Consciously cultivating an attitude of gratitude builds up a sort of psychological immune system that can cushion us when we fall. There is scientific evidence that grateful people are more resilient to stress, whether minor everyday hassles or major personal upheavals.Robert Emmons, How Gratitude Can Help You through Hard Times
On Giving Thanks and the Power of Gratitude
Friday, November 18th, 2022
2:00 PST / 22:00 UTC
Learn benefits and practices of offering thanks and cultivating gratitude, including the Thanksgiving Address of the Haudenosaunee.
A Time for Gratitude
Thanksgiving Day in the United States can become a celebration of agaya and ubuntu, through this Native American tradition. It is also a wonderful time to reflect on other ways that giving thanks can enrich our lives and support a thriving future for all.
In the United States, the fourth Thursday in November is Thanksgiving Day. There are some complexities to celebrating this holiday (and the following weekend, and indeed the ‘holiday season’) in ways that are truly in keeping with agaya and ubuntu. Nonetheless, a day devoted to gratitude has wonderful potential to be reinterpreted by the Novasutras community.
What are you grateful for?
The practice of gratitude is not some fluffy indulgence — it can be a revolutionary, subversive political act. We can actively choose gratitude as an antidote to the poison of a consumer society that tries to convince us we are inadequate.
When you live in a political economy that wants you to feel needy and insufficient so that you buy things, to practice gratitude, to claim your birthright, to take pleasure in your world, and to notice what you already have on your back, under your feet, is a subversive political act and vital for our mental health in counteracting the negative effects of late-stage capitalism.source unknown
Honoring Thanksgiving as a Day of Gratitude
Thanksgiving Day can be an opportunity for powerful new celebrations among Novasutras practitioners. It can be honored in ways that are truly abiding in agaya and ubuntu. It can be a day devoted to gratitude for the generosity of this sacred Earth. It can be a day to acknowledge the debts owed to indigenous peoples and traditional, place-based wisdom.
Start or Renew a Personal Gratitude Practice
Thanksgiving Day (or today, for that matter) might be the perfect time to begin, reclaim, or revise a gratitude journal. Keeping a daily gratitude journal can be a very healing practice. As your day draws to a close, stop to make a few quick notes of things for which you are grateful.
To deepen your experience of gratitude for our living Earth and beloved community, you might jot down a few words or phrases to complete the following prompts:
- Agaya was part of my life today when…
- Ubuntu was offered to me today when…
- I offered ubuntu to another today when I…
- Another thing am I grateful for today is…
Giving Thanks in Community
In the Work That Reconnects, we learn the power of beginning with gratitude as we come together. Starting community gatherings by giving thanks has a deep history among the Haudenosaunee Confederacy and many other traditions.
The Thanksgiving Address
Robin Wall Kimmerer explains the “Thanksgiving Address” (the Ohen:ton Karihwatehkwen or “Words That Come Before All Else”) in the chapter “Allegiance to Gratitude” of her wonderful book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants. As Kimmerer notes, do not regret when it goes on “too long” — this just means that we have so very much for which we can be thankful!
This beautiful recitation, based in the Haudenosaunee tradition of peacemaking, could be adapted and adopted as a practice before Novasutras-inspired gatherings. It brings people into harmony for doing the work of a world abiding in agaya and ubuntu.
The “Thanksgiving Address” begins:
Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.Braiding Sweetgrass (p. 107)
The recitation continues, thanking Mother Earth:
We are thankful for our Mother the Earth, for she gives us everything we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she still continues to care for us, just as she has from the beginning of time. To our Mother, we send thanksgiving, love, and respect. Now our minds are one.Braiding Sweetgrass (p. 108)
It continues further, giving thanks for the Waters, the Fish, the Food Plants, the Medicine Herbs, the Trees, the Animals… there is truly so much for which we should express our gratitude!
In addition to the version recounted in Braiding Sweetgrass, you can find a full version of the Thanksgiving Address step-by-step here, on YouTube, or as a PDF to print. There is also a version that includes the original Haudenosaunee language.
Acknowledging Sacred Land and Giving Thanks for Those Who Came Before Us
Often the indigenous humans of a place had a locally well-adapted culture that cherished and cared for the land. Their practices and beliefs made them well-integrated participants in local ecosystems. In the United States and other colonized parts of the world, cultures promoting exploitation and extraction displaced or eradicated these indigenous cultures.
We can choose to make all our gatherings an occasion to honor and give thanks for the earlier inhabitants of our watershed and bioregion. Particularly on the fourth Thursday in November, we might take some extra time to honor those people who walked the land before colonial settlers arrived. We can offer our respect for their traditions of land care. We can acknowledge historic wrongs that disrupted their connection to the land. We can give thanks for the tenacity and wisdom of those who survived the tragedies that accompanied colonialism, and for any work they are doing now to preserve and restore the best aspects of their language and culture, and to reclaim their rights and responsibilities to care for their ancestral lands.
It is important to learn about the indigenous people of the land where you are. That way, you can include specifics about them (especially their current work) in your land acknowledgement. A good place to start is the territorial map at native-land.ca. (North America, a.k.a Turtle Island, and Australia are the best mapped so far.) The Native Land team also created a teachers’ guide for using their map, plus a brief guide and additional resources for territory acknowledgement.
A Feast of Gratitude
“…I am human because I belong, I participate, and I share. A person with ubuntu is open and available to others, affirming of others, does not feel threatened that others are able and good…”~Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Sharing food is one of the most fundamental human expressions of ubuntu. Across many traditions, it is customary to express some gratitude for the food before eating a meal, especially one of cultural significance. If you don’t think the people you share your holiday feast with would appreciate the full Thanksgiving Address, you can start smaller. Here’s a quick, easy-to-share blessing (including a brief land acknowledgement), to inspire your own blessing this Thanksgiving or for similar celebrations.
Appreciate the bounty of beautiful food, and all the beings who made it available to you.
Expressing Gratitude for Native American Food Wisdom: the Three Sisters
The “Three Sisters” of Native American agriculture are corn, beans, and squash. This combination represents the strength, resilience and vitality we find in diverse communities of sharing, and truly celebrates ubuntu.
Thanksgiving Day celebrations in the United States typically include a feast with many dishes based on foods that originated in the Americas. The Three Sisters are a classic set of companion plants, traditionally planted together because they help one another grow. The beans fix nitrogen in the soil to encourage the growth of all three plants. The corn provides a tall stalk on which the beans can climb. The squash shades the ground to help retain water and prevent the growth of weeds.
These foods were shared by native farmers of the Americas with European colonists that arrived on their shores. Such acts of generosity saved many from starvation. So, for both botanical and cultural reasons, these three foods together can symbolize the concept of interdependence and the importance of community.
Wherever you are in the world, please do pause for a moment (or better yet, an hour or two) on this Thanksgiving Thursday, and consider all the amazing and wondrous things for which you can be grateful in this beautiful world.
What are you grateful for? How do you celebrate ubuntu and agaya?