We may gripe that roses have thorns. But we are grateful that thorns have roses. Focusing on gratitude changes how we see the world. Gratitude is the antidote to negative emotions, and a reminder not to take things for granted.
All living things are in give-and-take relationships. Rain fulfills its duty and gives the gift of sustaining life. An animal gives its life to feed us, in turn we must support its life. Cultures of gratitude are cultures of reciprocity.
It’s easy to see reciprocity in nature. Trees nourish nearby trees through their root systems and release chemicals to warn of insect infestation. The Three Sisters, corn, beans, and squash, named by the Iroquois, have a symbiotic relationship. Corn grows fast and tall for the pole beans to climb to reach sunlight. The beans reciprocate by putting nitrogen into the soil that feeds the corn and squash. The broad leaves of the squash plants provide shade for the soil to keep it moist, ward off pests, and prevent weeds from taking root.
An integral part of humans’ education is to know and do our duties. If we see gifts and duty as opposites, someone or something is getting the short end of the stick. When you spend the day boating, then toss your trash into the lake, you don’t understand your responsibility to nature. Treating our beaches, mountains, and walking trails like a rubbish bin damage nature and diminish others’ enjoyment.
Seeing first hand how tourists to Iceland treat the natural landscape, I discourage people from visiting. The money from tourism is not worth the island’s destruction. I’d like to believe that most tourists are respectful of our land, but enough bad apples cause an irreparable damage.
Environmental wisdom and spirituality of North American Indians is legendary. Animals were respected and hunted for food. Hunter-gatherers shared the land and moved around so not to deplete it. The Natives were earth-wise and abhorred the idea that someone owned the land, the polar opposite of the white man. They thanked Mother Earth for sharing her abundance and treated her like a friend—with respect.
The power of gratitude leads to reciprocity. If I knit a hat for my son and he doesn’t even say, “Thank you, mom,” I feel let down that my time and energy weren’t appreciated. But when I see him wearing the hat, I want to make him a scarf. Appreciation begets abundance. This is true in all relationships, including the one we have with Mother Earth who feeds and shelters us. Mistreat her at our peril.
Gifts from the earth or from each other establish a particular relationship, an obligation of sorts to give, to receive, and to reciprocate.Robin Wall Kimmerer
On November 11th, veterans in my community, with hand on heart watching the flag raised, recite the Pledge. I love my adopted country as well. But it’s time to stretch the boundaries of freedom and justice to include the entire world and everything within. For our own good, we demonstrate respect for nature and think of others—a mutual allegiance.
An old farm on an ancestral Homeland (the State of New York) is a school to the children of the Onondaga Nation. The school week begins and ends not with the Pledge of Allegiance to the United States, but instead of the traditional version, theirs is an expression of gratitude—the highest priority for humanity.
Today we have gathered and when we look upon the faces around us we see that the cycles of life continue. We have been given the duty to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living things. So now let us bring our minds together as one as we give greetings and thanks to each other as People. Now our minds are one.
We turn our thoughts to all of the Fish life in the water. They were instructed to cleanse and purify the water. They also give themselves to us as food. We are grateful that they continue to do their duties and we send to the Fish our greetings and our thanks. Now our minds are one.
Now we turn toward the vast fields of Plant life. As far as the eye can see, the Plants grow, working many wonders. They sustain many life forms. With our minds gathered together, we give thanks and look forward to seeing Plant life for many generations to come. Now our minds are one.
When we look about us, we see that the berries are still here, providing us with delicious foods. The leader of the berries is the strawberry, the first to ripen in the spring. Can we agree that we are grateful that the berries are with us in the world and send our thanksgiving, love, and respect to the berries? Now our minds are one. (Braiding Sweetgrass, Robin Wall Kimmerer)
Young children treasure making things and giving them as expressions of love. The desire to gift is innate. Giving and receiving are the circulating flow of energy in our lives, the spirit of god. It’s in our gratitude for all we have received and the willingness to do our duty that we create a sustainable world.