Our New World: digging deep into thankfulness
Updated: Nov 23, 2021
Those of you who are regular readers will know that each November, in Thanksgiving week, I write a Post on thankfulness, and I will also be hosting a Thanksgiving Dinner.
I gave my first dinner back in 2010 and I have never missed a year since. The tradition began because two American friends couldn’t get home in time for Thanksgiving, and I blithely offered to cook the dinner. I’d assumed it was basically a turkey and trimmings. How naïve and wrong I was! I discovered there are, not only regionally, but also within each family, deeply entrenched expectations of what must be served with the turkey.
This goes beyond a mere dinner of course. The equivalent is true for most people and their respective customs/rituals. In last month’s Post I wrote: Holding on too tightly to anything… our identity, a person, a situation, an idea… comes from an unconscious, unprocessed emotional place deep inside us. We can explain it away beautifully but ultimately it comes from a fear that we are not facing in ourselves: fear of the unknown, fear of being rejected, fear of being abandoned. Whatever our deepest fear is, if we do not own it, we inevitably project it onto others and we make them the problem: Our New World: beyond the tribal mindset
Whatever I did, they liked it and asked for a repeat the next year and so the annual ritual began. Even last year, in the UK’s second lockdown and in a support bubble of 3, we faithfully maintained the custom. We had the memories of previous gatherings with our friends and family, and we also had trust and hope that we would all be together again the coming year. We celebrated another Thanksgiving evening full of joy, love and fun.
In keeping with the American custom, we always observe the tradition of sharing what we are thankful for. I love this ritual: it is a meaningful pause as we approach the end of the year, allowing us a moment to reflect on the year behind us before the sparkling merriment of December and the hopes and wishes of the forthcoming year.
There have been years when giving thanks has been joyous and easy, when the festival catches us in a happy moment in our lives. And there have been years when it has been tough, when some of us are in a place of adversity or sorrow and sharing has been painful. Either way we have learned not to sit in isolation. That to share the happy and also the sad times in our lives is what brings us even closer.
Last year, in our support bubble of 3, I was profoundly thankful that I was with my son and his partner, Abbi. Earlier that year, in the first lockdown, support bubbles weren’t allowed, and I was in solitary isolation for over 3 months. To be in subsequent lockdowns with Louis and Abbi was a very precious gift…they proved amazing lockdown buddies!... and it put everything else into perspective. There is nothing like deprivation for us to truly value what really matters in our lives.
And so, we gave thanks that we were together, that we were almost through 2020 and that 2021 would be easier.
And then, Christmas in London was effectively cancelled, and we went into our third lockdown. It was a rollercoaster start to the year and it took all our energy and intense focus to keep going. Our lives here are founded on the dynamic energy of people connecting. Remote working proved a good emergency stop gap but, for most sectors, it is not sustainable on a full-time, long-term basis. So much gets lost. We had soldiered on stoically through 2020 but people were exhausted, and, over the early months of 2021, this manifested varyingly in depression, frustration and/or a helpless resignation, essentially a loss of hope that anything was going to change for the better. It is the shadow side of a huge metropolis with so many living on top of each other: there is nowhere to escape and gain perspective. It was very, very grim.
And then in June, the energy began to shift. The mood lightened and there was a sense of hope as we felt the positive impact of the vaccine. We were moving forwards, not yet out of the pandemic woods, but with the light visible ahead. We were able to have more in-person events and people began to experience the buzz, excitement…and shyness!… of real people and direct eye contact again. Work-wise, we are now beginning to adjust to a hybrid working week i.e., a balance of in-person and remote working. I’m increasingly being asked to give workshops on the best practice of hybrid working, which feels very innovative and exciting.
Then in August, the pandemic once again hit me very personally as COVID-19 took my mother. What happened was brutal, including the 48 hours Louis and I spent in the Covid ward with her but there have been many moments of extraordinary beauty too : https://www.cascad.co.uk/post/our-new-world-light-emerging-from-darkness
So, as we approach this year’s Thanksgiving week, where am I after this powerfully life-transforming year? It’s very easy to be thankful when it’s easy but how do we dig deeper and feel gratitude when it’s been very challenging? How do we find the light amidst great darkness?
