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November, the Season of Gratitude
As we move away from summer and the days shorten, our energy naturally turns inward and begins to wane. Often we feel a corresponding drop in our mood. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is the technical name that’s been given to the emotion that some of us feel at this time of year. However another emotion inherent in the season, that can create a more uplifting state of being, is the emotion of gratitude. Gathering friends and family around a bountiful table is our seasonal way of expressing that gratitude. Gratitude for those we love; gratitude for the richness of the earth.
The dictionary defines gratitude as “the quality or condition of being thankful.” The word comes from the Latin root gratia, meaning “favor”, and gratus, meaning “pleasing”. Research has shown that when people regularly engage in the cultivation of gratitude they become happier and more pleasant to be around. Furthermore, studies show that gratitude is one of the few things that can measurably change people’s lives.
Many cultures throughout history have marked this time of year with elaborate festivals and rituals, to express their gratitude for the God who protects them and their crops throughout the year. Thanksgiving celebrations held by the ancient Greeks, the Romans, the Hebrews, the Chinese, and the Egyptians all reflect this spirit. Even in prehistoric times, the first Americans observed ceremonies at this time of year to express gratitude to a higher power for life itself. The words of an early Seneca ritual echo this sentiment – “Our Creator shall continue to bless us from the sky and we on earth will give thanks to him by feasting on his gifts from the earth.”
Our contemporary Thanksgiving holiday is derived from a mix of European and Native American traditions. Some believe the tradition began in 1565, when the Spanish celebrated their arrival in Saint Augustine, Florida. But most trace the origin of the modern Thanksgiving holiday to a 1621 celebration at Plymouth, Massachusetts. While initially, the Plymouth colony did not have enough food to feed half of the 102 colonists, the Wampanoag Native Americans helped the pilgrims by providing seeds and teaching them to fish. In recent years, this collaborative effort is echoed in the way that food kitchens across the country join with local stores donating the ingredients for a Thanksgiving meal and with volunteers cooking for those who are hungry or in need.
One of the unique characteristics of the day is the diversity of people, rituals and food. All ethnicities and religions are involved and a great range of dietary preference is honored. This is certainly something to be thankful for – a day when the distinctions fall down and we all give thanks, each in our own way.
Daily, whether rich or poor, each of us is presented with a diversity, not only of food choices, but of sounds, sights, smells, thoughts, feelings, opinions. So on this first day of November take time to be grateful for your life, just as it is – its wonderful rich diversity. At the beginning of the day, find a time to quiet yourself and focus on the people, activities and belongings in your life. Acknowledge each with gratitude, then write each down on a piece of paper. Carry the paper with you throughout the day and return to it whenever you begin to feel stressed or down, saying, “I am grateful for ____.” As you move through the day, replace negative thoughts with feelings of thanks. Before bed, take time to affirm the blessings of the day.
If, at any point, you find yourself forming a picture of how things should be, set that aside and be grateful for the diversity that is right in front of you. Be open to being surprised. Direct your energy toward gratitude rather than regret, possibility rather than limitation. Celebrate the month of Thanksgiving with thanks for the diverse miracle that is your life. The more you can open your heart in gratitude, replacing doubt and fear with thanks, the more your life will transform into what you want it to be.
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