On Thursday this week, many families in the US will celebrate Thanksgiving. Somewhere in the cloudy memory of my younger days, I recall being taught that the holiday commemorated a camaraderie between Pilgrims and the Indigenous peoples of the land. I came to question that narrative as I grew older, and considering how we continue to mistreat and marginalize the people whose land the settlers stole, I have my doubts about any sort of harmonious relationship between the melting pot of invaders and the Indians of the Americas. Certainly if it ever existed, it was short-lived. I once heard someone say, “The winners write the history books.” That sounds about right to me.
Yet here we find ourselves year after year, coming together around a table to indulge in the abundance of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave … well, depending on who you are. Apparently, freedom is a fluid concept that may or may not be dependent on the color of your skin.
Which begs the question, what is freedom anyway?
I remember a man speaking to a full auditorium about his life as a prisoner of war. I do not recall his name, which war he fought in, or what country held him. I do remember hearing him talk about the sense of freedom he experienced during that the days, months, and years spent alone at the bottom of a hole in the ground. Freedom must be more than the ability to go and do where and what you want.
Could it be that freedom – like love, joy, and appreciation – is a state of mind? Maybe true freedom is knowing that there is no substance to the things that enamor us in this world, that what we see, hear, smell, taste, and touch is merely energy coalesced into different forms, enticing us to believe that something outside of ourselves owns the power to grant those higher emotions. What if true freedom is not possessing the land, having the job, getting the vacation, or the ability to eat ourselves into a turkey-induced coma? What if freedom is the understanding that no circumstance, thing, situation, person, or place outside ourselves can ever bring or take true happiness?
I cannot help but wonder if we who indulge our appetites so recklessly every fourth Thursday in November are not the real prisoners. Enslaved by the sheer hunger for more, we do not stop our indulgence on Thursday, but now carry it on through Friday – the day we try to fill a different hole in our hearts, the one reserved for more stuff.
A quick search of the origin of the term “Black Friday” yielded this little gem. It seems to me that the establishment of Thanksgiving as a national holiday was more of a political ploy or an excuse for a couple of paid days off than an opportunity to focus on gratitude. Maybe that’s just my propensity for cynicism talking.
Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy Thanksgiving as a rule. I am glad that our family has an excuse to get together every year around a table full of food we all helped to prepare. And I am one of the lucky ones – my family comes together often, without any excuse but our love for one another. For that I am immensely grateful.
My heart goes out to the countless Americans who have no family with which to celebrate this or any holiday; those who are estranged from the ones they love; and those who have no means for a feast. Sad conditions indeed. Sadder still are the ones who have all of those things yet live a life enslaved to their perception of reality, complainers, unable to find joy or peace within despite their abundance without.
The true inspirations are those who manage to find joy without any of those things. Just as a bad circumstance has no power to steal my joy, freedom, love, or gratitude (unless I let it), so abundance and good fortune lack the power to give any of them to me.
I confess, my original plan for this post was to tell you that on Black Friday I will be moving instead of shopping, that it would mark the thirty-something time I have moved since I was 18, and that the thought of moving again makes me tired. Instead I was made to remember that everything I need already exists inside of me. To top that off, my outer world is a place of abundance, a veritable feast of loving family members, places to live, and countless wonderful things I enjoy doing! These thoughts made me realize the many ways that I allow my perceived circumstances to dictate my sense of freedom or bondage, joy or depression, love or fear. My own words have confronted my propensity to complain rather than to thank.
Today I choose to remember that freedom, joy, and gratitude are states of mind that nothing in my outer world may alter without my consent.
May you find the joy that nothing outside of you can steal, the love of yourself that you deserve because you are worthy, and the gratitude & appreciation for the wonder of life itself. May your Thanksgiving be truly blessed – both within and without.
With a thankful heart, Namaste,