“If the only prayer you said in your whole life was ‘Thank you’, it would suffice.”
– Meister Eckhart
For many of us, the approach to the Thanksgiving season evokes a paradox of rejoicing in sharing with loved ones the grace of loving connection, the resonance of belonging, and simultaneously the heartache of distance, loss, estrangement, rupture.
This month’s newsletter explores the deep inter-connectedness that holds both hope and hurt, the 10,000 joys and the 10,000 sorrows of our all-too-human existence, with deep gratitude for every unfolding moment of it.
May you find these reflections and resources useful. (Check out the new mentors of gratitude for inter-connectedness below.)
REFLECTIONS GRATITUDE FOR INTER-CONNECTEDNESS
A client of mine burst into tears in a session three weeks ago. While some of the tears were tears of relief and gratitude that many of us after the presidential election, more of her tears were for her nephew, deployed in Iraq since last June, who wouldn’t yet be coming home for Thanksgiving. She was hopeful he might soon return safely; her heartache was that his return was not yet. The juxtaposition of gratitude and grief that this Thanksgiving season can evoke in many of us.
Other clients have been dreading going home for holidays where they have to re-engage with a parent or sibling who most likely will still be shamingly critical and derisive with no awareness or accountability for the pain they are inflicting. Again the juxtaposition of gratitude and grief that simply being part of the human family can trigger.
I drafted much of this newsletter sitting under a tree that years ago had been my refuge on a retreat at Spirit Rock Meditation Center. I called it my “tree of lamentation” then. I would visit there after lunch or dinner, mindfully but achingly feeling my way into the pain of feeling rejected, shamed, forsaken by a formerly close friend. (I’ve shared some of the working through of this rupture in the June 2008 newsletter Wise Guides, Wise Understanding, Wise Self.)
This year I was so aware of the healing power of connection. “Life is fragile; love is the glue” said a bumper sticker on a car in the parking lot as I arrived for a morning of writing and retrospection.
The long journey of re-connecting with the innate goodness of my own True Nature. The feeling held and cherished by so many who knew the deep agony of irreparable loss. The compassion practices that allowed me to understand “my” pain as “the” pain, shared by everyone everywhere who has ever suffered unintentional but irredeemable loss. The forgiveness practices that allowed me to understand the deep fear and shame at the root of my friend’s rupture and refusal to repair. The cracking open to the larger view that all loss is a gateway to learning and growing and healing. That we all cause each other pain and we all bring each other joy simply by being connected with one another and then either losing or recovering the awareness of that inter-connectedness.
Please use the offerings of this newsletter to take a few moments to set the intention to open the heart to the largest possible view; to sense your part in the web of life that can hold every ache, every longing, every hope, every moment of shared resonance, shared connection. Let your self trust and acknowledge with the Palestinian poet Naomi Shahib Nye (see Stories to Learn From below): “This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. This can still happen everywhere. Not everything is lost.”
POETRY AND QUOTES TO INSPIRE
A hundred times every day I remind myself that my inner and outer life depend on the labors of other men, living and dead, and that I must exert myself in order to give in the same measure as I have received and am still receiving.
– Albert Einstein
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All who find happiness in this world have done so by wishing for the happiness of many others. All who find unhappiness in this world have done so by aiming just for their own happiness.
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Help your neighbor’s boat across, and lo! Your own has reached the shore.
– Hindu proverb
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Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
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Our stream of thought has been working to create an impression of an isolated “self,” set apart from all others, which appears real, substantial, and thereby seemingly safe. Although we have all believed such thoughts of “self” as something isolated from and over against others, we have never existed in that way. Therefore, we can never become happy or fulfilled by pretending to exist in that way. Rather, we have always existed in much deeper relationship to all others, who in their innate nature of goodness and their self-centered habits of thought are like alternative versions of ourselves. That is the reality of our existence.
– John Makransky
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A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.
– Albert Einstein
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We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.
– Herman Melville
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If you see a whole thing – it seems that it’s always beautiful. Planets. Lives. But close up a world’s all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life’s a hard job; you get tired; you lose the patterns.
– Ursula K. Leguin
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At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.
– Albert Schweitzer
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Blessing the Space Between Us
[especially when love and hurt are simultaneous; written by a friend I will be spending part of Thanksgiving with; title adapted from John O’Donohue]
May the presence and power of spirit surround, support and guide us and keep us safe.
May we remember the deep love we have for each other.
May we greet our emerging differences with tenderness and tolerance.
May we call on our courage to speak our truth, and reveal our vulnerabilities.
May we reflect back to others without blaming or shaming.
May we hear the truth others speak with compassion.
May we have patience with their process and emergence.
May we pause, breathe, and let ourselves settle.
May we stand in love and strength together.
May our rough edges be doorways to healing.
– Bette Acuff
MENTORS OF GRATITUDE FOR INTER-CONNECTEDNESS
Photo of Dalai Lama and Barack Obama
STORIES TO LEARN FROM
This story of inter-connectedness made the local news when it happened and was shared on a loving kindness retreat by dharma teacher Heather Martin. I’m so grateful for the warm inspiration of it.
A terrible snowstorm hit a major eastern Canadian city; downed trees and huge drifts blocked roads, making it almost impossible to get from here to there. One woman driving west needed to visit her father in a certain hospital after his heart attack. Another woman driving east needed to get to a different hospital to visit her daughter who had just given birth. Both women were stopped on either side of a downed tree completely blocking the road. They got out of their cars and talked across the tree assessing the situation. Then each woman climbed over the tree to the other side; they traded car keys, and each drove the other’s car back in the direction they needed to continue west and east, to get to the hospital they needed to get to.
