I sat before two young women. Both beautiful, both strong, both in their mid to late 20s, both involved in overlapping spiritual communities. Both shared a story of meeting an older man, a spiritual teacher, who left a trail of fog and dissonance behind him. But this story is only partially about that man. This story is really about so many men, so many teachers and gurus, who still persist in manipulating and taking advantage of the sexuality of the Goddess. But lucky for this man, he gets to be the central character for today…
“I feel like he’s preying on people’s spiritual journeys,” Jewels said casually.
Her purple-tinted hair swept across her cheekbones, framing an enduring smile that was both comforting and no-nonsense. Jewels, short for Julia, was as her name implied; she was a multi-faceted rare gem, reflecting rays of light at every turn. She was also a marketing genius. She held fabulously successful events and fundraisers and left an energetic trail of glitter wherever she went. Her glitter was not just for show and it did not lack depth either…her smile, her shine, was built on her strength and passion.
“Particularly, preying on the spiritual journeys of people who happen to be beautiful young women,” Adara added, smirking somewhat sarcastically, fingering the rim of her latte mug absentmindedly. Her black fingernails tapped on the edges. Adara was a spitfire of a woman. She was a healer and a witch who preferred the company of the trees to that of the city. She was the fire that illuminated the darkest of caves where she hid her secrets. She was a shadow-walker, a deepsea dreamer.
We sat by the big front windows in the coffeehouse. It was a few days after the spring equinox, but in typical Minnesota fashion, snowflakes were falling outside the cafe window in huge fluffy pieces, whiting out the street in a show of suspended animation. An element of strangeness was at play, a sense of renewal juxtaposed against the final dying cry of winter’s grip. I wasn’t entirely sure of what exactly I getting involved in, only that I was pretty sure I was in the company of a unicorn and a dragon.
So how did you two first come into contact with him?
Jewels: I added him on Facebook. We had mutual friends, so I figured he’d be okay.
Adara: I think I was probably the mutual friend…sorry about that.
Jewels: (laughing) It’s alright.
Adara: I originally connected with him through LinkedIn. He was local to me, so I wasn’t surprised when he messaged me to connect. He had a business on there, about connecting with the wisdom of nature. He seemed legit. Harmless, even. LinkedIn crossed over into Facebook. He began liking my posts and pictures, and commenting with encouraging and playful remarks. Slowly, over the course of a few months, he became a normal figure in my newsfeed. Someone I now felt comfortable with. Someone I was comfortable being flirtatious with. Someone who seemed altogether nonthreatening. He told me he felt that we had a connection, and I agreed, even though I didn’t know what kind of connection I was feeling. He was a good looking man in his 50s, but I wasn't sure of the nature of my feelings about him. I was consistently invited to his healing circle events. For months, I had already made plans or I simply didn’t want to meet him yet.
Jewels: Same for me. He started liking and commenting on my pictures and asked me if I wanted to meet with him, go for a hike with him.
Did you go?
Jewels: Well, I told him I wouldn’t go off into the woods with a stranger, but that I would meet him for tea.
How did it go, meeting for the first time?
Jewels: We ended up having tea at his place. It all seemed very harmless, but I do remember checking the exit points when I first got there. That’s just habit for me, I have military experience.
Adara: (laughing) The exit point for his place is a little tricky. You have to lift up the floor to leave!
Jewels: (nodding towards me) Yeah, he lives in an attic apartment in a big old house. You have to lift up a section of the floor to go down the stairs.
What did you and him do?
Jewels: We chatted. He was very nice. He talked about his healing work, I talked about mine, he told me he felt that we already had a connection. He offered to do some reiki on me, and I accepted. He had me lay down on his bed, which was on the floor.
How did that feel?
Jewels: I mean, his place was oddly non-threatening. There were crystals and trinkets and nature posters everywhere. And the reiki was fine. But then, when he was done and I opened my eyes, he was lying down on the bed next to me, too close to me, looking at me. Almost expectantly. I instantly felt really weird and knew I had to break the connection. I sat up, creating space between us. He kept reinforcing the idea that we had a deep connection already, and he told me he would be very open to exploring our connection in an intimate or sexual way.
Are you single?
Jewels: At the time I was.
Was his closeness a red flag for you?
