Thursday, November 22, 2007

an attitude of gratitude

thanksgiving left me with a valuable lesson last year: moderation. it's not a new lesson; but it becomes clearer every time i learn it. for a long time i've been the one to go for seconds and thirds, a mixture of competition and compliment that has garnished me respect among my fellow feasters and gratitude from cooks. i have often eaten more than i should to satisfy those perceived sources of approval. as i've licked plates clean i've heard such comments as "i really enjoy watching you eat" and "your mother must love you" and "where do you put it all?" all of which only encouraged such displays of gastronomic prowess.

with all of this history of gluttony, i thought that the second plate wouldn't be a problem. truth be told i needed it to soak up the vodka and wine in which i had indulged. my tolerance isn't what it used to be. i don't know if it was too much alcohol or too much salt; but somehow the contents of my stomach were combustible. i could feel them expanding and the pain was much too much. as i lay on the couch groaning, i decided that enough was enough.

i think i've always wanted too much. since i was very young i've obsessed over matchboxes, action figures, comic books, music, girls, drugs, and alcohol. all of these have brought pleasure and pain in varying degrees. there is always more to whet the appetite, and there is a measure of guilt that comes with the discontent.

gluttony and greed and covetousness and desire are all part and parcel of the same thing: a scarcity consciousness. it comes from fear that we won't have enough or from the belief that things will make us happy. we want the things we don't have and then we're disappointed when we get them. buyer's remorse is part of a larger dissatisfaction.

this is the suffering of which gautama spoke. hanging our happiness on the transience of the material world will lead to a sense of inadequacy. nothing lives up to our expectations...and how could anything in an imperfect world?

coming to grips with the pervasive pain and sorrow in the world can be pretty bleak. what meaning can be gleaned from suffering?

i have found a solution in my own life to be simple gratitude. my intestinal disquiet led me (once again) to this realization. thanksgiving is my favorite holiday because it describes a beautiful idea: that we can come together despite our differences and appreciate the bountiful harvest of life.

of course, there are those who will condemn it for one reason or another: vegetarians and animal rights advocates take up for the turkeys; there are people all over the world literally starving to death; and the celebration of that first thanksgiving can seem like propaganda whitewashing the genocide (so much for gratitude) of native americans that came afterward.

this all makes for stimulating dinner conversation, to say the least. if we sit quietly and eat together, then we may miss out on some of that excitement...or suffering. it's all about perspective. and it comes down to the way you react to your glass at the half way point. one man's meat is another man's poison; and who can speak to the meaning in someone else's suffering? each of us has to work it out for ourselves.

here is some useful information to fire the imagination: an attitude of gratitude is its own reward. "please" and "thank you" are not just good manners, they are keys to happiness. if we cannot appreciate what we have, we will never be satisfied. moderation will be my meat today. i'm limiting myself to one plate. and i will slowly savor every bite. pass the gravy, please.

painting borrowed from: