I apologize in advance for the unusual length of this post. I guess playing hooky from this blog has allowed a bunch of thoughts to ferment for a while…
Years ago I heard or read somewhere that the average American family eats Thanksgiving leftovers for 6 days. I haven’t been able to confirm that, but it’s a staggering thought, especially when you figure that quite a few people only have them for 2 or 3 days, meaning some families are annually pushing the limits of safe refrigerator hygiene. More to the point, regardless of how many turkey sandwiches I might endure, my intention this year has been for the thanksgiving in my heart to last at least as long as the leftovers.
Without a doubt, of all the spiritual and life-enhancing practices I’ve engaged in, cultivating a practice of thanksgiving has been the most valuable in terms of my day-to-day happiness level. Indeed, to this point anyway, according to the scientists who actually study happiness (I wonder if they’re happy studying it?) the only practice that has been objectively measured to increase prolonged happiness is doing a daily gratitude list. Wow, and such a simple thing, too. Gratitude opens my heart, brings me right smack dab into the present moment, has me focusing on what I want (rather than what I don’t want), and instantly raises my consciousness; all the things most of us are looking for in a daily spiritual practice. Your grandmother and mine knew what they were talking about when they told us to count our blessings!
But wait; there’s more! Eric Butterworth, a famous Unity Minister and author, wrote, “Thanksgiving is not just a reactionary emotion; it is a causative energy.” Gratitude isn’t just something I feel only when I get what I want; it’s a state of consciousness that allows me to create my experience of life based on my core values and intentions. It’s an attitude of mind I can develop that allows me to see the good in myself and in life. It’s a causative energy that has contributed greatly to the realization of many of my dreams.
When I first started developing a thanksgiving practice, I began with the “small” stuff—those everyday blessings and gifts that I was taking for granted. Immediately I discovered, to paraphrase A Course in Miracles, that there’s no order of magnitude among blessings when I notice and acknowledge them. It was hard at first to list what I was grateful for, but forcing myself to do it seemed to grease the whole mechanism to the point where I could soon take a 15-minute walk in the morning and rattle off things I was grateful for the whole time.
The next step was developing gratitude in the face of things it was harder to be grateful for. In the Bible, Paul writes, “Give thanks in all things.” No small feat. Thankfully, he doesn’t say, “Give thanks FOR all things.” For me Paul is suggesting something possible and extremely powerful, namely, when the schmootz hits the fan, I don’t necessarily have to be grateful FOR it, but IN the situation, I can still keep at least one toe firmly ensconced in gratitude. Again, this will allow me to stay grounded, present, hopeful and connected to my inner resources—those things that will help me through the schmootz and possibly even see a blessing in it.
This, finally—thanks for hanging in there—brings me back to leftovers. I’m working on being thankful for my leftovers, which in this case I’ll define as those issues I’ve worked on/with, ad nauseum, for eons. You know; the negative labels I’ve stitched deeply into the collar of my self-image? The ones that still, after all these years, show up and spoil the fun like red ants at a picnic? Do you have any of those? Can I really be thankful for those leftovers when they emerge from the fridge and show up in my awareness?
In many ways I believe that until I do develop gratitude for those leftovers, they continue to return like relatives I don’t like. Once again to quote the Bible, after Jacob wrestles all night with an angel who finally asks Jacob to let him go, Jacob responds, “I will not let you go until you bless me.” What a beautiful metaphor for those issues I’ve wrestled with for years. In the past I tried denying them, hating them, resisting them, feeling victimized by them, cajoling them, inquiring into them and generally focusing on them so hard and so long in an attempt to get rid of them that I was able to expound on them backwards and forwards in several different languages. When I started to simply be OK with them, to notice them and accept them, they started to let go of me a bit. They lost some power over me because I stopped giving them so much power. When I actually started blessing them, they let go of me even more.
There’ve been other gifts in giving thanks for my leftovers. I’ve noticed that I’ve been able to reframe some of my negative labels into things that serve me. For instance, instead of calling myself lazy, I now enjoy and understand the value of rest and recharging. Instead of thinking of myself as a “good little boy” or “people pleaser”, I’ve become a compassionate being who touches people with my kindness and love. And instead of stressing over my tendency to obsess over things that never happened and never will happen, I now have one-pointed focus and attention on my intention. Is that cool or what?
I’m turning my issues into allies. Just like Gandhi did with his alleged greediness, I can use my leftovers as compost for growing what I really want for myself and for the world. I’ll need them as allies in my journey. When Jesus was tempted by Satan he repeated several times, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” Perhaps Jesus was tempted by the leftovers in his own consciousness and not necessarily banishing them, but telling them to get behind him, to support him, to get on his team. He undoubtedly knew he’d need every aspect of his wholeness to do what he needed to do in this world, and I can do the same. I’m thankful for my leftovers, and I’m thankful the Thanksgiving leftovers are gone!
And if that’s all I remember, that’s more than enough for now.