Howl for me, Wolf-Woman!
Howl for me, Wolf-Woman! I am part of a yoga community that used to be warm and welcoming, or at least that’s how I perceived it. It was a place where I, as a woman, felt safe and accepted, and it was a place where I learned a lot about who I was and who I wanted to be. There was a heavy focus on levels, lengthy meditation, rigid physical regimens, paying your dues, instruction from the male Guru, almost to a military level, but I was okay with all of it until I began witnessing what I now believe was extreme psychological abuse of myself and others. Any opposition I voiced was dismissed as my ego, and I was told repeatedly that I was obviously not ready for “ascension” and “enlightenment.” I have distanced myself from the community, but I feel such confusion over how a place claiming to be a sanctuary could be so abusive. I know you are a yoga teacher, so any advice is appreciated.
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Dearest Yogini C,
You have called out one of the most insidious forms of spiritual abuse, one that is positively pervasive in the “new age” community, and one that disproportionately affects people of all genders, not only those who identify as women, who have a strong feminine energy. The “sanctuary” you describe is one illuminated so brightly by the light of spirit, or the felt understanding of the universal connection between all things for which we all rightfully yearn, those within the community become soul-blind.
The extreme focus on ego “ascension” and “enlightenment” breeds a unique sort of ego-madness through which an empowered predator will stalk those starved for the divine feminine; mind you, no spiritual or religious institution is completely immune to this, but the domains of spirituality which are apparently more feminine, such as the yogic or Wiccan communities, house deeply dug holes where such abusers can essentially hide in plain sight.
Those who suffer from a lack of spiritual autonomy when they are younger, as most of us who are forced to conform to our parents’ ideologies do, are ravenous for validation of our own divinity. We will do anything to be told we are holy because it is a truth we have been craving since we were children, and we will unwittingly sacrifice our own spiritual agency in the name of mentorship, sisterhood, community, or your words, “ascension” and “enlightenment.”
Your soul is your individuality, your sacred work, and your purpose independent of any relationship, be it to another person or to God-Goddess-Mystery. To be endlessly and only spirit-centered is a crime against soul. We are of the Earth, and we do not deserve to have our resolve, our passions, our wounds, and our shadows invalidated. The patronizing dismissal of your purpose as “ego” is an egregious manifestation of divine feminine oppression. We were born to fulfill whatever our soulful mandate is. This is our birthright. This is why we are here, and to frame spirit as more valuable than soul is to commit treason against your authenticity as a human, change-agent in our wounded world.
Your work is needed to drive positive social change, to support the world we are slowing birthing, and the dismissal of soul is a dismissal of your right to affect change. Much damage can be done in the name of spiritual apathy, or the belief that one’s actions and emotions are meaningless because, ultimately, we are all beings of light having a heavy-bodied experience. On an individual level, spirit-centeredness causes our shadows to go unnoticed and keeps our wounds bleeding in the absence of any meaningful examination.
The “guru” of whom you speak is, despite how he presents himself, likely a human being with deep flaws his spirit-centeredness has allowed him to overlook. More than that, he has positioned himself in an environment where his failure to integrate his shadows can be heralded as an act of spiritual greatness. Deep bow to you for not being fooled, and deep bow to all who have recognized the invalidation of their selfhood as unjust.
I hesitate to say your story is so common it seems to be an unfortunate rite of passage for the wild woman because I do not, in any way, believe abuse, spiritual or otherwise, is necessary in order to grow. I will say that in the absence of safe spaces where feminine and soulful spirituality can be cultivated, shared, and empowered, we will seek out such unholy sanctuaries as the one you describe because they offer us a diluted taste of spiritual nourishment.
The antidote to the poison of spirit-centeredness is the tireless validation of your beauteous body, raw sexuality, sacred work, and changeable identity however you conceive it to be right now, in this moment. Who you are is who you say you are, and there is no guru so ascended that s/he has the right to rob you of the names you have given yourself. Howl these names moonward, and know I am howling with you.
All blessings be,
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For more self-study, The Urban Howl recommends Leaving My Father’s House: A Journey to Conscious Femininity.