by Liseli Haines
Mohawk Valley Meeting
The spring bubbles up out of the ground from a rock ledge behind my house. It is quiet, and beautiful. Lush and green in the summer, white snow melting into a pool of green watercress in the winter. I hear the songs of birds and the water running in the nearby stream. I watch the clouds overhead, listen to the wind as it bends the cedars and whispers through their boughs. A place to feel calm and peaceful. A place full of gratitude. But I don’t always feel that way when I get there. The pressure of life and relationships and the state of the world weigh down on me. So I go to the spring, especially when I feel that weight, and sit to see and speak aloud words of gratitude for all that is around me.
Many religions see the importance of gratitude. I remember words of Thanksgiving from my childhood, but they had little meaning to me then. Ten years ago, I learned the Haudenosaunee “Thanksgiving Address” during a Wilderness Awareness course and it set me on a path that has changed my life.
Though it is often known as the “Thanksgiving address” The Haudenosaunee call it the “Words That Come Before All Else” and open and close every gathering with it. At each gathering for business or pleasure, the people are reminded of all the things in this world that they are thankful for; the people, water, plants and animals, stars and winds, sun and moon in an oration that could last 15 minutes or several hours. Then all present “bring their minds together” and agree that these are the things that are most important to them in life. They respond “Yes,” yes we agree, these are the most important things. Haudenosaunee consensus decision making springs from that basis. Their business and spiritual practice cannot be separated.
Being grateful reminds us of “enough.” These are the things that provide life, health and even joy. Everything else is extra; everything else is luxury. What more do we need than the music of the birds, the songs of the stars on a dark night, the food that grows from the earth, our tree built homes and the companions on this journey who walk beside us?
We don’t deny all the tragedies of daily life in this world. But when we focus on the death and destruction, we sap our energy, feel despair and hopelessness. By noticing what we are grateful for, we begin to shift the focus of our minds. We see more of the good that is going on around us. We feel joy and can be energized to make changes. Starting every day with remembering what we are thankful for; the water coming out of the tap, the smell of breakfast cooking, the rain that waters the plants, the words of a friend, even the car that seamlessly starts and takes us to where we need to go. There are so many things to be thankful for.
What would the world be like if we all could begin our day with these words, setting our intention for mutual respect, joy in existence and the idea of enough?
If you are interested you can find the words in the Thanksgiving Address Booklet by David Kanawahienton Benedict.