When I was visiting my parents in their last years of life, one of the caretakers was sitting down to share a meal with us. My Dad asked her to say grace before we ate. She asked for blessings on the food and “all the hands that toiled to bring these foods to the table.” Wow! That sent my mind back down the food chain to the grocery store employees, the truckers who brought the food to the store, the farmers who planted the seeds and the workers who harvested it. Today I include everything on the table, the flatware, the dishes, the cups the napkins. When I think of everyone who toiled to make the meal and the setting in front of me possible, it takes gratitude to an entirely different level. I am humbled by the tremendous effort of so many people that I might eat just one meal. And then multiply that by the number of meals of my life.
I feel a deep and abiding gratitude for this, but also, I have a sense that I want to honor all of that work and all of those people. As I wonder how to honor them it occurs to me that there are several ways.
I can choose what to eat thoughtfully, and I can stay present to the gift of the meal as I eat it. Before I ever go to the store, I can do some research to find out what products and companies treat the land respectfully, pay their workers honest wages, raise food animals humanely, and have an ethic of giving back from their own abundance.
I can go to the store with a plan for what I will cook and eat in order to minimize waste and spoilage. I can honor my body by choosing the foods that nourish and energize me in order to minimize any drain on my energy. I can treat the employees of the store with respect, being patient with the teenager who is still learning to be a cashier.
And when I sit down to eat that meal, after preparing the food I’ve purchased, I can allow enough time to eat it slowly, enjoying the full flavor of every bite, and feeling the satisfaction of filling an empty stomach.
Saying grace is more than a sentence or two before devouring a meal in a matter of a few short minutes. Bringing grace to every choice associated with the effort to bring that meal to the table becomes a life practice. Gratitude enhances the dining experience, seasons the taste buds, and becomes one more ingredient in the Main Meal of my life.
A few weeks ago, I had a thought that maybe I ‘should’ write a blog during the holiday season or for the new year. But that’s not how this works for me. I can’t somehow decide it’s a good time to write a blog and then turn out something appropriate to the season or the weather or whatever. Usually, a phrase comes to mind and that sets the ideas in motion and all of a sudden, I am writing non-stop until the idea that inspired the phrase is fully developed and, like magic, a blog is written.
Today I was thinking back to the ‘should’ thought, wondering if there is something in new beginnings that I have anything to write; something that hasn’t already been said a million times in a million different ways. What’s true and authentic for me is that Christmas Day (I was raised Christian) and New Year’s Day are each just one more day of my life. It’s not that I don’t feel the excitement; it’s not that I don’t have a deep sense of the sacred associated with this time of year. It’s that the excitement and the holiness of those two days is no more and no less intense than any other day of the year for me.
Some part of every day of my life is spent engaged in my personal spiritual practice. There is never a time when I can’t find a reason for awe and gratitude. When I get in my car to drive the 8 miles from my house to beach, I’m every bit as excited to get there as I was to wake up, at age 5, on Christmas Day and see the presents under the tree. Standing in the surf is a sacred experience for me and I do it often.
As to new beginnings, why wait? I can start anything new at any time I choose. I can start the same things over and over and over again, as many times as I choose, until I reach a goal, learn a skill, find the joy I’m looking for. Resolutions begin with a thought and I have millions of thoughts a day. I choose which ones to act on and which changes, or new beginnings, I want to give my energy to.
And if we are talking about the season, well that happens at least 4 times a year, all year long, even in a place like San Diego. The days lengthen and shorten, different plants bloom and die during the year; trees get fuller and then shed some or all of their leaves. So, celebrating the shortest day of the year and the return of the light is equally as exciting and sacred as celebrating the equinoxes or the longest day of the year and the move toward longer nights.
It’s not cynicism that makes me say Christmas Day and New Year’s Day are each just another day. They are each another glorious, awe-inspiring, joy-filled, day of new beginnings and reasons to be grateful. Do I celebrate them? I feast on them, and on every other day of my life! They are one more item on the Main Meal menu.
Many years ago, my Dad told us about a book he read where the author said he was inspired to give thanks for everything, especially the ‘bad’ or challenging things in his life. So, my Dad tried this out one day when he was driving down the main commercial street in his neighborhood. This street had a traffic light at nearly every block and, as was usually the case, he was hitting every red light. He started saying, “thank you for the red light, thank you for the red light, thank you for the red light,” at every corner. Pretty soon, instead of being frustrated and angry, he was laughing!
I had known for several days that this would be the concept for the topic I was writing for The Main Meal Weight Management Group, but I couldn’t get started with my writing. The morning of the meeting, at 8:00 am I woke to the sound of heavy equipment on the school yard next to my window, scraping and pounding. My first reaction was not to give thanks! But right on the heals of my frustration and annoyance, was the thought, “thank you for the loud, intrusive noise this morning.” And I laughed at myself.
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