Happy Thanksgiving!

I’m writing this on Thanksgiving morning here in the Northeast United States.   My daughter Alex and her friend Rhiannon (who is English, which gives us a heightened sense of the holiday) are sleeping. I’m looking out at a grey sky and mostly bare trees, reflecting on the meaning of the turkey and the Nigella Lawson flour-free Clementine cake that Alex baked and all the rest of the food that I will inevitably (and probably incessantly) eat.  I’ve learned a few facts thanks to the generous beings at Wikipedia, and they feel intuitively right.  Thanksgiving is also a feast of safe homecoming, safe passage. The first Thanksgiving in this country may actually have been celebrated by the Spanish on September 8, 1565, in what is now Saint Augustine, Florida.  A day of thanksgiving was also observed in Virginia in 1619.

While not the first feast of thanksgiving on the continent, the traditional origin of modern Thanksgiving in the United States is generally regarded to be the celebration that occurred at the site of Plymouth Plantation, in Massachusetts, in 1621.  The  Wampanoag Native Americans Native Americans helped the pilgrims who arrived in Massachusetts cultivate the land and fish, saving them from starvation.  What an extraordinary act of generosity and compassion!   And how did the white settlers repay this gift?  Since my daughter and I vowed to dwell on wholesome and uplifiting subjects this week, I will just stick with that extraordinary reverberating gift that keeps on giving, year after year.  Julia Child once famously said that if you wish to know eternity, to partake of the eternal, cook and eat dinner with loved ones.  To cook well requires an extraordinary feeling for the way things are, the properties of things, the way heat and other elements effect them.  It requires attention and sensitivity and patience and curiosity and humility.  It probably requires all of what the Buddhists call the Seven Factors of Awakening.   Gurdjieff once said that if a man or woman knows how to do anything very well–even just making coffee–they know something about the workings of the universe.   I know what he means, don’t you?   Watching them, or learning yourself, shows you something about the way things work in the real world, about the play of forces.  Just imagine how much those Wampanoags knew about Nature, about the land and water and the plants and animals who lived here.  They had much to show and teach the white people who showed up on their land, and the early settlers took in a bit of it, enough to take care of themselves.  May we return to that original feast, willing to learn all they had to offer, which may have been knowledge of living in harmony with the Whole.

It was not just the knowledge of Native Americans.  This morning I learned that the harvest celebration may have been modeled after harvest festivals that were commonplace in Europe at the time.   The Pilgrims may have been influenced by watching the annual services of thanksgiving for the relief of the siege of Leiden in 1574, while they were staying in Leiden.   In Canada, the celebration of  Thanksgiving  goes back to the explorer Martin Frobisher, whose celebration was not for harvest, but for homecoming. He had safely returned from a search for the Northwest Passage, avoiding thegrim  later fate of  Henry Hudson and Sir John Franklin. In the year 1578, Frobisher held a formal ceremony in  Newfoundland to give thanks for surviving the long journey.

Last week, I was blogging and reflecting on the interplay of mindfulness and concentration in spiritual practice and in life.  This Thanksgiving morning, I see a bit more clearly how these two practices and properties of attention work together–and how we work together.   Yesterday, when I was preparing something to be cooked today, I had to concentrate, to note when bubbles started to arise in the milk, to turn off the heat before it boiled, to stir the sauce until it thickened.  It never did thicken. We’ll see what time and the cold of the fridge and the heat of the oven will do….let’s be honest, I had to face my lack of deep knowledge of cooking, the fruit of long-term attention.  I also had to face the liability of having a college student assistant who was on twitter with her friends and taking pictures of the cake she baked to send around the world at the same time she read the recipe to me.   Still, I could see the satisfaction that concentration brings, the grounding force it is.  When Alex bakes, she likes to work in silence.  It’s a kind of concentration practice for her.  It settles and grounds her.

