Today I was awoken by some machine outside my apartment window, endlessly droning on at whatever it is that it is doing. New York City has no mercy for people that want to sleep in on a holiday, supposedly never sleeping itself. It takes a hurricane to shut this city up, and even then Times Square goes on wasting resources to light up the the daytime and night time with tacky advertisements.
Thanksgiving is a holiday that brings out the best and worst in us. The name of it implies gratitude and sharing, and at our best we embody these qualities. Taking a break from our working life to spend time with people we love is necessary and important, and should be done more often than it is. Sometimes gratitude calls for personal sacrifice. Today I have decided to stay in the city because of commitments of my job and I am therefore missing the Thanksgiving in Massachusetts that has been my tradition for several years. I am blessed that I have a job I love and give thanks for it in this way. I will still have a beautiful dinner with new friends, while feeling my bond to the old ones.
Thanksgiving is also like the machine still buzzing relentlessly outside my window. It harbors a tradition of killing birds by the tens of millions and promoting their cooked bodies as the symbol of the holiday. This atrocity often overshadows the gratitude and sharing implied by the holiday's name. Some feel that by fetishizing the sacrificed bird we are showing gratitude to her, for giving up her life. How many times I have heard this argument, that eating meat is alright if we do it in reverence to the being whose life we have taken?
Aparigraha is one of the five practices that comprise the first of the eight limbs of yoga. It means "non-grasping" or greedless-ness. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it is said that by practicing aparigraha one finds the reason they were born. In our culture founded on capitalist ideals the holiday season that encompasses Thanksgiving and Christmas encourages consumption for the sake of our "economy" and in the name of "giving". But what we give is often not necessary, and what we are encouraged to yearn for is empty of meaning. The true abundance in our lives comes from relationships. Truly vibrant health comes from eating fruits, nuts, seeds, grains, and vegetables. Taking more than we need, and always wanting more than we have, we become weighed down with emptiness.
Rescued Turkeys are fed trays of squash and cranberries at the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary Thanksliving event
And so it is with the killing of birds. Because it is a tradition it goes on and on like a machine. We create memes of cartoon turkeys wearing pilgrim hats, gobble gobble, Native Americans and Pilgrims getting along peacefully in some imaginary past. The lives of the beings we sacrifice are filled with horror and suffering from birth to violent death, spent in genetically altered bodies that become easily diseased and crippled as they age. What we eat becomes us, inevitably and inexorably. It is the law of karma, and of biology.
Enlightenment is a process, not a goal. To examine our lives and learn what is necessary and what is superfluous is part of the journey. In giving up the practices and material belongings that don't serve us we become lighter and happier. Enlightened and enlivened.
I encourage you today to show your love and appreciation to those around you. Be grateful and be sharing. Dig deep to find what there is in your life to truly be grateful for, and share that with others.
Three turkey Toms at Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary
- View galleries of my farm animal photographs
- Several of my photographs are available in the 2013 Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary Calendar
- Help support Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary by sponsoring a turkey!
- Farm Sanctuary
- Mercy for Animals' investigation of Turkey "farming"
- "Basted in Blood" Saturday Night Live clip
- 10 amazing facts about turkeys