Sexual Abuse Within Spiritual Communities — The Energetic Impact

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Looking at spiritual disillusionment and sexual trauma through the lens of the chakras

Beyond the headline stories of the #MeToo movement has been a less publicized but equally powerful reckoning within religious and spiritual organizations. From Catholicism to Tibetan Buddhism, Sufism to yoga, spiritual leaders have been brought to task for their abusive behavior, particularly sexual abuse. While all sexual trauma can have a devastating impact on survivors, those who experience it at the hands of spiritual leaders often experience a double wounding, because the very tools and beliefs they might have drawn upon to help them heal are thrown into doubt. This kind of disillusionment has a profound impact on the entire subtle body.

In many cases, this disillusionment extends to all in a community, not only the direct victims. Consider the case of Claudia (name changed for privacy), a yoga and meditation studio owner who had been one of the first Western students of her well-known Indian guru. When serious sexual abuse accusations were brought against him, she at first had trouble accepting their validity. But as more and more women came forward, including some she had known for years, she had to face the reality of what had occurred. She fell into a deep depression, questioning all her life had been founded upon. She felt simultaneously duped and guilty, for many women she had known for years had not confided in her, because of her closeness to the teacher. She blamed herself for ignoring red flags and considered closing her studio and even ending her association with yoga altogether. Without this foundation, Claudia didn’t know who she was anymore, and the tools that had sustained her through so many other difficulties in her life — her yoga and meditation — now felt tainted.

Claudia’s experience is typical for spiritual community members in the aftermath of abuse allegations. It becomes difficult for survivors and other community members to separate the trauma they have experienced from the spiritual teachings and practices they have received. The energetic impact of this disillusionment is far-reaching because it strikes simultaneously at the root, heart and crown chakras – the base, center and top of the primary subtle body. While counseling and many holistic modalities may be helpful to someone working through these issues, chakra work can be a great support because it addresses both the emotional and spiritual issues involved.

Here is an overview of how each of these key chakras may be impacted and how an individual might work with them:

• Root/First Chakra — The root chakra is impacted by almost all sexual trauma, because a sense of trust and safety has been shattered. A survivor’s underlying value system has been thrown into doubt — our psyches and energy body rest upon a foundation of values and beliefs, and spiritual disillusionment damages this foundation. It’s important to focus on trauma-informed healing modalities and practices that rebuild a sense of safety, particularly in the body. Finding ways to work with the elements, nature, somatic healing, and trauma-sensitive body work will all be especially beneficial.

• Back of Heart Chakra — While the front of our heart chakra is our relational center and connects us to our human support system, the back connects us to our spiritual support. How we experience spiritual support varies according to our religious or spiritual framework — some of us sense guardians, angels, deities or guides, while others experience a more abstract connection to, or integration with, a larger force. When we experience spiritual disillusionment or doubt, we feel spiritually unprotected and unsupported. It’s important to identify this feeling and focus on experiences, individuals and healing systems that increase a sense of energetic and divine support and protection. Visualizing light coming into the back of heart can help to open up an individual’s awareness of the support and protection they do have on many levels.

• Crown Chakra — Our crown chakra is where our energetic link to our religious or spiritual tradition is held. Through our crown chakra we receive and process teachings, realizations, transmissions, empowerments and initiations (including things like baptisms and confirmations). A blocked crown is associated with intense spiritual doubt and disillusionment. As with the back of the heart chakra, an abuse survivor can augment their healing process by picturing a gentle golden light at the top back part of their head, or by engaging with a longer crown chakra meditation. Working with the crown energetically helps an individual connect directly with spirit and spiritual planes, rather than doing so solely through the mediumship or conduitship of a teacher or tradition.

Too often, abuse has been enabled through dependency or hierarchies within an organization that cause participants to internalize the idea that their spiritual growth must be facilitated rather than direct. Activating the crown chakra is part of reclaiming direct spiritual connection.

As with all energetic transformation work, when we engage with it we are linked into larger shifts occurring around us. The intensity of focus on sexual abuse right now, and the surfacing of the cultural and institutional shadows that have perpetuated it, are part of a painful but necessary purge. Change needs to occur within every type of institution, including religious and spiritual ones. Some institutions will not survive, and all will be changed forever. The prevalence of these scandals raises a lot of big questions about the role of religious and spiritual traditions in today’s society. Are they dinosaurs? Can they adapt? Can the value and power of the teachings be preserved if they are? Should they be? These are all contemplations that will drive deeper energetic shifts as we grapple within society to answer them.

As for individuals working through these issues themselves, many find that while painful, the journey through them actually deepens and strengthens their spiritual connectivity and faith. Claudia, for example, went through a long and uncomfortable process of sorting through her history with yoga and her former teacher and lineage. While doing so she incorporated chakra work on her subtle body level to rebuild her energetic foundation. She reclaimed for herself those practices and beliefs that were truly in alignment with her deepest held values.

She came to realize the ways her own direct spiritual connection had been clouded by her dependency on her teacher. By connecting directly, the teachings and practices became hers, rather than being ‘loaned’ through her relationship with the yoga lineage. This empowered her as both a person and a teacher, and today she is thriving in both domains.

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