On Sunday we hosted a Thanksgiving potluck, and before we sat down to eat I offered a grace that I’d been working up courage for twenty years to offer. I thanked the animals and plants who gave their lives and their labors and their fruits to feed us.
It is the quiet way I begin every dinner—picturing the animals and plants when they were alive, thanking them, thanking the sun and the Earth, thanking the Mystery or Great Spirit, whose living currents flow through all of us, and finally thanking my sweetheart, Tim, for cooking the food and bringing it to the table. (Lucky me—my sweetie cooks!)
This time at our potluck table I also thanked the people who labored in the fields. I was remembering a mindful-eating meditation I learned some years back at a meditation retreat: the raisin meditation from Jon Kabat Zinn, in which by really looking at one single raisin and slowly tasting it, we slip without effort into more wakefulness and gratitude. The raisin meditation at the retreat was combined with an interbeing meditation inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh, where in addition to savoring one raisin, we focused on all the people who had tended the grapes in the fields and picked them and transported and dried and packed them before this single raisin could reach our lips. Remembering interbeing, in my Thanksgiving grace I said, “This ritual of eating connects us with all others—all the plants, all the animals, all other people, with sun, sky, and earth.”
The practice of thanking plants and animals who feed us is an ancient one among many indigenous traditions. I think of the Thanksgiving Address of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) of the eastern Great Lakes areas, which I read this week for the first time just a few days after our potluck feast. The title of the Thanksgiving Address translates to “The Words Before All Else,” and the Haudenosaunee offer it at the opening and close of every gathering, civil or religious, as well as at the beginning of every day at sunrise. (You can download it here from the National Museum of the American Indian.)
Each paragraph of the Thanksgiving Address thanks one set of creatures in the natural world. For example:
We now turn our thoughts to the Trees. The Earth has many families of Trees who have their own instructions and uses. Some provide us with shelter and shade, others with fruit, beauty and other useful things. Many people of the world use a Tree as a symbol of peace and strength. With one mind, we greet and thank the Tree life.
Now our minds are one.
We put our minds together as one and thank all the Birds who move and fly about over our heads. The Creator gave them beautiful songs. Each day they remind us to enjoy and appreciate life. The Eagle was chosen to be their leader. To all the Birds—from the smallest to the largest—we send our joyful greetings and thanks.
Now our minds are one.
Though the basic pattern of the Thanksgiving Address never varies, when someone recites it, they may elaborate on any of the creatures as they wish, depending how they feel moved that day, as Whatweni⋅neh Frieda Jacques, Turtle Clan of the Onondaga Nation, explains to the young Kateri Riley Thornton, Snipe Clan, in this video:
I have read that at large Haudenosaunee Peacemaking gatherings of the past, reciting the Thanksgiving Address might take up the first twenty-four hours or more!
The Haudenosaunee say that thanking all other beings is necessary for living in harmony and peace. For if we don’t recognize and appreciate the gifts of others, how can we have peaceful relations with them?
The refrain “Now our minds are one” shows what happens in a group when people practice being thankful together. Each person’s mind quiets and comes to center; each person’s heart opens. I can’t think of a better way to foster wise decision making in a group setting.
Thanking the rest of the creatures is also a fundamental way to orient ourselves—to know where we are. As Kahionhes John Fadden, Turtle Clan of the Mohawk Nation, said,
The first thing that’s done is you give thanks to everything. You thank the waters beneath the Earth, the stones, the soil, all the way up to the stars. It’s just a reminder of where we are. We should never forget that.
What better way to open to this place, this moment?
If each of us did this every day, the world would change. It would have to. The late Tekaronieneken Jake Swamp, Subchief of the Mohawk Nation, said,
If all of the children of the world were to be a part of this kind of Thanksgiving each day, I believe that the problems of the world would start to go the other way.
I think he was referring not just to the problems between nations but also to the problems between human creatures and the other life forms on Earth. Giving daily thanks to them is the tiniest, most personal, and powerful way to begin addressing the largest climate and ecological issues our world faces today.
So here is a challenge: let Thanksgiving become a part of daily life. Begin each day by thanking the Earth and Plants and Animals and Winds and the Sun, Moon, and Stars for their gifts. Thank the Creator (or God or Mystery or however you know the Source) for flowing through you and everything you see and touch.
Today, the first day after Thanksgiving, is a wonderful time to start!