Thanksgiving and Gratitude
By Padma Borrego, November, 2011
Close to the Thanksgiving holiday, the idea of gratitude often comes up. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because of that. Maybe because I am not a “glass half full” person, I have to work at gratitude. I have to put aside time to reflect on what it means to me—how appreciation of the many beautiful and challenging things in my life helps me acknowledge that I am making a choice in how I look at the circumstances that I am in, or the people who I am looking at.
Many years ago, I read a book about gratitude, by Melody Beattie, a prominent voice of identifying and overcoming codependency. After Beattie had written two best-selling books, her son was killed in a skiing accident. What I remember most about the book was Beattie’s ability to focus on the things in her life that were working, and acknowledge how grateful she was for them. They weren’t special things; they were simple, small, everyday things. However small it was, in the depths of her grief she used gratitude as a beacon to guide her. It opened the door just enough to let the light back in. It’s such a small shift of focus that can create change, and any change can be a huge shift in consciousness. I often think of Beattie when I think of gratitude and that small, or maybe big, shift in focus.
It is, though, one thing to talk about it, and another thing to live it—especially when life is not going my way. I can easily feel ganged up on by life—even today: I have been asked to leave the home I have been living and working in. I have not been here long, but it has been a refuge after a long period of being unsettled. So I have fluctuated from being very angry to feeling devastated. This change has unearthed a huge pile of fear in me. I have no support from my family, and often feel like an orphan. It opens that big wound.
I have loving people in my life, though—people who have been pulled closer to me because of my son. I have people to remind me that it’s only a house, and that these feeling are only feelings. They will pass. I will find a new place. It’s another opportunity to take steps forward, to stand up for myself, to not feel victimized, to reach out, to be honest. It’s another opportunity to cherish the beauty of my son.
That appreciation moves me forward. That gratitude changes the lens through which I am looking. It can take me out of old emotions and bring me back to the present time. It can even help me step forward to a different future. If I step forward with gratitude, it might look different than if I step forward with anger. It sure feels different.
I have often used a gratitude list, naming the things and people that have touched my heart, and cultivating a lightness and an appreciation within me. When I am in the dumps, it becomes a tool to look around, not at what is wrong (what is wrong is apparent—always apparent), but to see the unfolding of the moment. I’m not talking about sitting in tolerance—I’m not talking about accepting things that aren’t acceptable. I’m talking about sitting in fertile soil. It’s about turning on the light to see the whole picture.
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and teacher, speaks about cultivating the qualities that nurture us. We have qualities that exist within us—such as anger, hurt, pain, excitement, jealousy, hope, peace, understanding—and each one may arise throughout the day. He asks us to cultivate the qualities that support us to be at peace in our lives; the qualities hat allow us to be present and fully engaged in the moment. He uses the image of a cup of salt poured into a bowl of water—it becomes unusable. But if we pour a cup of salt into a lake, there is little difference. To cultivate, to focus on, to read about, to listen to, to observe, to foster those qualities of appreciation, gratitude, understanding, and compassion within us, allows the waters of our mind to be in peace. Anger may arise, but not distort us. It will subside again, as another quality arises. The calm waters will reflect who we are beyond the anger, fear, grief.
I am grateful to be teaching at Yoga Shanti. I am grateful for all that it has taught me, and is teaching me. As a teacher, we are always learning in order to articulate and be clear in conveying this tangible, yet not so tangible thing called yoga. As a person, we are always striving to be happy, to be content with who we are as a person. I am grateful for who I have become as a person. I have work to do—I am still working on relationships with others—but, so far, I like me.
Many blessings to the yoga community. May we all grow together.
“To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.” — Thich Nhat Hanh