While reflecting on Thanksgiving this week, it was easy to feel nourished by the simple act of giving thanks. When we offer thanks, we acknowledge awareness of something or someone that has made an impact on us. As we expand our awareness, we get enriched with a sense of connection and presence that I would say almost always leads to a form of inner peace.
I was comparing aversion and anger to gratitude and kindness in the cycles of cause and effect. When negative emotions take hold of us, it’s hard to manage the steering or the breaks. They slowly break us down which makes backing out of them a challenge. We may feel justified in our anger and hatred. We may feel satisfaction to where we direct this fire, but we always burn ourself in the process. It's not just damaging to any peace of mind and happiness, but it also damages our physical health by wearing down our immune system.
On the flip side, it must also be true that when we send kind acts, love and true gratitude, out in the world, we are the first to reap the benefits. The act of compassion, caring, and giving also effect both sides in the same way that throwing a fireball will not only hurt the target but burn the hand. To spread a little love in a hurting world will benefit others and also make our own world a sweeter place to be.
Don’t get me wrong, anger has its place. It’s a naturally arising emotion. How we deal with it is paramount. If we let our anger turn into hatred, we destroy the very fibre of our being. Anger is natural, hatred is learned and has only damaging characteristics. Fear and hatred will never lead to health and happiness. Thich Nhat Hanh would always say to walk with our anger. Listen to it with a deserving compassionate voice. Thank it for showing up with the teachings it brought. This alone will reduce the fire and its collateral damage.
Let us count the ways we can be grateful. I once created a necklace called ‘the blackboard of gratitude’. Engraved on it was, “Thank you for the eyes that help me navigate my way. Thank you for the ears that I may hear the song of whistling winds or the whisper of a child. Thank you for this voice so that I may shout gratitude for all that you are in me.” I’d like to wear these words again.
Giving thanks is, in my opinion, the most important and effective practice there is. It takes us out of our head and into the hearts of others. It takes us out of our isolated world and forces us to see a bigger picture. It not always easy as it makes us stand up and be accountable to the not always noble journey of being human. To find gratitude we must have the courage to be honest and open. The path of gratitude helps us find the courage to fight the good fight, to see more sides than we are ever given, the courage to love without expectation. We can call this fierce compassion.
The further I walk along life’s path, the more it’s clear to me that the braver we are, the luckier we get. For this I give thanks.
Wishing you a happy and mindful Thanksgiving.
With love, a lotus and a smile
It's Thich Nhat Hahn's 94th birthday today. Although he has not been in public since his stroke in 2014, his teachings remain in the hearts and minds of millions. He is so happy to have been able to return to Vietnam where he was exiled for forty years. He is now reunited with the temple where he took his vows when he was just 16.
Today I will kiss the earth with my feet in walking meditation for him, as he did with us for his whole life.