Sunday, July 13, 2014

Bithika - A Guest Post


A Year On
I joined the Sri Chinmoy Centre in 1979 with my parents and my newly born younger brother.  It was just before my sixth birthday.  I’m now 41.  Last year I left the SCC after 34 years inside.
My exit would be quiet and dignified, noble.  I planned it to cause the minimum disruption to both myself and the community I was leaving behind – something along the lines of the hara-kiri that I knew they believed I was enacting, but muted – I didn’t want a fuss, just a clean slate.  I prepared myself to lose 80% of my address book with one slice and visualised for many months how I would stand up and walk on without ever looking back.  I knew the drill and would just get on with it.  I had a job and a home, I had arranged for study funded by my employer and I had made contact with my family again after many years of enforced separation.  I knew I was exceptionally lucky and with all these opportunities I just needed to grab the rope and swing out into the unknown before it was too late.
I had an incredibly kind team at work and – even though they knew nothing of my circumstances – spending time with them each day gave me strength and enough companionship to keep me ticking along.  I reconnected with a dear childhood friend who had already departed the SCC and had one authentic school relationship dating in whom I could confide safely – enough to convince myself that I wasn’t totally denying my experiences even though I didn’t really want to discuss them.
I kept reading about the experiences on the internet blogs from other ‘departed’ and wanted to be part of the conversation.  But I could find nothing to say.  No idea what I really thought.  Nothing would come out.  Belief structures inside were fragmented – jagged corners, broken.  No emotion was there.  No energy to express anything.  No anger, no bitterness, no comfortable opinion, just lots of random facts and thoughts in a pile in my heart.  I would go over the facts again and again on Saturday afternoons in the hope of suddenly finding out what I truly believed about it all.  I then sought a wider internal space within which it would be possible to place all the extreme polar opposites, all the inexplicable koans – something that could contain them which I could still comfortably call Truth.  Truth is not a simple thing, but a complex creature with many levels – all things to all people – I told myself.  If you treat it with respect, give it a big enough house and leave it be, you can control it.  It will be your choice what to call Truth.  The energy to maintain this huge Truth container was becoming very expensive.  Inside was something with a life of its own that I was struggling to control even though I smiled and got on with it.  I was ignorant of this.
I noticed stairs were becoming difficult.  I increasingly needed to sit down on platforms while commuting to work.  But there were benches on each platform so that was alright.  Then 100m seemed like a long way and I’d have to walk slowly.  I only had three more weeks of term – of attending lectures at night and working in the day and essays at the weekend.  I was nearly there.  I was OK.  My heart got tighter and tighter.  I was waking up in the night very afraid of the palpitations.  I couldn’t let go.  I knew what I thought surrender looked like after so many years of being force-fed and it was very painful, so I clung on to my work and my daily rituals and tried to alter my diet and be smarter than my body’s weakness.
On the way to A&E I was thinking about the essay I was writing on stress – it’s not the circumstances but primarily the individual’s ability to cope that determines the outcome.  Just had to have the right attitude and I could surmount everything.  Be strong.  The ECG didn’t find anything, the lung x-ray was clear.  I was worried that the whole experience was some strange panic attack.  Then the blood test came back and the doctor said “I have an answer for you, but it’s not what you think – you’re blood levels are so low that you must have been bleeding from somewhere internally for some time.”  I saw my hands rise to my face.  I knew it was time to let go of this fight.
