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Giving Thanks is Learned

Spending time with two of our grandsons, ages 8 and 6, reminded me that giving thanks is a learned behavior. We had to regularly ask them, “What do you say?” when we set their food in front of them or when they asked for something and we gave it to them. Of course, they obediently responded, “Thank you.”

Our animal nature as earthlings makes us expect certain things—like food or a toy or warm hugs. Our sense of self-preservation, which is closely associated with the other three basic urges, according to yoga, is an instinctual part of our life on earth. Yoga says that we must learn how to manage those four animal urges (food, sleep, sex and self-preservation) in order to dwell safely and lovingly in our human nature.

Becoming more human propels us into our divine nature because we choose to act more like the divine (more loving, selfless, kind, generous, free, compassionate). When we choose to enter the spiritual journey we begin to fulfill our divine nature. As we live more fully from our divine nature, we live a life filled with God-consciousness, called Brahman in the yoga world. We begin living a life with the attitude of gratitude, the samskara of gratitude. Our thought patterns (samskaras) change from the animal mode to the human mode when we realize that we as human individuals did not create our world, nor did we give ourselves birth on the earth, nor did we shower ourselves with rain and sunshine providing us with food, water and a planet that protects and nourishes its off-spring.

Our whole life focus changes from ourselves to all that is around us. It has happened for me this way, especially when suffering enters my life. I begin, after my joint pain or the flu leaves me, to be extremely thankful for the joys and blessings of free movement and no achiness or fever. Moving my thankfulness to an attitude of gratitude means even thanking LIFE for the experience of the joint pain or the flu. That’s a hard thing to learn and do! Just think, the pain I am experiencing helps me realize that I am alive and that this pain shall pass.

When I was 14, I was involved in a very serious farm accident that put me in the hospital for two months and then into recovery at home for another 6 months. I had to learn to walk again after a silo unloader fell on me and broke my ankle, pelvis, and knee and lacerated my right leg. The resilience of my inner spirit kept me quite positive about the experience and I began to realize that there was a reason for this horrific event. It made me a better person. Before that I was an arrogant, self-righteous, demanding, aggressive young man. That all changed when I became helpless and was surrounded by so many others who just helped me. I had originally thought that these kind of people were not as important as I. I learned differently. I learned to be grateful, period, not just for their care but for life.

Like my grandkids and myself, we all have to learn first to give thanks for what we expect to be given to us and to learn how to be grateful for just being alive and experiencing life.

I wonder if that is the national purpose of Thanksgiving Day. We are giving thanks for the harvest and the families. But we expect them to be there with us and for us. When does that national learning turn into a thankfulness for what is not expected. Can Thanksgiving Day give us the opportunity to be thankful for just being people living in the United States, instead of giving thanks for expecting to be great again or expecting to have all we need given to us or expecting to always have family and food when we want it? Can Thanksgiving Day in the U.S. teach us the attitude of gratitude—the attitude for just being able to give thanks?

May this Thanksgiving Day help us to learn a samskara of gratitude for all life!

Happy Learning! Happy Thanksgiving Day!


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