A couple months ago I was asked which class I would prefer to teach this year: Thanksgiving Day or Christmas Day. I knew in my heart the Thanksgiving class was the one I had to teach because of all the work I have been putting in this year around gratitude, including my book that is coming out soon.
My Thanksgiving Day class yesterday at Green Monkey was one of the biggest classes I have ever taught, and probably the most inspired. There were around 80 people in the room, and I wasn’t intimidated for a second when I got in front of that class to teach. I didn’t see a class: I saw my yoga family. I knew every single person in that room.
Things came up for me while I was teaching and delivering my Thanksgiving message of gratitude that I hadn’t remembered until I was in the moment. It was definitely the energy my students brought into the room with them; we all fed good things off of one another the entire hour.
I walked in with all these readings planned: one from Sid McNairy’s awesome book Empowerment & Beyond and from Melodie Beattie’s Journey to the Heart.
I got to neither of those two readings.
I realized I had so much to say from the bottom of my heart, I felt it would have been overteaching to add them in! I did, however, add them in in spirit, because what those two readings both said about gratitude and grace I was able to incorporate into the message of my class no problem.
Gratitude for me has been the biggest life-changer of all. I have seen how it has influenced my own day to day living, casting away my filters of worry, frustration, anger, and stress. It’s amazing how truly easy it is to change your thoughts when you take an active role in your thoughts’ conversion by writing down positive and gratitude-filled thoughts; the written word is truly magic, because you must think it in order to write it, and when you write it comes true!
Not only has gratitude changed my life and brightened my vision as a whole, I can definitely tell when others are living the grateful life, and most especially my boyfriend. Lately, I have noticed how the content and charge of our conversations have shifted since he started gratitude journaling. Gratitude journaling is like an odd curse sometimes: you get so excited about your own life because you realize you have so much, but then you see how ungrateful others are with their own lives and circumstances! The absolute beauty of writing daily gratitudes is having the grateful fortitude to be able to stand in the power of your own presence and peace: the foundation of a strong gratitude practice doesn’t give you space to soak up others’ negativity, no matter what it looks like.
As I taught yesterday, I spoke about how being grateful for what you have gets you more of what you want in your life, which is the most true statement in the world. Repeatedly, I had my class yell out “THANK YOU!” in unison. Immediately the energy in the room would lighten and lift.
The best “thank you” was right before savasana; the piano version of “Amazing Grace” played while everyone soaked up their own goodness.
The power of gratitude to bring people together is truly astounding. Many people I speak to think that Thanksgiving is kind of a “whatever” holiday, that the food isn’t that great or inspiring, and that there is no real “party” associated with it.
I wholeheartedly disagree.
Thanksgiving is, like anything, what you make it, and you don’t have to be constrained by the traditions of any holiday to make it your own and inspiring. In fact, Al and I made ourselves surf ‘n turf for our holiday meal, and painted the outside of our house together! That, for us, was true family bonding time. The people who complain about Thanksgiving being an “in-betweener”-type holiday are missing the point: to complain is to be in non-acceptance of what is, and is the opposite of gratitude. Every day, every moment, the simplest things should be appreciated and celebrated.
EVERY meal we have should be a meal of Thanksgiving.
This planet offers us so much in the form of health, healing, and nutrition, we need to be thankful for EVERY fresh, organic meal we have. And Thanksgiving food is great because that is what is in season right now! Who doesn’t love pumpkins and sweet potatoes and squash?! They are all also very nutrient dense and great sources of energy.
Thanksgiving to me is the most grounded holiday of them all. The glitz and glamour are clearly absent, there’s no need to dress up and hide who you are, and it’s all replaced by the burnt colors of autumn, the time when the earth gives forth it’s harvest and prepares to rest to conserve energy for the abundant growth of spring. I get that here in Miami not many people are aware of this really awesome change, but for some reason this season has always made me feel a little giddy and excited; maybe it’s because when I was growing up in Minnesota it meant ski season was coming, and after that was my favorite time of year: track season.
But, I digress. To me, the Thanksgiving holiday represents ALL that is abundant in our lives, and our lives are truly abundant, rich, and vibrant. And the abundance that is our lives rests in the amazing people we call family and community and the great feast we all get to share. It’s these simple things in life that truly make a difference in all of our lives.
