How Swami Muktananda’s Sexual Abuse of my Wife Has Impacted Our Marriage
I want to share the effect on our marriage of Baba’s sexual abuse of my wife. This is not a discussion of "did he or didn't he?" It’s now clear for me that he did. In this article, I want to share the effect that abuse has had -- and continues to have -- in my marriage. My wife has not gone public with her story. I think she should, but she disagrees for reasons that are clear to her, and that I must respect. I am writing this, with her OK, for my own sanity and healing
The purpose of writing this article is twofold. Firstly, I want to break the spell that this secret has held on my life, and the shared life with my wife. By sharing what happened, I hope to continue my journey towards wholeness. Secondly, I need to write this for my own sanity. I grew up in a family where espoused spiritual beliefs co-existed with emotional, physical, sexual and spiritual abuse. When those about me deny or explain away abuse I was party to, it questions the legitimacy of my experience. This for me is the essence of craziness: having others tell me that what I know occurred is not so. For my emotional and mental well-being, I need to stand up and state what I believe occurred. I choose to not let the tyranny of silence and denial rest unchallenged.
We've been married 24 years. From the start, sex in our marriage was problematic. It’s been a roller coaster. Today OK, tomorrow not OK. As much as we tried to address the issues in our sexual relationship, something did not fully make sense. It did not add up; she placed at my feet all responsibility for these problems. Any fantasy or sexual position with any echo to my wife of "being used" was a nonstarter. She was uncomfortable with me looking at her naked. I should never, ever place a finger inside her vagina. There was a pronounced yes/no, push me/pull you energy around sexuality. For 18 years of our marriage, my wife believed that I was "overly sexual". She complained that I made her feel "used". If she’d agree to a request of that made her uncomfortable (most did), she’d later feel ‘used’. In response, I’d feel guilty, but unsure what violation had occurred. In moments of clarity she described her fear that she was a "sex object".
All this occurred in the context of a relatively unadventurous sexual relationship. Blaming me for sexual transgressions became a central thread of our bedroom negotiations. The idea that I was doing her wrong was carried into our everyday relationship. It nearly drove apart. It appeared as though divorce, due to "irreconcilable differences" was our future. And our children would live with a divorce as part of their story. As it was, they lived through some rough outbursts of my anger. I am ashamed of my behavior with them during this period.
More than once, I asked my wife, "Were you one of the girls Baba abused?" She told me she wasn’t. I accepted this as fact. Over time, though, a suspicion grew. I wondered if the persistent rumors about Baba were true. My wife was very much part of the inner circle. She was in her mid-and late teens during the time when the sexual abuse reportedly occurred. And it was possible that my wife was "one of the girls".
She chose to withhold the truth from me for 18 years. She denied it when I asked her directly. The depth and implications of this deception hurt me deeply. It still rankles today, even after much couples and individual therapy. For this number of years she placed loyalty to a deceased teacher above intimacy with her life partner.
It was only when our marriage was really in trouble, and my departure from the family home was imminent, that things came to a crisis point. My wife had recently told me that she was, after all, one of the girls Baba sexually abused. Around that time, something boiled over inside my wife. One day, she fell to floor in our living room, and wailing like a wounded animal, repeatedly hit the ground with a hammer. She stayed there for a long time before returning upsatirs to reassure our alarmed daughter.
At that time, we were seeing together a highly experienced and compassionate therapist. A turning point was reached when my wife courageously chose to share “the secret” during a session with our therapist. And then our work began. The impact of bringing the secret out into the light of day was unexpectedly broad. The quality and depth of our relationship started to improve. Real intimacy was within our reach, for the first time in 16 years of marriage. I came to see that the secret had been a logjam in the river of our relationship. There was a large tree trunk that blocked the flow of intimacy and meaning between us. That blockage was stuck fast as long as the secret remained intact. And, as happens with logjams, there were other logs and tree trunks stacked up behind it, effectively cutting off the flow of authentic relationship. When that first log was released -- simply through the act of sharing with a therapist -- so many other things in our relationship and in our lives started to shift, change, and move again.
