A Beautiful Change of Heart

Golden lotuses and reflected light at Denver Botanic Gardens

I call my survivor story “A Beautiful Change of Heart” because in all my search for truth, nothing has changed me so deeply as my journey from victim to survivor, accompanied by my beloved guides and allies. Also, I love to remind myself of how wholistic, trauma informed and therapeutic the intimate spiritual wisdom teachings I’ve received are, and how massively yet gently transformative they have been for me. Finally, it is time for me to begin moving from survival to thriving, in service of all I’ve learned and of those who’ve taught me.

In spiritual accompaniment now, it is so important to be spiritually mature, with a very broad and bright heart and mind, (aware and awake). Finding peace in the face of torment seems to have been one of the most significant things for me to learn in this life. I remember how it felt to experience something that I could not cope with, digest, admit to myself or speak to others about. I knew in my heart of hearts what was true, and I knew that to live truthfully would involve repercussions that I couldn’t yet face. The truth of my experience appeared dangerous to me because the truth of my experience in early life was of epic betrayal trauma.

My purpose here is not to disclose details that would be triggering, nor that would leave me unduly open to further harm. I take my responsibility to protect myself and to establish and maintain healthy boundaries very seriously. I have a lot of self-compassion. However, I do want to state the truth plainly, as I have earned that right (and responsibility) through decades of tremendously hard work on myself. I’m a survivor of child sexual abuse.

I say responsibility because I feel I owe it to myself and fellow survivors, (many of whom have helped me on my healing journey at crucial times), and to those struggling currently -and too often alone- against the agonies of victimization, to be who I am in this regard: a powerful witnessing and affirming presence, with skills, training and lived experience galore to spiritually accompany people integrating traumatic experiences, particularly of betrayal trauma. My goal being to witness and affirm us, with honor, into living true to our whole, holy selves and into fulfilling our fullest destinies. We are not forever cursed nor meant to bear endless stigma and shame for what we’ve endured.

A word here about being true to oneself, being honest, and not being fake, a pretender or a liar. Generally, we take this to be a very preliminary and basic thing in a human life. A kind of prerequisite. But it is extremely difficult when the truth we hold in our hearts is taboo and abhorrent to ourselves and to people in general, such as having experienced child sexual abuse for example. Perhaps we hold a great many beautiful and wise truths in our hearts alongside the painful and ghastly realities of victimization. Ay, there’s the rub. In the common realm of fair weather friendships and ordinary selfishness, it can be treacherously difficult and isolating to embody the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, when that includes having suffered overwhelming betrayal.

“Spiritual life will be very difficult for someone like you,” is something a devotee said to me back when I was in my early twenties and I first began disclosing my childhood history of sexual abuse. I was in an expansive and courageous phase of my life, so I easily dismissed this idea as nonsense at the time. However, in my late thirties, some time after my spiritual master had entered into nitya lila, (the eternal transcendental pastimes of God), I found myself plateaued and stuck in terms of spiritual progress, for the first time since I’d started chanting the holy names, (the core spiritual practice of my tradition), twenty years earlier.

There was nothing for me to do but explore my desolate heart. In the arid desert of existential barrenness, there was a dry wind whispering, “The child sexual abuse was my fault. Whatever that fault is in me, it may not be possible for me to identify it or change it, no matter how desperately I try, and I may be permanently excluded from further spiritual deepening and maturation.” With my sense of desolation came delusions, much like mirages of oases in the desert. I imagined I could power through; and that if I concealed the truth of my soul deadening sense of shame from myself and others it could be magicked away. Trudging through hot sands towards shiny new objects on the horizon, hoping against hope for predator-less sweet watering holes and shady date palms, my vain ambition was to outfox despair. Yet, I knew myself a dead woman walking. Pathetically mortal. The buzzards of deep shame circling my head, while the thirst of tyrannical perfectionism and the hunger of a cruel inner critic gnawed at me.

For a while I considered that the fault was in my past life karma. That idea didn’t exactly feel wrong, (in fact, I came to know through a near death experience that I’d become dreadfully entangled with my abuser in a previous life -but that’s another story), it was just that my conception was too basic. I needed an upgrade. The way that action and reaction work is exceedingly complex according to the Bhagavad Gita and the Mahabharata. In my experience, too shallow a take on karma being all about fatalistic deservedness had lead to narcissistic abuse revictimization. So my mind moved on to consider that reversals of fortune are sometimes an expression of the Lord’s special mercy. I knew this to be true on some level too, and it has been revealed as a wisdom teaching in scripture and through the exemplary, (though not in the goody-two-shoes sense), lives of many saintly people. However, I could find no personal peace here either because feeling myself to be the recipient of special divine mercy was too much of a stretch for my shame addled self-concept.

