Another Roadside Attraction?


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.


The Power of Mantra (and “Alice’s Restaurant”)

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.



Found Quotation/Signs Around Town

Friends will be interested to know that this week’s Department of Labor elevator poster announces the induction of Bayard Rustin in the Department’s Hall of Fame on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington.

Bayard Rustin

Note:  If you look at this on the big screen or an IPad, or Android, and click on the image (enlarging as possible and as needed), the quotes are legible.  I would like to type out the quotes for you, but I have much else that is clamoring for my attention.


Yes, I Knew Him (and the Maha Mrityunjaya Mantra)

When my students arrived at William Penn House last night for class, I said, “yes, I knew him; they are both my co-workers.”  I didn’t need to say anything else.  All of them read the Washington Post and know that I work for the Department of Labor in the area of pension benefits.  I said that I was shaken by the news, and I would offer the best practice I could.  At my invitation, we worked on grounding, being heavy in the best meaning of heavy so that we would feel the stability to rise and to stay graceful and open as we practiced some challenging standing poses and backbends, leading to a modified version of natarajasana (dancing in the cosmic fire).

One co-worker is dead (either suicide or murder in his jail cell) after having severely injured another.  Yes, we all worked in the same office for three years when I first started at the Department in 1991 and episodically have worked on common projects for almost 22 years, most recently just three weeks ago. Had it been a fatal accident or a heart attack, a few dozen of us would have been at the funeral and spoken of what we liked about him.  It wouldn’t have been the horrified questioning ourselves and each other of what possibly could have gone so terribly, shockingly wrong.  The grieving and sense of loss are no less present and real, though, for the recoiling from his last acts and the salacious and rapacious local media coverage.

Quaker practice has me holding those affected in the light–he and his family and she and hers, and our co-workers.  On hearing yesterday that he had died in jail, I was moved to chant the maha mrityunjaya mantra.  I was taught that chanting this mantra every day for 30 days can help a spirit cross-over.  What is spirit and to where it might be crossing was not really explained because how could it be?  But I do think chanting with such an intention can be a useful tool to help focus one’s own emotional process and healing in connection with a death.

For some background on the mantra, you might want to start with this overview with useful links published by the Himalayan Institute (be advised that though citing to the YI because of the breadth of coverage, to get to the basic details, I needed to ignore the cheesy graphics and the use of the term “Lord” before Shiva in the linked article on what the author says are appropriate uses of the mantra).

oakleaf hydrangeaMy co-worker gave me this oakleaf hydrangea about 10-12 years ago; his brother had pulled an extra seedling that was an offshoot  from a larger plant in his yard.  It did not start thriving until two seasons ago when I moved it to a different corner of my front garden.