November 21, 2011

Thanksgiving Feeling a Little Rote? Give This A Try.

Rather Than Coming Up With One Single Thing To Be Grateful For At Thanksgiving Dinner, Seek Moments Of Blessing Throughout The Week.

I’m sure we’re not the only family in America who takes turns sharing what we’re thankful for with our loved ones around the Thanksgiving table.

While I have always thought that it added a “Norman Rockwell” element to the holiday, my kids recently confessed that they really dislike this tradition. They feel put on the spot and pressured to come up with something “big” or “worth” sharing. When I paused to digest this revelation, I realized that I, too, feel more than a little pressure to come up with a blessing suitable for public consumption on this day set aside to celebrate thankfulness.

As pressure is not something I’m ever seeking to add to life – particularly not during a time that is meant to be joyous – I got to thinking that there might be another way to focus on gratitude during our Thanksgiving celebration. Maybe, rather than come up with one, single thing to be grateful for at Thanksgiving dinner, we could seek moments of blessing throughout the week leading up to Thanksgiving. Maybe we could even share one little thing that we’d felt grateful for during our day with one another over dinner each night.

Before launching my little experiment to my family, I figured I should give it a test drive over the weekend. I started out trying to cultivate that “attitude of gratitude” we’ve all heard about a million times. But this felt a little elusive, a little too intangible for me to try to teach my kids. After all, controlling our attitudes is big, hard stuff even for grown-ups. Most of us have enough trouble noticing out attitudes, let alone changing them!

Instead, I opted to simply notice things for which I felt grateful. Cool, bright sunshine. Starting the day with an invigorating walk. Supportive sneakers. A good friend to raise kids alongside. Silly jokes. Belly laughs. The fact that the leaves had time to dry from our midweek rain so raking wasn’t too hard. My leaf blower. My dog’s inability to stay out of leaf piles. Reading out loud with my 10-year-old. My comfortable warm bed. Popcorn and M&Ms. Reusable grocery bags. Singing along to the radio while baking cookies. Eating said cookies.

I deliberately didn’t over-think a single blessing. I just noticed. As the weekend went on, I realized that the more I noticed, the better my attitude. (Had I actually managed to cultivate an attitude of gratitude??) Each time I took a second to feel grateful, I added a little to my overall sense of well-being. Not only that, but once I started noticing things to feel grateful for, they started to snowball. At first I had to search a bit, but very quickly, blessings seemed to pile up around me.

Perhaps because of my yoga, I was able to settle into this little experiment fairly comfortably. After all, it shares the same foundations that we work with on our yoga mats. First, it relies on good-old-fashioned practice. If, at first we don’t succeed, we try, try again. And when we do “try, try again,” we get better. So, while on Friday evening I was working pretty hard to notice things that made me feel grateful, by Saturday afternoon, I was actually making a mental list of my blessings as I raked my yard clean of leaves! (That gigantic, exhausting job has never been more enjoyable!)

Second, this Thanksgiving experiment requires us to be mindful. On our yoga mats, we learn to pay attention at many levels. We pay attention to the details of our physical alignment. We learn to pay attention to the sensations of our body in the stretches – the obvious ones and the more subtle ones. We learn to focus on our breathing. We learn to notice the wanderings of our mind. Yes,  we develop the ability to focus on our mats. But even more important is the ability to recognize when we’re not focused. It was this skill that I relied on over the weekend to bring me back (over and over again) to my gratitude experiment.

By the time Sunday arrived, I was feeling literally awash in little blessings. As my weekend of noticing draws to a close, I’m astonished to realize that my feelings of gratitude (of Thanksgiving) after my Thanksgiving experiment feel more real and more from-the-heart than any I’ve ever shared around a holiday table. Noticing is enough. Noticing is powerful. Noticing can change the way we experience our lives.

So, instead of encouraging my children to prepare words of thanks for Thursday afternoon, we’re going to try a week of noticing. We’re going to seek a week of little “thanksgivings.” I hope they will share at least one of the things they notice each day with us. But, even more than that, I hope that by Thursday they feel as rich with blessings as I do as I write to you today.

Perhaps you’d like to celebrate all your “little thanksgivings” with us?

Happy Thanksgiving!
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