Everything has stopped – work, university work, movement.  I’m at home.  It’s been a few days of winding down to nothing, the shock’s past, the dull pain in my heart area more settled.  A neighbour invited me and I find myself sitting in her peaceful flat looking over London.  In silence.  She, it turns out, is a religious sister.  A counsellor, a spiritual director to many over decades, living in the community.  I don’t really know what I’m doing here.  She invited me, and despite my present position on organised religion, or anything like it, I wanted to come, inexplicably.  She knows how to sit in silence and listen to it.  I can feel it.  It’s the real deal.  I look out the window.  Tears roll down my face.  After 10 mins she puts a box of tissues next to me and walks out of the room.  She comes back.  I find a few words.  My childhood, my sincere spiritual search, the spiritual discipline, the rules we lived by.  I know she understands, she started in her order out of school.  She’s travelled the world teaching maths.  She’s transitioned out of the habit and into the community, she’s retrained as a spiritual counsellor – services for all, denominationless.  She listens.  I find silence again.  I continue to look out the window – seeing, but not really seeing anything. I get to the bit about the things he asked me to do.  I don’t understand why.  I can’t bear to look at his face, I don’t know who to pray to, I’m bleeding from somewhere and can’t control it.  Now the tears are rolling.  It’s been years.  I marvel at them.  The room is so peaceful, she is there, yet she is not there.
Can I tell a nun about sex with a spiritual figure?  I keep thinking about the pain in the Catholic church and I feel impolite.  So I talk about how you don’t want to say because you think it will bring the whole community into disrepute.  All those reasons why every community has stayed silent for centuries.  You’ve spent your whole life defending the community.  You’ve proselytised and recruited and defended over and over and now you are cutting off a portion of your own self in the telling.  If you say.  But then I remember what it is to be a voice silenced and it feels time to say.  I look at her to see if she can take it.  She has a vast and wise peace and sits in it in silence, maybe looking at me, maybe not, I can’t tell with my tears.  I remember what it felt like when he shoved himself into my mouth.  My shock.  Followed in split second by my pride.  The gagging.  I swallowed again and again.  I can’t tell her, I am too ashamed.  I just leave it to inference, that he asked me to do ‘things’.  I can’t tell her about the lesbian oral sex that he wanted performance of again and again, all the partners, in all the cities, hotel rooms across the world, in his house, in other houses.  I can’t say.  My shaky legs, the fear and the envelopes of money that I so desperately needed but which eroded my inner landscape.  With the birds on, his signature touch – the emblem of peace and freedom.  I can’t say.  How he was furious because I wouldn’t tell him that I loved it.  How he sent us out of the room to contemplate our failings before the next performance and how she begged me to just lie to him like she does for an easy life and say that I loved it in some kind of faux sexy voice to ‘please him in his own way’ …  I couldn’t say then.  I can’t say now.  Isn’t spirituality about Truth?  I never lied to him, why would this ever be the right thing to do?  The tears are really flowing now.  I am sweating.  It feels like the vice around my heart has shifted imperceptibly.  I see him chopping the back of his neck as he did to warn us not to speak.  Ever.
Finally she spoke.  An offering only, she said.  I should draw a bath.  In it I should put a fragrant liquid.  I should get inside and curl up in an embryonic position and say to my body “I am here for you now.  I will never ask of you anything that you do not want again.”  My arms crossed around my chest, I start to say it inside, still on the sofa.  Am I letting go or taking charge – a child or an adult?  Cells in my body are crying out for this.  For my own love.  To have the ability to promise myself that surrender doesn’t mean just allowing violation.
I tell her that I honestly don’t know if this was a higher truth or not.  If I have epically failed to reach a level of consciousness where this is divine.  He wrote a poem that I had to recite in front of an auditorium of 1,000 people “God was simply shocked to see that I am completely incapable of knowing what true surrender is.”  I didn’t want to fail.
All I can say is that I need to find a way to stem the hurt.  People want a stand.  To tell the world that this happened because they have found solace doing it and we will be a stronger voice together against the steely wall of establishment denial.  I don’t know if it was bad.  What is bad enough nowadays amongst the rape, killing, genocide?  They certainly don’t think it was bad.  The SCC Committee know the facts.  Of course they have had to allow for the collateral damage inflicted by those that ‘cannot surrender’.  It’s an inconvenient truth whose moral value is irrelevant because ‘spirituality goes far above morality’ – or at least that’s what he repeatedly told me, that I was ‘born to show’.  All I know is I cannot emotionally and cognitively withstand it any longer.  I don’t have the strength to comprehend or even tolerate the experience and it’s breaking me.  I don’t understand when people talk about Truth because my moral compass was smashed.  But I know I’m bleeding.  Help me.
