Thanks for the Gravy (or reflections on cultivating gratitude)

OK, so the holidays are approaching like a Turkey in heat (is that possible?)  And this year’s been a tough one for a whole lot of folks.  Being someone who always tries to find the silver lining, I very purposefully find a time on Thanksgiving to actually…Give Thanks! for the amazing abundance all around me (though that scarcity devil on my shoulder has been having fun poking his pitchfork in my ear lately).

What seems like many moons ago now, just after 911, a friend and former consulting partner came up with a fantastic idea to make Thanksgiving a National Day of Giving.  Translation: find an organization you care about and make Thanksgiving the day you make a donation to that org  (if you don’t know of any, I have a great suggestion!) For Giving Day, we did a national media blitz, got great coverage, and launched the effort.  Then we both got other work, and moved on.  Such is life.  But the concept has always stayed with me.

And the grassroots activism thing has always been one of my character flaws that I happen to cultivate with great enthusiasm (most of the time). A year after 9/11 (and in many ways because of it), I ended up at San Quentin, launching a garden program to rehabilitate prisoners through connection to nature. In such a stark, grey, desolate place, I have found amazing abundance, kindness and care.  My purpose in that endeavor has been to rekindle my faith in humanity. Checkmate.

Now, no matter what my days are like, I always have that to be thankful for.  So if I can be thankful for working in a prison, then you can find something, too…!

So, what will you do on Thanksgiving to nurture abundance and gratitude?  Here are some ideas:

  • From my friend Elka Eastly: sit down with your family and friends, a pile of pennies, and a jar.  Each penny represents one thing for which you’re grateful.  So you make your statement and then put the penny in the jar.  Once you get going, gratitude abounds.  And you might have full jar of pennies at the end…that you can donate to your favorite program or charity!
  • A personal favorite: watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade, and sit for a moment to savor the smells wafting from kitchen. A throwback to childhood.  (always grateful for family time and New York City).
  • Ask everyone at the dinner table either what gift they have to offer the world (self-gratitude is often the most difficult), or name a gift that each family member has bestowed on you.
  • Instead of a prayer, at the table, each person states, “I’m grateful for…” (tell a story).  Note: prayers are totally acceptable, too.
  • Make a list and read it aloud to your family.  Only the good stuff, please.
  • To honor the idea of Giving Day, everyone selects an organization that they care deeply about, and makes a donation (on Thanksgiving) to their org of choice.  Each person can decide on his/her own, or do it collectively.

Cultivating gratitude creates a more abundant heart.   If every day of the year, we found at least one thing to be grateful for and used one of the rituals listed above (or any of your own, please share in the comments section!), that energy would come back to us…in droves.

So every year, my thanksgiving prayer goes something like this:

“I give thanks to my family and friends, the 4-leggeds, and sentient beings for their place in my life, in our community and on our earth.  And I honor the 800+ prisoners with whom I’ve worked over the years, who have asked me to remember them on this day of thanks, who stand behind me in solidarity of healing and restoration.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

PS, here’s my more detailed list of folks and critters to thank…for being the gravy in my life…

  • Pat and Elka for having more faith in me than I had for myself (at least in the beginning) and for encouraging me to take a big leap of faith
  • Jeff, for getting and staying out of prison and being an immense help on so many levels (and for Bear and Mike, too)
  • My wonderful, irreverent friends at Cole Coffee where I get instantaneous and free therapy sessions practically every morning
  • My family and friends who supported me through some very challenging times this year (yes, there’s a silver lining), and for showing up at just the right moment
  • To Jean, who took me out for a hellava birthday last year, and who has really been a tried and true friend over eons of time
  • Ella and Chloe (the 4-leggeds) for lots of unconditional puppy love when things got tough
  • For Omi’s farm and the people who live and work on it, and the critters that abound and provide sustenance
  • For Dune and Carol and the amazing work they do to preserve the most pristine wilderness in the Copper River Salmon Delta.  And for Kitty’s hospitality, too!
  • All people who are dear to me who managed to stay alive, despite very difficult circumstances or sudden medical events (I’m really, really happy you’re all still here and I treasure every day you still are!)
  • And for the gravy on the turkey. The perfect topping, really.

About Beth Waitkus

Gardening as a revolution. Most recently, as Founder & Executive Director of the Insight Garden Program, I built a $1+ million nonprofit that works across sectors to provide experiential, transformative gardening and landscaping training in prisons, participant re-entry programs, and advocacy for systems change at the intersections of environmental, criminal, and social justice. To become environmentally aware, all people need is a little time in the garden, or outdoors -- nature teaches us everything we need to know.
This entry was posted in Associational Life, Community, Gratitude. Bookmark the permalink.

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