Have a Cheerful Thanksgiving, Or Smile ‘Til It Hurts

The sweetness of a day off from work to get ready for the family’s arrival… especially when it involves a visit to my healer. Using kinesiology (muscle testing), Sue found a concept that resonated with me. Even though I had shared with her a number of issues I had been having that were anything but sunshine-y, she gave me the word “cheerful.”

Sometimes the words and phrases that Sue finds give me make so much sense that I can settle right into a narrative of what they mean to me. Today I lay on the table and actually squirmed at the whole idea of cheerfulness. It became clear that I have been wearing a false mask set in a tight grin. I have been offering people a light and breezy version of Marisa at the expense of my truest sense of self. Faced with the relentless pessimism that I so often see in the world and the complaints that seem to have become conversational currency, it’s clear I have tried to make a conscious decision to stay as relentlessly positive as possible. Having assigned myself the position of healer and strong one, I have given myself a limited range of acceptable emotions that are all supposed to fall under the category of “optimistic.” Only today did I truly realize that this phony sense of joy doesn’t serve anyone, especially me.

Funny how cheerfulness and the way that I have been forcing this emotion (is cheerfulness an emotion really?) seems to apply to the Thanksgiving dinner we are hosting for eleven tomorrow. “Hi, welcome to our home, please check your psychological baggage and axes that you might have wished to grind at the door and paste on this generic happy face, because we are all going to have a lovely holiday – or else!” No, wait, that’s not right…

Actually, I am blessed with a pretty wonderful family, and am not really worried about anyone unleashing any unsavory skeletons from their closets over the yam souffle. Regardless of how well adjusted people are, however, there is a need to perform well in front of the ten others sitting around the table. What place does the real self have in a group that is only assembled like this a few times a year? The goal is to drink much, eat well, and remember 2008 only because it was the first Thanksgiving at our new house, not because someone got sick of the charade of good humor and decided to launch a plate at the wall.

I came across Dancing Mermaid‘s blog for the first time the other day and have fallen in love with her “Affirmation Cards.” One in particular seems to perfectly describe the way we all might look at family holiday gatherings. Not through a lens of false cheer, but with a recognition that everyone gathered around the turkey is a person who needs to live from their own sense of truth. The text on the card swirls around a coin that says “PEACE”: “let go more often, let people be where they are, forgive the past, love and honor myself first.” What place do emotional masks have when we are concentrating on being true to ourselves and respecting the paths of those who sit beside us?

So I wish you a blessed harvest tomorrow full of laughter and love and hope that you find authentic bliss in your feast.

Dreaming the Present Moment

I spent a few quiet moments during the boisterous Thanksgiving holiday reading David Abram’s Spell of the Sensuous by my parents’ fireplace, completely captivated by his description of the Aboriginal people’s concept of Dreamtime. The landscape is fully mapped by the trail of the ancestors, each hill and valley associated with Kangaroo Dreaming Man, or Tortoise Woman, or one of the many other animal spirit beings that are thought to have preceded the natives of Australia. Individuals come to be connected with an ancestor and they learn the stories and songs associated with the “songline” of that being. The songline is one of many trails that cross the country, taking a route through areas most rich in resources. It seems that the ancestors marked the paths that could sustain the people in times of scarcity as these trails would lead the singers of the songline to ample food, water, and shelter.

How interesting that I read part of this chapter on a bus full of college students all plugged into more electronic equipment per square foot than the average Best Buy. No one spoke as screens flickered in nearly every seat and we crawled through towns that couldn’t imagine scarcity. Now I write this back in the mountains of New York, thinking about a book I read not far from the waters of Cape Cod. I have traveled much in the last few days, but I never gave the act of moving across the land a thought (beyond taking a bus instead of renting a car). What is it to move not because the journey was informed by traditions deeper than memory, but simply because of the cut of the highways and a holiday dictated by calendar and national decree? (It is not as if we were all hiking home because the full moon indicated it was time for the harvest, after all.)

One of Abram’s central theses is that the alphabet, written language, made it possible for humans to essentially live without concern for the natural world that sustained and informed all aspects of our own ancestors’ experience. Certainly the excess of food on a Thanksgiving table produced in countless forgotten corners of the planet and the massive migration of Americans in their quest to be reunited for family and football is a time in which we generally forget our allegiance to the planet as we contemplate traffic, getting along with relatives, and the shopping season ahead.

But then again, in its own way Thanksgiving itself is a tradition deeper than memory since we celebrate it not because of a children’s tale of Pilgrims and Indians sharing a meal in some remote context, but because the ancestors who inform us of who we know ourselves to be have taught us to feast together at the end of each November. It may be an event less than four hundred years in the making and it may not tell an origin tale that is quite as fundamental as Adam and Eve, but it comes close. In reading Abram’s book I have worried over what we may have lost in the translation of capturing life on a page (or a screen). The indigenous societies he describes all sound idyllic and all of their myths sound pure. But perhaps their stories that we now idealize made some of the tellers cringe because they knew survival of their world came at the cost of other races and species, just as the story of this country often makes me shudder even as I recognize its inherent beauty and revel in its bounty. Perhaps after much happiness enjoyed with my family marking a day that forms the national consciousness, I am able to see beyond the romance of times irretrievably lost to the demons of progress and understand the joy there is to be gained in living right now.