Thanksgiving as a Practice

Peter Oslanec on Unsplash @peter_oslanec

“Today we have gathered and see that the cycles of life continue.” The Mohawk Thanksgiving greeting to the world is an extraordinary act of consciousness. They gathered (and still 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. They weren’t just offering words. They were (and still are) opening their hearts and the whole of their being to these living beings and forces, feeling in relationship with them, feeling love and gratitude. The Mohawk, along with every other tribe and all indigenous people, understand that we belong to creation, and to each other.

“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.”

These are the people the European settlers called savages. According to descendants of the Wampanoag Nation, the first feast that came to be called Thanksgiving 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 just celebrating the harvest, but the Wampanoag 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.

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—and even when we think everything is lost—there is still a love that can never be taken.

During the journey towards awakening, the Buddha came face to face with tormenting longings and deep fears. The demon Mara, desperate to unseat this man who was so determined to wake up, set out to dish up the worst, most knotty, shame-laced, difficult emotions known to humanity—be conscious of that, Buddha! Mara conjured terrible visions of all kinds. But the Buddha could not be moved. Instead, he reached down and touched the earth. The classical Buddhist explanation of this famous gesture is that he was asking the earth to bear witness to his many lifetimes of practice, his hard won right to be sitting there. But I think the gesture means more. Like the Mohawk, the Buddha knew that the full flowering of his consciousness depended on the earth and all her creatures and forces.

This is so, the Buddha knew, because it is our whole being that seeks to wake up, not our thinking minds alone. The plants and animals and other people in the world are meant to touch our hearts and our senses and deepest feelings, reminding us what is truly valuable and real. This is so necessary now, with animals and forests and our fellow people dying around us. But how is it to happen? And who has forty-nine days to sit under a tree in a forest?  This great blossoming or opening begins as we notice how we are asleep. What do we not notice?

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 trouble or suffering, no injustice, no despair. It means that even when we are oblivious, we are beloved on the Earth.

Happy Thanksgiving.

8 thoughts on “Thanksgiving as a Practice

  1. Thank you Tracy- Hope you enjoy this beautiful day:) Missed you all Sunday – went to Rhinebeck for the day. See you soon. v


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