Airport Terminal by Naomi Shihab Nye After learning my flight was detained 4 hours, I heard the announcement: If anyone in the vicinity of gate 4-A understands any Arabic, Please come to the gate immediately. Well — one pauses these days. Gate 4-A was my own gate. I went there. An older woman in full traditional Palestinian dress, Just like my grandma wore, was crumpled to the floor, wailing loudly. Help, said the flight service person. Talk to her. What is her Problem? we told her the flight was going to be four hours late and she Did this. I put my arm around her and spoke to her haltingly. Shu dow-a, shu- biduck habibti, stani stani schway, min fadlick, Sho bit se-wee? The minute she heard any words she knew — however poorly used - She stopped crying. She thought our flight had been cancelled entirely. She needed to be in El Paso for some major medical treatment the Following day. I said no, no, we’re fine, you’ll get there, just late, Who is picking you up? Let’s call him and tell him. We called her son and I spoke with him in English. I told him I would stay with his mother till we got on the plane and Would ride next to her — southwest. She talked to him. Then we called her other sons just for the fun of it. Then we called my dad and he and she spoke for a while in Arabic and Found out of course they had ten shared friends. Then I thought just for the heck of it why not call some Palestinian Poets I know and let them chat with her. This all took up about 2 hours. She was laughing a lot by then. Telling about her life. Answering Questions. She had pulled a sack of homemade mamool cookies — little powdered Sugar crumbly mounds stuffed with dates and nuts — out of her bag – And was offering them to all the women at the gate. To my amazement, not a single woman declined one. It was like a Sacrament. The traveler from Argentina, the traveler from California, The lovely woman from Laredo — we were all covered with the same Powdered sugar. And smiling. There are no better cookies. And then the airline broke out the free beverages from huge coolers – Non-alcoholic — and the two little girls for our flight, one African American, one Mexican American — ran around serving us all apple juice And lemonade and they were covered with powdered sugar too. And I noticed my new best friend — by now we were holding hands – Had a potted plant poking out of her bag, some medicinal thing, With green furry leaves. Such an old country traveling tradition. Always Carry a plant. Always stay rooted to somewhere. And I looked around that gate of late and weary ones and thought, This is the world I want to live in. The shared world. Not a single person in this gate — once the crying of confusion stopped – has seemed apprehensive about any other person. They took the cookies. I wanted to hug all those other women too. This can still happen anywhere. Not everything is lost.
EXERCISES TO PRACTICE Gratitude for Inter-connectedness
1. On a yoga retreat where we said a simple grace before every meal, one of the members who was a local organic farmer always included gratitude for the micro-organisms that enrich the soil that holds the nutrients that grow the plants – cauliflower, broccoli, tomatoes, onions – whatever we were eating at that particular meal.
When you next take a moment to give thanks for the food you are about to eat that will fuel your body for the next few hours, talk a half a moment to include some of the invisible processes that make the growing, harvesting, preparing, eating, digesting food even possible. When we partake of any nutriment at all, we partake of the mystery of nourishment itself.
2. I first learned this exercise reading the Lebanese poet Kahlil Gibran, though, of course, many wisdom teachers suggest something similar.
At your next meal, focus on one particular piece of food, a chunk of sweet potato or a green bean. Let yourself imagine the potato or bean growing in the ground or on a vine. Imagine the people involved in planting, cultivating, harvesting the potato or bean. You can follow many different strands of the web from here. You can imagine the people who designed or manufactured or sold the tools the farmworkers used to grow the potato or bean you are about to eat. You can imagine the people who brought the harvested potatoes or beans to market, sorters, packers, truck drivers, train engineers. You can remember the store clerk who sold you the potato or bean; you can imagine the store clerk sitting with his or her family to eat a similar meal at this very moment. You can imagine the people involved in that family’s lives, their neighbors, school teachers, car mechanics. You can follow the thread from any particular potato or bean and find yourself becoming aware of the entire web of life.
“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.” – John Muir
3. As you share a Thanksgiving-season meal this year with loved ones, chosen ones, serendipitous ones, take a moment to give thanks to the many people in many roles, like the micro-organisms, that keep the entire reality of the day going. My brother Barry will be on call for the public works department of his small town in Michigan to fix a water main if it breaks or drive the snowplow if it snows over the weekend. My friend Eric will be on call in the East Bay to clean up a hazardous waste spill should one occur on his watch. My neighbor Sandra’s son Brent will be taking tolls on the Golden Gate bridge for people driving to be with friends or relatives on this holiday. Take a moment to give thanks to the people staffing hospitals, airports, hotels, grocery stores, gas stations, fire stations, the web of inter-connected reality that gets our boat to the other shore.
BOOKS AND WEBSITES
Attitudes of Gratitude by M.J. Ryan. Conari Press, 1999.
A delightful and timeless collection of quotes, poetry and essays on gratitude: the key to living with an open heart. A gift to yourself and for others.
Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer by Br. David Stendl-Rast. Paulist Press, 1984.
A classic text on the gratefulness that comes with love which is at the very center of what it means to be human.
A Network for Grateful Living guided by Brother David Stendl-Rast, the internationally revered Benedictine monk who has spearheaded dialogues about gratitude among various spiritual traditions for the last 30 years. The website offers very practical supports for gratitude practice, including Word of the Day: “Don’t judge each day by the harvest you reap, but by the seeds you plant.” – Robert Louis Stevenson. Grateful News: inspiring stories of people working around the world for civil rights, social justice, environmental protection, spiritual ecumenicism, etc. And specific step-by-step Practices on topics such as grief and gratefulness or deepening a sense of belonging.
Greater Good magazine highlights scientific research into the roots of compassion and altruism. It fuses this science with inspiring stories of compassion in action. Current and archived articles are available on this website, as well as other resources on the science of serving others.