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