Continued from Part 1 (Read HERE)
I remember the day I knew it was time to flee the Ashram. I was looking into my future, and all I could see was me living out the rest of my days at the monastery, like many of the other monks I was studying with. A sense of deep unease filled my body, and I knew this was no longer the path I wanted to be on.
After years of emotional manipulation, bullying and coercion at the hands of the Guru, the once fiery and quick witted young woman I had known myself to be, was a mere shell of her former self. My nervous system was shot from living in a perpetual state of fear at the Guru’s fluctuating moods, and the callousness with which he could cut you down at any time.
I needed to make a decision. Was I going to remain living like this for the rest of my life? Or would I dare to break free and live on my own terms? I already knew the answer deep in my bones, but I was going to have to muster every last drop of courage to extricate myself from the Guru’s iron grip.
It wasn’t going to be easy. Not because I was afraid of how he’d react, although that was also true, but because it meant I must stand strong in my conviction and not allow myself to be swayed. I had to remind myself that I knew what was best for me better than he did.
Many monks who had left before me, chose to slip out in the dark of night with no explanation, never to be seen or heard from again. And it soon became clear just why they had disappeared without a trace.
I requested to speak to the Guru in private. As I approached his office door, I hesitated and took a deep breath before knocking. My heart was beating wildly. It felt like I was about to walk into a lion’s den, and I wasn’t sure what to expect; kind Guru figure or unhinged emotional abuser.
As I told him of my plans to leave, I tried to read his facial expressions for clues as to how he was taking the news. I don’t recall his initial response, but I do remember that over the next few days, he expressed different reactions to my decision; disbelief, anger and paranoia were all part of the emotional blackmail cocktail. He also labelled me disloyal, dishonest, inadequate and a host of other derogatory slates on my character.
Within moments, I had gone from belonging within the arms of a spiritual community, to being an outcast, no longer considered worthy of the group’s attention, and ostensibly tossed aside with disdain. I had committed the ultimate sin by wanting to leave and be the decider of my own fate.
And by showing my cards, the community had also shown theirs. It was clear their acceptance was purely conditional. As long as I behaved in the way they wanted, I was welcome. As soon as I began showing signs of having my own mind, I no longer was.
When the Guru realised I wasn’t going to change my mind, he shifted tactics. He tried to convince me to go and see my family temporarily. According to him, that was all I needed, a little family time, and then I would be ready to return to the fold.
One of the more unnerving parts of living under his “guidance”, was that he never sent any of the monks out into the world to teach as was custom in yogic culture.
Traditionally, a disciple would not leave their Guru’s side without his express permission. A student could spend 12 years under their tutelage before being considered ready to depart into the world to spread the teachings of yoga and dharma. So I knew what I was about to do was unorthodox. But I’d also never agreed to or imagined I’d stay for such a long period of study.
I’m certain everyone who entered the ashram believed it was a temporary experience. We would be there for a time, learn all that was required to reach our highest spiritual potential, and then we’d take our leave, just like any child eventually leaves the safety of their home to go out and live their life.
But the Guru had never voluntarily sent anyone anywhere. He was too self-serving for that. He lured people in with his charismatic charm, showered them with affection, and then once they were fully committed, he’d threaten to withdraw his affection if they didn’t behave according to his mandates. Strategies of a cult leader 101.
And because cult’s tend to encourage members to cut social bonds to family and friends, they end up having to rely solely on the group for social acceptance. Which is why many of the monks remained faithful (and silent) by his side, never questioning his intentions.
Periodically, he would suggest we were almost ready to be sent out to different parts of the world to set up our own yoga schools. He would go into great detail, painting a picture, getting us all to imagine what it would be like. Eventually, I worked out it was all a lie. There were monks who had been by his side for 15, 20 and 30 years respectively, and they hadn’t been, and weren’t going anywhere.
It was also confusing trying to figure out what his true objectives were, as he was an expert at hiding his intentions under an umbrella of spirituality.
For example, we often practiced Tapasya’s.
Tapasya’s are considered “austerities” in the world of yoga sadhana. Practices to strengthen and fortify the body, mind and spirit. Sometimes it was fasting, other times it was taking cold showers in the middle of winter. Whatever it was, it usually involved something you didn’t like doing very much.
I believe he would sometimes use Tapasya’s as a way to deliberately break our will instead of strengthen it. If we were just a little bit broken, then we would be more malleable and easier to manipulate.