Krishna Das reminding his listeners the reasons he practices and offers kirtan scrolled across my Facebook feed last week with this quote:
“My path is to be in the living Presence; We have to find a way inside us, we have to find a way to open our hearts, to quiet our minds, to let go our fears and our selfishness, our guilt and our anger and jealousy; Everything is already present in our own hearts; By repeating these Names over and over, we are moving ourselves into that place in us; the Heart in us is deeper than any emotion or psychological issues; I don’t know if there is God, I know there is Love – Unconditional Love and I know I like to be in that love, and that maybe God; all you have to do is look, and chanting remembers us to look.”
I am in a space right now where chanting is serving me to help remember the good, despite all that is going on that doesn’t feel particularly good or hopeful. I don’t believe in “God” as an actual being (though I can no more disprove the actuality than anyone has been able to prove it), and history certainly proves the power of the idea of such a mystical being.
Regardless of whether the very real ideas of God(s) represents an actual being, it has been my beautiful experience–studying with Krishna Das and others over the years–that engaging in practices that turn our hearts towards love and universality helps us be sweet living in relationship to ourselves, to others, and to the ecological fabric of the whole of embodied existence. I chant because calling out the names in their universal multiplicity is a recognition, not dissimilar to what I have found offered in the silent collective worship of Quakers, that everyone has their own individual access to and ideas of the sublime, of the divine, of what brings them to feel a fullness of love.
There are thousands of little temples — some hardly more than altars — scattered throughout both the countryside and cities here. I marvel at the artistry of some and the garishness of others.
I think, on witnessing this effulgence of creativity, of what helps me remember the everyday sacred. Mostly, I am inclined to look inward.
Needing a brightly decorated space that tells a story is so different from my Quaker upbringing.
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.