Giving Thanks and Taking Responsibility
I wanted to write a light and cheery post about gratitude before Thanksgiving. But so much has changed recently that light and cheery doesn’t cut it anymore. Instead I need to write about truth, integrity, action. Yoga teaches us to live in integrity. Three of the primary values eschewed in the Yoga Sutras are: ahimsa: non-violence, satya, truthfulness, and asteya: non-grasping. The primary lesson of the Bhagavad Gita is Selfless Action: do you your dharma, your calling, and let go of the results of your actions.
Our story of the original Thanksgiving is largely myth. It is very unlikely that there was any table where the pilgrims and the indigenous people sat together in harmony sharing a meal. Instead there was culture clash, cultural misunderstanding, and genocide. European invaders stole and appropriated land and resources from the indigenous people. Indigenous people were brutally killed and infected with deadly diseases, pushed off the land they had lived on for thousands of years. Indigenous people have then been restricted onto smaller and smaller enclaves of land, barren land that the invaders considered useless. Until recently when the invaders got hungry for the oil and mineral reserves on those otherwise marginal lands and made to steal those resources as well and the indigenous people have been left to live on contaminated marginal lands.
The current clash in North Dakota at Standing Rock once again pits economic imperialism against the basic subsistence rights of indigenous people. The Sioux are fighting to protect water and land they consider sacred. The Missouri River should be sacred not only to the Sioux, but to everyone on this continent, for an oil spill there has the potential to contaminate the drinking water of millions of people, not to mention nearly the entire downstream ecosystem, of the Mississippi River. If we do not hold water sacred, we do not hold life sacred. What is more holy than life itself?
All of us who sit idly back and fill our tanks without question are culpable of stealing indigenous resources. All of us are culpable of polluting basic resources in pursuit of economic growth. In our silence we complicity hold economic growth more holy than life itself. How do we wake up to these facts? This country was built on the exploitation of people of color and the earth. It is time to change that, to live in integrity and to put things right. It is time to honor the holy and hold the earth and all people as sacred.
I do not doubt gratitude’s power to transform. I am grateful. I am grateful for this land under my feet, the sky above my head, the water that I drink, and the food that I eat. I am grateful for beloved family and friends and community. I am grateful to live in a comfortable home with heat and a roof, to wake up in a dry warm bed and to take a warm shower every morning. I am grateful for my health and my strength and my voice. I am grateful for all the people whose work support me and allow me to work and express myself in the world. I am grateful to live in the United States. I have traveled extensively and I know that we are one of the most blessed nations on earth and that we live with less fear of oppression or violence than most other people on this planet. I am grateful for my education and for my mind. I am grateful for the first amendment and the ability to express myself.
With gratitude comes responsibility. I take responsibility to help keep this world safe and healthy for the generations to come. On this Thanksgiving I vow to take my Metta Meditation personally: What actions can I take to insure that “all beings are free of suffering, all being are safe, all beings know peace, all beings know love”?
Remember, nothing is as simple as it seems. Question the stories that you have learned, question the sources. Look deep and study both history and the present moment. Humans have shown themselves to be as prone to violence as to peace, and as prone to inflicting suffering as lending help and healing. We have been blessed to live in largely peaceful times on a largely peaceful continent. Unless we choose Selfless Action over complacency we may find ourselves returning to an age ruled by oppression and exploitation. Take your yoga seriously: speak truth, act without violence, consume only what you need, and act selflessly.
May you be free of suffering,
May you be safe,
May you know peace,
May you know love.
May all beings be free of suffering,
May all beings be safe,
May all beings know peace,
May all beings know love.