The seeds of my spiritual journey go back to the music of George Harrison whose use of Indian instruments and Eastern-influenced lyrics (e.g. ‘Within You and Without You’ in 1967) bowled me over. While in high school, I closely followed Harrison’s involvement with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and chose to be initiated into Transcendental Meditation (TM) and receive my first mantra.
From there, I sought out the teachings and presence of Swami Satchidananda in 1971. He was so full of love and wisdom (and humor). I had first seen him when he opened the 1969 Woodstock Music festival leading 400,000 of us chanting ‘Om Shanti Om’. I soon lived in his Integral Yoga Institute ashram where I studied Eastern scriptures, trained to teach Hatha Yoga and, by the seat of my pants, led Friday night kirtans. Satchidananda impacted me hugely through his teachings and presence. I experienced so much unconditional love radiating from him.
In early 1972, I read the ground-breaking book ‘Be Here Now’ by Ram Dass. I had never heard of him but I now had to meet him! I felt an instantly strong bond and a feeling of being ‘totally at home’ in myself when with him. This is an understatement. I couldn’t stay away! I made frequent visits to him at his father’s summer estate in New Hampshire. On the big lawn, he would hold talks, take questions, share kirtan chants and meditation practices, and lead us in Sufi dancing. With no notes, he would speak for hours and the most profound, eloquent, and heart-stirring teachings would simply flow out of him. It was as if he were channeling the spiritual wisdom of the ages. He was incredibly generous with me and we would exchange letters and get together in person to lighten-up my perceived heavy life dramas.
Ram Dass and Neem Karoli Baba have been my major mentors over the many decades. The most significant experience was in 1973 sitting alone with Ram Dass for a few hours 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 in this project ( 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, things changed. 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’. However, at the urging of a friend, I attended a weeklong Omega retreat in 1987 with Ram Dass (accompanied by the kirtan wallah Krishna Das). I had avoided them for about 11 years prior to this retreat.
Once again, I surrendered to waking up my consciousness. Krishna Das, whom I had not seen since the 1970s, now re-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 created the impetus to immerse myself in kirtan again.
And here I am, many years later leading this very simple and powerful spiritual practice. Well, not quite! My last live kirtan was at Kripalu in March 2020 just before the Covid virus struck. When it is safe to do so, I will again lead kirtans, mostly in my living room in Northampton,MA. For now, I may do some YouTubes and post them.
It will be my delight, honor, and great joy to share this practice with you in person, whenever that is. It will happen! As I am longer on Facebook for political reasons, please join my email list for future kirtan alerts.