November: A Month of Generosity
Creating Sanctuary Through Shared Meals
November is a month of generosity, with gestures of abundance played out through our community landscape. Nature is generous, leaving our open fields and meadows with a plethora of grass and wildflower seeds feeding wildlife in the winter and delivering a promise to summer pollinators. The cultivated land is generous, delivering a cornucopia of locally grown food from the late harvest. People are generous, volunteering and spreading kindness during the holiday season. Family and friends are generous, sharing recipes and stories during holiday dinners. And the community is generous, creating a shared history together during annual community meals.
During this month there are at least two common threads that run through these gestures of generosity. The first of which is food! Integrating community engagement opportunities centered around food with curiosity and compassion can help to strengthen our connection to place by being fully present in the moment and open to those with whom we share our lives… and our meals!
In the spirit of generosity, Thanksgiving Day can easily be all about eating. Overindulging tends to happen on this particular day if blessed with an abundance of food, friends, and family. But how about this … in addition to devouring a delicious meal, take it down a notch. Slow down and approach your holiday meal with a sense of curiosity. Become inquisitive about the origin of the foods served during Thanksgiving and the traditions that are passed down from generation to generation. Use your Thanksgiving meal as a catalyst for learning about agriculture, culinary arts, and heritage.
Take for instance the cranberry. How did the little wild cranberry, known as sasumuneash by the Wampanoag People, become a plump berry we serve up every Thanksgiving? Or how about cornbread? From where did your family recipe originate? And at what point was it decided that sweet potatoes deserved to be topped with a marshmallow bake anyway? Curiosity can unveil what might otherwise be cloaked, helping us connect with our family, ancestors, and cultural traditions through the food we share with others.
In addition to learning about the origin of ingredients and recipes, sense-based curiosity can also lead to discoveries while deepening connections through contemplation and the blending of our senses. Set your intention to incorporate these prompts of awareness at your next shared meal to deepen appreciation:
- TASTE: Put your fork down in between bites and explore the flavors and textures. Notice what you like, dislike, or what feels neutral.
- SMELL: Before tasting, smell. And while cooking, savor the various aromas: baking bread, pumpkin pie spice, garlic sauteeing in butter, the grapefruit scent of your Palmolive dish soap,.
- SIGHT: Look. Notice the ruby red color of the cranberries, the earthy orange and yellow of roasted root vegetables, the flicker of the candle centerpiece, laugh lines, familiar faces.
- HEAR: Notice what you can hear. Kitchen sounds? Conversations? Football game? Laughter? Quiet conversations? Holiday music?
- TOUCH: Feel the warmth of bread, the coolness of a water glass, the softness of hugs from friends and family, the firm handshake of neighbors and new friends.
KINDNESS & CONNECTION
In addition to food, another thread interwoven through this season of generosity are acts of kindness. Human connection nurtures seeds of compassion that have the potential to sprout awareness of our interconnection with one another and the earth. Thanksgiving Day gives rise to these moments of interconnection through occasions to be kind and present with one another. Facilitated or self-initiated, some of these opportunities include:
- Bake an extra pie to donate to the food pantry.
- Put together a left-over dinner for an elderly neighbor.
- Host a left-over potluck dinner with neighbors the weekend after Thanksgiving.
- Organize, donate, shop for a local food drive.
- Volunteer with a teenager to serve community meals with a service organization or faith-based community.
- Deliver food on Thanksgiving Day with young kids.
- Attend a Thanksgiving Day community meal.
- Write a letter to someone you appreciate who you won’t see this holiday season and share your gratitude. Then give them a call and read it to them.
Whether your hosting, toasting, serving or delivering, listen deeply and engage authentically with those whom you will be sharing time:
- Listen intently to the stories of one another, giving your fullest attention. Ask questions. Allow for silence.
- Hosting dinner? Invite an extra guest. Someone you might not know very well, or allow others to bring a +1 to the table.
- Use these conversation starters to prompt storytelling.
- Invite traditional prayers and/or grace to be shared before dinner.
- Create a new tradition to share, like a loving kindness prayer.
- Notice the silence in-between conversations and what bubbles up out of the stillness.
- Look for yourself in others and offer compassion rather than comparison or judgment. You might surprise yourself at what you discover!
- And let’s not forget to be kind and present with ourselves too. Look for moments to practice appreciation during tasks that might otherwise feel like mundane or tedious chores, like chopping a carrot and washing a spatula. Use your senses to engage in these activities, abandoning past and future thoughts your mind might be churning out to be instead fully present with your butternut squash or mountain of dirty dishes.
Gestures of caring and acts of kindness create a space of sanctuary during shared meals. In this place of refuge, we can fill ourselves with gratitude and appreciation for the gifts of the world, the authentic connections we can make with one another, and being of service to the universal “me” that resides in the stories of our neighbors, the fruit of the land, and the moments of silence in between.
Through curiosity and compassion, we can move from toxic environments we might find ourselves in during our days or in the evenings to a space of sanctuary, areas where we can be generous with one another and ourselves through nonjudgement and acceptance. Let the generous month of November be a starting point, and shared meals your practice.
Sienna Wildfield, Director of Community-Based Education
Sienna is the founder of Hilltown Families, Inc., serving as Executive Director from 2005-2017. See her TEDx Talk, Supporting Education Through Community Engagement to hear the story behind the vision and mission of Hilltown Families. Supporting the development of Community-Based Education Network (CBEdu Network) affiliates in other communities, Sienna is available as a national consultant and trainer to others wanting to integrate the framework of community-based education into their educational, community development, mindfulness, and sustainable community projects. Sienna lives along the bank of the Westfield River in the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains where she is nurturing the emergence of the newest affiliate member of the CBEdu Network, Curly Willow Center. [LinkedIn] firstname.lastname@example.org
[Photo credit: (c) Sienna Wildfield]