All of us know challenging days, when life seems to turn us inside out and upside down. Maybe you or a family member falls seriously ill. Or you lose your job, or the place you live. Perhaps a long-time relationship sours, or you lose a loved one. Or maybe you are forced to make a change you aren't ready to make, or to go somewhere you don't want to go.
So how can we possibly give thanks at moments like those?
It's not easy. At all. But those moments of challenge offer opportunities for real spiritual growth, if only we can turn a switch inside and heed the call to relinquish our will.
Carolyn Myss speaks often of these opportunities. The worst moments she calls "the dark night of the soul." Often, at those moments, life seems to lose all meaning and purpose.
But it is those very moments, Myss says, that can serve as a wake-up call, drawing us into a spiritual life devoted to mindfulness, and to a reverence for life in all its wonder. It's a call to cherish the present moment. As Myss says, it's easy to be grateful at a banquet. What is challenging is to live in gratitude when that banquet table is empty, when we feel lost, or alone, or desperately without resources, physical, emotional or spiritual, to go on.
At those moments, the answer lies inside. The answer is not to give up, but to give in. To yield to a higher power. To say, "OK, have it your way. Show me what to do. Show me how to live." It involves slowing down, to find more clarity, more quiet space, more time just to be. More time to breathe. More time to sit peacefully by a fire, sipping a cup of tea. More time to take walks, to notice the birds, and the texture and feel of grey tree bark, and the exact shade of the blue sky.
Thich Nhat Hanh says sometimes we smile because we are happy. And sometimes we are happy because we smile.
On this, Thanksgiving Day, may we all find time to smile. May we all have gratitude, to the extent that is possible, and some measure of peace. Even if we face challenges that seem way beyond our power, challenges that we aren't sure we can face, may we realize that those challenges humble us into a far deeper reverence for life, and for the power of the spirit.
Here is a toast, to all of you readers, on Thanksgiving Day, 2008. Savor every moment. Every breath. Every bite of food. The turkey, the stuffing, the sweet potatoes and yams. The pumpkin pie, the cream.
And every person whose company you share. Cherish it all.