Is there a god like the giant truth space I constructed to save myself from inner conflict?  A higher court to which you can take appeals?  Even if it had condoned Ghose, surely there was a way that I could appeal and say Ghose isn’t for everyone, I’m grateful you are sending envoys but this one was too brutal, please.  This universe is not one-size-fits-all.  We are all different.  Please give me another chance, another way.  Or maybe Ghose was a renegade, he went native when he went to earth and his actions were being quietly disowned upstairs?  Maybe I’d be OK after all if we could just find evidence that this was so, I’d be heard.
I know half the debate out there is whether he did/didn’t do these things.  That’s not my debate.  I know how much he did these things, over decades.  I know he used the first generation of girls – when they became too old for his taste – to get the second generation into his grasp.  It was the darkest side of the whole thing.  Sister upon sister, pimped, controlled, reported on, crushed – all with a sugary smile.  My debate is about whether this was God-condoned.  I’m not na├»ve enough to believe that God’s a nice entity in the conventional sense.  God encompasses death and destruction as well as all the good stuff – life is a brutal experience for many, God is the author, whatever they say.  Did s/he condone this?  Or is it my journey to find the strength to fight my fear and stand up and say ‘Enough!  We can’t fit it in the Truth-box, no matter how much we chop it up!’
It’s too complicated to explain.  I have only limited energy.  We are in silence again.  She offers another thought eventually.  She describes a ritual, says that we don’t use ritual enough.  Describes driving through Richmond Park, to Ham Gate and out …  at the lights you take a right and then you come to the river Thames.  There’s a place to park.  On the paper you will have a codeword for him if you don’t want to use his name.  May be there will be something you want to say to him.  Or not.  But you will make a simple boat out of the paper – it represents everything about him – and give it to the river.  The river will take it away.
I think of the Arthurian water burial of warriors – pushing the boat out, with lighted torches, weapons, flowers, out into the water.  I visualise again as I sit on the sofa.  I don’t know what code word I would use for him.  My bank account still asks me the security question “Who is your guru” and I still type “Sri Chinmoy” to get at my account.  Who is Sri Chinmoy?  This man that came all over me again and again – my stomach, my mouth, fingering my breasts.  Did I give consent?  I was 27 at the start, so not under-age.  I never said no, but I never knew what was going on in advance either – ‘wait and see’ he would say ‘think of it as an adventure’.
I think of the affectionate ‘rascal’ term used on the mythical Krishna stealing the girls’ clothes and making love with them – one of the original ‘lads’.  Did he mould himself on that?  Think it was his birth right to an equivalent?  No, I do not feel affection.  Nor did I feel sexual in any way.  I felt dominated by a very intense machine-like power.  Calculated to a fine point.  Taking, using, degrading and discarding at his will – ‘in his own way’.  When all is said and done, I feel it has been destructive to me in its action.  This is enough truth for me right now.  I need to be happy with not trying to contain the rest – not trying to square the circle or balance up the spiritual ecstasy, the ‘good stuff’, the music, the good people involved.  I’ve tried for a year, there are no answers, it doesn’t fit in the box.
To those inside that say I just wasn’t up to playing with the Divine, and I have blown the opportunity …  well maybe that is so.  You, the Committee, know perfectly well that the facts are true and you have no interest in the collateral damage.  For me, from now on I am choosing to believe that this is not a useful experiment in human evolution.  I am more than an expendable resource in one man’s experiment in human consciousness.  We each have a choice, it’s our last precious possession.  I am now placing my boat on the Thames and asking that great ancient river to use its power to wash all this away and give me back my strength.
A year and three weeks on
I wrote this piece three weeks ago in the middle of a temporary healthcare crisis which forced me to open my ‘truth-box’ and examine the contents once again.  I shared it with close friends who I had been unable to voice my deepest thoughts to up until then, by way of owning these experiences and starting to heal.  Many were incensed and labelled him an ‘evil man’, saying I should tell the world about him and help others get free from the clutches of the group.  A number said that I should wait until I was strong again before posting it as they feared for my health and safety if the entire might of the SCC would start to attack me.  Another said that I should be prepared to be branded as mentally unstable and was I sure that this was something I’d actually like to open myself to?  They would attack me at work, hack my account, I’d get calls, texts, law suits and all kinds of abuse if past experience was anything to go by.
