Beyond Gratitude: What Love Needs From Us This Thanksgiving

Gratitude, it’s said, is the greatest gift. It opens the heart like nothing else. Yet what is an open heart called to do? How is it meant to live in the world of stress and crisis that ever more presses in upon us?

The first imperative of an engaged heart is to include, to say “yes” to all that we want and need for our well-being, but also to that which we don’t want and see as a “problem.” We need to love it all just because it is, it exists, and is therefore a part of the indisputable whole of existence.

The second imperative of an engaged heart is to expand, to create a safe and sufficient space in which all that is can be seen clearly, honored fully, and met with the transformative power of love. An engaged heart isn’t just an organ, or a “chakra,” but it’s also a way of being. That way of being exists not solely within us, but also, and especially, between us.

Today, the space between us has been overrun by forces of fear, greed, and domination. These forces aim to separate, distract, and disempower us, to keep us focused on just getting by when in fact the very foundation of our society is crumbling.

All the challenges we now face are surmountable, but only if we meet them head on in a sincere attempt to solve them. And that is exactly what is not happening among the “powers that be.” Instead, those powers are shouting louder and louder, proclaiming to have the answers while actually just enacting, and perpetuating, the crisis.

They’ve taken the space we all share, but it doesn’t belong to them. In order for love to triumph, we need to take it back.

The word “occupy,” in this context means precisely that – to take back space. That’s why the Occupy Movement is providing us all with a singular opportunity, and a priceless gift. To sit, camp, and march are all ways of claiming the necessary space for a different way of life to emerge. It’s not the whole process, of course, but it is the crucial beginning.

Stay tuned for how this relates to you, personally. As for the world at large, let’s dispense with the idea that the Occupy Movement is hampered by not having a clear message. It’s message is totally clear – this space belongs to us, all of us, and it’s our collective right and responsibility to decide how we shall live in it together.

We were all taught to change the system from within, to write letters to the editor and elect leaders who share our convictions. But in the space that the movement is taking back it’s easier than ever to see that this is currently impossible. Our system of government has been overrun as well. It works mostly against us, and on behalf of the most powerful.

Out there in the encampments, and in the arduous consensus building sessions that determine the movement’s actions, participants are experimenting with real democracy, incredibly messy but also deeply invigorating compared to the stranglehold we all witness in our nation’s capital.

They’re also doing a familiar dance with the police, in which attention gets diverted to who did what to whom, and who’s the most significant public threat. While issues of police brutality are real, as are concerns of a possible federal crackdown on the right of assembly for non-violent citizens, it’s important that we don’t divert our energy or attention from the heart of the matter: the protesters are out there to allow us renewed breathing room, to restore the space necessary for us to create real, positive change.

But here’s the thing. That change won’t likely come from the protesters. Nor, as we’ve so painfully seen, will it come from a well-meaning leader at the top of a corrupt pyramid of power.

Truth is, the answers we’re seeking to create a sustainable, humane world already exist. They’ve been clear to many for a long time.

At the top of the list, we need to reform our political process so that elections can’t be bought.

We need to recognize that corporations do amazing things, but also amazingly horrible things. That’s because they exist to make money and are legally obligated to pursue no other goal. Therefore, we need to strip their rights as people, one way or another, and grant them freedom to operate only to the degree that they enrich the common good.

We need to recognize that the financial services industry has come to serve itself, mostly, and one way or another needs to be reshaped and redirected.

We need to renounce the idea of empire, and in so doing reduce our enormous global military footprint.

We need to direct vast resources from the military, no longer needed for empire, toward rebuilding services and infrastructure that put people and the environment first.

Though the list goes on, let’s leave it with one last critical item. We need to stop proclaiming how much we love our children while simultaneously, through our policies and endless budget cuts, demonstrating how little we care for them. We need to invest in schools, and enrichment of all kinds, to foster the development of children into healthy, creative, resilient beings.

Did you notice how close that list came to sounding like a political platform? Have you heard parts of it many times before? That’s both a testament to the fact that the answers are already out there, and also to the near-impossibility of turning them into a reality.

Which leads us back to the Occupy Movement. Another way to describe the essential purpose of the movement is to generate the conditions in which meaningful change could, once again, be possible. And in order for change to be possible, we have to actually believe that it’s possible.

With each new protest, and with each new protester joining up to help take back our space, it becomes that much easier to believe we have the power to create the world we envision.

