Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Ode to Thanksgiving

How wonderful is it that we have a holiday dedicated exclusively to the act of giving Thanks!? A whole day dedicated to the celebration of gratitude, love, appreciation, family, and friends--how amazing is that!? Often we get caught up in the frenzied preparation of a monumental meal, or in the logistics of travelling in treacherous weather conditions to meet up with family, and we lose perspective of this opportunity--that we have an entire day set aside for counting our blessings! I have celebrated thirty-eight Thanksgivings in my life now, and certainly the feeling of gratitude is nothing new, but this is the first year in which I am feeling a staggering sense of awe at the miraculousness of this occasion. In short, I'm feeling thankful for Thanksgiving!

I made a trip to the grocery store today, not because I needed to purchase last minute ingredients for cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie, but simply to take part in the hustle-and-bustle of holiday preparation and joyfully immerse myself in the human drama acted out on the stage that is the grocery store. As I walked into the store, I was immediately hit by the overwhelming significance of the occasion; here were hundreds of people busily engaged in preparing for tomorrow's meal, which for most of these people will be spent in the company of family or friends. On the surface, it appeared as though people were simply loading their carts with salad greens, sacks of potatoes, and canned pumpkin, but what was REALLY going on was nothing short of an outpouring of Love!

Yes, Thanksgiving is, in fact, a powerful expression of Love! Even if it ends up with family squabbles or if half the family ends up parked in front of the television for a football game, the whole point is that people DO make an effort to get together, to spend time with those they care about, and to prepare a bountiful meal as an expression of Thanks on this special day. It is a day of togetherness and abundance, of human connectedness and the comfort of ritual. Groceries may be purchased unconsciously, simply going through the motions of the tasks that need to be done, but the fact remains that the larger wheels are in motion, pulling people together on this day of celebration. There's something powerful that draws people together for this holiday (and others); it may be camouflaged as a sense of tradition or the appeal of Aunt Betty's famous pecan pie, but the underlying mechanism, I am certain, is that mysterious force that makes the wheels of the universe go 'round: Love.

Even the grocery store itself is a manifestation of Love! Just walk in to any supermarket and stop for a moment to take in the miraculousness, the staggering abundance of gifts from Mother Nature in the form of food. Veritable mountains of colorful produce catch our eye as we enter, yet often go unappreciated as we check items off our shopping list. But when one stops to marvel at the quantity and variety of produce and food products available to us, one can't help but be amazed by the unconditional Love that flows to us from our dear Earth, which continues to generate inconceivably huge amounts of food for us despite our unconscious abuse of her precious resources.

And from where does the Earth generate its remarkable ability to nourish us through food? All of the oxygen, carbon, and nitrogen molecules that organize as plant matter (which we, or animals, then eat) would do us no good without the warm, nourishing energy of sunlight! I am reminded of a favorite quote by the 14th-century Persian poet, Hafiz:

Even after all this time the sun never says to the earth, "You owe me."
Look what happens with a love like that, it lights the whole sky.

That is, indeed, the epitome of unconditional Love. We're just a part of the flow of Love, the flow that originates in some mysterious source, flows through the sun, through the earth, through plants and animals, and through us as we connect with others--whether we are aware of it or not!

In the grocery store, or at mealtime, think about all of those people who have made it possible for us to have this wealth of food available to us. How is it possible that we can walk into the store and have apples from Washington, grapefruit from Texas, kiwifruit from New Zealand, turkeys from Arkansas, and boxed foods from all over the world, all right there ready for us to take home? Stop to take a look at all of the ingredients that go into a Thanksgiving meal, and read the labels to see where they originated. Wheat farmers harvested the grain that was made into bread; cranberry growers nurtured the plants that produced the berries for the cranberry sauce. Someone, somewhere, invented the machine that funnels the vast quantities of salt from the huge bins into individual salt shakers. For that matter, someone else invented the process of salt mining! Someone grew the cinnamon plant that ended up as ground cinnamon in your pie, and someone else oversaw the process of getting that ground cinnamon into a properly-labeled jar! Someone else even designed the label that is on that jar, someone else created the machine that produces the jars, and yet someone else invented the glue that affixes the label to the jar. Someone cut down the trees that made the cardboard that made the boxes that hauled the jars to the cinnamon-packaging factory, and someone else invented the technique that cleverly folds the cardboard into functional cartons!

Someone, somewhere, is working in a factory that cans green beans by the gazillion, ensuring that the cans are properly boxed in cases and loaded onto palettes, which will be moved by someone else who is driving a forklift, and then a truck driver will transport the cases of canned goods to a distribution center, and then someone else will unload the boxes and ensure that they are sent to your grocery store, and then a store clerk will take the cans out of the boxes and place them on the shelves for you to purchase. Do you have any idea how many people were involved in all of the millions of steps that made Thanksgiving (or any given meal, or any given product) possible? And then, stop to think: What if the person who cuts you off in traffic is a guy who is part of the process that makes it possible for you to buy milk on whatever day you want to buy it, or the gal who oversees the electrical power grid that ensures that we have electricity for our refrigerators, freezers, and lights?

My point is... We are all interconnected! We so easily forget this, but the economic reality alone is startling evidence that we all impact other people in some way or another, directly or indirectly, and we have created a vast web of interconnectedness. And when we are able to zoom out our perspective and SEE the web, to take notice, to cultivate awareness, there is a profound sense of compassion, connectedness, appreciation, and gratitude that emerges.

So on this Thanksgiving holiday, take a moment to dwell in the undercurrent of Love that pulls us together with others on this day. Take time to appreciate the sheer abundance of food that Mother Nature provides, and marvel at the energetic Life Force that flows through the sun, through the plants, through the food chain, and into us, giving us the ability to think, move, breathe, dance, sing, and laugh! Take a minute to recognize all of the people, known and unknown, who have contributed to the comforts in your experience, whatever they may be. Find a way to connect with those who may be or feel isolated from the flow of abundance and connectedness, and let the nourishing sense of the interconnected web flow through you and into them. Imagine yourself as a conduit for the endless wellspring of Love, and look for opportunities to practice being an expression of unconditional Love. (You may be pleasantly surprised to discover how good it feels!). And of course, take the opportunity to count your blessings (Literally! See how high you can count! It'll take more than one day to mention them all! :), to hug your loved ones, and to feel, truly and deeply feel, the spirit of Thanksgiving.

Let this be the year in which Thanksgiving becomes no longer a single day on the calendar, but a way of life; let this holiday be the spark that transforms "Thanks Giving" into "Thanks Living."

Have a blessed Thanksgiving holiday and every day, and know that You Are Loved!

With endless love and appreciation for you all,

Monday, November 8, 2010

"Make it for Maggie" Fundraiser

"Very good, very good, YAY!"

These words echoed through the room as nearly thirty women gathered in the spirit of joy and love to participate in a special Laughter Yoga session as part of the fundraising event called "Make it for Maggie." The project originated as part of Maggie's Month, a philanthropy project intended to get families involved in working together on things that make a difference in the world. My good friends Tracy and Kat took this idea one step further, orchestrating an amazing community event that involved many, many families, and many, many people!

The idea was this: a couple of dozen women volunteered their time and skills to teach classes in their particular area of expertise. Kat and Tracy organized the classes in a venue which allowed for multiple classes to be ongoing simultaneously, then sold tickets to the full day's events. For $15 you could come and take as many classes as you wanted, all day! All of the proceeds went directly to Maggie for her medical treatments.

I was honored to be a part of this amazing event, and taught two classes during the day. I made my debut as a raw food instructor, demonstrating (among other things) how to lovingly massage kale leaves (yes, you read that correctly: massaging vegetables. ha ha ha!) to break down the tough cellulose fibers and create a stunningly beautiful, tender, healthy, and delicious raw kale salad! Beet and apple salad and raw energy bars rounded out the vibrantly colorful and tasty menu, and I had a fantastic time sharing my experiences with raw, living food!

My second class was, of course, a wildly fun Laughter Yoga session. More than twenty five women joined me on the stage (!) for a fun-filled hour of joyful expression through laughter.

Maggie, age four, is undergoing hyperbaric oxygen therapy as part of her treatment for cerebral palsy. And so one of the exercises we did was hyperbaric laughter therapy, in which we envisioned laughter molecules infusing every cell of our bodies, just as the 100% oxygen chamber infuses oxygen into the body during the pressurized treatments. Laughter molecules, indeed! Ha ha ha!

In all, the day was a remarkable success, raising enough money for several treatments for Maggie and bringing together a talented, caring, wonderful group of women for a memorable day. Tracy and Kat, you are an inspiration to us all; thank you so much for organizing this fantastic event! My world has been expanded by you and by the spunky spirit of Maggie, her mom, and their journey.

I am reminded of a quote by Leo Tolstoy: "The sole meaning of life is to serve humanity." Indeed, this is why we are here, to contribute in some way, big or small, to making a difference in the lives of others.

Laugh on, my friends!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Laughter By the Falls

Pictured here is the Snake River as it passes through downtown Idaho Falls; the falls here are THE Idaho Falls! On sunny, warm days, our laughter club meets on the Greenbelt amidst the trees pictured on the right side of the above photo. Amazingly, we had lovely warm weather today and laughed outdoors in the grass--even without jackets! Extraordinary autumn weather...what a gift!