“Gratitude is a lesson hard to learn for those who look upon the world amiss. The most that they can do is see themselves as better off than others. And they try to be content because another seems to suffer more than they. How pitiful and deprecating are such thoughts! For who has cause for thanks while others have less cause? And who could suffer less because he sees another suffer more?”
-A Course in Miracles
Last Wednesday was the most difficult winter night I have ever experienced. Our power went out. As the temperature dropped, the chill in the air could not be alleviated by even my heaviest blanket. I was glowing with gratitude when the power flickered on just before seven o’clock Thursday morning.
I was very lucky. It didn’t take long for me to realize how widespread the ice storm’s damage was. Knowing that my friends in Louisville and Elizabethtown were still without power actually made it more difficult to feel gratitude. How can I be grateful for my own good fortune when so many people around me were going without?
Thanks-giving is a difficult practice to master. It would seem relatively easy. We are thankful for our homes, our food, our friends, our family…. Why? Because when we look at the world around us, we see reflected in other people’s experiences that little separates us from homelessness, hunger, and loneliness. In the blink of an eye, our comfort and security could be gone. It isn’t so much that we are thankful for what we have as we are thankful that we are not in a position where we do not have those things.
Gratitude from a Yogic perspective.
Yoga, as well as our gut instincts, tell us that this is not real gratitude at all! From a yogic perspective, when we compare ourselves to others, we are actually turning away from the understanding of our oneness and creating greater separation between ourselves and others. Ironically, the winter holidays are the easiest time of the year for Americans to get caught up in such comparisons! I hope I don’t have to sit next to Uncle Al again this year. He smells funny…. I can’t believe she brought a frozen pumpkin pie. We always make it ourselves!… Everyone is judging me. My stuffing is never as good as mom’s…. When we think we are coming together to practice gratitude, we couldn’t be further from it!
Yoga literally means “to yoke”, or union. When we make comparisons between ourselves and others, or even our current situation and the way we would like things to be, we are widening the imaginary gulf between us. From a yogic perspective, to practice gratitude does not necessarily mean that we are thankful for what we have. That indicates if we did not have it, we would somehow be less than we are with it! Instead, we are grateful because of what we truly are: whole, complete, and ultimately in need of nothing.
Cultivating contentment: A Thanksgiving Day practice.
Santosha is the practice of contentment. This practice allows things to be whatever they are at any given moment. The moment may be pleasurable. It may be painful. What the moment brings us is not the point. Rather, santosha is more concerned with what we are bringing to the moment. If we are practicing santosha, we are bringing contentment to the moment. Santosha allows us to truly practice gratitude at any time, regardless of what we are experiencing.
As you gather around your Thanksgiving table this year, I invite you to try something new. Consider all of the things in your life for which you are grateful: your home, employment, loved ones…. Whatever comes to mind. Then consider all of the things in your life that you wouldn’t normally think to be grateful for: a recent pay cut, the fender-bender from last week, a chronic illness that has flared-up as the weather chilled. Say a Thanksgiving prayer for the things on both of these lists. Try not to give more weight to the more conventional list than you do the one that is lesser so. We never know when we will lose the things we have. Likewise, we can never predict when our hardships will become our greatest blessings. Give gratitude because of Who you are regardless of your circumstances.
May your Thanksgiving Day be blessed!