But how? Honestly? The American system of government is not going to be overthrown any time soon, nor do most Occupy protesters want to take part in the daily grind of governing. We’re starting to believe that real fairness can actually be restored in our society, but we have no idea how to do it.

We do know what not to do – and that’s go the way of the Tea Party. While it’s true that much genuine upset and concern about our world was given voice by the Tea Party, it was soon coopted by the Republicans.

Now, it’s unintended role in government is to protect the rich. You can see that especially in the way that many associated with the Tea Party attempt to demonize the Occupy protesters, calling them “un-American,” demanding that they “get a job” and “take a bath.”

So the Occupy movement sees that peril and refuses to be coopted by the Democrats. Excellent. By taking that stance, however, the movement risks having achieved the climate in which change can happen, while at the same time making sure that change doesn’t happen.

In other words, those who benefit from the status quo are watching the struggles in the street and rubbing their hands together with glee. “Go ahead,” they’re thinking. “Keep opting out of our broken system and we’ll happily remain in charge of it. The louder you chant ‘Another world is possible,’ the more easily we’ll be able to keep pulling the strings behind the scenes.”

In the words of Robert Frost, “The way out is always through.” Here, that means bringing all our newly reclaimed space back into the system, rolling up our sleeves and re-entering the electoral process.

Step one, occupy the Democratic Party. And the Republican Party, too, for that matter. On our own terms. Right now, too, since every single member of congress is up for reelection in less than one year. Specifically, it means running and funding a slate of candidates who aren’t beholden to the power elites and who support a fair and humane agenda.

If that doesn’t work, step two is to create a new party that’s whole reason for being is to promote such an agenda.

Step three — there is no step three. Change is possible, but only in the halls of power where decisions are made. In some countries it’s possible to storm those halls of power by force, or to change the way they operate by taking to the streets, but not here. Not now under the current circumstances. To occupy the halls of power, we must be willing to work within them. Long and hard. Tirelessly.

And that’s the way it is, too, with each of us as individuals. An uplifitng book, or workshop, or TED talk takes back the space, temporarily, from the great, fearful “No!” inside us. Within that reclaimed space, suddenly personal transformation seems possible. Which is exactly when the real work begins.

What is that work? It’s a moment by moment accounting of our attention, intention, and execution. Let’s take these one at a time. To account for our attention means becoming aware of what we’re aware of. This is one of the most challenging of human ambitions.

It includes a heartfelt willingness to become aware of what we’re not yet aware. This is commonly known as shadow-work. It includes not just our own personal shadows, but also the shadows cast by the society to which we belong. The author John Berger once said, “We only see what we look at. To look is an act of choice. ”

When we make that choice, to look everywhere, especially into the dark, and at what is most unsightly, the possibility for change is birthed right then and there.

Accounting for our intentions means taking the time, and energy, to find out what we truly want. Often what we think we want is very different from the results of such an earnest investigation. That’s because the left hemisphere of our brains tell us stories about what we want, and then sells them hard, while the right hemisphere of our brains is the one having the actual experience.

By choosing to pay attention to our intentions in a deliberate way, giving each hemisphere a full hearing, we’re then able to distinguish the signal of our own heart’s call from all the noise obscuring it.

Accounting for the execution of our intentions means taking complete responsibility for everything we say and do. Everything we say and do , it becomes clear, either brings us closer to our goals or sends us further afield. It’s that simple. As soon as we witness ourselves going off-course, we always have the opportunity, in the very next moment, to course-correct.

With this trinity of attention, intention, and execution, and a community of support along with us, another world truly is possible.

The Occupy Movement, therefore, offers us a wonderful opportunity to take its message to heart personally, to cultivate all the inner space necessary for revitalized self-engagement.

Still, on its own, personal transformation is incomplete. And so, too, is social transformation. To work on yourself is to work on the world. To work on the world is to work on yourself. Together, and only together, they make us whole.

During the long exhale of this week, when our gratitude is front and center, perhaps we can recommit ourselves to that wholeness. Perhaps we can even Occupy Black Friday, once and for all elevating the needs of people, and the planet, above the siren song of stuff.

Now more than ever, our lives depend upon it.


