Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Day of Gratefulness

Like many things coming out of history, the American holiday of Thanksgiving has roots in a deep wound:

The story is that in 1637, the Puritans who had come here to escape persecution surrounded a group of Pequots who had gathered for their Green Corn Festival during the night. The next day, they ordered the Native people to come out, and as people followed their order and came out, they were ruthlessly killed. Then the governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony called for a Day of Thanksgiving to celebrate the slaughter of 700 innocents. And now we celebrate this holiday by gorging on food, watching people engage in violent football and then fighting over low priced consumer items the next day. Ah, bliss!

But as we enter a newer age, perhaps it is time to reassess some of these ancient and modern traditions.

1637 was a different age. One lineage of Hindu Astrology believes that this occurred during a dark time in history known as Kali Yuga. They believe that this is the far point on our planet's rotation around the universe and/or galaxy.  During this time energy is at its lowest, and people are prone to darker deeds. Some of the things that happened during Kali Yuga were The Crusades, The Inquisition, the slave trade, and so on.

While there are many who believe that Kali Yuga actually is still going on, and will be for the next 480,000 years, or so, Swami Sri Yukteswar reinterpreted the yugas, and, according to his calculations, we have moved on to the next phase, during which we are discovering that we are energy beings much more than physical beings. He calculated that this will continue to increase over the next 10,000 years, or so, at which time we will be at the zenith of our energy existence, close to the energy source of the galaxy and/or universe. Here we will realize that we are made almost entirely of energy. We will then drift again to the low-energy portion of our rotation.

In this context, it is east to see why so many of our traditions are rooted in such dark times. But rather than dwell on the evil roots, it is time to reframe these to some more positive times.

While in the Eastern traditions, the great Yogi Paramhansa Yogananda said “Every day should be a day of Thanksgiving for all the gifts of Life — for sunshine, water, and the luscious fruits and greens which we receive as indirect gifts from the Great Giver.”

Instead of Thanksgiving, gratefulness is what we should celebrate. While, as Yogananda said, we should do this every day, there are many for whom one day a year this would be a start. There is also something to be said about most of the citizens of a country celebrating something together. 

The traditions of our Thanksgiving involve getting together with family and friends, and that is a good  thing. However, the over-indulging represents taking and not giving. And, well, the whole 'Black Friday' scene is just ugly.

Gratefulness is something our society is very poor at. We spend a lot of time indulging our appetites, but very little time thanking ourselves, our families, friends, co-workers and so forth for all they give to us. As a society, we focus deeply on what is missing in our lives: we obsess over our shortcomings, lack of funds, feelings of sadness and anxiety and all the things that are not perfect in our lives. But what about the myriad of things that are perfect all around us? It is so seldom that we celebrate this yearly, let alone daily.

Many saintly people say that they begin their day with gratitude, and take time each day to give back to the world and to celebrate all that they have to be thankful for. Some of these saintly people are impoverished. Some of them have suffered from physical ailments, but these are people who see the world as opportunity and not, like so many, as a burden.

Once people begin to look in their lives for things for which to be grateful, they can see more and more things until the little things in our lives that cause depression or boredom or lack are insignificant. This shakes us loose from the past - the same way we need to shake Thanksgiving loose from its root in a dreadful day in November back in 1637.

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