But cooking is also a means to remember.  When I interviewed Nigella Lawson years ago, she told me she began cooking to remember her mother and her sister who died.  Cooking  the recipes that they loved was a sensual, visceral way to literally recollect the experience of being with them, eating with them.   While engaged in the act of cooking we can also open our field of attention to remember the tastes and smells of other Thanksgiving feasts.  We can remember those who cooked this, even back to those who first showed us how to roast turkeys and cook squash.  When we cook and eat we can be mindful of all those who were generous, who concentrated and learned, who suffered and became mindful of the way the universe works.  Finally, I am very thankful of all those who have taken the time to read this blog.  I’m very aware this Thanksgiving of how we all influence one another–how we guide one another home.  Happy Thanksgiving.

Comments

  1. Thank you, Luke. We have a custom of going around the table saying what we are thankful for in the past year. Your friendship and wonderful creativity as a writer and web curator for Parabola is definitely on the list!

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  2. Tracy & Luke,

    I too am thankful for you both, and everyone else, all the others who have taught me so much.

    I woke up this morning in a mood to intentional write something new. Good or bad, and I reserve the right to rewrite it at any time, here it is. ;-) Thanksgiving Morning –

    http://whenangelsareborn.blogspot.com/2010/11/thanksgiving-morning.html

    In a couple of hours, Joanne and I will leave to join my family here in Houston, for our Thanksgiving feast with all the trimmings. Including all the family recipes that have been passed down from one generation to the next, and new ones as well we in turn will pass on. This is indeed a feast day, a sacrament of family and friends, and of course a celebration of thanksgiving, a happy Eucharist, a blessing.

    Peace & Happy Thanksgiving to All,

    Ron

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  3. Tracy,
    Many thanks for sharing your “meditation” on Thanksgiving, and a brief history of how it has been practiced over the years.
    This morning, as I was cleaning my 21 and 1/2 turkey, I said a silent thanksgiving to it and for it….a blessing if you will.
    I love the practice of going around the dinner table to say thank you for what is especially true this year. (And aren’t we grateful for it all??) We’ve done this in the past, and since you brought it up, we will do it today too.
    Also, we will remember our loved ones who are no longer here, but still a part of our lives and who we are.
    I use my Mom’s china, and I have a water pitcher that was my great-grandmother’s. It was used when she served her family, including my mother.
    And yes, to me cooking is a meditation and an act of creativity!Thank you, Tracy, for all your time and meaningful insights
    Peace and joy to you and your family. Wish I could taste the cake that Alex baked! :~)

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  4. I’m a Thanksgiving failure. I neither cook well or eat well. Ah, but there is always hope. Lack of attention though can lead to indigestion. This has been verified.

    Gurdjieff said to Ouspensky in ISM: “What a man knows well” (he emphasized the word “well”)—”that is his preparation. If a man knows how to make coffee well or how to make boots well, then it is already possible to talk to him. The trouble is that nobody knows anything well. Everything is known just anyhow, superficially.”

    “I think therefore I am.” Rene Descartes

    “I can, therefore I am.” Simone Weil

    Simone is closer to what Gurdjieff means IMO. “I Am” requires more than thought. Doing one thing well is a beginning if ones aim is “to be.”

    Happy belated Thanksgiving

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    • Thanks for supplying the exact quote, Nick. What does it mean to do something really well for you? For me it means with both concentration –which takes effort and will–and mindfulness–which is a sensitive awareness that cannot be forced, only be opened to, realized, allowed. Both are needed to really know how to do something well, like two wings of a bird.

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      • I tend to agree Tracy as far as it concerns me. When I do something well I have a certain idea of what the result should be. It then takes concentration, will, and mindfulness. But there is a difference between something done well by me and doing something well. I must admit my limitations, mistakes, and misconceptions if I am open to learning.

        For example, I’m rated around 1900 as a chess player. When I play a game a little better than my level, I’m playing well. However, I’m nothing compared to a 2600 player. The point I am getting at is there is a difference between doing something well for me and the potential to do something well.

        The emotions are not needed in chess. I also play keyboards. I could play better with a specific practice towards the goal of uniting my mind with my hands to produce my desired emotional expression.

        If doing something well is a preliminary requirement, what can it lead to? It can IMO either lead to becoming attached to accomplishment or the ability to sacrifice this attachment.

