Thanksgiving. It’s a wonderful time to go inward and to contemplate about the forces and causes of happiness.
Perhaps look deeper through your own religious practices and values, whoever you believe in, and draw on its intended wisdom. Wisdom that brings you closer to peace, joy and a sense of connectedness. Of course, it is not necessary to believe in a particular doctrine to cultivate wisdom, rather a deeper look into the nature of how things work.
One of my students asked, “Does prayer do the same thing as Loving Kindness practices do?” Yes, I replied with the condition of being intentionally aware of the meaning behind the words with a present heart. I remembered when I was a child having to do my religious prayers in different postures of standing, bowing and in child pose, several times a day. Unfortunately, most of the times like a parrot, I would repeat the words but not really feel anything special. Unless of course, I wanted something from God. Only then I would tune into the words I spoke to God. Even then it didn’t feel joyful. The harder I pleaded the more awkward and vulnerable I felt. I felt guilty for asking and the outcome was never for sure anyway. At the end of the day that parrot-like prayer not only didn’t bring me joy and peace, it made me feel like a fake or unworthy.
I’ve also been at many tables where families recited words of prayer, given thanks for the food and asked for God’s blessing. Those who take this ritual seriously, would not eat until everyone has their heads down to pray and as soon as the last word got out, hurrying to serve themselves.
As a participant and witness I rarely ever felt that there was a deeply felt gratitude towards each edible item on the table, may be for a split second. Perhaps like I did as a child they too would repeat prayer words as a ritual and be disconnected like a parrot. This can happen to many different cultural and religious practitioners. It’s a natural human brain process, that once anything is learned and memorized it becomes an automatic act. When in auto mode, full awareness and attention is not necessary to repeat the learned behavior, just like I had memorized the words.
Today, I know that in order to feel a deep sense of joy and peace from reciting prayers, words of gratitude or words of Loving Kindness it takes full consciousness and the presence of my heart. It takes being Mindfully aware and intentionally paying attention to the meaning of words and contemplating all that is already here.
Before eating my lunch today at the retreat, I looked at each item closely. The yam so beautiful, so generous. Through the yam I saw the farmer, earth, sun, the cook, the dish maker, … and my heart felt overwhelmed with humility and appreciation. Scanning over my plate, kale, lettuce, tofu, cucumber, tomato, ah the onion. I saw the onion on the field liked I had seen once driving past a field full of red onions bulbs. Tears of joy filled my heart. I couldn’t eat before saying thanks to each and every one of these vegetables and link of people and all other resources so generously offering their best to revive my existence. Such awareness of this invisible love, all around, filled my heart, soul, mind and body with deep happiness and contentment.
At last, my mind feeling so satisfied is not inclined to run around looking for problems and deficits. It is peaceful.
This Thanksgiving, while gathered around, looking at the food open your heart to your prayer or words of gratitude. Look deeply into all that has gone into acquiring and preparing this meal and let your being be filled with joy.