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.
“My hypothesis is, that ordinary people have always had such an ambivalent attitude towards the concrete power of healers, magicians, and other shamanic types, and that this is the natural and right attitude to have towards them. If you come from a materialist-scientific culture, then you are likely to fall into two, symmetrical two traps: total denial of these powers, on the grounds that they are incompatible with (i.e. challenge) your scientific world view, and supposing that people who make use of the services of such healers/magicians must believe in them in some straightforward, literal way, the way that you might believe in the force of gravity, and therefore need to be rescued from ignorance and illusion. Often, when we ascribe superstition to others, I think we are just back-projecting onto them our own superstitious confidence in science, and ignoring the complexity of thought that is natural to people who don’t read books or spend half their lives lost in ‘thought’, but who do have to deal daily with very real situations and who therefore assess methods and techniques not on the basis of their authority or theory, but by their results.”