Many of us – an increasing number to be sure – refuse to celebrate the thin version of that myth. Instead, we opt to work with the wider, more complex story, rife with various truths – heavier and thicker, far harder to carry, and filled with grieving.
Of course we value gratitude. True gratitude is a cleansing and empowering force on the mind and spirit. It washes away self-centeredness and martyrdom, it re-centers you in proper humility. And gratitude is the single best antidote to the pandemic of greed infecting our culture. As a consistent practice, gratitude delivers more actual healing than do antidepressants.
But gratitude that stands on gauzy ignorance is not gratitude at all - it is denial, and denial is a corrosive force on the mind and spirit, one that eventually eats its way through a culture's (or individual's) supporting structures until they come crashing down. We see this happening all around us right now - the energies of polarization, accusation and mistrust are the sounds of cracking, snapping and crashing of the old structures.
Under all the anger is the grieving. I despise Tucker Carlson and his ilk on the right and the left – people who care less about truths that can help me make decisions, and more about injecting me with the next jolt of small rage, because that’s what makes money. But under that despising of the 24 hour news cycle, I grieve deeply that Walter Cronkites have gone extinct. To recognize the grief underlying rage is a big step in healing one's life and preparing for a better world to emerge.
In order for humanity to make the spiritual shift that so many of us are praying and working for, we need to transform two core poisons, and grieving is the antidote for both.
The first poison is arrogance, and it must be cleansed for any substantive change to appear. Every person raised in western culture has had injected into them the arrogance that humans are the apex – and the very point - of creation, and that we are different (and better) than all other creatures. This separation has created a truly unique creature woven through with devastating loneliness, and this may be the only thing that makes humans unique on this planet. So much of what we do in our daily life is an act of keeping that existential loneliness at bay, including the unending seeking for "more," which ties directly to the genocide of Native Peoples and Thanksgiving.
Cleansing our essential loneliness sounds easy but clearly it is not, because it demands that we change our inner structure which is founded on arrogance. The way Spirit works, human arrogance will definitely be cleansed, one way or another. The only question is how much we are willing do on our own, and how much Spirit will need to do for us. If we do the work ourselves, there will be far less need for disaster to rip us apart. Covid-19 has cleansed some arrogance – and also shown us clearly how much resistance there is. Spirit has many more ideas lined up to continue the work if we refuse to learn from these early teachings.
Ohky Simine Forest, a medicine woman of Mohawk descent and also trained and initiated by Mayan elders in Chiapas, Mexico and teachers in Mongolia, says that shedding arrogance is crucial if white people are going to be able to "redden" their hearts. By redden, she means to make more indigenous, to heal the fundamental white perspectives of how life operates that have wrought so much harm. To me, "reddening" means making the heart fully warm and alive because the cooling air of arrogance freezes the heart and snaps the connections that it naturally forges between all beings. To redden the heart means to set out on a path of resurrecting my own indigenous soul.
Every teacher I've worked with has said the same thing: we need to move into our heart center. Because it is from there that we re-form connections to all life (not from the intellect, whose job it is to separate and analyze.) The many intense dietas I've done in Peru, fasting and ingesting certain power plants, has really all been an act of asking the plant world to redden my heart. Looking at the larger, more complex truths of white history, as so many are doing now, with such great discomfort, is all about cleansing arrogance and reddening the heart.
The second poison we need to transform is the rules our culture has set out against grieving. For millennia, we have been taught that grieving is weakness, a failure of endurance or verve, a waste of time and energy. If you do fall into this weakness, at least keep it quiet, brief and out of sight.
This is a truly tragic idea. Grieving is one of the clearest and most powerful testaments of the deep connection between things. Grieving is a primary action to redden the heart. The waters of grief wash away our arrogance (and many other psycho-spiritual maladies) and re-open the heart that has been closed off. Spirit has given us access to the medicine of grief specifically so we can wash ourselves regularly. We are told by the activists to repress our grieving and to transform it to anger and put it into action. This sounds right, except grieving is repressed only with great cost to the soul.
Repressed sacred energies are shoved down into the unconscious, where they become deformed, and then they re-emerge into the world as their destructive opposite. True grieving is a testament to the beautiful connections between things, but when it is repressed, it deforms and re-emerges into the world as martyred rage. We see this everywhere around us today – victimized rage instead of the true grieving energy that needs to be let out and cleared. Substantive change will not happen by replacing one martyred rage with another.
The ancient Chinese text, the Tao Te Ching, says that all things that are alive are flexible because they are filled with fluid. All things that are dead are dry and unbending. Grieving fills you with the sap of life, and contrary to what you are so often told, your grief makes you a stronger human being. You are never more beautiful than while grieving, for in grief, your reddened heart is radiantly connected. When you dry yourself of this sap, you become brittle. When I look at the people around me everywhere infected with rage, I see brittleness. Any little thing makes them snap. They need constant injections of martyred rage to give them energy, and the 24 hour news world is happy to offer it up, like the corner heroin dealer.
So, as Thanksgiving comes round again, I decline to participate in the thin, story of white heroes making something of a primitive land. I also decline to play along with the rage machine. I will, instead, grieve the numerous lost opportunities we have had as a culture to redden our heart, beginning with the arrival of the Europeans to this continent. I will ask the spirt of grieving to cleanse me of the old arrogance and also of martyred rage, and I will ask the spirt of new vision to fill me with strength, so that I can participate, in my own way, in building of a new world. I will take my drum and tobacco outside and make offerings of love for the beautiful land, make prayers of forgiveness in all directions, and I will continue to ask Spirit to send us the new dream, and the strength and courage to being that dream into the world.