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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 exploration to George Harrison whose song ‘Within You and Without You’ in 1968 first exposed me to Eastern music and philosophy. What was was he talking about? Following Harrison’s lead, I received initiation into Maharishi Mahesh's Transcendental Meditation (TM) while in high school. I then moved from TM to be a devotee of Swami Satchidananda in 1971. I had first seen him open the Woodstock Music festival in 1969 with some kirtan chanting. My heart always felt so open in his presence. I trained to teach his version of Hatha Yoga, studied Eastern teachings and practices, and eventually led Friday night ashram kirtans accompanied by my green cardboard harmonium.

By late 1972, I met Ram Dass who had just returned from India. I felt an instantly strong bond and a feeling of ‘at home’ in myself when with him. I would often go to see him at his father's summer estate in New Hampshire where a group of us would gather to sing chants and listen to his talks. He has been a major guide for me over the decades. In the early days, he made time to get together with me and hash through the pressing concerns of my personal life. One of the most opening experiences of my life was in 1973 sitting alone with Ram Dass for a few hours in a NYC apartment when he informed me he was "bringing Maharaji (Neem Karoli Baba) into the room" to help me. Maharaji had left his body some months before this meeting. The 'help' was an experience of total unconditional love. I wept and wept. And I've felt deeply connected to Maharaji ever since. There was always kirtan at RD's talks and events. Over time, I pursued other teachers for what they could offer me, both musically and philosophically. A summer in Boulder, CO at Naropa Institute in 1974 exploded with wonderful teachers including Ram Dass, Chogyam Trungpa Ripoche, Joseph Goldstein, and the wild 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 invite some of us to a nearby park to chant with him.

However, after my first marriage dissolved (Satchidananda had married us under some duress), 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 'spiritual' growth! In the 1990s, the kirtan wallah Krishna Das, whom I had not hung out with since the early 1970s, was emerging into public settings with his kirtans. I became smitten with kirtan all over again. I instantly felt that ‘at home’ feeling in my heart when hearing his chants. To me, kirtan both releases that which doesn't serve me (beliefs, addictions, negativity) and fills me up at the infinite well of joy,fullness, and connection to my own divinity. The experience of feeling ‘at home’ in my heart through kirtan created an impetus to be of service to others. I began to join a local kirtan leader named Shubalananda who greatly encouraged me and taught me how to play the harmonium way beyond what I had previously learned. He graciously invited me to accompany him at his kirtans, having me back him up on harmonium. I am grateful to him. And to make a long story short, I've been leading kirtan for the past 10 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 (1968)

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 of my journey:

Dave in 1971 Dave in 1973 Dave and Holly

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