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April 23, 2024

Grounded Mystic: Honoring the Passing of Sacred Chant Artist & Yogi, David Newman.

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I think about death every day.

As a therapist and minister, I have assisted people in facing their transition from this incarnation to whatever awaits after our final breath. As a human being, I have said goodbye to family and dear friends. I have also faced life-challenging health conditions.

I neither fear death nor welcome it. But when it occurs in the life of someone my age, it hits home in profound ways.

The celestial choir gained a new member recently. David Newman (a.k.a. Durga Das) was a beyond words teacher, healer, sacred chant kirtan artist, and friend to more people than he could even imagine.

We were not part of each other’s inner circles but were part of many overlapping soul circles that included his wife Mira, who was also his recording and stage performance partner, sister-in-law Jade, in-laws, Rhoni and Steven, and his former business partner, Shiva Das, as well as numerous yoga teachers and kirtan artists.

He had a profound impact on my life and when I consider the occasions that we had to be in the same room over a few decades, I smile.

David was diagnosed with stage 4 glioblastoma in March and within less than a month, he said his farewells with Mira, his daughter Tulsi, and other family members at his side.

When I first heard about his illness, I joined likely many thousands of people worldwide who were holding him in prayer and beaming healing energy his way. When it became clear that he wouldn’t recover, the focus shifted to intentions for a peaceful passing, immersed in love. I have no doubt that was the case.

David is considered to be among the kirtan pantheon that includes Donna De Lory, Philippo Franchini, Benjy and Heather Wertheimer, Wah!, Krishna Das, Snatam Kaur, Jai Uttal, Shyam Das, and Cc White. He has long been a force for good in the world, walking the talk and taking that contagious energy everywhere he went. David contributed to humanitarian causes and was what in Yiddish would be called a mensch.

If memory serves, we were introduced in the early 2000s by a mutual friend who shared a spiritual teacher with him. I had known of David for a long time, as he was from my area: Philadelphia. I had heard about his yoga studio, called Yoga on Main, in Manayunk, a neighborhood in the city. And the first time I stepped bare foot on the mat there, I felt like I was home. Over the years, I did drop-in classes and attended kirtans, floating back out onto the street.

I watched with delight as baby Tulsi joined David and Mira on stage and heard her giggles on a recording of one of his songs.

I had the pleasure of interviewing David on my podcast, called It’s All About Relationships, when “Love Is Awake” was released. I have listened to it a few times since I had heard of his imminent transition, as well as hearing the sonic sweetness of his videos that include “Grateful,” “Thinking of You,” “You Can Count on Me,” and “Stay Strong.”

A few nights before he passed, I had a vivid dream in which I was in a large room filled with people who were chanting on his behalf, sending waves of peace his way. There was a blend of sadness and bliss, which is what I imagine death feels like when the moment comes.

This seemed to be a nocturnal version of what was already happening online as I read people’s tributes to the relationships they had with David and how knowing him had a lasting impact, enhancing their lives in powerful ways.

I am grateful to be part of a planetary sangha who are both grieving David’s death and celebrating his life.

Ātmaḥ śāntiḥ bhavatu. May the soul rest in peace.

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