“Today we have gathered and see that the cycles of life continue.” The Mohawk Thanksgiving greeting to the world is a spectacular act of mindfulness. They gather together to notice and honor the living world around them. They offer thanks to the People, to Mother Earth and all her plants and herbs and creatures, to the Sun, the Moon, the Stars, the Waters, the Four Winds, and the Teachers. It is moving proof that no matter what is going on around us, it is possible to stop for a moment and adopt an attitude of witness and gratitude. The Mohawk knew that small moments of observation of the living world are not small live: they are portals to a much greater world and greater truth. They knew that we all live in a great web of interconnection, and that we are meant to play a conscious role in it.
“We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living beings. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People.”
Most of us think we need peaceful, stable conditions to give thanks, let alone to live in balance and harmony. But this is not so. According to descendants of the Wampanoag Nation, the feast began in an atmosphere of fear and not knowing. In their version of the story, in 1621, the Wampanoag heard the Pilgrims firing off their guns and canons and thought it might be a declaration of war. Chief Massasoit and a party of warriors traveled to the Plymouth colony to find out. It turned out that the pilgrims were celebrating the harvest, but they stayed for days to be sure, hunting and foraging and sharing food with the white settlers. There was no formal invitation to a shared feast on a set date. It arose in the midst of circumstances.
But that party of braves had a lot of practice. Native Americans then and now practice noticing and offering thanks to the whole world and all the beings in it all the time, not just one day in November. They have always lived with an awareness of their relationship to the Earth and all beings. They suffered an often fatal homesickness when they were taken from their ancestral lands. But the Mohawk Thanksgiving Greeting ends with giving thanks for the Creator, or Great Spirit, the animating force in everything, the source of “all the love that is still around us…” Even when everything was lost to them—even when we think everything is lost—there is a love that can never be taken.
This attitude of giving thanks does not mean being blind to what has happened or what is happening and doing nothing but stare at the stars. It means consciously remembering that we are more than we think we are, more than our thoughts and fears and dark judgments. It reminds us that we are not alone.
We can remember this by noticing very small good things, having good food and interesting, nutty families and friends. We can remember how good it is to be able to take a walk, to have a body that is more or less functional after all we’ve put it through, to be alive on the earth, safe from immediate danger.
On the night of his awakening, the Buddha faced his deepest fears and longings. The demon Mara conjured up terrible armies and visions of destruction trying to force him to give up. The Buddha reached down and touched the Earth, asking it to bear witness to his right to be sitting there. He reminded himself that he was part of a greater life, cosmic and microcosmic. He was not alone.
Here is a line from the Mohawk thanks to the Creator: “Everything we need to live a good life is here on Mother Earth.” This does not mean there is no fire and trouble, no dark night of the soul. It means that we dwell in the midst of possibility, that we are beloved on the Earth.