Gratitude-Giving Thanks

It’s the month of November, the month where, here in the US, things really start going from green to brown. The month that is home to Thanksgiving Day here. And quite ironically, it’s the month in which Black Friday exists too. But somehow we set aside that materialistic aspect for most of the month to focus on gratitude, on giving thanks.

There is so, so much to be thankful for and grateful for in life. More often than not, we take things for granted and overlook the small things. Someone may be grateful for their favorite football teams for winning a game or for their luxury car, but more rarer do we hear someone giving thanks for the water that is piped directly into their house, water clean enough to wash hands and bathe in, sure, but also to drink. That, in other parts of the world, is a miracle.

So I just wanted to sit down today, November the 10th, and write out what I am grateful for. I know a lot of people on social media sites share their gratitude day by day in the month of November, but I thought I’d bash it out in one, long blog post full of enough gratitude to make the Scrooges and the pessimists sick to their stomachs.

Let me start out with the wise words of the Buddha. I think he hits the nail on the head with this one when it comes to gratitude. He says, “Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so let us all be thankful.”

So with that, let us begin.

First and foremost, I’m thankful for the people in my life. I am thankful for my wonderful, beautiful, energetic wife, Susan. She’s awesome.

I’m thankful for my family. My mother and father who taught me love and kindness and are always there for any one of my siblings if we need them. And my two fantastic older sisters (who tolerated me as a kid) and their awesome husbands. And last but definitely not least, my identical twin brother, Mark, (who lets me know what I look like without a beard and long hair without me having to cut it all off), who has been my best friend ever since birth. He’s probably the only one who truly understands my sense of humor (probably because both our sense of humors grew up side by side into something . . . well, identical.) And I’m thankful for his “new” family, his wife and his two wonderful daughters (one of which I have yet to meet in real life).

I’m thankful for my best friend and “brother-from-another-mother” Mike, whom I knew from elementary school but didn’t run into again until high school. I don’t know how he tolerates me and the eccentricities I sometimes display, but I’m grateful he does. He’s a fantastic friend.

I’m grateful for the people I work with, who I genuinely enjoy working with. They all make it much more bearable to be at work.

I’m thankful for the great international Druid family that is the Order of Bards, Ovates, and Druids. Even though I’ve only seen some of them face to face once or twice in the last year (and lifetime), they really do feel like family. They let me realize that it’s okay to hug trees, and that it’s not that weird to talk to the birds in my backyard and just sit outside for the sake of sitting outside.

I am also grateful and thankful for the sangha I’m fortunate enough to be included in at the Kansas City Rime Buddhist Center. We may just get together once a Sunday and sit in a room quietly reciting mantras and supplications, but they’re like a happy, peaceful spiritual family.

Speaking of which, I’m also greatly appreciative and grateful for having the fortune of being introduced to the Dharma, the teachings of the Buddha. How fortunate to find such a practice that teaches mindfulness, compassion, and wisdom in a no-nonsense format. It may not immediately end ALL suffering, but it helps me (and the others in the sangha, surely) realize just how much suffering occurs in our lives, and helps ease the suffering of life for not only us, but those around us, too.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to live in the place and time in which I live. America may not be perfect, but like many other nations in the world, it offers a reasonable amount of security and freedom that allows us to peruse different recreational, spiritual, and other endeavors meaningful to each individual, and gives us the freedom to voice those endeavors without fear (in principle, at least).

I’m thankful for the great, beautiful display of Nature, the trees and clouds and flowers and all the colors and changes that come with the turning of the Wheel of the Year.

And as strange as it may seem, I am grateful for the technology we as a species have developed. Some of us may be a bit too glued to our smart phones, tablets, TVs, and computers, but it is that technology that lets us communicate with the whole entire world. It helps us open our eyes to other cultures, other paradigms of spirit and religion, helps us broaden our horizons (at the same time our horizons seem to grow smaller and smaller). The same technology that helped mankind step foot on another celestial body and look back on our fragile planet and realize “Wow, we’re small,” lets us make friends with people on the other side of the globe, lets us glimpse the wide, wide variety of life and love and thought within the human race. We can learn so much in the palm of our hands about the world around us, it’s a wonder that we’re still stuck in our own ideologies and blinded to the possibilities present within the culture of the human species.

I’m thankful for the education I’ve received, the ability to read and write greatly improved my own life, as far as I can tell. And not just the education I received in school, but the ability to educate myself and learn more through reading, and maybe to a lesser extent, writing. There’s a wealth of information in books, and now recently at our fingertips in the Internet on our smart phones. We can literally learn whatever we wanted to right here and now if we put in the effort.

I’m thankful for our very own planet, Mother Earth, and all she bestows unto us. The many fruits that sustain our bodily existence and the nourishment we receive from our harvests.

I’m also grateful for the Sun, the huge, terrifying ball of light that lends its energy to our Earth to help produce life. The energy of the sun, the light and warmth, help make the soil from which our food and life emerge, it fertilizes and revitalizes that which would otherwise be a desolate, lifeless rock.

I’m grateful for the food I’m able to get, the wide variety available to us all from all over the world, the delicious cuisines of other cultures and countries in which we get to partake.

