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That’s a Full Plate

There is a lot to be thankful for in each moment

It is possible, I am finding, to live with a Thanksgiving state of mind. This state of mind has nothing to do with Pilgrims and native Americans or overflowing plates. It has everything to do with stopping in your tracks to savor – thankfully – the moment. For when we limit our perspective to this exact moment, there is always an overflowing cornucopia of blessings to be noticed and received.

A full plate

Recently I touched base with one of my cousins for whom the question, “How’s everything with ya’ll?” is always filled with sincere interest. So, I told him. His response opened with, “My goodness. That’s a full plate.” (Which of course brought to mind all the Thanksgiving plates we had over-filled together.)

And my plate is full right now. So full that if I allow myself to stand on my proverbial tiptoes to see if I can find the horizon, I immediately get overwhelmed. It’s better, I’m finding, to keep myself “right here right now” where, for the moment, everything is manageable. Here and now, it is always (always!) possible to be thankful.

In the moment, even someone who is really quite sick is fine as she laughs as your crazy dog “sneaks” into her lap. In the moment, it is possible to find the one, right, next step in even the most precarious of situations. In the moment, it’s OK that you don’t yet have the answers to the big questions.

Clear-eyed acceptance makes gratitude even more meaningful

Living with a Thanksgiving state of mind has nothing to do with pretending everything is OK. In fact, facing and accepting the struggles, burdens, challenges, and pains that life is delivering makes each moment that we take a thankful pause vastly more meaningful.

Without the extended illness, after all, this particular laugh would be less of a treasure. Without the long slog, you probably would not even notice this one, tiny, doable step. Without an overwhelming sense of “I don’t know” in the face of pressing uncertainty, this willingness to hang out with the questions would not feel like the respite that it is.

We’re looking to develop resilience

A Thanksgiving state of mind is actually a bit of a superpower. It can be the foundation for the kind of strength we most need in life. I often describe this strength as being strong like a willow rather than like an oak tree. We want to bend but not break. We want to be resilient rather than resistant.

Adam Grant, an organizational psychologist at The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, says,

“Resilience is not resistance to suffering. It’s the capacity to bend without breaking. Strength doesn’t come from ignoring pain. It stems from knowing that your past self has hurt and your future self will heal. Fortitude is the presence of resolve, not the absence of hardship.”

When we pause in gratitude for a moment (or two or a hundred), we’re not wishing for a different, easier life. We’re not ignoring the pain we’re in. What we’re doing is expanding our felt experience to include everything that is OK right now. It’s not an either/or mindset. It’s a both/and way of looking at life.

Life is hard AND good

The thing about the present moment – or at least those when we’re not actually fighting or fleeing from imminent danger – is that they are mostly OK. Most of our suffering is anticipatory. Even when we know beyond the shadow of a doubt that “it’s” coming (whatever it is), right now it’s not here. A Thanksgiving mindset allows us to understand that right now, we can accept that we’re worried, that we’re sad, that we’re taxed AND that we’re laughing, finding our way, and just fine not knowing yet.

With practice we can see our plate as full of both struggles and blessings

Here’s a little extra good news from my life to yours – the more we deliberately practice a Thanksgiving state of mind, the more we will accidentally fall into it. This is how it is possible to smile when someone you love and who loves you rightfully murmurs, “My goodness, that’s a full plate.” Thanks to your Thanksgiving state of mind, what you see overflowing your plate is all the little “right now’s” that you are savoring.

Will you join me in spending the next week refocusing (again and again and again) on all that is OK right now? If we do, together we can have a very happy Thanksgiving indeed. And if we keep it up, Thanksgiving could become more than a holiday. It could be a way of life.

The fact that you’re “doing” a spiritual practice is often invisible to the world around you. What you’re doing is changing the way you’re welcoming your life. Meeting monthly with a spiritual director is a great way to shore up your chosen mindset.