Poet in Residence
Bodies and Voices
BY MAGAZINE COLUMNIST CARYN MIRRIAM-GOLDBERG
“Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” Wallace Stevens’ famous poem, helps us to see what’s in front of us from different angles with a wider angle lens. I was thinking lately about Thanksgiving and how I might view it beyond the narrow scope of just another big family event with heavy food covered in gravy with the blare of men crashing into each other on the TV in the background. So here are my thirteen ways of reclaiming Thanksgiving:
If, first of all, you’re alone for the holiday, find a way to make it special for you, whether this means watching Legally Blonde and the sequel (“Snap and bend!”) while eating take-out Chinese on your couch with your dog asleep in your lap or volunteering to serve dinner at the homeless shelter. Don’t treat it just as another day to get stuff done while the rest of the world around you (unless you’re not in America at the moment) does this big symbolic and gastric thing together. And even if you’re out of the country, you can still celebrate in your own best way.
Thanksgiving comes in its season, and for each of us, that means specific flora and fauna, weather patterns and climate shifts around us, encasing us in this moment. For me in Kansas, this holiday lands just between the first chilly days and the big cold that will come. For some of you in warmer climes, it’s different, but wherever you are, there are things happening in the earth and sky right now, even while the mashed potatoes sit heavy in your stomach. Step outside and look, smell, listen. Be with the beauty of this earth presenting itself in the air, water and earth.
Gratitude can be very small and specific, and you can cultivate greater joy for being alive in yourself by noticing one small thing you really appreciate on this day. Maybe it’s the taste of the cranberry in your mouth, the candle your great-aunt lights, the big wind hitting a branch against the window, the sleeping cat in your father’s lap. Look toward what you’re glad is here.
People are mortal, which means you’re probably sitting down with some people who won’t be here in a matter of time, and perhaps there are some who you’ve done Thanksgiving with in the past who are now gone. Take a moment and look at everyone there carefully (without being too conspicuous). Remember a moment you were so glad to see this person and see if you can bring that appreciation to this moment.
Take a moment to also remember the ones gone, and what you appreciate from having known them, whether it’s the crazy way your father-in-law put too many marshmallows on the sweet potatoes or how an old friend would also arrive late, bearing cheesecake.
Your holiday is happening in a home or restaurant or someplace somewhere. Look for some small things you appreciate about this space, whether it’s the black velvet painting of a little lost girl or an old clock on the wall or the gleaming table serve.
Make your plate a celebration of color and texture, a little of this and a little of that. During the typical Thanksgiving meal, you have ample opportunity to get some red (cranberry), orange (sweet potato), green (salad or green beans), lots of white and beige (turkey, mashed potatoes, rolls), and other colors onto the plate. Appreciate the different hues… and tastes.
Although everyone will say not to eat too much, or to just have a taste, chances are a lot of us may simply not heed those words. So if you’re feeling bloated late in that afternoon, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, rally the others around you to take a walk (even if it’s cold or hot or raining) and have yourselves a little adventure in your mildly moving body.
Nest with your people. Watch an old movie together, wrap yourselves in someone’s grandma’s afghan, or cuddle up with your nieces. Enjoy the presence of being together.
Kiss the cook(s). Repeatedly. Show your appreciation.
Treat washing the dishes as a sensual experience that also connects you more deeply with family and friends. There’s also no better opportunity to get the latest family gossip than washing and drying dishes together.
Chances are there are several habitual things you do or other family members do that make you feel a little crazy. Enter the day planning to break one habitual response. So if your brother-in-law makes fun of your yoga practice yet again, instead of hissing at him and fuming or hours — or calling him a butthead in front of the whole family — try something new and disarming. Like put your hands together at heart center, bow and laugh. Or tell him he has pretty eyes. Pema Chodron, a great Tibetan Buddhist teacher, advises breaking the old responses too, and she says what you do instead may be a disaster, but at least it will be fresh.
Speaking of fresh, aim for bringing some food as fresh at possible to the feast. This can help you connect with the greater world, alive and giving to us all the time.
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© 2011, The Magazine of Yoga, LLC.