This is the painting I finished yesterday. Thanksgiving is coming up fast. Beyond a special meal that features a roast turkey, those of us who celebrate this holiday typically use this time to reflect upon our blessings, express gratitude, and gather with family.
“Thanksgiving” is part of the 2022 collection “Seasons” (of life and nature). Paintings in this collection celebrate seasons of life (metaphorical, representational, or inspired-by-real-life scenes about milestones, rites of passage, and shared human experiences of love, aging, family, and beyond) as well as seasons of nature (literal scenes depicting autumn, summer, fall, and winter).
“Thanksgiving” represents autumn and celebrates family traditions, as well as celebrating blessings and expressing gratitude.
In June, I talked about this painting in a blog post called “Solitary Roses“. The part of that post I’d like to highlight today is this:
“It’s healthy for brains to occasionally build garden walls, where we can retreat into a creative, spiritual, reflective space. ‘Unplugging’ is about much more than simply unplugging from the Internet, cell phones, televisions, or any other electronic gadget or screen. If our mindset is still controlled by the world’s pacing and agendas, we haven’t truly unplugged- we’ve merely paused the stream. What we need is garden walls inside our minds, a place we go when we need to connect our minds to our spirit and body. In that space, we are at peace: undisturbed, unhindered, and unburdened.”
It can be challenging to take time to simply be still, without letting our thoughts race, without staring at a screen, without multi-tasking, and resisting being occupied every second of the day. But if we do this, we can slow down time. Time passes from one hour to the next, one day, month, and year to the next, in a blur of mostly insignificant events that we don’t remember later. When we focus on the passage of time and reflect on who we are, who we want to be, and who we can be for others, we stop the manic pace that makes time race forward without any awareness of it. When we feel gratitude for every moment and pause our lives to notice, time slows.
It is when time slows that we learn the secrets that children, the elderly, and people under emotional crisis (such as grief, post-trauma, disability, etc.) already know: all that matters is right now, this very moment. If only we could feel this way, think of what we’d do with our blessed moment, our most priceless treasure! Time is what we all want when the end is near. Why wait until we’ve lost what we most desire and can never buy? We have time now. Tell your dear ones that you love them. Do something that makes you happy. Build garden walls inside your mind.
It may be hard to feel like this today, a joyful prayerful state of praise. But when we don’t feel joy, be thankful anyway. “Be”, as in the verb, the willful, mindful choice “to be”, an action. We may not feel thankful emotionally, but we can choose to BE thankful. We can choose the intentional act of gratitude. Sometimes that’s the best we can do. It may be impossible to feel thankful when we are struggling with hardships, anxiety, worry, grief, anger, or fear.
But if we commit to the action of thankfulness, we may be surprised at how our action affects us. Even when our hearts are weary and our minds are stubbornly clinging to depressing thoughts, picking at all of the worst case scenarios until we’ve convinced ourselves that this world is dark and hopeless, standing in gratitude can lift our spirits despite our emotions and our circumstances. Being blessed with one more day on this planet is a gift that so many others didn’t have today. Why us?
We are here for a reason. We have a destiny to fulfill. We are chosen for this time, we are special, and we are loved by God. When we believe these things, it is easier to feel thankful even if we can’t quite reach “prayerful praise” in the moment. Gratitude for what we do have, for our loved ones, for the life we’ve lived, and for our very breath can outlast any hardship, loss, or fear. And one day, we will stand before the spiritual ocean once again, feel the salty breeze upon our skin, and the sun on our face, and we shall feel joy. Until that day, may we be thankful even when we don’t think we can be.
When we tried the peach pie it was something different and new for us, that first year after we moved to the deep South in Georgia. This week, for my husband’s birthday (he likes pie better than cake, and I’m the opposite- I prefer cake), we tried something different again. It was a maple syrup pie, a recipe I found from Canada. It was good, very rich; a small piece is plenty. He thought it was fun to try a new pie.
We have our favorite foods and desserts that are our family traditions, but it’s good to try something different too. This is a good recipe for life as well. Enjoy the familiar, the things we know, the habits that have become tradition in our families, and the lifestyle that is comfortable and usually preferred, but on occasion step into something different. Be open to new things, to change, and to experiences that depart from our regular way of doing things.
Just like when we take a trip and when we come back we say, “it was good to get away, but it’s sure good to be back home,” taking a break from our usual way of doing things can push us out of a rut and into a spiritual space of gratitude. And if we like the new things we try, we might incorporate them into our lives. The important thing is to feel joyful in our daily regular lives, and it can help to try something different. But if you can’t travel or make major changes, don’t worry, sometimes all it takes to feel an extra boost of joy is trying a new pie!