In the Thanksgivings of my formative years in the Midwest I was loaded with gratitude for a day devoted to stuffing myself silly with delicious food from sunrise to sunset, all while dressed in a comfy suit of terry cloth, with lots of time allotted for couch respite and reclining. Heck, I didn’t even have to wear my contact lenses if I so chose, it was just my immediate family and a cat or two, and comfort was key.
Enter my partner/ boyfriend/ fiance/ husband… Thanksgiving became more of a formal affair as we visited my in-laws in New England; Westport, CT to be exact. There was antique flatware, white linens and lots of political conversation among the adults. Even though there was but one long table for the 16 of us, (and no “kids” table) it was very clear that you had to be over 50 to weigh in on such topics as the disappointments of Congressional action (or inaction, as it were) or the shortcomings of the educational system. I was exceptionally grateful for the signal that it was acceptable for us to excused, and thus resign to a bar for cocktails with my husbands friends who were in town visiting.
Then I was given the opportunity to provide a dinner item for the feast, which continued to be celebrated in CT, our new home, with my in-laws and extended family. I was thrilled to have my mother in law’s trust to make cornbread, and my honey cornbread offering continues to be a yearly staple, and even the favorite of my oldest son. I felt validated and proud of my ability to help feed family on our annual special gathering feast.
Once kids arrived, I didn’t aim too high with my gratitude; I was pleased and greatly thankful if I was able to enjoy some hot food during the meal before having to constantly excuse myself to nurse a baby, refill a sippy cup, or collect a clambering toddler before tumbling off of a coffee table. For some reason my assigned seat is also on the “inside” of the table, quick egress is not graceful. Thankfully, the meals were always enormous, and I always had plenty to eat when I returned.
Gratitude is soul medicine, and just like a well tended garden, it can yield great abundance and satisfaction.
As it turns out, my recurring ability to perceive gratitude in a multitude of ways is a kind of a mutation, in a way.
Thanks to glorious feedback loops and that lovely hormone oxytocin, when we build a field of grateful thoughts and sweetened dreams, the gratitude continues to come. And with it, greater satisfaction and richer relationship, to self and others.
If you are new to meditation, mindfulness or gratitude practices, Jack Kornfield shares a lovely exercise here.
“Let yourself sit quietly and at ease. Allow your body to be relaxed and open, your breath natural, your heart easy. Begin the practice of gratitude by feeling how year after year you have cared for your own life. Now let yourself begin to acknowledge all that has supported you in this care:
With gratitude I remember the people, animals, plants, insects, creatures of the sky and sea, air and water, fire and earth, all whose joyful exertion blesses my life every day.
With gratitude I remember the care and labor of a thousand generations of elders and ancestors who came before me.
I offer my gratitude for the safety and well-being I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the blessing of this earth I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the measure of health I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the family and friends I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the community I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the teachings and lessons I have been given.
I offer my gratitude for the life I have been given.
Just as we are grateful for our blessings, so we can be grateful for the blessings of others.
Continue to breathe gently. Bring to mind someone you care about, someone it is easy to rejoice for. Picture them and feel the natural joy you have for their well-being, for their happiness and success. With each breath, offer them your grateful, heartfelt wishes:
May you be joyful.
May your happiness increase.
May you not be separated from great happiness.
May your good fortune and the causes for your joy and happiness increase.
Sense the sympathetic joy and caring in each phrase. When you feel some degree of natural gratitude for the happiness of this loved one, extend this practice to another person you care about. Recite the same simple phrases that express your heart’s intention.
Then gradually open the meditation to include neutral people, difficult people, and even enemies- until you extend sympathetic joy to all beings everywhere, young and old, near and far.”
“Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you and to give thanks continuously. and because all things have contributed to your advancement, you should include all things in your gratitude” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson