Our culture seems to be amazingly proficient at teaching us to be dissatisfied with who we are and what we have. In the spirit of wanting us to spend more money in order to continue to fuel growth in our economy, a constant feeling of lack is needed. We are bombarded with advertisements that show us that a better life is just one purchase away. And Social Media only adds to the pain by showing our loved ones, acquaintances and strangers at their photo-shopped best. We are constantly comparing our lives to an impossible standard. This bombardment has been proven to leave us unhappy and dissatisfied. Our national statistics on depression, anxiety, and suicide have skyrocketed in recent years.
Many years ago I accidentally did a case study on being bombarded with perfection. When I was in college I wrote a thesis on the portrayal of women in advertising for my Cultural Anthropology major. I looked through 30 years of Mademoiselle Magazine in order to research my thesis. The conclusions of my findings were as one would expect, but the thing that was most profound to me about writing that thesis was how it made me feel. I was excited and energetic at the beginning of my research, but months later after having spent hours and hours in the basement of the library looking at perfect females having perfect lives, I was super depressed. I was writing the conclusion of my thesis with tears streaming down my face when I realized that I needed help. When I went to see the school therapist I remember her saying, “Ah, yes. You are suffering from ‘compare & despair’.” I was glad to know that she had seen this type of thing before, but what was I supposed to do about it? She told me to stop looking at those magazines and cleanse my life of anything that portrayed messages that stole my joy. She told me that I was using my brain to compare myself to others rather than to think for myself. She advised me to think about what I valued in my life and put energy into that.
Although I didn’t start feeling better right away, I took her suggestions and cleansed my life of those images. I started turning off the TV during commercials and I canceled my magazine subscriptions. Every time I found myself somewhere where I felt bombarded by those perfect images, I would repeat the word “LOVE” in my head, because it’s what I had decided that I valued most. And it certainly didn’t feel loving to consume advertisements that left me feel so incredibly, horribly bad about myself and my life. I did my best to clean up my thoughts by comparing myself to others less. Slowly the despair lifted.
As I reflect on those lessons I realize that I have continued to do my best to learn tools to help myself and the ones I support to clean up our thoughts. Over the years I have loved studying wisdom traditions. Many ancient traditions advise us to be conscious of where we put our attention. In the Buddhist and Hindu traditions there is a practice of repeating mantras either aloud or in one’s mind. The mantra is a word, sound or phrase that holds a healing energy, vibration or meaning. I once had a Buddhist teacher describe the practice of mantra to me as “chewing gum for the mind.” He said that repeating a mantra gives the mind something positive to do with our thoughts so that we don’t ruminate on our fears and negative thoughts. The practice of repeating mantras in meditation or by chanting is known to transform the inner world of the practitioner. I had the blessing of giving birth to my daughter while repeating a mantra. I was able to stay focused on love instead of fear throughout the intensity of giving birth. I can only imagine the things I would have been thinking about if my thoughts hadn’t had such clear directions to follow.
In the Native American nations, gratitude for the natural world was taught as the highest priority. The “Thanksgiving Address” also known as “Greetings to the Natural World” was said to have been recited at each gathering of people, no matter how small, as their first words spoken. In this beautiful address people, elements, plants, animals and more are thanked for the gifts that they give us every day. This practice is meant to remind us that everything we need for our lives is already here for us. These words are transcribed below for you to read and contemplate. When you read them you’ll see how long they are and the dedication and patience it would take to repeat those words before doing anything else. And therein lies the wisdom. When we prioritize gratitude we are consciously transforming the energy that is running through our minds and our hearts. If we leave gratitude for last we may never get to it. Living in gratitude means doing it first. I love the practice of giving thanks at the beginning of each day. Remembering the simple truth that not everyone who went to sleep last night woke up this morning is enough to fuel my daily practice of gratitude.
There are many more traditions and peoples who have understood and practiced the power of conscious thoughts and gratitude. Although these seem like simple ideas, they can be challenging to practice in our daily, moment-to-moment lives. You might ask yourself, “What energy am I sending out into the world and into my relationships with my predominant thoughts and actions?” And then ask that question again when you’re in a bad mood or things are not going your way. Only conscious practice will keep us on track during those times.
In my work as a therapist I try my best to help my clients become more aware of their thoughts. Practicing mindfulness, mantra and gratitude are not meant to be a panacea, but instead can help us remember our values and highest priorities even when life does not appear to be going our way. If we can shift our thoughts, we can shift our feelings. And if we can shift our feelings, we can shift our actions. And these small, positive shifts add up to a life that feels better and fits our highest self. I love helping my clients to talk through the relationships or circumstances that are leaving them twisted in knots. Becoming untangled can bring us back into alignment with our authentic selves so we can live from our truth. Cleaning up our thoughts requires awareness and dedication. And as we do we’ll find more and more that gratitude becomes our attitude.