Then I began really remembering my Gurudeva’s embodied teaching that there is no shame whatsoever in the relationship between bona fide guru and disciple. And, under his wing, I was able to take a long, loving look at the real.

I look and I recognize that I have a severe anxiety disorder resulting from the betrayal trauma of child sexual abuse, including the betrayal trauma that occurred upon disclosure of that abuse. My symptoms are now understandable and manageable to me, though they have been life threateningly severe at times. To the devotee who told me that spiritual life would be difficult for me, I turn, take a slow, deep breath and say, “Spiritual life is difficult for anyone who has but a modicum of spiritual knowledge and impossible for those with none, regardless of the circumstances of their birth. Likewise, by genuine spiritual knowledge, anyone -no matter how fallen- can cross over this ocean of birth and death.” I discover myself still wholly capable of being sovereignly responsible for myself, with powerful benevolent guides and allies revealing the way for me to own and transcend with what the abuse has done to my body and mind. And that harm, though real, is only a temporary setback on my journey to fulfill my destiny.

Prabha Devidasi at Ksirsagara or Krsna-Kunda, Bhojan Thali, Kamyavan

“You must fulfil your destiny!”

Srila Prabhupada in a dream darshan I once had…..

Are We a Good Match for this Work?

Portrait of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu in Gambhira, Puri, drawn by an artist commissioned by King Prataparudra.

om ajnana-timirandhasya jnananjana-salakaya

caksur unmilitam yena tasmai sri-gurave namah

O Gurudeva, you are so merciful. I offer my humble pranama to you and am praying from the core of my heart that, with the torchlight of divine knowledge, you open my eyes which have been blinded by the darkness of ignorance.

Sri Guru pranama, with translation from Sri Gaudiya Giti-guccha, compiled under the guidance of Srila Bhaktivedanta Narayana Goswami Maharaja.

In spiritual accompaniment work, it is ideal if there is some theological and philosophical affinity between the spiritual director and directee. Please note that affinity does not mean sameness, as we do not have to be the same to work well together in spiritual accompaniment. So that you can ascertain whether you feel any intuitive affinity for working with me, I’ve described my theological and philosophical leanings below. I would treat the first three sessions with any new directee as a trial period, (so that we could better determine whether we were a good match for ongoing work together).

The spiritual lineage to which I belong is one of four extant Vaisnava lineages coming out of ancient, Vedic India.  A Vaisnava is a worshipper of Visnu, a name for the one God with many names. We are essentially monotheistic, (one God with manifold plenary portions, expansions and incarnations), and theological personalists, (for whom God is The Supreme Person). Two of our most prominent theological acharyas are Madhvacharya (1238 – 1317 C.E., the chief proponent of theological dualism (dvaitavada), meaning that the living entity or individual spirit soul is inherently distinct from God, or non-identical with God), and Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, (1486 – 1534 C.E., originator of Acintya Bheda Abheda philosophy, meaning inconceivable, simultaneous oneness and difference between the individual spirit soul and God).

The gold standard of spiritual accompaniment for me is very well represented by my spiritual masters.  I have experienced diksha or initiation from my initiating Guru, with whom I had a more outwardly formal, (though inwardly intimate), relationship that was primarily didactic and reverential in nature.  With my shiksha gurus, or instructing spiritual masters, I experience more informality, (without any reduction in the level of respect that is due them), which is natural to this type of guru-disciple relationship. With my gurus, what I find most helpful is the deep spiritual nurturance I receive, that we call vatsalya in our tradition. Simply put, I have suffered seemingly insurmountable devastation and destitution in this life, and my gurus have not only given me consolation but modeled for me how to find consolation with God for myself, and how to console others.

