Opportunities at Thanksgiving

By Camilla Sanderson
Last modified: 11/23/2015 6:10:19 PM
Thanksgiving is not only an opportunity to celebrate the practice of gratitude. It’s also an opportunity for personal growth and learning about projection, all of which are food for nourishing our spiritual natures. When my husband and I moved from living and working in New York City for 20 years to our log cabin in the woods of Temple, I felt drawn to take some spiritual classes. But I wasn’t interested in the dogma that accompanies so many religions.

Through a lovely series of synchronicities, I found The Rev. Stephanie Rutt’s interfaith seminary program offered through the Tree of Life Interfaith Temple (then in Amherst, now in Milford). I felt lit up to delve into the spiritual truths, rituals, beliefs, practices, sacred texts, prayers, chants and sacred sound currents that exist in a variety of faith traditions. Along with seven other women and under Rev. Stephanie’s wise and intuitive guidance, we studied world religions for two years, and one of the many activities we enjoyed together was a gratitude exercise.

We met one Saturday a month from 9 to 5, and when we weren’t dancing, singing, and doing various meditative walks, we sat in a circle together for discussion and activities. For the gratitude practice, Rev. Stephanie asked each of us to write down on a piece of paper the “homeopathic essence,” or a distillation, of what we felt most grateful for about each of the women in our circle.

I enjoyed taking the time to consider what I appreciated most about each of my interfaith reverend sisters, and I still have all of the “gratitude love notes” that I received from each of them too. They sit in a clay pot on a shelf in a small room in our home. A room I’ve claimed as my own sacred space where I do my spiritual practice.

“Gratitude love notes” from people in our lives give us a feeling of being loved, held and valued. It’s a form of recognition and acknowledgment; something we all look for in our lives, especially from the people in our families, communities, and places of work.

The challenges occur with people in our lives though, when we disown our own shadows, or “muck,” and we project it onto the people around us. We’re often so disconnected from our own darkest inner realms, or “negative seeds” as the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes about in “No Mud, No Lotus,” that the only way we can find those parts of ourselves is through “projections,” which occur when we subconsciously cast our shadow out to the world around us.

Rev. Stephanie was diligent with helping us to own our own “muck,” and to remember that like the lotus flower, we blossom because of, not in spite of, our very human muck. She also often reminded us that we’re all given to each other to learn and grow.

This is also similar to the idea expressed by Joan Borysenko, PhD, author of the New York Times bestseller “Minding the Body, Mending the Mind”: “By owning our own negative or limiting projections, we weed our mental gardens of unkind thoughts. The negativity we see in others is a clue to the qualities we are afraid to recognize in ourselves. When you catch yourself projecting, own it by saying, ‘And I am that, too.’”

So I invite you to celebrate the practice of gratitude this Thanksgiving, perhaps by writing on a small piece of paper a “homeopathic essence” of something you may feel grateful for about each person at your Thanksgiving table. The same table where you will be celebrating and feasting on an abundance of food harvested from our planet’s fertile soil.

And remember also if someone pushes your buttons, you’re triggered, and you begin to dive into being judgmental and projecting all those negative dis-owned qualities onto someone else, you have the opportunity to own it by saying “And I am that too.”

The Rev. Camilla Sanderson, interfaith minister, lives in Temple. She is the author of “The Mini Book of Mindfulness,” to be published by Running Press in March 2016.


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