Your Stay-at-Home Thanksgiving Mini-Retreat

“The heart that gives thanks is a happy one, for we cannot feel thankful and unhappy at the same time.”

Douglas Wood

“I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought; and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.”

G.K. Chesterton

“Gratitude turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity…it makes sense of our past, brings peace for today, and creates a vision for tomorrow.”

Melody Beattie

This year, the coronavirus is changing many of our plans for celebrating Thanksgiving. We are reducing the scope of — or abandoning altogether — our plans to get together with friends and family. At the same time, health and financial concerns, as well as the mental health challenges of these strange times are putting people in much less “thankful moods.”

So we need to focus on gratitude right now more than ever! Every year during this week, I try to get some time by myself to focus on gratitude, spending time in reflection, meditation, and prayer. I encourage people in my church, and clients I work with, to do the same. You might think of this as a personal mini-retreat. It could take just a few minutes, it could span more than an hour. Whatever works for you.

Often, it’s challenging to make time for this, because the Thanksgiving Holiday week is so filled with travel, gatherings, food preparation, football, and Christmas shopping. Maybe the restrictions this year will give us more space in our calendars to take the time we need for Conscious Thanksgiving.

I’ve put the following program together to help guide you through taking time for Thanksgiving. Give yourself at least 15 minutes, and be sure you have something to write with.

Step One — Read the following “Gratitude Meditation”

The great wisdom traditions have always emphasized the importance of what we focus our attention on. Much of what happens to us is beyond our control. But there is one thing we do have power over: what we focus on. We choose, at any given time, how we direct our awareness. And then our internal experience is shaped by that choice. We reap what we sow.

It has been said that humans have the unique ability to “make a hell out of heaven, and a heaven out of hell.” People in really hard circumstance can find joy and gratitude even in their struggle, while people living in luxury can find disappointments and frustration even in the midst of abundance.

It’s amazing how this happens: just by changing our thinking, and the object of our focus, we can make ourselves miserable, or reasonably content and happy, in almost any set of circumstances.

As many teachers have pointed out, much of what gives rise to suffering is our tendency to live in an endless cycle of craving and aversion. If we like what we’re experiencing, we crave more of it (and fear that we might lose it); and if we don’t like it, we focus on the pain and discomfort we feel.

Aversion is our tendency to fixate on the things we don’t like about ourselves, our lives, and the people around us. Rather than enjoy what we have, our minds are constantly focusing on our problems, frustrations, and worries. Instead of “living life on life’s terms,” accepting and dealing with limitations and difficulties, we obsess over them, and increase our suffering.

Craving is the source of both our longing for what we don’t have, and the anxiety of losing what we do. When good things happen, rather than simply enjoy them and let them be, we obsess about how we can keep them from slipping away. We worry and stress about how this good thing might be lost.

Instead of enjoying our time on vacation, for example, we rush around thinking of how we might buy a home in the tourist area we’re in, and stay there permanently. Instead of enjoying our new car or new clothes, we worry about keeping them clean and “nice” and freak out if they get scratched or strained. We’re like guests at a fun dinner party — and instead of simply enjoying ourselves, we spend the entire time looking at our watches, bemoaning how little time we have left, and strategizing about how we might be able to stay longer.

Of course our world makes all this harder. Our consumer economy is driven by marketing, which is usually aimed at making us dissatisfied and anxious. Calm and contented people don’t buy stuff! Mass media makes us outraged, and social media makes us insecure and unhappy. The reality of our lives inevitably pales in comparison to the air-brushed presentations we find in our “insta-twit-book” feeds.

Do not under-estimate this: gratitude is a revolutionary act. It is a deliberate act. It is a choice we make. It is a skill, a muscle, that we build. It is an orientation that we cultivate. Every minute of every day, whatever circumstances life throws at us, we have the choice about where we place our attention.

You’re going to build that muscle today.

Step 2 — Read and meditate on Scripture

Choose one of the Scriptures below, and read it over several times, mulling over in your mind what God is saying to you — TODAY — about gratitude:

“For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.”

1 Timothy 4:4-5

“Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:6-7

Step 3 — (Optional) Watch a video about the importance of Gratitude

If you have time and are able to access videos on YouTube, watch one of the videos linked to below:

In this TED talk, monk and author David Steindl-Rast talks about the role of gratitude, and how it creates happiness:

In this video, Positive Psychology expert, Robert Emmons provides an explanation of how gratitude can allow us to heal, and how it has the ability to energize and change our lives.

Step 4 — Make your 2020 list

This is the most important part of this time, so don’t skip this. Either in a journal, or on the other side of this page, make a list: write down the numbers 1 through 10 on the left side of the paper. Then write down ten things you are thankful for in our life this year. Don’t worry about putting them in any order, just write them down. When you are finished, pray through this list.

Don’t feel the need to stop at 10 if you want to keep going, but don’t feel the need to make an exhaustive list either. Just write what comes to mind, and then mull it over and pray about it.

Keep the list nearby, and throughout the weekend, go back to it again and again. It’s especially helpful to look at it at night just before you go to bed.

Who knows, maybe you’ll want to make a habit of creating lists like this every once in a while!