My approach is in-reach not out-reach based.  For me, spiritual maturity involves ever deeper trust that God can manifest in the hearts of anyone, anywhere, and at any time; my role being to bear witness, listen, and to facilitate and encourage this incredible unfoldment.  I have zero proclivity or taste for proselytizing, but I have what feels like infinite proclivity and taste for spiritual accompaniment. There are many people more learned and expert than I am for providing spiritual teachings in a class format. I prefer to work one on one or with couples, families and small groups. What I am good at, called to, and trained in is evoking, in safe, ethical, and loving relationship, what you are making of the teachings you’ve received; your inner struggles and resources, and innermost heart’s longings, to help you figure out and feel into your own authentic, positive, and progressive spiritual journey. One day, I hope to offer Vedic devotional spiritual accompaniment apprenticeship trainings and supervision, as well as writings and presentations on this topic.

I could work well with people who have knowledge and mystical experience of the nondual aspect of God, (the Brahman effulgence – or Brahmavadis), providing they do not consider God’s transcendental form and personality illusory, (Mayavadis). I would like to be there for and serve people who practice personalism theology and philosophy because I have found that we are sadly underserved and underrepresented, (and even misrepresented), in the helping professions, interfaith and spiritual direction fields.

With devotees, I would be a good spiritual accompanist for anyone apart from men in saffron, for reasons of Vaisnava etiquette and tailored professional ethics. My practice is affirming of women and tritiya prakriti or LGBTQIA+ folks. My role is not that of a spiritual teacher or guru in the classical Vaisnava sense, although in the broader sense of the 24 gurus, if even a parasitic wasp can be a guru, I’d like to think you would be learning something from me and with me! I am a woman in the grhastha (household) ashram, and this is my professional livelihood, for which I am qualified and well-suited. As such, I do charge for my service, and I do not conceive of it as pure bhakti, but as favorable to my spiritual life for the time being. I am under bona fide guidance on the path of yukta vairagya, and step by step am making my way to early retirement, devotional service, and bhajan in the holy dham, by the extraordinary grace and mercy of Sri Guru and the Vaisnavas.

I believe that the Vedic culture, history and knowledge given in the ancient Vedas is true, and that when unlocked by qualified and authorized Vedic teachers, those scriptures provide us with an overarching understanding of and appreciation for later human cultures, civilizations and wisdom traditions, including those of today’s modern world. Even though my ancestors and my ethnicity by birth make me indigenous to England, Celtic and Germanic Europe, and even though there are still a few living traces of the wisdom teachings of my ancestral peoples, (such as Druidry), I personally cannot fully live immersed in their cultural practices and values because they have very extensively been destroyed or lost. Then my more immediate ancestral peoples went ahead and stole, destroyed or erased much of what other indigenous peoples and cultures upheld and held dear. It seems that humanity is grieving for so much lost spiritual value that we can barely carry the grief burden anymore. Sectarianism runs rampant. I vow in my practice to help with the grief, and to do my own grief and shadow work for as long as I have breath.

English Oak Tree at Denver Botanic Gardens’ Oak Grove

I do find peace of mind, a sense of belonging, and consolation in the teachings of earth based, Indigenous peoples throughout time and everywhere. I believe in advanced intelligent life on earth in antiquity, and on other stars and planets. I believe that spiritual knowledge comes down to us in a descending process. I believe in all forms of karma, from the instant kind to the intergenerational and collective. I believe in Vedic cosmology & cosmography. I believe in demigods and in the three modes of material nature. I believe in reincarnation. In short, I believe in the Vedic version, and in the sages who embody it and pass it down intact. However, I am peaceful, not fanatical about my beliefs or about being right. It is not necessary for you to believe what I believe for us to be a good match for this work. We’re just looking for an affinity, a reason to connect, then we start from there.

In spiritual accompaniment, I care about who you are, what you know in your heart, the unknown, what you aspire to and believe, and how I can be of service to you on your journey of God and self-realization.

I can be reached at welcomehomesoul@gmail.com

Tiwaripur 2014: a tale of divine grace.

Guru puja

It is painfully hard for me to write about things that have given me extreme delight. Such things as my time in Tiwaripur, at my Gurudeva’s appearance place. Some parts of my experience then and there, were so spiritually intimate that I don’t dare disclose them. So, I wonder whether the narrative will have anything to hinge on, or if it will crumble like a chocolate chip cookie with the chips removed. Anyway, after days of procrastination, I began to balk at the prospect of more stasis, and answered the call, which was like a bug in my ear, to jot down my remembrance.

I remember the train ride, not as especially distinct from other Indian train rides, but amalgamated into that vivid (and slightly putrid) section of remembrance to which it belongs. Several primitive camping experiences join in that grouping. A grouping that swarms somewhat pestilential in my mind, yet holds a pass that always yields to greater aliveness. Sickness and surgery pastimes live here too. Roads not so much chosen, (like sweeties in a pick ‘n’ mix), as propelled down by choices too ancient to remember and now too tangled at varied purposes to countermand.