I shared a story yesterday in my class that I had completely forgotten about until I started to speak about the first Thanksgiving ever in this country. I, of course, don’t know the actual circumstances around which the first Thanksgiving took place; I was going off of my first-grade education understanding of it: the pilgrims were going to starve during their first winter, and the native Americans came and showed them how to grow food and made them a great feast so they could make it through till spring. That was the version I distinctly remember from first grade, and I was really grateful a student called out, “Yeah! At gunpoint!” The room filled with giggles.
I admitted to everyone I hadn’t read anything about the actual historical circumstances around that day, and admitted I had only just read John Adams’ biography, which takes place a good two or three hundred years after that first Thanksgiving meal. It was the perfect change of direction though to talk about my forgotten memory: the experience I had as a kid on a mission trip to North Dakota on a Native American Reservation.
The trip lasted one week, and it was one of three total I did while growing up. The trips were through my church, and they were really an opportunity to get out of my house, see a new part of the country, meet new people, and learn new things all with the luxury of being away from my parents. This was also the only time I ever did a trip like this to a reservation; all the other Native American experiences I had were when we went on our marathon road trips as a family during the summertime: we learned a lot about the cultures and experienced their artworks, but never really got to know any of them.
Toward the end of our week-long trip with my church, a group of the residents came with a bunch of drums and other musical instruments. They set up in a circle, and proceeded to play us a song. The drum beats, the musical wailing of their voices, and the maraca-like instruments they used I can still hear today.
The song they played for us was a very, very special song.
It was an honor song.
For nearly a week we had been on the reservation near International Falls, almost in Cananda, working on these people’s homes. My group had been painting the interior of an older couples’ home and we were almost completely finished. By the time we finished, almost their entire interior would be painted: something that would be impossible for the older couple who lived in the little home.
The group in total was over one hundred people, from adult chaperones to high school kids. These organizations took kids from grade 8 to 12. If you do the math, with four-kid teams with one adult, there were a lot of homes being worked on, a lot of work that was being done to improve the residents’ lives.
The song they played for us was long and soulful. One older man who lived on the reservation was present for the performance.
He said, “I have waited my entire life to hear this song.”
The honor song they played for us was something they reserved for truly great honors. In their tribe, it was a deep honor to not just hear this song, but have this particular song played for you.
I remember being rooted to the spot where I was listening and watching them play. Even though it was a church retreat, the traditional church traditions and teachings never completely landed for me. For some reason, Native American traditions did, and still do. I can still see the intensity on the faces as they focused on beating the drums passionately in unison.
I knew that experience was something I wouldn’t experience ever again. I believe that was the first time that that tribe had ever had a group of people come help them fix their homes. Before I had been to Tennessee and Michigan doing much of the same work, mostly for older people who can’t do the work themselves and can’t afford to hire someone for it. It truly is a blessing to know you have the power to make someone else’s life better.
As I told my class yesterday, that drum circle was the highlight of my summer that summer. I remember the energy of that mission trip being different from the other ones: a little more grounded, and little more gracious.
I was grateful that the course of my story telling was altered yesterday while I was teaching, because personal stories are so often the best and most grounding. And it had such a significant meaning for the current holiday: express gratitude, demonstrate your appreciation and acknowledge the people in your life, and acknowledge the things they do.
It’s the tiniest things people do for you that makes life so rich and wonderful: helping to paint a house, playing a song for them, spending time with them, eating a great meal together, a great conversation.
Being for each other is what Thanksgiving is all about. Knowing we are provided for and that we have everything we need is what Thanksgiving is all about. I was reminded of this as student after student handed me all sorts of homemade pumpkin treats for me to take home, and one even gave me the most beautiful potted flowers in gorgeous, warm colors. The perfect addition to my fairy garden at home! I love beautiful reminders like these, sharing of food and plants, to know that others recognize, too, that we are all living abundantly and in constant support of one another.
I made the best slip-up while I was teaching yesterday, I didn’t even know I said it until a student pointed it out to me after class: “I love what you said all during class! I love that you said ThanksLIVING! I am going to add that in to my Thanksgiving blessing tonight before we eat!”
I had no idea I even said that, and when I took that moment to think back to that moment, I realized that IS what I had said.
Because, truly, the most precious thing we have to be thankful for is our lives.
Thank you for this life.
Thank YOU, for being a part of my life.
Thanksgiving equals giving in order to receive, being generous and gracious in order to maintain a world of balance and beauty, it means to live a life of gratitude and love and connection, the ultimate, ultimate form of ThanksLIVING is living from the space of knowing we are all connected.
Let THANK YOU run through your veins.