Feeling grateful for you.
Wherever you are in the world and whether or not you take part in celebrating Thanksgiving today, I am brimming over with feelings of gratitude for each of you and the myriad ways in which you have brightened and enriched my life. Thank you.
Ready or not, the holidays are here. A time rich with wonder, anticipation, hope, sparkle. And there’s something else here, too, for some of us. I am hearing from many of you that, somewhere close to the edges of your being, there is also a needling feeling of foreboding, maybe even anxiety, maybe even fear. I know.
Fully inhabiting our aliveness.
There is so much happening to break our hearts right now. And, there is also so much beauty to break open those same hearts in other places; beauty that causes us to feel grateful, to feel humbled, to feel awe, to feel alive. One of my favorite poets, Mark Nepo, says the purpose of our gifts is to exercise our heart so that it fully inhabits its own aliveness.
So that it fully inhabits its own aliveness. My belief is that we can only do this work of inhabiting our own aliveness in relationship with others. Relationship with those dear ones who may be joining us at our Thanksgiving table later today, or whose table we might be fortunate enough to sit at this year today or any day.
Host or guest?
As we ready to gather with friends and family, I find myself thinking about the concepts of “host” and “guest” and also the notion of “hospitality” that draws the two together with the sweet and hopeful possibility of forging community.
As nouns, the difference between guest and host is typically understood to be that the guest is a recipient of hospitality, someone who is by invitation at the house of another, while the host is a person who receives or entertains a guest, particularly into the host’s home (definitions from wikidiff.com).
Now, here’s where it gets interesting: The word hospitality comes from the Latin hospes, which has to do with someone who is a stranger, and hostire, which means to equalize. In ancient Greece, the practice of hospitality was a sacred practice that compelled hosts to invite into their home any strangers who happened to pass by; once inside, hosts were expected to equalize the situation between themselves and their stranger-guests by taking steps to ensure strangers felt protected, cared for, and guided onward to their next destination.
As this holiday season begins to unfold for us in all its glimmer, it occurs to me that a more fluid manner of inhabiting these notions of guest and host could be beneficial. Could this more fluid approach bring a greater degree of hospitality – equalizing the situation with measures of protection, care, and guidance – into our shared moments?
The stranger at your table
What if each of us has a role to play as guest and as host, in every conversation or interaction we enter into, regardless of the technicalities of who is hosting whom or who invited whom? What if, rather than standing outside of things, waiting to be asked or invited or otherwise holding back, we instead stride forward courageously into our own aliveness? What if we bravely acknowledge that we do not, cannot, ever fully know another human being? That we can’t even begin to without asking more generous and thoughtful questions?
I am guessing that those familiar faces sitting across from you at the holiday table have some of the stranger in each of them – let that be a cause for exploration and a prompt for hosting richer conversations this holiday season.
Tips to practice hospitality like an ancient Greek:
Here are just a few ideas. Try shifting perspectives to be more expansive in how you move through your gatherings:
- How does my view of life shape how I understand this person?
- Given what I know about this other person’s view of life, how are they likely seeing me?
- What about this person am I going to have difficulty appreciating? Why is that?
- What may this person have difficulty appreciating about me?
- What could I do to make mutual appreciation more likely?
*These tips were borrowed from New Ventures West Professional Coach Certification.
Try being thoughtful about the topics you really want to discuss, and why; perhaps start by opening your heart before engaging the mind; you can do this:
- Speak in “I” statements; it really helps.
- Ask first about personal stories rather than positions.
- Find out about a time when your dinner companions felt misunderstood or unwelcome.
- Ask about someone’s first experience working and what it felt like.
*These tips were adapted from Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley.
Thich Nhat Hanh talks about why he wrote the poem below
After the Vietnam War, many people wrote to us in Plum Village. We received hundreds of letters each week from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It was very painful to read them, but we had to be in contact. We tried our best to help, but the suffering was enormous, and sometimes we were discouraged. It is said that half the boat people fleeing Vietnam died in the ocean; only half arrived at the shores of Southeast Asia.
There are many young girls, boat people, who were raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries tried to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continued to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day, we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate.
She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.
When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we can’t do that. In my meditation, I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, I would now be the pirate. There is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I can’t condemn myself so easily. In my meditation, I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we might become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, you shoot all of us, because all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.
After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The title of the poem is “Please Call Me by My True Names,” because I have so many names. When I hear one of the of these names, I have to say, “Yes.”
Please Call Me By My True Names
A poem by Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh
Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.
Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
learning to sing in my new nest,
to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,
to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.
I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.
I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.
I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
feeds itself on the frog.
I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,
and I am the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda.
I am the twelve-year-old girl, refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate,
and I am the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving.
I am a member of the politburo, with plenty of power in my hands,
and I am the man who has to pay his “debt of blood” to, my people,
dying slowly in a forced labor camp.
My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.
Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart can be left open,
the door of compassion.