In 2006, my wife and I were invited to go on a trip to Ghana, West Africa. We were with my friend, of joint Ghanian Japanese descent, and for his 30th birthday he invited his closest friends to join him on a journey of rediscovering his heritage and ancestry.
As it turned out, for me it was also a real rediscovery of who, and what I was, at a time of my life where I was very much a seeker.
It was a time when I had goals for every area of my life, and I harboured a general dis-satisfaction for how it was all unfolding.
I remember one day visiting one of the villages, and we were invited into one of the family homes. It was a small ‘room’ basically that housed a family of around 6 people.
What hit me, almost immediately, when I went to visit this family, was the joy that literally projected from their eyes. On the surface, they had literally nothing. Clothes that were falling apart. No shoes. And it turns out food was scarce.
Linda and I actually recognised the youngest of the family as we had seen her walking with a large box on her head in the previous days. We had been captured by her happy face despite the hardship of what she had been apparently doing. It turns out that she was the only member of the family capable of walking the long distances that she did to ensure that the family had enough food. It meant that she didn’t get to attend school that much.
So, you can imagine my shock when I found this family offering Linda and I a plate of food each. It was clear that they did not have a lot to spare. Although we didn’t accept it, both of us were amazed at their warmth, hospitality and generosity.
These were people who despite their lack of material things, were deeply rich in spirit. They seemed truly grateful.
In fact, I would go so far as to say that they were the antithesis of me who was standing there just a few moments ago annoyed that my iPod had run out of battery, and that my new Nike trainers were getting dirty from all the dirt tracks that we had walked on.
I cried a lot on that trip. Every time I did it was like I was seeing something about my nature that only now am I beginning to understand.
As many of my friends, family and colleagues wake up to Thanksgiving in the US, and the ensuing rush for bargains at the Black Friday sales, it got me reflecting more about the nature of gratitude, and how we get caught in the trap that I did, all those years ago.
My last trip to the US something really hit me. I turned on the TV and the commercial breaks were showing. I watched as each advert attempted to tell me how much better my life was going to be when I had a bought a new Mercedes or finally gotten my teeth whitened!
Every advert carried the same message: “You are broken. There is something outside of you that will make you feel better”.
Advert after advert after advert carried the same message.
What hit me was the potential effect that this noise could have on our minds. It feeds the illusion that our moment to moment experience of life is coming from our circumstances.
Not only that, this noise is actually adding criteria for what has to happen for us to feel happy. No wonder rates of depression and anxiety are at all time highs.
Now don’t get me wrong – I like ’stuff’ as much as the next person. I have a weakness for cars and techie stuff in particular.
But what I learned subsequent to that trip to Ghana was that my circumstances were never creating how I felt. Ever. All the good things in life that I was seeking – happiness, gratitude and connection to others – well these are the default settings for all of us. They were available no matter what.
We aren’t lacking ‘stuff’ to help us feel these things. We’ve simply lost track of our nature. You see, underneath the noise of our minds, we are already whole. We are already connected. We are already free. We just get lost from time to time in an illusion that we are not whole, connected and free! We don’t see that actually it’s our thinking that creates our experience, and that sometimes that thinking can look incredibly real!
It isn’t that we have to do anything about that illusion necessarily. It more that we just have to know that’s how it works.
You see when we don’t know how it works, there’s a tendency for us to get lost.
The Mind is really good at creating the illusion that there is something that looks ‘wrong’ with where we are. When you don’t know that’s how it works, it’s so easy to get lost in an endless cycle of seeking like I was.
But when you do know how it works, you are less likely to take it seriously when the mind kicks off on one of it’s rants about what’s wrong with your life.
Instead you’ll just know that all that’s going on and get on with your day.
As I learned myself, the space that’s left in your mind when you are not busy fighting it, actually tends to be the thing that allows you to be more productive and creative anyway.
So if you are going into your Thanksgiving celebrations today, and are feeling less than grateful, here’s what I would say. It’s okay that you feel that way, you are human and sometimes we do get lost in thoughts about our lives.
But all the good stuff we seek – it’s here. Now. This second. There’s nothing taking you away from experiencing it other than a simple misunderstanding about how your mind works.
You don’t have to wait for your favourite political figure to become President. He is also not the thing that is stopping you from being connected with your friends and family on this special day. Nor do you have to worry about whether your Turkey is cooked to perfection or whether you are going to bag that bargain at the Black Friday sales.
It’s getting lost in thoughts that these things are where your wellbeing lie that will stop you from actually being grateful.
Glimpse this and you’ll mind will begin to clear so much faster. You’ll find yourself going Home to the place that those amazing souls in Ghana already knew about. You’ll approach your circumstances from a much deeper place of wisdom and resilience and gratitude.
Glimpse this and you’ll be free…
Wishing you a joyous, happy and blessed Thanksgiving.