We arrive in Buxar and get autorickshaws to our Gurudeva’s place. I don’t know where I’ll be staying, or what my stay might bring. What I do know is that my heart hungers for deeper connection with my spiritual master’s life and teachings so as to serve his heart’s desire in this life. We are there for a Bhagavat-Saptaha, (an illuminated presentation on and exposition of the Srimad Bhagavatam scripture over seven days), given by one of our Gurudeva’s most luminous and illustrious disciples, Om Visnupada Srila Bhaktivedanta Madhusudan Goswami Maharaj. This will be the very first time that I get the chance to hear Srimad Bhagavatam so extensively, directly from the lotus mouth of a maha-bhagavat, pure devotee. Srila Gurudeva emphasized time and time again how auspicious hearing such Hari Katha (spiritual discourse) is for a sincere soul, and I’m nothing if not sincere.

I am ready. For nearly six months, my husband and I had been residing in the ancient Krishna Balarama Mandir (temple) under the guidance of Srimati Krishna Priya Goswamini of Vrindavan. During those six months, Didi (big sister) had given us such mercy, letting us stay close with her to learn and change under her shelter. (Sadhu-sanga being another absolutely essential component of advancing in Bhakti and Krishna Consciousness emphasized time and again by our Guru Maharaja). I am forever indebted to him for -among many other things- directing us to Didi for ongoing training, as his earthly pastimes began winding up.

And what can I say of how Didi prepared me for this Bhagavat-Saptaha in Tiwaripur? Some things are so mystical as to seem ridiculous when plonked down on the page. What I can say is that amidst that widespread thrum of constant devotional activity in the temple, made up of so many varied contributions from such an astonishing array of characters with their unique natures, and orchestrated so sweetly by Didi, there were darshans and waking dreams and visions that Didi walked me through most expertly. She showed me how to practice discerning for myself gold from fool’s gold, the self from fantasy false ego. This was her gift of self-mastery a little bit imparted; touched off in me as the foundation of spiritual self-trust, by the wish fulfilling gem of her transcendental loving being. This is similar to what psychologists write of maternal reverie: “A mother’s capacity to understand what her infant is feeling and to ameliorate the infant’s distress.” Wherein a child may internalize a caretaker who understands their need and can take effective action to calm distress.

At some point, she let me try serving her disciple under her guidance, Srila Bhaktivedanta Madhusudan Maharaj – and not just by keeping well out of his way and minimizing any disturbance I might directly or indirectly cause to his transcendental activities, though that will forever remain the prerequisite baseline. Didi had been instructing Maharaj since he had answered the spiritual call, found her, and taken shelter of her when he was just a boy of 11 years old. In those days, both of them were resplendent in white. Such relationships cannot cheaply or easily be understood by ordinary mortals.

Srimad Bhaktivedanta Madhusudan Maharaj seated on a vyasasan, at the end of another day of Hari Katha, for his Bhagavat-Saptaha in Tiwaripur.
Srimad Bhaktivedanta Madhusudan Maharaj
Prabha showing an illustration to some Tiwaripur girls.
Showing an illustration to some Tiwaripur girls.

Now Maharaja had received sannyas (the renounced order of life); the kind of sannyas that purifies the whole universe. A scholar of unstoppable merit, he had been writing songs, prayers, commentaries, and illuminations – expanding the Vaisnava revealed scriptures and the glories of our sampradaya for many years, (though he is younger than I am from an ordinary perspective). Didi helped me make an illustration for one of his books. During this time there were so few of us residing in the temple. At prasadam time (sharing remnants of foods offered to Sri Krishna), I would now and then be sitting close to opposite Maharaj, (never directly so). His non ordinary being was too effulgent to look upon with conditioned eyes, and I could barely breathe. Once, Didi dropped a chapatti onto his plate then picked it up and placed the other half on mine. Ours is a kitchen religion. While pomp and ceremony has its place, our path of faith relies on simple, sweet, loving devotional exchanges that feed the soul. As I reflect on these events now, I consider that devotional exchanges such as these are the key to letting go of pretension and vain ambition, and to living in peace and humility.

