Yesterday morning, on the listserv for the Friends Meeting of Washington, someone shared a link to the original recording of Arlo Guthrie singing “Alice’s Restaurant” as part of an email about Thanksgiving festivities. Usually, I scan listserv emails quickly and delete, especially when they relate to events that I am unable to attend. I saved this one for later, though. I’d woken up from some anguished dreams that were hard to shake, and on being reminded of it, I was sure that when I could make the time, listening all the way through Alice’s Restaurant (it’s long) would cheer me up.
This morning I did indeed listen, and remembered why we (at least those of us who attended Quaker Youth Camp in the early 1970s) memorized most of Alice’s Restaurant. It spoke to us and inspired us and invited us to feel that we were not alone in thinking that things could and should be more gracious and peaceful.
And the refrain is catchy and easy to sing. This morning, at the end, when Arlo invites the audience (the 1967 album version was a “live” recording), I started singing along just for the delight of it, which led me to think about the power of mantra.
Chanting or silently repeating mantra is one of the key yoga practices. The purpose, roughly, of mantra is to replace one set of thoughts with another. Repeating even just “om,” the simplest mantra, over and over again is meant to shift you from whatever mind state you might have been in (at least to the extent that you are having repeating troubling thought patterns) and into or towards a more beneficent state. In my own years of practice, I have found much power in practicing Sanskrit mantras, but many of the songs we have been singing for years, especially those that we associate with ritual can serve similar purposes.
If you’re so moved and feeling that you’re having thoughts around this Thanksgiving holiday that you’d rather replace with more cheerful ones, invite the power of mantra and perhaps sing, along with Arlo for the refrain in Alice’s Restaurant.
Oh yes. Happy Thanksgiving.