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Superbowl Kirtan, 2017

"Superbowl Kirtan": (L to R) Dave Russell, Holly Hartmann, and Kalidasa Getter.

To the best of my memory, I credit the beginning of my spiritual journey to George Harrison whose song 'Within You and Without You' in 1967 first exposed me to Eastern music and philosophy. What was was he talking about? Following Harrison's lead, I received initiation, while in high school, into Maharishi Mahesh's Transcendental Meditation (TM). I then moved along from TM to be a devotee of Swami Satchidananda in 1971. He was so full of love and wisdom (and humor!). I had first seen him when he opened the Woodstock Music festival in 1969 with 400,000 people chanting 'Om Shanti Om'. By 1971, I was living in his Integral Yoga Institute ashram where I trained to teach his version of Hatha Yoga, studied Eastern teachings and practices, and was 'drafted' to lead the Friday kirtans accompanied by my green cardboard harmonium. My first wife and I were married by him not long after. He had a huge impact upon me through his teachings and by just being in his presence for so many times. I experienced so much unconditional love radiating from him.

By late 1972, I met Ram Dass who had just returned from India after having had a life transformation from Harvard professor to a spiritual devotee of Neem Karoli Baba. I felt an instantly strong bond and a feeling of 'at home' in myself when with him. This is an understatement. I couldn't stay away! I would often go to visit him at his father's summer home in New Hampshire. On his big lawn, he would share kirtan chants, meditation practices, and talk to us. With no notes, he would lecture for hours and it came from some place of deep deep'knowing'. It was like he was channeling the spiritual wisdom of the ages. There was always kirtan at RD's talks and events. Over time, I pursued other teachers for what they could offer. My 1974 summer at Naropa Institute in Boulder, CO exploded with wonderful teachers including Ram Dass, Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Joseph Goldstein, and the wild kirtan wallah Bhagavan Das with whom I immersed myself in classical Indian voice training. And every night, there was chanting with Krishna Das before and after the Ram Dass lectures. KD would often take 3 or 4 of us to a nearby park to chant with him in the afternoons. This summer was a pivotal experience of waking up.

Ram Dass and Neem Karoli Baba have been my major mentors over the many decades. In the early days, he made time to get together with me and hash through the 'pressing concerns' of my personal life. The most opening experience of my life was in 1973 sitting alone with Ram Dass for a few hours in a NYC apartment to help me with the suffering of an addiction. After some minutes, he whispered that Maharaji (Neem Karoli Baba) was now in the room to join us. Maharaji had left his body some months before this meeting. The 'help' was an overwhelming experience of total unconditional love. I wept and wept as Ram Dass held me as I experienced Maharaji's presence. And I've felt so deeply connected to both Maharaji and Ram Dass ever since.

However, after my first marriage dissolved, I simply dropped everything that was a spiritual practice, and pushed it away like it never existed. I found that being in my head as an academic was far easier than doing 'spiritual work'. I went back to smoking 3 packs of cigarettes daily among other things. However, in 1987 I attended a week retreat with Ram Dass (accompanied by Krishna Das kirtans) and I surrendered once again to the idea of waking up my consciousness. Krishna Das, whom I had not seen since the early 1970s, emerged into public settings with his kirtans. I was smitten with kirtan all over again. I instantly felt that 'at home' feeling in my heart when hearing him. The experience of feeling 'at home' in my heart through kirtan created an impetus to be of service to others again. A local kirtan wallah named Shubalananda greatly encouraged me and graciously invited me to accompany him at his kirtans, having me back him up on harmonium. So, coming back to kirtan after an absence of many years, I've been leading kirtan again for the past 13 years as my main spiritual practice.

I would love to sing with you sometime in the future!

"Within You And Without You" by George Harrison (1967)

We were talking about the space between us all
And the people who hide themselves behind a wall of illusion
Never glimpse the truth, then it's far too late, when they pass away
We were talking about the love we all could share
When we find it, to try our best to hold it there with our love
With our love, we could save the world, if they only knew

Try to realize it's all within yourself
No one else can make you change
And to see you're really only very small
And life flows on within you and without you

We were talking about the love that's gone so cold
And the people who gain the world and lose their soul

They don't know, they can't see, are you one of them?
When you've seen beyond yourself then you may find
Peace of mind is waiting there
And the time will come when you see we're all one
And life flows on within you and without you

Pictures from my journey:

Dave in 1971 Dave in 1973 Dave and Holly

Beings that have inspired and helped me on my way:
Maharaji Neem Karoli Ram Dass Swami Satchidananda at Woodstock - 1969 Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche Swami Satchidananda