Unveiling :: Our Thanksgiving veils

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Last year, during COVID, our class met on Thanksgiving…and New Year’s Day, and my birthday…what difference did holidays make if you couldn’t get together with the ones you love? Our little Zoom sangha had become a sustaining part of our lives, and so we gathered online.

This year my students and I have our various plans for the holiday so we are not meeting. Life is returning to familiar treasured patterns, and for that, we are grateful.

So I don’t have a dharma talk from class to share, but I do have some thoughts, as well as links to past dharma posts that might speak to you right now.

Looking at Thanksgiving with our ongoing veil metaphor, many of us Americans grew up having images like the one above woven into our veil about the origins of our country. So it’s the way we imagine the first Thanksgiving 400 years ago. But we each have many more threads about the day and its history. I notice that one of the threads in mine is a memory of an American movie I watched years ago on a bus in Mexico on the way to Guadalajara. I don’t remember what movie it was but there was a classic scene of kids in a U.S. school performing a Thanksgiving play, dressed up as pilgrims and Indians. Being out of the country, I looked at the pageant with fresh eyes. I could see the tradition with the kind of appreciation and acceptance I felt watching the often spectacular and always heartwarming religious and national traditional displays in Mexico. I felt an unfamiliar swelling up of nostalgia for the holiday and its special part in American life.

So now I make room for that nostalgic thread to exist in my Thanksgiving veil, along with threads that are currently more dominant, that weave themselves more urgently. These are the threads of desire to better understand what happened 400 years ago at that first Thanksgiving feast, full of the implications for the future of all the descendants of both those pilgrims, other immigrants who came later, descendants of the Wampanoag tribe who taught the pilgrims how to survive, and the hundreds of other native tribes, and the original inhabits of all the Americas, who for thousands of years before colonization had lived in wise harmony with the land they inhabited.

In past Thanksgiving posts, I have encouraged bravery at the Thanksgiving dinner table to get beyond football, politics, and family news to share (gasp!) words of gratitude. Perhaps the experience of being separated last year and the time to reflect on what matters in life will make such a conversation feel more natural in 2021. Certainly, none of us take being together for granted anymore.

But this period of COVID has brought more than deepened appreciation for each other. It has brought a greater awareness of the historical and ongoing institutional and cultural inequities in our country and around the world. Thanksgiving is a day rooted deeply in the painful history of the way European explorers and settlers treated the existing inhabitants of what they so blindly called ‘The New World’. America is not a new world. And it is not ‘the West’. Can we stop looking at our home as if we are seeing it from Europe, a place many of us today have never been? That would be a big step toward being present here and now. We live in a land that can be known for its own uniqueness, that can be inhabited in a respectful and collaborative way, honoring all life, including all of our own species. Can we cease carrying a conqueror mentality? Can we stop being an invasive species? Can we anchor our awareness in the place we stand and pledge to learn how to live in harmony and take care of the land and all its inhabitants?

In her book Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer, a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation, and a scientist, botanist, and teacher, suggests that, like any species, we have the opportunity to stop being immigrants, to stop trying to remake this land into something familiar to our ancestors, and become naturalized citizens of the natural world we inhabit. Our survival on this planet depends on it.

Because of the environmental threat we all face, many in the Native American community are showing how they and their ancestors lived for thousands of years as not just beneficiaries of nature’s bounty, but a beneficial species whose ways support all of nature.

Can we allow ourselves to be humble, to listen, and learn from those who have, despite all attempts to quash it, kept that ancestral wisdom alive? We can if we practice awareness and cultivate a don’t-know mind.

Where do we begin? We begin where we are. 

Let the fall leaves guide you. Let the faces of your loved ones remind you.

Highlight the threads that weave kindness, compassion, and joy as you weave all of who you are in everything you do. For the ability to do that, we can be truly thankful.

Let me know your thoughts on this.

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