Thanksgiving, Reborn

I imagine that as holidays go, Thanksgiving used to make a lot more sense. Back in the days of the Pilgrims, when a long and difficult winter loomed, a fall bounty must have surely inspired a spontaneous outpouring of gratitude. But these days, how many Americans experience the natural cycles of lean during the cold months and plenty during the warm, to make us fully appreciate the special pleasure of a feast in the face of famine?

Thanksgiving has evolved. Once a celebration of rare abundance, now Thanksgiving embodies excess in a sea of more of the same. On Thursday America will eat too much, which is not too terribly different from every other day of the year. Turkey and stuffing plus all the fixings make up a fine feast to be sure, but is that so terribly different from last Saturday’s dinner down at the Golden Corral or The Cheesecake Factory?

Then after a brief tryptophan-aided nap, America will head out in the wee hours of Black Friday to spend too much, which is something our country already does most days anyway. These last few years have been an education in how our overspending is not just an individual problem, but a trait our whole economy is built on. Businesses large and small depend on it. Turn our spending down, even a bit, and the whole red, white, and blue house of cards begins to wobble.

With our access to easy credit and year-round strawberries, the natural cycles of up and down, lean and fat, richer and poorer have all been disrupted. Over here in America, we lords and ladies have come to expect nothing short of onwards and upwards. Our idealization of the individual and the rational celebrates the linear path and forward progress. “Take us to the moon!” our king said, and the good men of our country responded beautifully. (Forgive me if I’m wrong, but I doubt many women were allowed at that table.) Ours is a masculine nation, and we have many brave, proud, and glorious accomplishments to show for it.

But too much of one thing ends up diluting its impact, no matter how spectacular that thing is. Too much up leads to a crash. Too much forward leaves us untethered in a foreign land. Too much masculine becomes hard without the feminine as balance. We need bounty, but not all the time. Step into your local Wal-Mart, and you’ll see that we already have more. What we need now is less. We need not just to move forward, but also to circle back again to revisit where we’ve been and learn from the experience. We need not just to rush, but also to pause. We need our feminine side. We need our Mother Earth.

Thanksgiving, with its focus on food and family, is a perfect time for a celebration of the feminine in all of us. This does not mean overeating, or overspending, or wearing big wigs. This means taking the time to pause, reflect, walk in nature, observe the changing of the seasons, enjoy the simple pleasure of sharing a meal with loved ones. Celebrating the feminine means taking a break from worrying about where you’re going, and just enjoying where you are. It means, for these four days, letting life develop as it will, without agenda, without preconceived expectation. See where life’s creative force takes you.

Remove all the shopping fervor and the big opening day for blockbuster movies, and there’s not a lot to this holiday. A meal, that’s it. For many, Thanksgiving is a four-day opportunity to stop and smell the pile of burning leaves. But true relaxation doesn’t come naturally to us here in America, so ingrained are our Protestant work ethic and Catholic guilt. Shopping, overeating, movies, sports, excessive drinking—these are all escape mechanisms masquerading as modes of relaxation.

True relaxation comes not from escaping reality, but from relenting to it. When we resist where we are, either through regret or yearning or anger, we hold ourselves in a state of constant tension. To relax we must accept our present reality. This has nothing to do with what will happen tomorrow, or even five minutes from now. It just means ceasing all the activities we have tied up in resisting what our lives are right now.

Reality can be painful at times, hence the instinct to bolt, but we needn’t fear the pain. If the fear of the pain is what keeps us imprisoned, then by definition the pain also holds the power to set us free. (That being said, I must admit I’ve spent most of my life fearing the pain.) The pain comes from expectations we carry with us about where we should be going, how we really should have gotten there five years ago, and how just in general we suck. But how do we know where we should be going? How do we know where we should be right now? Because someone told us (our parents, our spouse, ourselves)? What makes them all-knowing?

This Thanksgiving, I wish that we could all feel the maternal love that values not how far we’ve gotten, but our basic selves, just as we are. I wish that we could all feel the warm embrace of a Mother that teaches us that success is not a fixed point on the horizon, that life doesn’t roll out in a straight line pointing ever upwards, that without the dark there would be no light. I wish that we could hear the voice that whispers that there is nowhere we should be but right here, that we’re needed and useful just as we are. Then perhaps we could feel true gratitude. Because we would carry with us the memory of that pain, and how it felt to resist it. Then we could fully experience the sweetness of life when the pain subsides.

© Amy Daniewicz and Beneath the Trees

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