Setting aside a day to give thanks is a wonderful practice but, during this time of global upheaval when most of us are focused on what we don't have, how do we genuinely and wholeheartedly observe a day dedicated to being grateful for all that we do have?
The origin of the Thanksgiving holiday as celebrated in the United States can be traced back to the Pilgrims of Plymouth. As the story goes, on Sept. 16, 1620, 102 people set sail from England on a pilgrimage in search of religious freedom. On Nov. 21, they anchored in Provincetown Harbor. Throughout the winter of 1620, most of the Pilgrims remained on board the ship where they suffered exposure, scurvy and outbreaks of various diseases, causing the death of almost half of the original settlers.
But when they moved ashore in the springtime, their hope was renewed. Samoset, an Abenaki Indian who could speak a little English, paid a friendly visit to the terrified colonists. He and other Native Americans taught them many basic things necessary for their survival, such as, how to plant crops, catch fish, extract sap from maple trees and avoid poisonous plants. Later he brought the great Indian chief Massasoit to the colony. Governor William Bradford and Massasoit made a treaty of friendship. Things were looking up. And, because of this harmonious alliance, their newly-acquired survival skills and a successful corn harvest, Dec. 13, 1621 was set aside as a time of celebration. More than 80 "friendly Indians" came to the feast -- bringing wild turkeys and venison as their share. Tables were set outdoors and three days of feasting and prayers ensued.
It's hard to even imagine what life was like for them. Their conditions were harsh. Their environment was most often terrifying. Life was difficult, for sure. But, even though life has changed quite a bit since then, this last year was pretty difficult for many people around the world. Conditions are harsh. Many among us are facing terrifying events in health or in finances. Even relationship-wise, on a global or individual level, chaotic emotions are bubbling into all kinds of unrest. So, this past year hasn't been one of the easiest and, in all honesty, it hasn't been one of my favorites either. But there's an ancient scripture that says, "In all things, give thanks." Interestingly, it doesn't say for all things but, rather, in all things.
What does that mean? Well, what is in all things?
Life is in all things.
We can take a tip from the pilgrims. There they were -- sitting at tables in the snow (and not folding card tables, mind you), surrounded by indigenous people with unusual customs and unfamiliar languages, and feasting on wild game and whatever the earth had provided for them. They didn't have a lot of material bells and whistles to be thankful for. Most likely, their expressions of gratitude cut to the bottom line. Basically, "Thank you that I'm alive!"
You might not feel like there's much to be thankful for in your life right now. But take a closer look, or should I say, deeper look? What is in the event, the condition or the relationship? Life is in it! The synchronicity, beauty, creativity, coincidence, intricacies, etc. -- it's all life moving through you.
How about giving thanks for the new adventure you are on? How about the "survival skills" you're acquiring? Or the exotic and intriguing people around you?
The settlement at Plymouth was successful in many ways and became an example for others that followed. Why? Because they observed a day of thanksgiving? Well, that could have been part of it. But the first step, even before giving thanks, was that of letting go. They let go of the comfortable and familiar and opened to a greater vision for themselves. They let go of the individual sense of self and opened to a greater sense of community.
During this Thanksgiving season, may you unearth the essence of all things and celebrate the miracle of life in all of its fullness.
A grateful mind is a great mind. It eventually attracts to itself every great thing. -- Plato