The way in which we think about things is probably more important than what we actually think. To truly change our minds, we must alter our epistemology, or the way we know things, the way we think.
Our culture comes to the Thanksgiving holiday and immediately there are competing streams of thought which provoke, whether we are conscious of it or not, a set of assumptions, preferences, and opinions. For example: One stream of thought is the non-religious, family-centered, commercial thanksgiving. In a non-Covid world, people would travel to be together, sit around a big feast, and enjoy reconnecting, and reflecting over the year. It may or may not have much to do with any specific gratitude in one’s way of thinking. If it does, that thankfulness is usually toward either an object (job, country, health, some possession) or a person whom has been objectified (friends, parents, siblings, family, spouse, kids).
The other competing stream of thought is the religious one where drawing from traditional (both cultural and religious) the season is wrought with attending religious services, special times of prayer or reflection, where the thankful, direct their true gratitude for another set of objects, but these are slightly less tangible (God, salvation, faith, religion).
To be fair to all comers, Thanksgiving is non-existent without an object for which one is thankful. It does us no good to go around saying we are a grateful person or that we live in gratitude, when we have no object for which we are thankful. If Thanksgiving is our solo responsibility then a Turkey sandwich is about as close as we get to this bigger experience. So if we can’t rise to even subject-object Thanksgiving, then perhaps we and our apathy need to seek some professional help to examine why our life is so dis-integrated.
Today, I hope we can see beyond this. I’d like us to get beyond Subject-Object Thanksgiving. We can do much better, but we can’t get there in a low-consciousness state of existence. The path to follow is to begin with the object for which we are most sincerely grateful, and follow it deeper until we meet the Subject beyond the Object. This is to graduate from being Thankful “FOR” unto being Thankful “TO.”
For example: “I’m thankful for my job” (Subject (me) thankful for Object (job). Following it deeper means to give this greater consideration. Pull back a bit. Go over the details a bit slower. So it might sound like this. “I wouldn’t have this job if it weren’t for my friend who invited me to interview.” Or “I wouldn’t even be enjoying this job if I wasn’t for the team of amazing people with whom I work.” If this seems strange, just practically follow the cause and effect flow of how you came to be thankful right now. Our success is never a one person story. Begin seeing all those who contributed to our success.
As we do this, we’ll notice people start to emerge, without whom, our “today” (for which we are thankful) couldn’t exist. Sure, we did our part, but none of us accomplished anything in a vacuum. Now we’ve moved our gratitude from the object (Job, family) to the subject (Mitchell, Mother). This is the beginning point of Subject-Subject Thanksgiving.
But wait, there’s more. What makes any of these people along the way want to help you? What made them want to buy from you, give you the chance, or trust you? Resist the gravitational pull to give ourselves more credit. Look closer at the motivation of the SUBJECT to who you are thankful. Were they acting in “good faith?” Were they trying to be nice, compassionate, or helpful? If so, the motivation upon the heart of the other opens up another plane of conscious awareness. What or “WHO” is behind that?
For those who subscribe to belief in God, or that “Something More,” it will not take much to convince you that the goodness and mercy of God works through other people, by how God works upon the hearts of men and women. Something more softens our hearts. We must gain awareness that the person in need of our help or support are not unlike ourselves. In fact, regardless of religious tradition or spiritual practice, nearly every act of kindness is a manifestation of what we call the Golden Rule:
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
“hurt not others with what pains yourself.” The Buddha, Udânavarga 5:18
“One should never do something to others that one would regard as an injury to one’s own self. In brief, this is dharma. Anything else is succumbing to desire.”— Mahābhārata 13.114.8 (Sanskrit Text-Hinduism)
“Avoid doing what you would blame others for doing.” Thales-Ancient Greece
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against your kinsfolk. Love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.” (Leviticus 19:18) Hebrew text
“The Prophet said: ‘As you would have people do to you, do to them; and what you dislike to be done to you, don’t do to them.'” (From the Islamic Hadith)
These are only a few examples of the Global rule of reciprocity. The very existence of this rule, which is a recognition of our fellow man or woman when we see them as not “other” than ourself. When Jesus said this sums up the Law and Prophets, he’s saying, in every world religion, we cannot do better than this. If we get this one thing, we get the whole of every religion, if we miss this, we miss them all. This ethos, then, which is universally shared among all people, of all times, and of all faiths and traditions, is the moral law which is written upon the hearts of all humanity. It is this inscription in others which allows any of us to prosper in our lives.
The existence of this inscription into the hardwiring of all humanity, is a profound proof of how we are differentiated from the animal kingdom. It is an ethos, which comes not from societal training, but from our Maker. This is the end of the line for Thanksgiving. This is the Subject to which we owe all gratitude. May our gratitude find it’s way back to it’s original Source and may we return it to where it came. By completing this circle, we join in the flow of God within and among all Life. We become an integral part the dynamism and work of God in the world.
Subject to Subject gratitude is our conscious and active participation in the Love of God in the world. May we not lose sight of this amazing process this Thanksgiving.