Welcome to the most “approach/avoidance” laden time of the year! (One of the few terms from my years as a psychology student that stuck with me, probably because it so aptly describes so many things: like the holidays!)
Certainly, we want to “approach.” We love the music, the decorations, the gifts (let’s admit it: I’m talking about the ones we get, not have to buy!), the traditions, the food, the getting-together. Then there are the things we want to avoid: like the music, the decorations, the gifts, the traditions, the food, and the getting-together!
It’s a lot of work, and it starts this month with Thanksgiving. People spend more time in the kitchen cooking for that one day than they might the whole month before. When you’re not used to it (and not used to cooking for so many), it can begin to feel like a real chore. By the time the meal finally makes it to the table, the people are so hungry, they buzz through it in record time, waddle back to the couch, and that’s it. And for this we are truly thankful?? (One year I made a rule that everyone had to sit at the table for a minimum of forty minutes; not asking too much, I thought, considering it took five hours to prepare. We could talk about what we were grateful for! I seem to remember a lot of silent staring…)
All this year we’ve talked about transformation, changing the conditions in our lives in a meaningful, recognizable way, on this plane. In other words, we have to be able to see it and feel it and measure it. No getting around it: either we transformed or we didn’t. At the beginning of the year, I think we were thinking in terms of pounds lost, habits kicked, incomes raised…stuff like that. As the year has worn on, I think I’m starting to get what transformation really means. Maybe you can’t measure it, but you can certainly feel it.
And it feels like gratitude. It feels like that glow that surges up in you and bubbles over into a laughter that’s deeper than you’ve ever had before. It feels like a sense of well-being that’s profound, a feeling that nothing is missing, nothing is broken. It feels like completion on every level. When we are truly grateful, we know that everything has been taken care of for us. There are no worries. There are no limits. There is no more striving. Gratitude has been called “the activity of increase” because, when you have it, every other good thing in your life increases. Meister Eckhardt, the mystic of the Middle Ages, said, “If the only prayer you pray is ‘Thank you, God,’ you will have prayed enough.” Even our spiritual practices become simplified and complete.
It is my wish for all of us that this year we will find ourselves sitting around a table surveying the ruins of a Thanksgiving dinner, however lavish or simple, with that profound sense of gratitude. I hope it’s because our loved ones are well and the roof is firmly established over our heads. I hope it’s because we’ve all accomplished what we set out to do this year, whatever that might be, whatever effort or victory that might represent.
Most of all, I hope we all feel the newly minted glow of a transformed life. For some of us, that might simply mean that we’ve finally—finally!!—found what gratitude means, how to express it, and what to be grateful for. We’ve finally stopped complaining. We’ve finally found peace. It might, after all, be difficult to measure. But we’ll know it when we feel it. And not even the bustle of the “approach/avoidant” holiday season can disturb it.