Your spiritual survival guide for Thanksgiving

Potential political arguments giving you indigestion already? Here’s how to enjoy your holiday—and your family
By Suzan Colón  Published on 11/15/2018 at 10:00 AM EDT
Have a peace of pumpkin pie Suzan Colón

The midterm elections may be over—well, as of this writing, they’re not over, with key states still considering recounts. They may be settled by the time Thanksgiving comes around, but the results will still be discussed, and possibly shouted about, over the big holiday dinner.

That’s a shame, because Thanksgiving is a great holiday. It’s non-denominational, so everyone can celebrate it. The day is rooted in a spiritual foundation stone, gratitude. There’s no pressure to buy gifts, there’s great food to enjoy, and it’s a time for families to come together…and hopefully not tear each other apart with political arguments.

In election years, Thanksgiving becomes a stage for debates that guarantee indigestion. What should be a warm and loving time with family becomes a well-catered slugfest. Is there any way to put the happy back in Thanksgiving?

I didn’t go through years of spiritual training just so I could win the “I’m right, you’re wrong” argument by yelling the loudest. If your family is more divided about politics than whether whole berry or jelly-style cranberry sauce is the best, let me share some useful spiritual tactics for creating a peaceful, gratitude-filled Thanksgiving that you and everyone else can enjoy:

Set an intention.In Yoga, an intention is known as a Sankalpa. It’s usually made for the benefit of others, as well as for yourself. Before you go to the big gathering, remember why you’re going; not to argue, but to get together, express gratitude, catch up with people you may not have seen in a while—and some you may never see again. Setting an intention to bring your focus back to what this visit is really about will help you avoid bringing dread and a ready-to-rumble attitude along with your famous apple cobbler.

Maintain an open mind.The Buddha told his followers not to believe anything he said until they tried it themselves; he emphasized having an open mind, rather than a narrow point of view. Sometimes we’re so opposed to what someone is saying, we forget to ask them why they feel a certain way.

Filmmaker Alexandra Pelosi, very Democratic daughter of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, took her camera into states with high percentages of Republican voters and asked people why they felt, and voted, as they did. The results, as you can see in her HBO documentary Outside the Bubble, are that both “sides” come to greater understanding of each other’s views. If someone at Thanksgiving has a point of view that’s very different from your own, try asking, in a non-combative way, why they feel as they do.

Vote for kindness.And when you’re asking the person why they feel as they do, think interview, rather than interrogation. I have yet to see anyone who has been shouted and even cursed at respond to verbal violence by saying, “Huh, never thought of it that way before; I see your point.” Maitri is the Sanskrit word for kindness, and just like pumpkin spices, a little goes a long way. Proof comes from this argument between Sarah Silverman and a Twitter troll. If you’re asking people how they came to their views, ask the way you would want them to ask you.

Become conservative (with your energy). I love my family. Some of them voted differently from me. They have strong views that are occasionally in direct opposition to mine. And I’m not wasting the valuable time I get to spend with them arguing.

Brahmacharya is Yoga’s term for conserving your physical and emotional energy. Sometimes I’m up for a spirited discussion about opposing views. But when there’s potential for a Mixed Martial Arts level of disagreement, I choose to conserve my energy and just say, “Okay.” People who love to debate may keep going, even getting extreme to try to bait you. “We agree to disagree,” with added nonchalant shrug, usually sends the message that you’re stepping out of the ring.

Love thy relative. If the political conversation is taking a nasty turn, steer things back toward the personal. People want and need attention, especially elders, and they love it when you ask about them. I say something like, “I’m tired of talking about people we don’t know—I want to hear more about you and how you’re doing.” It’s not just a diversion tactic; I would really rather hear about someone’s life than talk politics any day of the week, but especially on a family-focused day.

Our country is divided, but at Thanksgiving, the only sides that should come into play are mashed potatoes, cranberry sauce, and that green bean casserole with the crazy fried onion things on top. Set your intentions to have a good time, treat others as you want to be treated, and the only regrets you’ll have are the seconds and thirds you ate at dessert. Happy Thanksgiving, divine lights. I’m giving thanks for you.

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