Thanksgiving and Delighting in the Unexpected

November 18, 2022

In some ways I am like the Buddha. We both began our lives in privilege.

Siddhartha Gautama, who later became the Buddha, began his life in a palace. My simple farm home might be considered as a castle, or fortress for me; as surely as Gautama was separated from the suffering of the world, so was I.

Like Gautama when I went out into the world, I came face to face with many kinds of suffering. I didn’t know what to do with the suffering I saw around me. Life isn’t fair.

The first noble truth of Buddha is that Life is “dukkha,” which is usually vaguely translated as “suffering.” (Please check out the music video for “Everybody hurts,” on this website: Although my understanding of dukkha is rather limited, I feel the truth of this Buddhist teaching, that how we understand the nature of the world, and of ourselves is critical in meeting life with hope.

In his classic book, “The Road less travelled,” Scott Peck begins, “Life is difficult… This is one of the greatest truths because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. Once we truly know that life is difficult – once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.”

Much of our mental anguish and suffering is caused from expecting that we should be happy all the time; life should not be so hard, such a struggle; bad things should not happen to innocent and good people. It may seem obvious that there is suffering and hardship in life. And yet, the expectation that people should be happy all the time contributes immensely to mental illness and the stigma of mental illness.

At this time of the year people across the United States are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving, which I understand to be the most widely celebrated feast in the United States. Christmas follows hard on the heels of Thanksgiving. For many people there is a vast difference between expectations and lived experience of idyllic family love and togetherness during both of these holiday celebrations. “Five ways to protect your mental health” gives some pointers to create realistic expectations, and actualize these in nurturing celebrations.

When the world of my idyllic childhood was finally punctured by suffering, I became angry, jaded and to some extent, despairing.  Healing began to come when I began to recognize and acknowledge the continued pervasive presence of goodness, love and compassion in the world, that exists side by side with suffering of many kinds. Like Peck said, “life is difficult.” Accepting imperfection gives me the freedom to enjoy the goodness that is present right now.

A healthy spirituality helps us to detach from expectations of the perfect holiday, or the perfect anything and to look for goodness and love that is actually present. I want to be able to celebrate with the same, child-like delight in the present moment that I saw in my Dad on Christmas morning. He was as boisterous and loud as a 4 year old as he would shout out: “Look what Santy brought!”

Gratitude Prompt: Give thanks for simple moments of delight, free from expectations of perfection.