Thanksgiving is an invitation to reflect. This holiday, having just returned from a conference on healing reciprocity with the natural world, I am reflecting on how much we receive from nature, and what a debt of gratitude and care we owe to her.

I was mentored in convening circles and opening meetings with a particular expression of gratitude: the Thanksgiving Address of the Haudenosaunnee, or Iroquois, Nation. My friends and mentors who previously stewarded the Commonweal Garden, Penny Livingston and James Stark, shared it with me, after learning it from Jake Swamp, a Mohawk elder of the Wolf clan. I am reflecting on the way its words are held as a way toward peace-making, and toward tending a relationship with the life-giving natural world.

Two weeks ago, while opening a meeting of ecologists, natural historians, eco-psychologists and physicians, I had the honor of sharing these “words that come before all others.” I was humbled by the appreciation expressed by a venerable woman of indigenous descent over the way in which I expressed this gratitude within my own idiomatic form. May we each have deep gratitude and respect for indigenous people and the wise indigenous ways of reciprocity, and may these ways ripple out into the wider world.

This Thanksgiving, as we gather in celebration of life and life’s cycles, let us be thankful for people—for our human capacities of love and connection, forgiveness and compassion, and for our ability to grow in wisdom and discernment. We have a sacred responsibility to remember to live in balance and harmony with each other and all living beings. Let us give thanks for each other, and lift up that which is good and honorable in the other. Do you share with me an appreciation for the good in human beings?

Now our minds are one.

Let us be grateful for our mother, the Earth, and for all of the ways in which her abundant generosity supports life on this planet. We give thanks for the rich aliveness of the soil, and for the way in which nutrients and energy flow between her body and ours. We give thanks for the nourishing, awe-inspiring and restorative way in which the Earth holds all living beings.

Do you feel gratitude for the abundant, life-supporting Earth?

Now our minds are one.

Let us feel gratitude for the sun, whose life-giving rays warm our Earth just the right amount, whose interplay with our planet creates cycles of light and darkness, activity and rest, growth and quiescence. The sun, whose light signals seeds to grow, human hormones to strengthen bones and immune systems, leaves to turn autumnal colors, and innumerable other cycles to flow, day after day and year after year.

Do you feel gratitude for the life-sustaining sun?

Now our minds are one.

Now let us express gratitude to the plants, with their miraculous capacity to pull carbon out of the air and create matter, to oxygenate and clean the air we breathe and the water we drink. Plants provide nourishing medicine, nectar and food for humans and other-than-humans in the brightly pigmented antioxidants in their beings, in the countless nutrients and chemicals they contain that support health and vitality, and in the flavors and effects of the oils they contain. Their beauty, resilience and elegant perfection, from thistle to rose, inspire and teach, restore and regenerate.

Do you feel gratitude for the wondrous plants?

Now our minds are one.

Let us express gratitude to the trees, those beautiful beings into whose arms we can climb, who offer us their fruit and forage, shade and shelter. Trees whose form of communication we are only just beginning to understand, who cooperate and share resources with each other. Trees in whose presence we humans are calmer, kinder, less violent and better able to heal. Under whose canopy we, breathing deeply, take in chemicals that decrease our risk of cancer, support our immune system and lower our blood pressure. Trees that create homes for so many creatures, function as a carbon sink, inspire poetry and mythology, create weather and ecosystems.

Do you join me in feeling gratitude for the trees?

Now our minds are one.

Let us express gratitude for water in all of its forms. Water, moving over and through the land, replenishing our groundwater, greening the plants. Water, which will soon be returning in the form of blessed winter rains, inviting the frogs and newts to come out of dormancy. Water, which bathes each of our cells and flushes toxins and waste from our system, and upon whose wise stewardship rests our very lives.

Do you feel gratitude for the water?

Now our minds are one.

Let us feel gratitude for the animals: for the winged birds whose dawn chorus and sweet songs lift our spirits. For the domestic animals who share our homes and teach us how to love and tend other living beings, who give us the experience of unconditional love. For the wild animals, great and small, who invite us to remember the wildness in our beings and to feel the thrill of encountering it. To those who are raised to become food for others, may they feel our gratitude for the way in which they give their lives. For the insects who pollinate, who recycle nutrients and who are woven, inextricably, into the web of life. To the fungi and bacteria and invertebrates who form relationships within the soil and are responsible for its health and life-sustaining properties, who form communities within and on our own beings in the form of the microbiome so central to our health and wellbeing.

Do you feel gratitude for the creatures, great and small?

Now our minds are one.

Let us express gratitude for the beauty and wonder of the bodies in the night sky: for the moon, whose cycles affect the oceans’ tides and the cycles of women. To the stars and the expanding edge of the universe, teaching us perspective and allowing us to feel awe and humility in the face of that which is unknowable.

Do you join me in feeling gratitude for the moon, the stars and the universe?

Now our minds are one.

Now let us express gratitude for our ancestors, for all of our teachers, for those who have guided and mentored and supported us, seen and unseen, reaching back through generations. May we feel their hands at our back as we collectively engage in repairing relationships with all our relations in this world.

Do you feel gratitude for our ancestors, elders, teachers and mentors?

Now our minds are one.

Let us close by expressing gratitude for the divine spark of life that flows through the forms that arise and dissolve, for the animating force of goodness that is love and gratitude itself.

Do you feel gratitude for that which is divine, and good, and true?

Now our minds are one.

May we gather up all of this gratitude, and gratitude for so much more not spoken here, and send it out into the world. May we feel the incredible abundance of life in this living world, and allow it to permeate our consciousness. May it slake the thirst that might otherwise drive unconscious consumerism and other forms of insanity that threaten that which is good and nourishing to life on our precious Earth.

Have a beautiful Thanksgiving.


Anna O’Malley, M.D., practices integrative family and community medicine at the Coastal Health Alliance and explores the medicine of connecting with the natural world at the Commonweal Garden.