I shared it with one dear friend who is still inside.  After 35 years of friendship, I figured I would at least honour them by giving them a chance to take a different position.  Being on two sides of a divisive ideology and still trying to hold on to our humanity is very tricky, but I wanted to try.  They came round to talk to me immediately.  The conversation was about Judas, their fears for my terrible karma and what would happen to me if I facilitated anyone reading what should be private.  Also, how many good people were inside on chemotherapy and how I would ruin their last few months of life by destroying their faith.  They talked about all the good stuff the SCC is doing – teaching people to meditate, hosting running races etc.  Why didn’t I mention it?  Why was my account not mentioning the good stuff?  Why did I want to sound like such a ‘victim’?  I wasn’t a victim.  It was consenting sex between two adults, for which I had made my own choices and now had to stand by them.  I had been privileged and even though it was inexplicable to our earthly understanding, it was all divine.  There was no question.  The girls must have all been Akbar’s wives in a harem — Ghose claimed to have been Akbar in a previous life — and he was just continuing the important karmic relationship with them in this life.  They had read some book on tantric sex which had convinced them that as long as the man is ‘on top’ and controlling the woman representing ‘nature’, then all of this is very spiritually above board.  So many amazing meditations, how could I deny it? I had left and there is just only so much a soul can take, that was why I was ill.  Couldn’t I see it?
There is no doubt that this fear is a very real experience.  I looked into their eyes.  I started to feel it in my own body again.  Can any of us afford to take the chance that our loved ones will die if we step out of line?  Ghose said to so many that they would die, go blind, deaf, ‘drown in the ocean of ignorance’, whatever else.  It’s easier to walk away silently and not risk the chance.  I felt so sad for my friend.  A real courageous person with such a big heart and so much love to give – in any other situation they would be the first person into danger to save and protect.  They were starting to sound like Ghose, the same delusion, entitlement and ability to use others for a ‘higher purpose’.  The betrayal, I knew, one day would eat them.  I could easily have been there.  The person that was unable to support a friend in need.  Easily.  I knew how it would eat away at me if I was them.  I forgave them instantly.  I couldn’t bear to have them feel that pain, somehow, wanted to protect them.  They didn’t deserve to be made a fool of after having served honestly for so many years.  They begged me not to tell that they knew anything.
Sometimes enough is enough.  Enough lies, cover ups, threats, manipulations and fear.  Enough creating hundreds of duplicate sites to clog up Google so no one can read the honest accounts.  Enough constructing elaborate and often untrue stories on the inside of why people have left to keep questions at bay.  Enough perpetuating the fear by telling people they will get sick (there are many sick people on the inside too).  Enough of branding people ‘hostile forces’.  Enough of this ridiculous war of ‘in’ and ‘out’, denying what most at the centre of the group know is plainly just a statement of fact.  Fact that can only be justified by a narrative composed of past lives, supernatural forces and ancient myths and reinforced by blind obedience, conscious blinkering and fear.

Something that everyone agrees on is that there are some of the best people they ever met in the SCC.  These are human beings whose love is so strong that they were inspired to sacrifice all that they are to serve humanity.  That doesn’t change if you leave the group.  You are not a ‘hostile force’, you are a person who then has to stand on your own two feet and make the difficult journey to find truth inside yourself without any crutches and despite the fear.  We are one in our search for Truth.  All that divides us are the actions of one man.  What was good about his approach is as old as the human race: what was bad, none of us should be afraid of if we can support each other through this.  We haven’t lost our spirituality because it is in our own goodness, not in his activities.

(PHOTO CREDIT: DAVID ILIFF -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Thames#mediaviewer/File:London_Thames_Sunset_panorama_-_Feb_2008.jpg.)