I’m grateful for the clean water delivered to us through convenient, miraculous pipes, enabling a better life. And I’m grateful for the energy we’re able to use in order to improve our living conditions, though I wish it would be much more widely renewable…but there’s hope.

I’m grateful for having the job I have. It forces me to keep active and fit(ter than I would be otherwise), and that helps me maintain a life that isn’t in poverty. To have enough income to enjoy that which I enjoy in life, and enough to help others less fortunate than I am.

I am grateful for the tools, toys, and instruments I am fortunate enough to be able to afford that help support my hobbies and interests.

I’m thankful for the non-human people I have in my life, too. My wonderful, lovable dog Finnegan, and my three very distinct cats, Atticus the Catticus, Aster (lovingly referred to as Pudge Grumps), and Sedge, who is indifferent to everything unless it’s the heater vent in Winter. They all add a special spice to life.

I am tremendously thankful for my health and the life I’ve been given. It could have ended much sooner, or could have ended up in a much worse situation than it did.

I am grateful for being here right now in the present moment, even if my mind often is not. Life is precious and could end any moment, but right in this moment, I am alive, and that’s just really cool.

I could continue this for a long, long time, but I’m afraid it would start sounding strange and a bit hardpressed. I could say I’m thankful for watermelons, cakes and cookies, Indian food, the color blue, dishwashers, acrylic paint, public, state, and national parks, The Lord of the Rings,  ballpoint pens and modern toilets, but I think you get the point.

We, as a nation, gather around with family and friends to feast on a traditional American meal at Thanksgiving. Sometimes (I would hope most times) we really do give thanks to what we have, to what we have been given. And I’m grateful that we have that opportunity.

It does seem a bit backwards and maybe a bit unfortunate that commercialism has taken the world by storm. We’re battered with images and ideas that “you deserve (to buy, from us, at a low, low price) what you desire and crave. Treat yourself (for a limited time only) today!” We are convinced that if we want something–a new car, a bigger TV, more video games and an extra slice of pie–we have the right–no, the obligation–to feed our hunger. And maybe the most unfortunate aspect of this is our celebration of materialism called Black Friday. We see the ads and think “Wow, a TV for THAT low of a price?” (without even realizing that it’s probably only that low of a price because you get what you pay for). We’ve conditioned ourselves to anticipate the day after Thanksgiving (and even more insanely, the NIGHT of Thanksgiving) as a great, maddening day to save on some wicked deals on things you probably wouldn’t even buy on any other day of the year. (Sure, 75% off on a cool new toy might sound like a great deal, but what about the grand, unbeatable deal of saving 100% off if you realized you didn’t actually want it in the first place?)

It’s a hard habit to beat. We see those red sale signs and think, “I could have that without sacrificing TOO much money!” but you could be sacrificing something if you rush out the doors on Thanksgiving night to stand in lines in front of an electronic store. You could be sacrificing the peace of mind and gratitude you’ve just convinced yourself you had a few hours before, sitting at the dinner table in front of a roasted turkey. When you go out to cash in on those Black Friday deals, you are subconsciously telling yourself that there IS something in your life that isn’t quite perfect yet.

And the sad thing is, we’ve all grown to think that if you don’t buy something for someone for the holidays, you’re doing it wrong. You need to purchase something the other wants, and you better include the receipt in case they’re disappointed and unsatisfied. We’re all victims of this, and it’s not just our fault. But we can begin to change that never-ending craving for consumable goods at those “ridiculously low prices” if we just realize what we’re doing.

So this holiday season, this Thanksgiving, maybe take a moment to really think what you’re grateful for, and try to imagine what would happen if you didn’t get a new phone under your tree or that latest new toy that would just “complete your life if you had.” Reflect on the fact that there are some people out there this time of the year that would LOVE it if they received a new pair of shoes that didn’t have a hole in the toe, or would love it if they went just this one night without being hungry and cold.

And maybe realize if you just focused your efforts and energy telling you to “buy buy buy!” and instead turn it to a soup kitchen or a charity or homeless shelter . . . and think what if more and more people did that. No, maybe not everyone will, but one person can make a difference.

It’s like the parable of the child and the starfish. A wise man walked along a beach, and the tide had pulled in thousands upon thousands of starfish, stretching down the beach for miles. He comes across a child who picked up a starfish, looked at it, and tossed it back into the ocean.

The wise man asked what the child was doing, to which the child replied, “The starfish will dry up and die out here if I don’t throw them back into the ocean.” The wise man, baffled, said, “But you could never throw all these starfish back in. What difference would it make?”

As the child picked up another starfish, he looked at it, smiled, and tossed it into the ocean and said, “It made a difference to that one.”

I think a great thing about gratitude is that it helps you become aware of others’ misfortunes, and helps you realize avenues you might take that could benefit others if you tried.

That’s what the holidays are about, isn’t it? Compassion, love, generosity, and spreading the cheer to everyone–especially those who might need it.

So I wish everyone in the US a happy Thanksgiving, and everyone else a happy autumn. May your holiday season be filled with peace, gratitude, and love. And may we all suffer less.

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