Thanksgiving offers opportunities to learn and bequeath meaningful life lessons for peace, joy and happiness.
November can be a gray, cold and difficult month. Holidays can also make us sorrowful for what we have lost -- loved ones, the warmth of summer, and/or activities. Lights and festivities can contradict the melancholic environment. Yet, you can manifest inner joy through the insight we get from understanding thanksgiving.
Look closely at the historical event that we celebrate to put the current situation into perspective.
After voyaging across the ocean and suffering a New England winter in the drafty and leaky ship, fewer than half of the original pilgrims survived to start life on the new land. Helpless, they pleaded for assistance. Their prayers were answered when a former English slave named Squanto approached the newcomers. From the Native American's perspective, the Europeans evoked memories of predecessors who pillaged, enslaved and destroyed villages. Fortunately for the struggling pilgrims, the Wampanoag tribe put past troubles aside and helped the sect of newly planted Christian worshipers. As natives hosting immigrants, they showed the European settlers how to live in their land by sharing the secrets of their successes. "Thanksgiving" is the tradition of gratitude for receiving the support and caring needed to thrive.
The story of the first feast of Thanksgiving holds lessons of virtues that build peace.
Lesson #1 -- Gratitude
In the harsh conditions and sorrow of losing so many loved ones within the past several months, the pilgrims focused on giving thanks. Their example of meeting potential hopelessness with a shifted perspective to appreciation is a gift for us to receive. Gratitude is the key to happiness. Giving thanks for life, breath, the food we eat and the friends we have are some simple ways to move the mind, heart and even biochemistry to a peaceful state. Give each other (and even young children) an opportunity to express what they are grateful for. Express your own appreciation openly.
Lesson #2 -- Compassion
In the Thanksgiving story, need cried out for help and was answered with kindness. Compassion is a two-fold lesson we can learn and teach our children in the tradition of thanksgiving. First, have consideration for yourself in your situation by regulating your expectations and ask for help. Second, helping one another in preparing for the meal or volunteering at a soup kitchen are two simple ways to stimulate outward kindness. There are a variety of religious and cultural traditions that display caring for one another. Tap into a familiar practice of compassion.
Lesson #3 -- Act in the present
Squanto may have had many memories to sort through, yet the strength of his compassion drove him to give vital assistance. This moment, now, is the beginning of a new memory. While past experiences may come into mind, such as "oh that sister-in-law is so critical" or unpleasant expectations, such as, "My uncle will probably drink too much," focus on the here and now. You can imagine lifting yourself "a shade away" from what others do, like pulling your emotions out of fire engine red back toward a pastel pink. Then focus on the enjoyable aspects of the people around you and the activity you are doing now.
Lesson #4 -- Tradition with Tolerance
In 1621, when European Pilgrims met Native Americans, two very different cultures came together to support fellow humans regardless of differences. Perhaps the pilgrims clasped their hands together with a Bible in their hands to say their prayers while the Wampanoag spoke prayers through the soil beneath their feet. Both mannerisms express the same action, while looking differently on the outside. We can become too accustomed to the small details of tradition that we get upset with different expressions. Build routines for yourself and children for familiarity, yet keep a non-judgmental attitude toward others. Learn and teach tradition along with tolerance.
Lesson #5 -- Gather together
Necessity brought the different people together in Plymouth centuries ago, and thankfully so. The Mayflower Compact may have been inspired by democratic traditions of the Native Americans and became the foundation for our current democratic government. Coming together may be more significant for your life and others than you can perceive now. If you have distance between your loved ones, make a call or write a note. Create the opportunity to share your lives. Allow for different expressions among the individuals in the family. Value you own uniqueness and the expression of others. Teach your children the joy of community by your own model.
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