Aren't we all so very tired of hearing about the latest guru gone down? The latest abuse or sex scandal in spiritual communities? As an act towards peace, I seek to present a visionary way forward:
How a Leader & Community Can Handle Claims of Abuse & Sexual Harassment
NOTE: This post goes with the Code of Conduct for Spiritual and Yoga Festivals, which I was inspired to develop as a contribution to the International Yoga Festival in Rishikesh. (A team of Heart of Sound volunteers runs the Sacred Sound Stage which I started in 2017.) It takes up where the Perpetual Agreement Between Presenters & Participants leaves off, so if you haven't read that post, you might want to do that first!
Presenters who are leaders of their own community [“leader”] of students, fans, or followers agree that if or when anyone, regardless of gender, age, social status, or cultural background raises a concern about sexual harassment [“claimant”] in their community, at any time, agree to actively create an environment for healing and resolution. While we readily acknowledge that every situation is unique, there is a clear playbook a leader can use to leverage their privilege and power to affect healing, or to continue toxic power structures that disempower everyone.
The chart below can help a leader to actively support a healing response towards wholistic resolution vs. a stress response that perpetuates a culture of power and oppression.
Here’s how a leader can facilitate understanding and resolution:
“I am truly sorry if anything I did has hurt anyone, or if my words or actions have been received in a way I did not intend. I feel vulnerable and defensive because my authority has rarely been challenged like this before, but I recognize this as an opportunity for transformation and growth for me personally and for our community. It feels scary to admit that I don’t have all of the answers. I am fully open to learning about my own blind spots and unconscious patterns. I welcome an open dialog about this so we can discover the root issues and heal as a community.
I humbly suggest that everyone use this as an opportunity to look within and listen to what’s alive in you, because we all have unconscious patterning around sexual power dynamics that beg for attention. No matter how lofty our spiritual ideals are, how eternally pure our souls may be, our human lives were incubated in a culture of rather toxic patriarchy. It would be tragic folly for anyone to claim complete transcendence until every last thread of conditioning has been examined and lovingly transformed. These patterns run deep, and if there’s one thing I know about the path of self-development, it’s that the more you look, the more you see; the brighter the light, the more capacity to see deeper into the previously hidden darkness.
I know I will be digging deep, and getting reflection from both experts in this field and my close friends and family who knew me before I had my current role as a teacher. I’ll be engaging in a personal practice of [peace mantras, Metta meditation, prayer] for the next [40, 365 days] to atone for this disturbance, to hold myself accountable for become “at one” with all of you who I love so dearly and seek to serve with all my heart. If you’re inspired, I invite you to join me in the practice, so our community can harmonize the subtle spaces between us. It’s my hope that we can weave a new way forward together, alive with listening, rich with connection, and built on a foundation of mutual respect and empowerment.
Here’s how a leader can perpetuate rape culture:
“It’s unfortunate that this poor deluded woman has come forward with such slanderous gossip. Clearly she’s hurting and trying to get back at me for her dissatisfaction on the path. Because she’s so sadly unwell, and so much in her ego, she’s trying to break up our community with her lies. This petty drama distracts me from all of the good work I am trying to share in the world. My intentions are pure. My heart is clean and always will be. Trust me. Trust that [I am divine, enlightened, a carrier of the pure lineage]
Do you remember how much I have helped you, and so many others? I’ll reveal a secret to you… this senseless attack on my character is evil forces trying to sabotage the great work I’ve done! All great lights like me get attacked by naysayers [who were jealous, didn’t get the personal attention they longed for, were stuck in their egos]. Let’s stick together now on this great spiritual mission we share and allow these lies [this kind of attack against my eternally stainless being] to distract us from our spiritual path now or in the future. As we continue on the one true, best and highest path, let’s pray for her soul to find her way again.”
[If there was admission of behavior] Her karma drew that to her, her soul called for this experience. It was because of her darkness, her soul pattern, that I was called by God to heal her in this way. She was lucky that I did that for her!
gender identity: a person's perception of having a particular gender, which may or may not correspond with their birth sex.
Gender Fluid: Gender fluid is a gender identity which refers to a gender which varies over time. A gender fluid person may at any time identify as male, female, neutrois, or any other non-binary identity, or some combination of identities. Their gender can also vary at random or vary in response to different circumstances.
Sexual Harassment: behavior characterized by the making of unwelcome and inappropriate sexual remarks or physical advances in a workplace or other professional or social situation.
Me too movement: The Me Too movement (or #MeToo movement), with a large variety of local and international related names, is a movement against sexual harassment and sexual assault. The phrase "Me Too" was initially used in this context on social media in 2006, on Myspace, by sexual harassment survivor and activist Tarana Burke.
Ahimsā: (in the Hindu, Buddhist, and Jainist tradition) respect for all living things and avoidance of violence toward others.
Social structures of domination: Social dominance theory is a consideration of group conflict which describes human society as consisting of oppressive group-based hierarchy structures. The key principles of social dominance theory are: ... Human social hierarchy consists of a hegemonic group at the top and negative reference groups at the bottom.
Stalking: Stalking is unwanted and/or repeated surveillance by an individual or group toward another person. Stalking behaviors are interrelated to harassment and intimidation and may include following the victim in person or monitoring them. The term stalking is used with some differing definitions in psychiatry and psychology, as well as in some legal jurisdictions as a term for a criminal offense.
Gaslighting: to manipulate (someone) by psychological means into questioning their own sanity.
Victim Blaming: occurs when the victim of a crime or any wrongful act is held entirely or partially at fault for the harm that befell them. The study of victimology seeks to mitigate the prejudice against victims, and the perception that victims are in any way responsible for the actions of offenders.
Spiritual Bypass: a tendency to use spiritual ideas and practices to sidestep or avoid facing unresolved emotional issues, psychological wounds, and unfinished developmental tasks. The term was introduced in the early 1980s by John Welwood, a Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist.
rape culture: a society or environment whose prevailing social attitudes have the effect of normalizing or trivializing sexual assault and abuse.
Andrew Hyde for giving me the idea and pointing me to Geekfeminista.com’s wiki, from which the basic code of conduct is based.
Jennifer Mazzucco for researching and providing the terminology links.
My Facbook friends and the community at Tantrik Yoga Now, who provided editing support and valuable feedback!