Thanksgiving: The Paradox of Gratitude and Standing Rock

Thanksgiving is becoming paradoxical, a dance of opposites, because while we long to bring our families together to express gratitude for our lives and appreciation for one another, for maIMG_0311ny it can also bring up tension and unresolved issues, a sense of loss and loneliness.

            At a cultural level it is  paradoxical  because while it is healing to feel gratitude and friendship in our personal lives, we now see the cracks in the mythology given school children about our friendship with the early native Americans. It is a ritual that more and more misses the point of friendship and cooperation between human tribes, especially when we recognize the violation of the rights of our American natives.

            Gratitude is the heart of Thanksgiving — the energy that stimulates love and happiness.  Too seldom do we teach our children to think about the blessings in their life and encourage them to express gratitude.  So as my family meets – we were 14 this week — we try to acknowledge what is good in our lives, and to work together and play together on this traditional day.  It is a rare time we are mostly all together.  My youngest grandson said    “This is the happiest day of my life” but then cried when it was over and he had to return home.  Love and separation is a hard lesson in life.

            At the same time that I enjoy this day of togetherness, I am acutely aware that this ought to be a day of humble apologies to the descendents of native Americans whose forebears were nearly wiped out by the invasion of the first immigrants to America.  Instead as I watch what is happening in North Dakota I am appalled that we are still pushing against their lands, turning nature into oil dollars  and using violence to prevent them from protecting the land and water we all need to survive.

            I have never been much of an activist, tending more toward introversion and seeking a universal Truth about existence.  But the standoff over the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota has touched me deeply.  The “Protectors”, most of them descendents of those who barely survived genocide, are standing in peace, ritual and silent rebuke of the values of a people who have been willing to destroy their lands and limit their rights for generations.  And they are doing  this for all of us, to bring to the surface the deep conflict in American life that values corporate profit over human health and existence.  There are many causes one could support to make this point – the rain forests, the oceans, our crops, the costs of life-saving drugs, ignoring environmental crises – many more. Their cause is water, especially the Mississippi River, and their land held by treaty.

            I don’t want to be an activist. I want to teach people to let go of their fears and concerns and experience the freedom and joy of living in this moment as their radiant true nature.  I know this is possible. My work for many years is basically as a mid-wife to people who are in a spiritual awakening process. Stepping out of the mind with all of its judgments and fears is a wonderful freedom and I believe a birthright of all.  In its natural state our consciousness is expansive and unencumbered. But a freedom that discards the needs of humans and all other species, that devalues the great gifts supplied by a healthy environment, and ignores those leaders who are willing to maim or kill for money or power is ultimately an escape and not a freedom.

            I know how easy it is to feel powerless, and how distracting our personal lives are, and how our minds generally keep us focused each on our own.  It has been taught that suffering exists because of our addiction to thoughts and to the limited view of our minds and so seeing through this is the way to get free.  This is a freedom from ourself. But if it does not make us free to do what is for the universal good then it is a limited freedom, still centered in the personal self.

            Whatever has created this world for us has created it for all of us, provided all we need to be sustained, if we hold it well.  Each of us in whatever we do impacts many if not most other lives.  Look around your house and imagine how many people were part of planting, creating, packaging, transporting the things you own, the food in your cupboards, building the home where you live.  How many people have you touched in your life with a kind word, an angry word, a demand, a service?  How many have touched you and supported you?

            We may not live in the literal kind of reality our lives have imagined (as non-dualists tend to say), but we do share this planet, each as a facet of the whole. We are each an aspect of the sacred and we each have a hand in making our world better or worse.  These are challenging days for many, fearful of the political changes we see.  But so they were for those who came before us and suffered through the anxieties and traumas of WW1 and WW2 and Viet Nam and the Gulf Wars and the Indian Wars, and the Civil War and the Revolution. We must each participate at some level if we are to rise above war, overcome our fascination with power and guns, and live in a way that supports an awakened life  — by which I mean living with peace and gratitude, creativity and love that is natural to our true nature, and offering this option to others.

            I fall into anger at times, or grief, or fear – and I know it is the work of the mind trapping me in an old, old pattern, common to our DNA.  After an awakening of consciousness it is sometimes a challenge to stay aligned with the deeper truth of our universal consciousness amid the myriad of difficult life experiences each of us goes through.  Adyashanti has pointed out the need for fidelity to Truth.  Awakening is not a blind distancing and withdrawal from all that is human.  It is consciousness perceiving what is needed and being free to respond not from our conditioning but from clarity and compassion for all.

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