Thanksgiving As A Way Of Life

–by Joanna Macy  (Nov 23, 2012)

“A felt sense of wonder and thankfulness, and appreciation for life” is how the renowned psychologist Robert Emmons defines gratitude. Recent research has shown that people experiencing high levels of gratitude tend to be happier and more satisfied with their lives. […]

There are two sides to gratitude: the first is appreciation, where you’re valuing something that happened, and the second is attribution, where you’re recognizing the role of someone or something else in bringing about. Gratitude is a social emotion. It points our warmth and goodwill out toward others. […]

Think of the people you trust. Do you also feel grateful toward them or suspect that feel gratitude toward you? Gratitude feeds trust, because it helps us acknowledge the times we’ve been able to count on one another. Not surprisingly, research shows we’re more likely to help those we feel grateful to, leading to a positive spiral of helping, gratitude, trust, and cooperation. Because this, gratitude plays a key role in the evolution of cooperative behavior and societies. […]

The Haudenosaunee, Native Americans also known as Iroquois Confederacy, regard gratitude as essential to survival. They see humans as interconnected parts of a larger web of life, where each being is uniquely valuable. Crops, trees, rivers, and the Sun are respected and thanked as fellow beings in a larger community of mutual aid. If you have this view of life, you don’t tear down the forests or pollute the rivers. Instead, you accept other life-forms as part of your extended family. In 1977 they had a warning and a prophesy to share at the United Nations in their “Basic Call to Consciousness“:

“The original instructions direct that we who talk about on the Earth are to express great respect, and affection, and a gratitude toward all the spirits which create and support Life. We give a greeting and thanksgiving to the many supporters of our own lives — the corn, beans, squash, the winds, the Sun. When people cease to respect and express gratitude for these many things, then all life will be destroyed, and human life on this Planet will come to and end.”

The Mohawks, one of the six nations of the Haudenosaunee, publish this version of the thanksgiving address that emphasizes on the blessings we all receive because we are part of the natural world:

“Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been giving the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.

We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.”

The other verses in turn give thanks to the waters of the world; the fish life in the water; the varied vastness of plant life; the food plants from the garden; the medicine herbs of the world; the animal life; the trees; the birds, “who each day reminds us to enjoy and appreciate life”; the four winds; the thunder beings of thunder and lightening, “who bring with them the water that renews life”; our oldest brother, the Sun; our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, “who governs the movement of the oceans tides”; the stars “spread across the sky like jewelry”; Enlightened Teachers; the Creator of Great Spirit; and finally to anything forgotten or not yet named. Thanksgivings like this deepen our instinctual knowledge that we belong to the larger web and have an essential role to play in this well-being. As Haudenosaunee Chief Leon Shenandoah said in his address to the General Assembly of the UN in 1985, “Every human being has a sacred duty to protect the welfare of our Mother Earth from whom all life comes.” […]

Gratitude plays an important role in developing an ecological intelligence that recognizes how our personal well-being depends on the well-being of the natural world. Gratitude keeps us to our purpose of taking care of life.

The carbon dioxide released when we burn fossil fuels puts back into the atmosphere the gas that ancient plants removed hundred of millions of years ago. By burning fossil fuels we are reversing on of the Planet’s cooling mechanisms, and temperature are rising. […]

Also much of the oxygen we breathe comes from plants that died long ago. We can give thanks to these ancestors of our present-day foliage, but we can’t give back to them. We can, however, give forward. When we are unable to return a favor, we can pay it forward to someone or something else. Using this approach, we can see ourselves as part of a larger flow of giving and receiving throughout time. Receiving from the past, we can give to the future. When tackling issues such as climate change, the stance of gratitude is a refreshing alternative to guilt or fear as a source of motivation. […]

The Haudenosaunee expressions of thanksgiving and gratitude are “the words that come before all else” and precede every council meeting. Instead of being reserved for a special day each year, thanksgiving becomes a way of life.

— Joanna Macy in Active Hope

About Pancho

To live in radical joyous shared servanthood to unify humanity.
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