Illustration by Maggie McManus.
Illustration by Maggie McManus.

Take a deep breath in, and let it out slowly. Do this a few times with the intention of breathing in the world around you. Let this respiration quiet the mind and bring awareness to the heart space within you. Allow gratitude to fill you, and enter you into a place of thanksgiving.

For many years I have traveled with my father and brother to Los Angeles to visit relatives for Thanksgiving. As a boy gathering with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents, the reunion was, and still is, my favorite holiday. Around the dinner table, three corn kernels would be placed under each plate. We would all listen as each person shared three things they were grateful for and would symbolically place the kernels, one at a time, into a beautifully painted gourd. This gourd has been used for longer than I can remember and is now quite full, full of thanksgivings. But for most of my youth I dreaded this very tradition. I can remember trips down to Los Angeles, where days in advance I would be thinking of things to say, finding it surprisingly hard it to muster something I was thankful about.

More recently, I have come to value the kernel tradition, finding myself at times overflowing with thanks.

Living in gratitude is a way of placing oneself into the holism of the natural world, as a participant. To give thanks is to give back; it is a form of spiritual reciprocity, a meaningful exchange with the forces of nature.

But how do we ever give back in way that is meaningful? For all that we receive every day, to what do we give thanks?

For me, expressing gratitude releases the affairs of my ego and I am filled with the joys of the world. By creating this as a daily ritual, I remember that I am a part of something much larger than myself. When I am grateful, I am giving and receiving love. Gratitude becomes authentic and we can bring this awareness into our daily lives consciously, as opposed to just once a year.

Take a deep breath in, and let it out slowly. The world is animated and you are alive. Take a moment right now to give thanks, however you want, to whatever you want, and allow less to become more, and watch as life becomes richer. What role can gratitude have in our daily lives?

The life of modern humans is filled with materials from all over the world transformed and molded into products we consume. We often don’t know what things are made of or from where they came. It is hard, then, to appreciate the process of production, and we are disconnected from the original materials extracted from the earth.

Most of us eat three times a day. What better way to express appreciation for the natural world than through the celebration of food? Through remembering to appreciate simple things, like food and water, family and friends, ancestors and the stars, we can allow ourselves to be fulfilled with joy.

The holiday of Thanksgiving is familiarly centered upon a special seasonal dinner of corn and pumpkins, with a turkey as the centerpiece. But are not all meals special and worth giving thanks for? When there is abundance, like during the fall harvest, share in celebration. We, as a species, have done this for thousands of years and it is an important function of community.

The meal doesn’t start at the table either. Spending time preparing the meal can be of equal enjoyment to eating the meal itself. The product of Thanksgiving is not solely the finished dishes, but rather the good intentions had throughout the process of cooking; eating will nourish all involved in more ways than just from consuming the physical nutrients.

Next time you are at a dinner party, whether it is from your backyard bounty, a local farm, or from the supermarket, try initiating a “thanks-giving” circle: it could be a one-word go-around or open-ended sharing.

The uncountable gifts of the world are more felt than measured. Each flower opens with beauty, blooming courageously into an unknown world. As humans, our bodies are vessels of the world; our nourishment is both physical and spiritual. From the fertile belly of the earth we are fortified with food. When we dance or cry, we let flow through us energy larger than ourselves. We are invited daily to participate in the sensuous and invisible of life.

Take a deep breath in, and let it out slowly. I am grateful. And to those who have come before, to our ancestors, to the elders in the community, to the people and spirits who made life possible for us today, to the work, to the time and energy spent in creating the world we call home today, I give thanks.