Jewels: I wasn’t sure. See, I’ve had issues with male authority, so I thought the weirdness I was feeling was my own issues. Apart from him getting too close to me, he seemed okay. I didn’t want to judge him based on my personal issues.
I looked over and Adara was slowly nodding in agreement.
What about your first time meeting him, Adara?
Adara: It was also at his place. We sat on the floor in the attic and talked. Prior to meeting him, he often talked about us meeting being this big thing that the universe was gifting us with, like he was already building up our relationship before we even met. And when we met, he was quick to offer up compliments, flattering me with how brave I am, how strong I am, how I’m a free woman who understands divine femininity. He talked about our connection, how deep it was, how we were intimates together. He told me that with his help, I could easily go to the next level of spiritual evolution. He told me he could feel that I was ready to work with him. He asked me a lot of questions about my spirituality, but for some reason, I didn't want to offer up the information. Maybe on some level I felt that the information wasn't safe with him, I don't know. We did some eye-gazing, and I was able to glimpse some Scottish heritage on his part, but I couldn’t shake this extreme, underlying feeling of discomfort, of crawling under my skin. He stroked my knee and told me that he could see we’d been lovers in past lifetimes.
How did you feel about all of that?
Adara: Well, I might be a witch, but I’m still very practical. When he started talking about us being lovers in past lifetimes, I actually stifled a laugh. Not that I don’t believe that can happen, but he was playing his hand too soon, too fast, too intense. I knew it couldn’t be real from the get-go. I knew there was something I disliked about him right after actually meeting him. My body screamed my distaste for him. But there was also this curiosity that I couldn’t deny either, like a pragmatic urge to rule out my own shit. I also have had issues with males, especially in spiritual authority positions. And it was something I’d been actively working on and clearing for months. So I wanted to know that those feelings weren’t my own issues. He was so charming and charismatic that my dramatic internal distaste seemed so out of place. I even told him that I didn’t really feel the connection he was explaining, and he said, “Oh, you will. It’s there, trust me.”
I sighed heavily, already noting a foreboding theme between them. Both of them had previously disclosed to me that they each had a background of sexual abuse.
So you both knew you didn’t like what was happening, but you both assumed it was your own issues with men, and not his impropriety, that was making you uncomfortable.
Jewels: Yeah, I didn’t want to make any harsh judgments about him, in case the issue was on my end.
Adara: Exactly. And he always made it seem like any discomfort I was feeling, was due to my lack of experience or wisdom, or like I just hadn’t ‘got there’ yet.
Adara: I don’t know, enlightenment. Like, if I was truly a wise, enlightened being, I wouldn’t feel uncomfortable with him in those intimate situations.
Jewels: As if being intimate with him was an expression of spiritual advancement.
Do you think that’s what he was counting on, for you to be hyper-aware of your past triggers about intimacy so you would overlook your own feelings in his favor?
Jewels: That would make sense.
Adara: He actually talked about triggers sometimes. About how he tended to trigger people, especially women, because he had such a big personality, and that it was a good thing because he was inspiring growth in them, teaching them about themselves.
What about your second time meeting him?
Jewels: I went on a hike with him. He talked a lot about our connection, and even mentioned teaching spiritual classes together, which seemed odd since we hardly knew one another. He reiterated that he would love to explore our connection and intimacy. This is the day things went bad though.
Jewels: I’d forgotten that I had to pick up my son at a certain time that day and told him when we were together. He got really agitated with me, and started talking about how he hated it when people wasted his time and cancelled plans.
I looked over at Adara, who was cocking her head in confusion.
What is it, Adara?
Adara: That is really weird! I cancelled and changed plans on him a bunch of times, and he never once got agitated with me.
Adara: Yeah, he was always super laid back and casual when it came to plans with me. Maybe it was because he knew that the freedom was a big thing for me…he always came off *so* casual in that way, and almost emphasized that point. Maybe to make me feel more comfortable around him?
Jewels, is that agitation at canceling plans a part of your past? Was that something that came up in your last relationship, by chance?
Jewels: (looking somewhat shocked) Actually, my ex always got really mad at me whenever I had to change plans. It was a huge point of contention in our relationship.
Adara: So he somehow taps into these issues to tailor the plan to who he's trying to manipulate?
Jewels: But does he do it on purpose or does he really not know what he’s doing?
Adara: Either his spiritual ability to feel into other people’s energy is real, and he manipulates it for his purposes, or his spiritual persona is more of a farce and he’s just using the idea of it as another tool of manipulation. Or he’s honestly clueless and is using spirituality really carelessly.
In any of those instances, it’s still a dangerous game.
Jewels: So he’s still making me doubt myself by bringing up my past issues with men.
Adara, what was your second meeting like?
Adara: Well, I finally went to one of his healing circles that he leads. (turning to Jewels) Did you ever go to one of those?
Jewels: No, I never really felt drawn to it.
Adara: Yeah, I wasn’t feeling super drawn to it either. But we’d made plans to hang out afterwards so I ended up going to one of them.
How was it?
Adara: I already knew that I was going to feel triggered by attending an event where he was the leader, the spiritual authority. So I was already in observation mode. A handful of people showed up to the event. I’d never met any of them. There was one other girl there my age, her name was Lydia. I was actually really glad to meet another girl my age, and we started talking before the circle started. She was a local yoga teacher and she helped facilitate the circles. We had already agreed that we would exchange information and get coffee sometime. I was grateful for the connection, especially in that setting.
What was the actual circle like?
Adara: Half of us sat in chairs while the other half went around those who were sitting, laying hands and channeling healing energy. And then everyone switched. I actually really liked the concept, and I liked the flow of energy between everyone, and how each person was different. The thing I didn’t like was that he was walking around the circle as all of this was going on, guiding us and talking a lot. I felt his energy on my back. It felt kind of slimy and invasive, and I kept getting that feeling that he was trying to teach me how to do it, and I hated that. I’ve been a reiki healer for years, and despite my youth, I am well-established in my own right. I felt so triggered that I literally struggled against running out of there right then and there. I didn’t though. I observed my feelings, I acknowledged them, but then I wanted to see them through, see whether my triggers were influenced by my past and my issues.
Were you glad when it was over?
Adara: SO glad. He got ready to go pretty quickly after the end of the event, and I noticed he didn’t seem to say goodbye to everyone. I followed his lead, rushing out of there without really saying goodbye. I was overwhelmed. I’d wanted to connect with Lydia before I left, but I was glad to hurry out.
What did you do then?
Adara: I went back to his place to hang out. He’d bought some wine for us and I was all-too-happy to indulge and relax my nerves at that point. I was actually proud of myself for keeping our plans when part of me wanted to rush home immediately afterwards. Getting into my first glass of wine, I mentioned how I’d forgotten to talk to Lydia before I left and felt a little bad about it, so I quickly added her on Facebook and messaged her. I wanted to tell her why I left and that I was hanging out with him, but instead I simply said that I was spacey and that I still wanted to get together soon. He talked briefly about Lydia, how he’s known her for awhile and that he thought her and I would get along. He suggested that he might be into a threesome with us, since he knew I was bisexual. I kind of laughed, not really taking him seriously. And then things got weird.
Adara: I was in my second glass of wine, and he started talking about our connection again. He talked about our intimacy and how we were the new evolved relationship. He flattered me again and again, calling me beautiful, calling me brave, calling me powerful. He talked about how he’d love to travel with me and lead retreats with me. He asked me how we could make that happen when my boyfriend was in the picture.
You have a boyfriend?
Adara: Yes, a long-term boyfriend. We have an open relationship, though honestly, I very rarely feel the need to act on it. It’s mostly because I need to feel like I’m the one who gets to make the decisions for my own body, regardless of my relationship status. I need to reinforce that I own my own body, and he fully supports me in that. He knew exactly where I was that night.
Was he okay with you having a boyfriend?
Yes. He actually praised my open relationship. He’d been married before so he talked a bit about that relationship ending because he was too big for it. Though he seemed to make a lot of assumptions about my open relationship. He talked about how I’m too much for one person, and that there were needs that could be fulfilled elsewhere, how it’s more enlightened to be open.
Do you feel differently about your open relationship?
Adara: Yeah. I’m fully in love with my boyfriend on all levels. I’m not in an open relationship because my needs aren’t being met. He seemed to think that I just wasn’t into sex with my boyfriend and that’s why I was there with him, which was completely off base. People are in different kinds of relationships for very different reasons, and I don't think there’s one way to have a relationship that’s more spiritual than another, as long as it’s based on love and respect.
Did you explain that to him?