I was ready to listen and to hear deeply. This was my second visit to the appearance place of my spiritual master. The first time was a partial visit the year before, as my husband and I had a plane to catch, so we left part way through Maharaja’s previous Bhagavat-saptaha in Tiwaripur. This time, we were fortunate enough to be staying for the full event, and would be travelling back to the temple in Vrindavan, as a group, afterwards. The mood was festive, and both sacred like a pilgrimage and jovial like the best of holidays. The village where my Gurudeva appeared is very rich in culture and agriculture. So many crops grow in that region, in abundance: many kinds of fruits, vegetables and legumes. The holy Ganga river flows strongly nearby.

She cuts a swathe through creamy soft sand banks and fine soil. Groves of mango trees, some wells and pandals make up gathering places and shady spots on the walks around Gurudeva’s village, and on the way to the Ganga. He used to run there the whole way to take bath, he was such an athlete. In his village was a well that he helped to dig with his own hands that still gives plentiful sweet water. His childhood home and village remain, and are still replete with living, Vedic culture. On this visit, I was to stay in the very room where the esteemed mother of my Gurudeva delivered, and he made his transcendental, holy appearance.

I stayed there with two, dear devotee friends, and we added to the simple home altar and worshipped there together, even offering the homecooked preparations our Gurudeva’s descendants and relatives had prepared that would be served to the assembled devotees. I couldn’t believe that such a thing could be happening to me. The bliss was indescribable. It both paralyzed and animated me at the same time, such that I found myself completely unable to do anything or to think straight, but at the same time moved with dynamic elation, and aware with diamond clarity.

The room where Srila Gurudeva appeared.
The room where Srila Gurudeva appeared on the new moon day (February 7th, 1921).
Nilgai (sacred blue cows).  Young male with females.
Nilgai (sacred blue cows). Young male with females.
Ganga darshan

In the days prior to Maharaja’s spiritual discourses, we went on kirtan through the neighboring villages to raise interest, (which was plentiful), and to encourage attendees to come. Upstanding village elders and leaders and many, many sevaks, (people rendering service), cooked, put up and decorated the pandal and vyasasana, (sitting place of the Guru). Imagine a world class performance, a party for someone super well-loved, an incredible camping holiday, a gorgeous summer fete, a great feast at the end of a tough fast, and arriving at a holy place after an arduous pilgrimage, all rolled into one. I can’t do justice to the joy of it.

This was the holiest experience I’d ever been a party to, and it was astonishingly hygge! (A Danish word meaning a quality of coziness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or wellbeing). As we sat for Hari Katha, the musicians and singers raised up the most rapturous sounds. With the colorful pandal flags and streamers, stunning vyasasan and banner, the warmth, sunlight and softest breezes, the aroma of hundreds and hundreds of deep fried savories, and the satisfaction after days and nights in nature and of camaraderie, I never wanted the experience to end, and considered that no heaven could rival it.

Maharaja’s discourses that week were stupefying yet more edifying than my three years at Oxford University all together. Hearing them made me feel like the child I might have been, had I been consistently at my most awake, empowered and innocent. These memories are better than those of my happiest childhood moments. Perfectly perfect. He brought to light and sound the essential and secret truths of the Bhagavatam: that crème de la crème of Vedic scripture, which is so enriching to, as well as enriched by all our Vaisnava preceptors.

At some small event in California, in a charming courtyard, after we had sung mangalacharan, (prayers of auspicious invocation), my Gurudeva said that all of the sacred personalities we were honoring were here present with us. Now there was no doubt in my mind that an astonishing host of venerable personalities was present with us at our Gurudeva’s appearance place, as Maharaja prayed and gave spiritual discourse for many hours each day. His talks were soul refreshing, enlightening, and energizing. I labored to listen well to them with all my heart, and was rewarded with spiritual renewal in every moment. I barely needed to sleep or eat, yet when I did, it wasn’t to survive, it was to partake in God’s glories.

I was my Gurudeva’s dear darling daughter in those days, as never before. The spectacular feeling that I am 100% for all of this, (with a resounding, wholistic yes), and that all of this is intended for me by my spiritual master, (by pure grace), was an existential ecstasy. To this day, it serves to strengthen, edify and inspire me in a life of service, in his holy footsteps. A sacred milestone on my journey of self-realization, from conceptual to embodied service. The very elements of that place and time are infused with his holiness; they are always nourishing me in mind, body and spirit.

Hearing Hari Katha!
Hearing Hari Katha.