So take some time to assess whether there is anything that you are taking into your mind that leaves you feeling despair. Is it something you might consider letting go of? Are you experiencing any compare and despair? The holidays and social media can be a difficult combination. Shifting what we consume with our minds can begin the journey to embodying satisfaction in our lives.
Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address
Greetings to the Natural World
Today we have gathered and we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now, we bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as people. Now our minds are one.
The Earth Mother
We are all thankful to our Mother, the Earth, for she gives us all that we need for life. She supports our feet as we walk about upon her. It gives us joy that she continues to care for us as she has from the beginning of time. To our mother, we send greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.
We give thanks to all the waters of the world for quenching our thirst and providing us with strength. Water is life. We know its power in many forms- waterfalls and rain, mists and streams, rivers and oceans. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the spirit of Water. Now our minds are one.
We turn our minds to the all the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that we can still find pure water. So, we turn now to the Fish and send our greetings and thanks. Now our minds are one.
Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come. Now our minds are one.
The Food Plants
With one mind, we turn to honor and thank all the Food Plants we harvest from the garden. Since the beginning of time, the grains, vegetables, beans and berries have helped the people survive. Many other living things draw strength from them too. We gather all the Plant Foods together as one and send them a greeting of thanks. Now our minds are one.
The Medicine Herbs
Now we turn to all the Medicine herbs of the world. From the beginning they were instructed to take away sickness. They are always waiting and ready to heal us. We are happy there are still among us those special few who remember how to use these plants for healing. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to the Medicines and to the keepers of the Medicines. Now our minds are one.
We gather our minds together to send greetings and thanks to all the Animal life in the world. They have many things to teach us as people. We are honored by them when they give up their lives so we may use their bodies as food for our people. We see them near our homes and in the deep forests. We are glad they are still here and we hope that it will always be so. Now our minds are one
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.
The Four Winds
We are all thankful to the powers we know as the Four Winds. We hear their voices in the moving air as they refresh us and purify the air we breathe. They help us to bring the change of seasons. From the four directions they come, bringing us messages and giving us strength. With one mind, we send our greetings and thanks to the Four Winds. Now our minds are one.
Now we turn to the west where our grandfathers, the Thunder Beings, live. With lightning and thundering voices, they bring with them the water that renews life. We are thankful that they keep those evil things made by Okwiseres underground. We bring our minds together as one to send greetings and thanks to our Grandfathers, the Thunderers. Now our minds are one.
We now send greetings and thanks to our eldest Brother, the Sun. Each day without fail he travels the sky from east to west, bringing the light of a new day. He is the source of all the fires of life. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Brother, the Sun. Now our minds are one.
We put our minds together to give thanks to our oldest Grandmother, the Moon, who lights the night-time sky. She is the leader of woman all over the world, and she governs the movement of the ocean tides. By her changing face we measure time, and it is the Moon who watches over the arrival of children here on Earth. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to our Grandmother, the Moon. Now our minds are one.
We give thanks to the Stars who are spread across the sky like jewelry. We see them in the night, helping the Moon to light the darkness and bringing dew to the gardens and growing things. When we travel at night, they guide us home. With our minds gathered together as one, we send greetings and thanks to the Stars. Now our minds are one.
The Enlightened Teachers
We gather our minds to greet and thank the enlightened Teachers who have come to help throughout the ages. When we forget how to live in harmony, they remind us of the way we were instructed to live as people. With one mind, we send greetings and thanks to these caring teachers. Now our minds are one.
Now we turn our thoughts to the Creator, or Great Spirit, and send greetings and thanks for all the gifts of Creation. Everything we need to live a good life is here on this Mother Earth. For all the love that is still around us, we gather our minds together as one and send our choicest words of greetings and thanks to the Creator. Now our minds are one.
We have now arrived at the place where we end our words. Of all the things we have named, it was not our intention to leave anything out. If something was forgotten, we leave it to each individual to send such greetings and thanks in their own way. Now our minds are one.
This translation of the Mohawk version of the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address was developed, published in 1993, and provided, courtesy of: Six Nations Indian Museum and the Tracking Project All rights reserved. Thanksgiving Address: Greetings to the Natural World English version: John Stokes and Kanawahienton (David Benedict, Turtle Clan/Mohawk) Mohawk version: Rokwaho (Dan Thompson, Wolf Clan/Mohawk) Original inspiration: Tekaronianekon (Jake Swamp, Wolf Clan/Mohawk)