A Thanksgiving Meditation

Once upon a time, some American tourists went to Mexico on a vacation; they toured some hot springs, where they saw the natives washing their clothes! One tourist said to his guide, “My, isn’t it wonderful how Mother Nature provides her children with hot water to wash their clothes?” The tour-guide replied, “So you might think, Senor, but the natives complain that Mother Nature doesn’t provide the soap!”

It’s been said that the hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count our blessings.  Chinese wisdom teaches, “When you drink from the stream remember the spring.” Research has shown that people who regularly practiced grateful thinking were more than 25 percent happier, slept better, suffered lower levels of stress and even spent more time exercising. People sure like to complain. According to one recent author, who wrote a book on Gratefulness, Prof. Richard Emmons explains that” Preliminary findings suggest that those who regularly practice grateful thinking do reap emotional, physical, and interpersonal benefits. […]  Grateful people experience higher levels of positive emotions such as joy, enthusiasm, love, happiness, and optimism […] The practice of gratitude as a discipline protects a person from the destructive impulses of envy, resentment, greed, and bitterness.”  Politicians, especially, love to create class-warfare between the haves and the have-nots, as if creaturely comforts would ever dictate our inner and spiritual state of mind.

In Yiddish, we have a word for such a mindset; it’s called “Kvetching,” or chronic complaining. It’s as old as the Bible itself. It seems that many folks, for whatever the reason may be, have an innate bias towards being or feeling negative.  In other words, for some of us, being a grouch comes naturally. Therapists and psychologists alike tend to focus on the ethos of victimization, and narcissism rather than engendering a life-attitude of thankfulness.

No society in human history has ever been as medicated with anti-depressants such as ours. Yet, developing an attitude of gratefulness can not only make us happier, it can also protect us from heart attacks, lessen physical pain and confer other physiological benefits. . . .

One might wonder: When we look at the evil that engulfs the world with war, famine, and fear,  it might seem as though “Thanksgiving” is self-deceiving. Despite the abundance at our tables, it’s also easy to wonder: What should we be thankful for? Suicide bombings? Global-warming? A rise in anti-Semitism? Terrorism, Iraq? Forest fires? Unemployment?

Yet, as Rabbi Harold Kushner has pointed out, there’s never been a time in which bad things didn’t happen to good people. Suffering has always been a part of the human condition throughout recorded history.

The pilgrims experienced enough hardship to leave them demoralized. Yet they sat for three days, feasting, rejoicing and grateful for what they had. Rejuvenated, they made it through that first winter, and another, and another — just as our immigrant ancestors who left the Old Country did.

Thanksgiving beckons us to see the cup as half-full, as we focus upon the many blessings we experience daily. For instance: health. We expect to wake up in the morning and expect to be healthy, but when we receive a diagnosis that we have an illness, suddenly we appreciate and recognize what we had and now loss.

Gratitude is really about the appreciation of the gifts that God has given us. Without appreciation, we do not have gratitude. In the absence of mindfulness, we have mindlessness and confusion; a world where we do not sense God’s blessings in our lives or in the lives of our nation. . . .

What exactly does “thanksgiving” mean? Thanksgiving, to be truly Thanksgiving, one must first express “thanks,” and then by “giving.”

For many, the yearly community service — helping in a soup kitchen,delivering canned goods to the needy, sick or elderly — has been fulfilled, and they can feel gratified in knowing they’ve done a good deed for others.

We’ve said our thanks, counted our blessings and passed the peas, along with the candied yams. Thanksgiving is over, and as soon as the holidays are out of the way, we can get back to our lives. Why do so many of us relegate thoughts of thankfulness and limit kindly-acts to a single day, or a single season?

I am reminded of a comment I once heard about Thanksgiving, from the Jay Leno Show, concerning the human condition. Leno noted how on Thanksgiving, restaurants give away free meals, soup kitchens pop up all over the place, all kinds of groups provide all kinds of food to the poor. But, Leno pointed out, for the most part, all those who help out do so only on Thanksgiving. “We give these people one big meal a year, really stuff them and tell them, “That oughta hold you. See you next Thanksgiving.'”

The spirit of Thanksgiving should teach us that if we are truly thankful for our freedoms, shouldn’t we speak out against injustices, championing the freedom of others? And if we are truly thankful for our faith, what can we do to bring it into our homes, to keep it alive in the world? Now, the day after Thanksgiving, is as good a time as any to start.

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