No matter how difficult it may be in a world filled with pain and cruelty, there are moments when it is important to stop looking at all the problems and focus on all the good. And that’s part of what Thanksgiving could be about for you this year. Life is so amazing, and our universe so awesome, filled with realities that transcend our capacity to comprehend, and inviting us to awe and wonder and radical amazement! Give yourself and your friends a day dedicated to truly feeling those kinds of feelings!
I don’t mean only a moment of sharing “something we all appreciate” during the traditional meal. I mean, in addition, actually consciously shaping the day in such a way that the focus of attention throughout the day is on giving thanks.
It might start with a group of friends or family taking a walk to visit some part of nature that they really love. And expressing thanks for it. Or, you might consider structuring some time (an hour before or after dinner, perhaps?) in which each person gets to be by her or himself for ten minutes and encouraged to focus on getting in touch with the things that s/he really appreciates in her/his life, and to find some way to offer thanks (a song, a prayer, words said in silence or aloud, a hymn or tune you want to offer the Universe or God — some way in which you let out of your mouth your thanks for all the goodness in the world and in your own world). If that’s not likely to occur where you go for your Thanksgiving meal, create this space for yourself earlier in the day.
It might continue with each family member, guest, or friend being asked to bring something (a book, a poem, a video, a movie, a song, a musical instrument to play some music, a CD or DVD) that they believe will give you an experience for which you are grateful or to facilitate your encounter with or memory of things about which you are already grateful. Dedicate some time in the afternoon to each person sharing that with each other — and that can add another dimension of thanks. Then, you might consider asking each person to share something that they particularly appreciate in another person who is there at the gathering. Or to tell about some other person who has been a special teacher, friend, or caregiver to you during the past year. Even if you are only a guest at someone else’s celebration, you can initiate or at least suggest this to the people you meet there! To prepare, you might even make a list of the things you are truly grateful for in your life before you go to someone else’s home for Thanksgiving.
Fully giving thanks makes it easier to see the Spirit of God, the special dignity and goodness, that is in everything and everyone — and that will make it easier for you to less reactive when someone says something specific at your Thanksgiving table that seems out of whack with your own moral sensibilities about the political or cultural worlds. And it’s in that state of compassion and recognition of the Spirit of God in everyone you can feel comfortable to talk to the others around the table about the one billion people who are hungry this and every day, and about our proposed Global Marshall Plan and urging them to help you get your local elected city council to endorse it, and your state legislators and Congressional reps and Senators to back it (first step: to read it on the NSP website)! And in the meantime to take small steps of alleviating hunger, for example by reading and then following the suggestions in Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save.
I think you will find that when you’ve followed some of these steps preparatory to the meal, that you can then turn the conversation to talk about the absurdity of the War in Afghanistan and the misguided nature of the War on Terror, and the Tikkun alternative ( the strategy of generosity and the Global Marshall Plan). Or talk about the ongoing tragedy in the Middle East and the need for a progressive Middle Path which is both pro-Israel and pro-Palestine, and refuses to play the “blame game” of which side is “really bad” and which side is “really good” but instead recognizes that both sides have co-created this mess. You might even want to discuss the misguided move by the US to offer military incentives to Israel to restart negotiations (see the piece about this on our website). Or you might want to talk about the recent US midterm elections and the analysis of that situation presented by me in my recent editorial) and by Peter Gabel here. For all the “realists” at your table ask them how well they think things turned out for Obama and the Democrats these past two years by following the “realistic” path in D.C. rather than fighting for a more progressive or visionary alternative.
You might want to read or send to attendees of your Thanksgiving party in advance a copy of our articles on these issues at Tikkun.org or SpiritualProgressives.org – to help inform the discussion. You’d be amazed at how much easier it is to introduce unconventional or alternative perspectives if the people at the table have received an article on the topic before Thanksgiving (or any other occasion on which you have the opportunity to share a meal with others who might themselves raise controversial topics or find your own views controversial) – because when they see that you have others on your side who have rational arguments, they tend to be less dismissive of your perspective! Or even bring the latest issue of Tikkun or at least a copy of our ESRA — Environmental and Social Responsibility Amendment to the U.S. Constitution — as a way of showing them that there is a real concrete path to restoring democracy and controlling the global selfishness of corporations (or even get them to sign it! You can print it from here).
Obviously there are hundreds of other ways to joyfully experience this day, and you can shape the day in the way that works best for you. Based on my experience, my advice is to plan it out beforehand to make sure that it is the most nurturing possible day for yourself and for those with whom you will come into contact. Thanksgiving may give you a wonderful opportunity to give back to the world in any of these ways. And giving thanks is healing to one’s own soul, and increases the total love, generosity, and God-energy in the world. The rabbis of the Talmud, in addressing the need everyone has to “give back,” said that even the poorest of the poor should give something to charity for others in need–recognizing that the act of giving is itself a life-enhancing act that should be available to even those who have almost nothing materially, because they still have other human capacities that enable them to give in some way of themselves to others, just as we should give to them! And I remember how empowering it felt to me and all my fellow grammar school students at Far Brook Country Day School when we brought a vegetable or fruit a day before Thanksgiving to the annual Thanksgiving celebration and these offerings were then brought to a nearby orphanage. Giving to others is a gift to the soul and so is giving thanks!
Many blessings for a very rewarding and spiritually real Thanksgiving!