About Raphael Cushnir

Raphael Cushnir is a popular contributor to O, The Oprah Magazine. He has also been a teacher, activist, screenwriter, and film director. His own heart was rekindled after a period of profound grief. His first book, Unconditional Bliss: Finding Happiness in the Face of Hardship, was twice nominated as Best Personal Growth title of the year and introduced the "Living the Questions" process. His second book, Setting Your Heart on Fire: Seven Invitations to Liberate Your Life, is used as a teaching tool in churches and spiritual centers around the country. His third book, How Now: 100 Ways to Celebrate the Present Moment, was named one of the "Best Spiritual Books of 2005" by Spirituality and Health magazine. Raphael shares his work in talks and workshops worldwide. For more info:;;;
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5 Responses to Beyond Gratitude: What Love Needs From Us This Thanksgiving

  1. Mona Nicholson says:

    Hooray… your commentary.

  2. Chad Frazier says:

    Thanks! great message!
    Thanks Mona, for leading me to this!

  3. Chad Frazier says:

    Wasn’t sure how this worked….never post to these thingies……not sure what to say, but here goes….
    message is right on! Occupy movement is an “opening,” an invitation to the “nation-soul’s”(and thus our own), shadow work! WE have been playing this game of “I won’t see yours, if you don’t see mine” for far too long…We, as a species need to claim our birthright, the unadulterated truth, our fully awakened third eye gazing all seeing consciousness which has never been separate from us,( but is still unconscious to our “conscious self.”). This “conscious self,” is not yet truly conscious, but/and it is always awakening in each of us as individuals and collectively! No one can tell you what to do or how to further this. Stay alive. Find ways to thrive! Accept all that you and others have done. Invite it all in! Focus on feeling good! Unplug!
    The answers are there. You do know them. No one can do it for you. Ask for help. Dare to speak the truth. No more withholding, no more hiding, no more “eyes wide shut!”

    I read your post elsewhere about “communers,” and it strikes me that this is the role that is played by Best friends or significant others or wives husbands etc. It is truly so sad that many in our modern cut-off society do not have this level of partnership with other beings, of witnessing to our souls. I find the idea of marketing the idea of persons called “communers,” to somewhat miss the point of what is really going on here, it is just one more way to separate from truly engaging life and others, since there truly are no “others” (This is not just because I say so, it simply “is!”).

    It seems to me that we need to reach out to one another, stop expecting the therapist or guru or teacher to do it for us. If individuals inspire us then great,( and if not, great too!). We all are part of a growing frothing evolving consciousness, and there truly is no escaping your own enlightenment!

    The role of “communers” has always been played by the saints and sages and teachers, but now it seems is the time for us all to take on this role for eachother, to reach out and help. To reach out and ask for help. To love one another fearlessly, and embrace this amazing human potential! Can we all just take one small step beyond our collective fear of one another each day? If we can, then the path beyond fear is revealed as inevitable.

    If we simply pointed out to people, that mastery is an inevitable accomplishment of being; that all of the stages, including doubt fear etc., are always moving in that direction. If we as individuals can realize the folly of trying to help others to “get there,” by projecting the path that we took on to them(though this is of course just one of those “stages” too). If we simply live our authentic joy, which is always bubbling forth, if we get out of its way(of course, whether we are “out of its way” or not, is no choice of our own!). If we speak the “Truth” as clearly and beautifully as we can, with full open-eyed awareness of both the extreme limits of communication and the infinite-limitlessness of “direct here-and-now communion,” if we speak with our entire beings, knowing our actions are infinitely mightier than our words, then we shall no longer be known as “revealers of the way,” but as true”communers” on the only path that ever has been or ever will be.

    Thank you for this opportunity to put my “seeing” into words! May these words and yours and those of all beings be seen for what they truly are, one more reminder” of our continual communion and its endless possibility!


  4. Share L says:

    WoW! Raphael, I’m blown away by this article. I’m almost speechless. Which is saying something (-:

    Would it be ok if I sent this to a friend of mine? She’s got an incredible email list. I just want as many people as possible to see this essay.

    That Occupy Black Friday–brilliant! I tweeted a few days ago, Occupy Wherever You Are! But you’ve said it much more fully and eloquently and passionately.
    Sharon in Iowa

  5. WiseFather says:

    You might like this. I called my credit card’s customer service line to do some negotiating. Having a bit of leverage, I thought it presented a great opportunity to mess with them a little and make a few points about the unfairness of the credit card lending system. I made video of the call and posted it on my blog and Youtube. It is quite funny even if you are pro-megabank. Since it’s a protest at home, I called it my kitchen counterstrike against Bank of America.

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