Adara: Honestly, no. I disagreed with most of the things he was talking about that night, but I was already feeling really guarded from the healing circle and unwilling to offer up my vulnerability, and for some reason, I wanted to play along. I wanted to see what was happening, what he was after. He'd told me that he was unattached and completely free to explore everything. I will fully admit that I was leading him on on purpose in our conversations, or rather, letting him lead me, and I'm not proud of that. I never had any intention of being with him in the ways he was mentioning, but my curiosity really took over in this situation because I knew something was off. I wanted to sniff it out. So I didn’t argue. But things got more confusing.
Adara: He started talking about how he wanted us to teach intimacy classes together, because we were already so intimate with one another and we could perfectly model how to do what we were doing. We could teach others to be intimate like we were.
I raised my eyebrows suspciously.
Adara: Exactly. I couldn’t believe that he didn’t see that I wasn’t comfortable with him, that I wasn’t being openly intimate with him at all. I was holding back everything. I wasn’t sure if he really couldn’t see that, or if he could see it and was just trying to make me believe his version of things instead of my own. He was so sure of himself, so sure of our relationship, so sure that I would become even more advanced with his help. I knew what I knew and what I felt, but being around him, hearing him talk, I don't know, he had a way of making things confusing. Even things you knew were true to you when you weren't around him, you began to second guess yourself when you're with him.
It seems like he was gaslighting you, overwhelming you with a reality completely different from your own, to get you to doubt yourself.
Adara: Yeah, looking back, I do believe he was gaslighting me. I couldn't believe how confusing it was. I'm typically a very intuitive and decisive, even stubborn, person. The level of confusion I felt with him was unlike anything I'd experienced before.
What happened then?
Adara: I got up to go to the bathroom, and I realized that I’d had way too much wine. I knew I’d been tipsy up until this point, but when I stood up, I realized I was way past my usual limit. I’d also forgotten that I hadn’t eaten since that morning, so my drunkenness was a bit of a surprise to me. I felt my balance was off, and my head flooded and got fuzzy. I got back from the bathroom, sitting down and telling him that I’d had too much to drink. He asked me if I wanted to lay down. He said he would love to take our clothes off and simply cuddle in bed. I declined, but I didn’t feel threatened. He still seemed fairly harmless, albeit confusing, to me. I knew I’d just have to wait for the wine to wear off. I changed into a pair of sweatpants I had in my bag, and we continued our conversation, though at this point, I was not terribly talkative or coherent.
After a few more minutes, my head was completely clouded. I felt sick. I said that I needed to lay down for a minute, and I did. He laid down next to me. He asked me if I wanted to take my clothes off. I said no, that I wasn’t comfortable with that. He held me as my head was swimming. Soon, he kissed me. I didn’t stop him. I observed how I felt about it in the fog. I felt like everything he was doing was sped up, and everything I was doing, including my reflexes and reaction time, was slowing down. I felt like he was physically overwhelming my senses, not kissing me. He was on top of me and asked me if he could take my pants off. I stumbled over my words and shook my head no, saying, “I don’t know.” I could feel my boundaries as if they were physical things around me, only the wine made it so the edges of them were blurred and hard to reach. I was reaching for them, only it wasn’t working. I wasn’t yelling or screaming or fighting or anything like that. But I never actually said yes.
Suddenly, I realized that my bra had been unhooked, my shirt was lifted, and my pants and underwear had been taken off. His mouth was on me, and I was still trying to grasp when that happened. The transitions were blurry. I knew what he was doing now, but I don’t remember how it happened. I specifically remembered saying both "no" and "I don't know" in the many moments leading up to this. I was overwhelmed. He was everywhere, in a frantic overpowering fashion. It felt as though he was in a moment of passion, and I was just in a moment of what-the-fuck-is-happening. My thoughts were moving so slow and I was struggling to regain my awareness. And then he was over me, and I thought I felt his naked hard-on against my thigh. I didn't remember him taking his clothes off. A momentary sting of powerful fear hit me, powerful enough to bring me to alertness as I pushed him a bit and sat up. He smiled and sat next to me as we both readjusted displaced clothing, as if this was the bittersweet ending of a passionate few moments.