        For me to do something well as a man rather than just as a reacting machine requires more than the “what” and the “how” of doing something well but also the “why.” Why bother? What could be more satisfying than the thrill of accomplishment and self importance? Why sacrifice it? As of now I see the reason as becoming open to the help of grace.

        The “why” of it: freedom from the limitations of Plato’s cave, requires the help of grace to illuminate the vertical direction for my being. It illuminates the HOW to reveal objective meaning. It allows me momentarily to experience my human condition as it is from a conacious perspective that reconciles it.

        When I do something well, it allows me to experience what “quality” means. It offers the experience of comparison.

        Andre and Simone Weil were complimentary geniuses. Where Andre’s genius was in the “how” of mathematics , Simone’s genius was in human “perspective” being capable of a higher quality of reconciliation. She was open to experience life without buffers and the freedom it offered while at the same time revealing the “why.”

        Andre could prove the truth of his “how” to others while Simone experientially verified higher reconciliation for herself.

        I don’t remember any other instances of complimentary young geniuses. Their young lives were unique as far as I know.

        Sylvie Weil, Andre’s daughter, has just written a book on their relationship. She is giving a talk on her book. I will attend because this idea of complimentary geniuses interests me. Can a Man, as Gurdjieff said “without quotations marks” be capable of the HOW genius of Andre and the WHY of TRUTH genius of Simone, the overwhelming need and ability to consciously return to the source so as to do something really “WELL” as a human being? Uniting the horizontal HOW with the vertical WHY in practice rather than just in theory. I don’t know.

        What I do believe is that learning to do one thing well free of escapism, by acquiring the quality attention necessary to do so has the potential to open doors we are unaware of.

        Anyhow, for anyone interested:

        http://store-locator.barnesandnoble.com:80/event/3065403

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  5. Really beautiful thoughts!

    But unfortunately Thanksgiving Day was also the beginning of destruction. As Ms Cohran nicely says, “What an extraordinary act of generosity and compassion! And how did the white settlers repay this gift?”.

    She does not explain how, but everybody knows : genocide and destruction.

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  6. True, Mateau. Yet there is away to begin to repair the past, starting with the quality of effort and intention we bring to the moment.

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  7. This comment is somewhat off the main topic of Thanksgiving, however, having just discovered Parabola, I am happy to read the uplifting thoughts and comments that form the matrix of further associations. Does Parabola organize any events or under whose aegis events take place (particularly in NYC)? Thank you for being.

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    • Hi Amy,

      Welcome to Parabola! We will be having some events later in the Spring. I’ll be posting details here and also on the Parabola Facebook site and our free weekly newsletter as they become clear. Stay tuned!

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  8. Though I came to it a few days too late, it’s never too late to savor a good piece of writing. Thank you for your musings, one of the best on Thanksgiving I’ve ever read. I’ll take this tone into the Christmas/Solstice period.

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  9. , I’d like to add that not only Europeans and Spanish celebrate traditions of an annual holiday. Gratitude was a way of life with ancient traditions practiced, and still practiced to this day, by Native American people.

    Thanking the Earth spirit, Great Spirit and the sky, and offering to protect the same is and was the role of humans. The four directions are blessed and thanked as well in many ceremonies. The West direction is life-giving and the source for rain. The East represents knowledge and is the essence of spirituality. The North is thanked for endurance, strength, and honesty. The South is thanked for bounty, medicine, and growth. There are variations among many different tribes, but it’s useful for us to reflect on this.

    The pipe ceremony is a link between Earth and sky, and is the most sacred because it is a prayer in physical form. Fire symbolizes the sun, and tobacco is chosen because its roots go deep into the earth and its smoke rises high into the heavens. The thanking ceremony that we conduct on Thanksgiving one day a year is a way of life for some people. It needs to be practiced by many more of us, so that we do not forget the connection between our mind and our heart. Often our mind “runs” things in our life, but our hearts need to be in control to keep us on our path and love one another.

    I found some of the information for this article by reading articles about Lakota, Cree, Sioux and Pomo practices and traditions.

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