How do I do that personally? How do I dig deep and find my authentic positive mindset and energy if it’s not coming easily to me?
Essentially, I make a conscious choice to stay focussed on the positive, very contrary to my cultural upbringing: ‘if you expect the worst, then you won’t be disappointed!’
Look at the Transformational Curve diagram above. It is much easier…and superficially safer… to dwell on the negative and to keep stuck in our ‘Fight/Flight’ place. (It takes energy and discipline to focus on the positive.) Even when life throws us bricks, and we are felled to our knees, we stubbornly retreat into that old, known place, ricocheting between 1-3, as the glitches get worse and worse, like Neo in the Matrix.
But like attracts like: if we expect the worst, then we are much more likely to bring that in. Imagine going for a job we really want: if we expect not to get it then we behave accordingly. Our mindset, energy, body language, communication and actions will set up a self-defeating cycle and our internal ‘critical parent’ kicks in telling us we are useless and what else did we expect to happen? This repeated experience creates the ‘victim loop’, having a huge negative impact on our inner confidence and self-worth. I am constantly shocked how someone can be given the gift of something wonderful and immediately reject this gift by obsessing on the worst that could happen. It is extraordinary ingratitude, and it essentially comes from an inner lack of self-worth: i.e. I don’t deserve this precious gift that has been given me.
Conversely, if we consciously make a psychological gearshift into a positive mindset and energy, then we are giving ourselves the best chance to succeed. It is never going to be 100% guaranteed but that is old defensive thinking, and yes, if we fail it does burn. We feel the ‘ouch’ because we have put our heart and soul into making it happen and we are not protected by the defence mechanism of a victim failure mindset, that critical parent again that tells us off for trying to change. We are open to feel, and it can hurt deeply.
But the motivational gold-dust is ever-increasing inner confidence and self-respect: "Wow! I tried that. I survived and I’m going to try again!” We grow deeply proud of ourselves and that gives us courage, trust and resilience and, in turn, our mindset, energy, body language, communication and actions set up a self-fulfilling cycle that brings great internal and external rewards.
We can only feel heart-singing joy if we allow ourselves to feel the paradoxical pain of loss and sorrow. It is this embracing passion that fuels our hunger to live our life to the full and to create an extraordinary life. And beyond this, to deny that depth of feeling keeps us isolated and stuck in our heads, over-intellectualising and divorced from others.
Meaningful connection, intimacy and compassion can only come from risking our heart to feel the fullness of life. My first wish for 2021 was: ‘To continue deepening my relationships, including new ones’. After my experience of being in isolation in 2020 I yearned for deeper connection and intimacy. To do so, I had to change. I had to accept how much I need deep connection, to risk reaching out for it and, thus, to be willing to show my vulnerability. And 2021 has proved rich in great love and deep connection. I am not the same woman I was at the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
So, yes, I have experienced great sorrow and brutal ugliness this year, but I have also experienced great love, beauty and joy. And it is my letting go of the brutal ugliness and consciously embracing the love, beauty and joy that gets me to my ‘Free to Soar’ place. Over and over again.
As I’ve done each year in preparation for Thanksgiving, I shall do the following:
I create a quiet space and then I write a litany in my journal:
I am thankful for… I am thankful for… I am thankful for…
I start with baby steps: small and obvious things, but as I get into the rhythm of the litany, my list deepens, connecting me to my core authentic truth. And each time an extraordinary thing happens: as I begin to let go of all that is wrong in my life, everything I feel anxious or hurt about, and instead focus on all that is good in my life, I experience an energetic shift. It starts viscerally: my instinctual body knows first. My heart opens and I feel a warmth and peace flowing through me. This is what our inner voice, our core authentic truth is: it is an instinctual ‘knowing’. Our instinctual body knows well before our cognitive brain catches on and this increasing trust in our instinct and intuition can then be trained into a conscious ‘psychological gearshift’.
So, in this season of Thanksgiving how about taking a moment to pause and allow yourself to open up and embrace all that is good and joyous in your life?
Happy Thanksgiving everyone!
Hannah Elizabeth Greenwood