In the United States, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving this Thursday. Though declared a national holiday by President Lincoln in the middle of the Civil War, the legend of the first Thanksgiving dates back a couple of hundred years earlier, in 1621. The story goes that the first Pilgrims – settlers – had survived a very challenging year and celebrated the harvest by inviting their Native American neighbors to share a joyful feast of gratitude.
It’s a great story, thought there is quite a bit of debate over whether it is even remotely true. There are stories that in fact the settlers were celebrating having slaughtered a group of their Native American neighbors instead, and were definitely not inviting them to a feast. I have no idea what is true, but today I’d like to talk about the legend.
What we often forget about this story is that the Pilgrims were celebrating having made it through alive. According to the story, 100 settlers had arrived the previous year, and only 50 were still alive to celebrate this first Thanksgiving feast. These were city people, with no idea how to live off the land, and they had endured grief and loss and hardship and hunger in abundance over the prior year.
So this year, in honor of these (possibly fictional) Pilgrims, I’m inviting you to expand your gratitude practice a bit this week. Let’s look at how you can be grateful for surviving the things that you survived and still be alive and able to celebrate with friends. To do so, I have a short exercise for you.
Step #1: Ensure you’re emotionally healthy and ready. Meaning, don’t try this if you are still feeling traumatized or overwhelmed with grief. Gratitude can come after you’re done healing.
Step #2: Think of the top five things that you have survived in your lifetime. These can be physical, emotional, situational – if it feels like you had some real risk of not making it through, it counts.
Step #3: Pick one to work with first.
Step #4: Set a timer for five minutes and brainstorm, draw, or scribble in response to the question:
-Why am I grateful for surviving this experience?
Step #5: Set a timer for five minutes and brainstorm, draw, or scribble in response to the question:
-How did surviving this experience help me make a greater contribution in the world?
Step #6: Set a timer for five minutes and brainstorm, draw, or scribble in response to the question:
-How did surviving this experience change me or make me stronger?
Step #7: Set a timer for five minutes and brainstorm, draw, or scribble in response to the question:
-What did I learn from surviving this experience?
Step #8: Set a timer for ten minutes and create something from what you learned. It might be a 5 line poem, a two sentence description, a quick sketch, some paint on paper, or a new recipe.
Step #9: Share your work with a loved one if you feel comfortable. Explain your creation and what you learned about yourself, or life, from creating it.
Step #10: Repeat with the other experiences if you choose.
I’d love to hear what insights you got from this process – leave a comment and share one with us.