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Giving Thanks

Updated: Nov 30, 2023

During the week of Thanksgiving, I had a number of conversations with dear ones close to me around working out the considerable and uncomfortable dissonance between my own equal but opposing desires to both cultivate gratitude, and honestly acknowledge the painful truths embedded in the myths of the holiday. For too many generations, in the name of giving thanks, we have pointed to and celebrated what was essentially the onslaught of genocide against the Native people who lived on this land when "we" arrived.

This resonated not only for the chasm that exists between the festive mood of the holiday and what actually occurred, but also for the ever ongoing need to reconcile our own need to claim joy and gratitude even amidst the undeniable pain of humanity all around us. When, where and ultimately HOW do we embrace and celebrate in the face of so much agony?

So when a lovely teacher of mine, on the Tuesday before Thanksgiving, offered an understanding of Gratitude that seemed to encompass the wholeness of what seemed split in two, I wanted to share it with you.

In the ancient language of Pali, one of the earliest languages in which the teachings of the Buddha were written, the word that we translate as Gratitude is Katannu. In Pali, Katannu does not refer to a feeling - which is so often how we in the modern west are given to understand gratitude; as a feeling, gratitude is fleeting, unreliable and subject to circumstance.

Instead, Katannu literally translates as "the knowing of what has been done".

This definition weaves integrity, and a kind of steadfastness into the attitude of gratitude by grounding it in awareness rather than relying on pleasurable feelings of the moment. What is Holiday Cheer if not a kind of remembering? How much richer might that cheer, and the gratitude that comes along with it, be when one is mindfully aware of where it came from, how it came to be and what, perhaps, we owe it?

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