just drunk enough to stand your friends and relatives and their idiot musings on love, politics and philosophy, but not so drunk as to draw scrutiny or invite conversation. We are far removed from the holiday's origins, when we Pilgrims took rapey advantage of the innocent generosity of Native Americans, while convincing ourselves that we were socially and spiritually superior, munching their life-saving food, even as we contemplated their plunder and exploitation. But where have we arrived?
What, exactly is the legacy of this holiday? Is it an informal contest with Joey Chestnut (professional eater and winner of the Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest!) to see how much food we can cram into our faces without puking? I like to think so, by the looks of it. We are grilled by friends and family about the state of our lives and we desperately roll out some ad hoc fake resume about how good life is being to us; or worse, we prepare a litany of weighted woes to glean whatever little sympathy might be available, while daring to look tragically brave in the face of it all.
Look up the word Thanksgiving in Merriam-Webster and it literally says "...the expression of gratitude.." How then, did this holiday become the symbol for gluttony, self-indulgence and crass commerciality? (Don't forget Black Friday! Biggest sale day of the year!) Our current society is an insatiable Nosferatu, sucking the life-blood out of every true and good sentiment, stealing the authenticity and leaving only the soul-eating zombie holidays that we have to endure without going broke and becoming cynical.
But wait! There is an alternative. Rather than giving in to the dark currents of this holiday, we can actually assign meaning to these holidays and come up with an agenda of our own. In the face of the daunting and depleting traditions that we've cultivated, we can practice this "gratitude" thing. Not in that sappy, woo woo kind of way that is lip service to what good people we are, but in a real way that actually has benefit and value to ourselves and our world.
Real gratitude, when sincerely cultivated, creates resourceful states of mind. It is an act of giving that allows us to receive. Real gratitude forces us to a mental state where we acknowledge what is good in our lives. When we practice gratitude we are deliberately choosing a positive narrative of life. We welcome all that we are receiving and we encourage life to continue that flow. The practice is a restorative act, that brings us back to who we really are: positive, optimistic indomitable spirits making our way through this world.
My practice is simple: Every morning when my feet hit the ground I say ten things that I'm grateful for. I don't just recite, I experience them. As I mention each thing I'm grateful for, I connect with the emotions that each one creates. Take a moment right now and think of three things you're grateful for. Let yourself connect to the emotions. Isn't that nice? Imagine, you have the ability to create a resourceful state of mind, a safe refuge for yourself, any time you want. This takes all of less than two minutes in the morning, by the end of which, I am in a powerful and useful state of mind. I am ready to take on the challenges of the day.So, get loaded this Thanksgiving, scorn your cousin's politics, break Joey Chestnut's record, but introduce a new tradition that actually has some meaning in relation to the day: Practice gratitude.