On My Mind with Rabbi Abigail Treu


November 27, 2019

Thanksgiving. The wonderfully religious-turned-secular American holiday which can be celebrated by all, albeit with a huge debt of gratitude first and foremost to the Native American tribes who for sure were less than grateful as American history unfolded around and through them. But that is another essay. This essay focuses on the “thanks” part, and the “giving,” the giving of thanks that is Thanksgiving. What a wonderful turn of phrase. A verb and noun all in one.

Years ago I turned the question of thanks-giving into a cornerstone of my daily practice.   The idea began as a poetry-slam-meets-texting-addiction hybrid: A group of friends would email each other every day with a list of “gratitudes.” The goal? To focus more on being grateful, and to hold one another accountable to that commitment.

It became a profound experience. Some days, the gratitude flowed naturally; on others, we had to stretch hard to find it. As time went on, the sharing turned into a support group; receiving someone else’s gratitude list became as meaningful as composing my own. We found ourselves constantly renegotiating the rules: Do we respond to one another’s lists or just read and let that be enough? In the end, the urge to respond was our undoing: The emails became too numerous to keep up with and we disbanded about two years into the experiment, though we still get together occasionally in person and share from that deep place of gratitude and the trust that was built with sharing it.

What are you grateful for? Several meditation traditions hold this question as a meditation focus question, and, of course, the positive psychology movement holds as a cornerstone that gratitude is a core part of our psycho-emotional well-being. For more on that, read Deepak Chopra’s article here, in which he delves into the many studies linking gratitude to not only our emotional but our physical well-being. But beyond the goal of proving this is good for you: I want to share a gratitude list, originally posted in the Elephant Journal, and later shared in Karen Armstrong’s inspiring project Charter for Compassion. Perhaps this list will inspire you to tap into the wellspring of gratitude that is accessible through a similar journaling practice, meditation, or in some other way.

May this Thanksgiving be an invitation to us to refocus on all that we have to be grateful for, and may that in turn open our hearts to compassion, life, and peace for us and those with whom we are blessed to walk this earth.

November 13, 2019

"The web of our life is of a mingled yarn, good and ill together," wrote Shakespeare in All's Well That Ends Well. I rediscovered that quote in writing the eulogy for my dear uncle, who died just two weeks ago at the age of 91. He ended well, as such things go, and yet we mourn, we miss him, and we see, too, in his passing the intimations of our own.

Mindfulness, meditation, living with increased awareness—it all takes courage. It's easier to walk through the mingled yarn of life, choosing the strands we most like, or the ones that wrap themselves around us most comfortably. But to step back and see the colors and weave, the good and ill together; to make sense of it all—that takes effort, strength, and courage. Especially when we meet an ending—be it the death of someone dear, or, as Frank Ostaseki put it: the end of a day, the end of a meal, the end of something precious and rare, the end of this sentence.

And as with life itself, we begin this effort with just a breath. I am glad to share now this piece by Frank Ostaseki, A Meditation on How We Meet Endings. I hope you'll share with me what you think. Or better yet, I hope to see you at Makom, where we can sit and try this together.