I struggled with the Thanksgiving Address quite a bit at first. Coming from a religious childhood, the Address felt suspiciously like praying. And when I tried to make it less like praying and more like ritual, then it felt, well, like ritual. So, if I don’t believe in God, but I’m praying, then who am I talking to? The explanation in the Awareness Trail book describes bringing your mind together with all of the other beings at your sit spot. So I started with making it feel less like a prayer and more like a conversation. I was thankful that I had the in-person model of seeing and hearing people at WAS do the Thanksgiving with time for everyone in the group to agree at the end of each section that they also feel thankful for those things. So I started pausing at the end of each category to try to listen to what the other beings at my Sit Spot were thankful for, and in what ways.
And a sort of extra-ordinary thing happened. All the other beings started agreeing. I don’t have any really outstanding stories like I’ve heard other people mention. No song sparrows landed on my head and started singing while I was saying the Thanksgiving. No small mammals curled up in my lap to take a nap, unless you count my cat, which I might. But there was a real simple clear sense that all the bugs and grasses and flowers and trees and birds and deer all gave me an “uh-huh!” at the end of each category. And when I really started paying attention I realized that it wasn’t so much that they were responding to me, as that they were always giving thanks. I was only hearing the “uh-huh!” because that was the only time I was stopping to listen. But if I stopped to listen at other times, it was going on always at every moment. Every single being in my sit spot, from the grains of dirt on up to the Douglas Fir were singing praises with every action and every inaction at every moment, night and day, rain and shine.
And that gave me awhole new sense of what prayer is all about. I think that monks and other mystics have been saying stuff like this for centuries now, but it seems that all of creation is singing a Thanksgiving. I don’t know who they’re singing it to. Maybe no one. But they are singing nonetheless, and if I want to be a full participant in all of creation, I sing too. Not just when I’m saying the words of the Thanksgiving Address, but with every action and inaction, night and day, rain and shine. And it seems to me that this is the key to being a good naturalist. Once you’ve learned to sing the same song that all the rest of creation sings, all the rest is style. I’m still off-key more often than not, and I forget the words to the song, and I throw down the songbook and refuse to practice every now and then. But it’s a compelling song, and I keep coming back to it.
In the name of the Sun, the Moon, and the Chestnut-Backed Chickadee,