In the months that followed, I was taken aback to realize that this one "little secret" had such far-reaching effects. The arguments, which had been causing real stress for our children, began to diminish. The family dynamic—she to me, we to our kids, was in a better place than before. I felt more hopeful about me, about us. The family dynamic went from unpredictable to more stable. In the triangle of my wife, our son and me, my relationship with my son improved, since my wife and I were now better able to align in parenting him.
Living with a survivor of sexual abuse is not easy. Sex remains confusing, even though we now understand the dark forces at play. She still can flip from the intimacy of shared sexual experience to being fearful that harm is immanent. We have talked and processed for many hours. We have worked with this issue in couple’s therapy for several years. We have read books and do all we can to heal. And yet sex still creates confusion and uncertainty between us. It looks like it may to some extent always be so. The wound is deep and real.
It is now four years since she "outed" the secret to our therapist. As with all relationships, there are ups and downs. Yet the trend towards improvement is clear. The work of facing this together has been a strong force in bringing us closer.
Since that time, I have had numerous dreams about the ashram, Baba, and Gurumayi. They are strong, healing dreams. The theme of these dreams is a growing awareness of two truths. The first truth is that what happened to my wife (and by extension, to me) was a deeply damaging experience. Baba used his extraordinary position of power to meet a sexual need of his. And, the second truth is that I received much of value in my years in the ashram. These two truths cannot be reconciled. That's part of what makes this so very difficult. In the ashram, there was real learning, growth, expansion and joy. And there was sexual, emotional and spiritual abuse plus deceit and obfuscation.
The hardest part of dealing with this sexual abuse is my wish to make sense of the spiritual path in which it occurred. My relationship to God has always been central to me. And when the person/people I accepted as a representative of the Divine turn out to be flawed, it is deeply confusing. I can only imagine the implications and horror for a girl who is sexually abused by her own father. I believe that my wife’s experience is of another order still. God's representative, responsible for the physical, emotional and spiritual safety of minors in his care, fails his sacred duty and displays a deep character flaw. I can't imagine a betrayal of trust worse than this.
Through our therapy, it became clear that my wife was “ready” for abuse at the hands of a trusted person of authority. She was emotionally abandoned by her own mother, and lacked a strong father figure. I assume that Baba "sniffed out" such adolescent female devotees. Girls with less pliability were probably passed over. Having immersed herself in her belief of the ‘perfect Guru”, she compromised her innate sense of right and wrong when Baba on several occasions brought her to his apartment at night. This compromise has resulted in much inner turmoil for her. And, since she also chose absolute loyalty to the Guru, she kept the information from me for many years. Then there is the ‘body memory’ and emotional memory of the abuse events that appear to persist, even though she is a willing participant on the road to recovery. It’s a sad and sorry tale. And yet one thorough which we each have grown a great deal, and grown closer.
One dimension of this issue remains unresolved. She has not told her parents, who remain fully involved in Siddha Yoga. In this context, “the secret’ still lives, and impacts her and my relationship with them. Authentic dialog about Siddha Yoga, and by extension, about most things, remains off-limits. And, how do I relate to my friends who are still very much part of the Siddha Yoga circle? When we meet, there is an unpleasant tension between what I can authentically discuss or reveal and what I can’t. This tension leads me to want to avoid such encounters. I don’t give in to the tension, but the relationships are sullied.
Depth charges are special underwater bombs used by the Navy to attack submarines below the water’s surface. Depth charges fall into the deep slowly and harmlessly for a period of time. When they reach a certain depth, they explode violently. Baba created 30-years ago a slow moving depth charge in our marriage. There are multiple implications and complications from the abuse, now years past. We seem to have survived the attack. The wounds are real. The hold they have over us, over me, may or may not one day fully dissipate. It hasn’t killed us, and it has made us stronger.