My friend and Zen practitioner Maia Duerr provided me with the perfect context for Thanksgiving this morning.
Her email message for the week opened with this:
“It’s been a month of heartbreak, with terrible violence in Baghdad, Beirut, and Paris. And we don’t have to look far to feel how heartbreak has pervaded throughout a great deal of this past year: too many guns, racial injustice, economic disparity, environmental collapse….How do we find the strength to keep living and giving and loving, in the midst of such profound suffering? I am reminded of the first paragraph from Thich Nhat Hanh’s beautiful book, Being Peace:Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us all around us, everywhere, any time.”
For me, Thanksgiving is always hard at best, being a celebration of the invasion of Turtle Island that led to the whole process of colonization and Empire-building that have created much of that violence and injustice proliferating in the world. Recent events – just think of all that’s happened since last Thanksgiving! – make that celebration even harder.
But if we remember that at the heart of it is gratitude, it transforms the event into an opportunity for interpersonal growth.
Maia’s message is drawn from an earlier dharma talk, How to Practice Gratitude When It Ain’t Easy, that she presented at Upaya Zen Center on a pre-Thanksgiving evening. In this talk, she presents a list from a Korean Buddhist text, Powang Sammaeron, that contains these guides from the teachings of the Buddha:
- “Treat illness as medicine, not disease”
- “Make worries and hardships a way of life”
- “Release is hiding right behind obstructions”
- “Treat temptations as friends who are helping you along the path”
- “Accomplish through difficulties”
- “Make long-term friends through compromise in your relationships”
- “Consider those who differ with you to be your character builders”
- “Throw out expectation of rewards like you’d thrown out old shoes”
- “Become rich at heart with small amounts”
- “Consider vexations as the first door on the path”
Not a bad list of meditations for Thanksgiving.