I felt sobered by that fear. My mental clarity returned as I struggled to process what had just happened. He told me I was amazing. I sat in silence. I said that I needed to sober up and go home. He told me I could spend the night, and I declined. He gave me a box of coconut water as I reluctantly sat with him, waiting. When I couldn’t take it anymore, I told him I was okay to go and I tried to hide my stumbling as I left his attic apartment and went to my car. I stood outside my car, breathing in the cold air as deeply as I could. I walked through the neighborhood, it was past midnight at this point, until the time and the cold made the effects of the wine disappear and I could go home.
I’m so sorry that happened. Did you want to confront him after that?
Adara: I don’t know. I was very confused. It all happened so fast and I was so messed up for awhile there. I didn’t know how I felt about the lines of consent, and how convoluted my feelings got about them, but I knew then that he wasn’t the harmless guy he came off as. I knew that he manipulated my drunken state intentionally. I knew that he heard me when I said I was uncomfortable, when I said “I don’t know.” I knew that he decidedly ignored my boundaries, and I knew that I couldn’t trust him.
The next day, he messaged me saying how powerful the night was. I decided I wanted to confront him, but not about the physical stuff that happened. I hadn't even begun to process what any of that meant yet. What I wanted to confront him with most, was how he overwhelmed me with his this different version of reality that undermined mine and made me so confused. How he projected himself onto me so inappropriately. I e-mailed him, telling him how I didn’t feel the intimate connection with him that he raved about, and that it would be pure recklessness and stupidity to teach an intimacy class together when we don’t have that positive intimate connection that he so vehemently tried to assure me that we did. I did end up e-mailing him, telling him all of this. I told him I thought it was dangerous of him to so strongly project realities onto other people when they don't share the feeling. I was so proud of myself for reinforcing my boundaries.
What did he say back?
Adara: He actually thanked me for being so honest, which I appreciated. I thought there was hope yet, that we just needed to understand eachother better. But then he was so pleased with my e-mail that he said, “This is what true intimacy looks like!” And then I felt like I was just chasing my tail again. It seemed he missed the point. As if me stating my boundaries actually reinforced his version of our intimacy. He was still trying to pull me in, while I was still trying to pull away. He said that he gets caught up in the possibilities of the future, and that's why he projects. He hinted at the idea that I'm not ready to teach intimacy classes because I'm not there yet, but that he had been ready to teach intimacy for a long time, so he could just find somebody else to teach with him. I cringed at the thought of him teaching intimacy to a group with young women, based on what had happened the night before.
What happened then?
Adara: Well, I stopped talking to him for a few days. I was still feeling really gross about the other night. I observed the stuff he was posting on Facebook. It felt like he was posting things about me and for me somehow...and they were things that reinforced his version of things: the positive, intimate, spiritual evolution vibes. His social media presence always seemed to retroactively create an alibi for his actions.
A few days later, I met up with Lydia , the girl I met at his event, for coffee. I wanted to hang out with her anyways, and I also figured it would be a good way to get some more information. She was friends with him, so I thought I would find clarity in the midst of the confusion.
How did it go?
Adara: We talked about our lives and our work, and I instantly knew I liked her and could be friends with her. I started feeling more comfortable, but still cautious, so I finally asked about him. I mentioned that he was very challenging for me, that I had really conflicting feelings. I was being vague because I didn’t want to tell her everything yet. She seemed to know I was being vague but leading into something, because then she said, “You know we’re together right?” I said, “What? Like in a committed relationship?” and she said, “Yeah, we’ve been together for two years.”
WHAT. Jewels, did you know he had a girlfriend?
Jewels: No!! Not at all! I mean, he did tell me that if I ever went to an event of his, that he wanted us to remain professional and not too close in public, but I didn’t really think anything of it.
Adara: Ha! That makes more sense now, doesn’t it? I’m sure my face betrayed me when Lydia told me. I was shocked. He’d told me they’d known eachother for awhile, but he didn’t even hint at the fact that they were boyfriend and girlfriend, aside from an off-color comment about a possible threesome. I asked her what their arrangement was, wondering if it was an open relationship and this could all be explained. She couldn’t seem to give me a straight answer, but she did manage to tell me that they’ve talked about it but she wasn’t that comfortable with it. She obviously had no idea about him and I.
So he willingly put his girlfriend and his potential mistress in the same room together at the healing event hoping they wouldn’t discover eachother?
Adara: Yes, or maybe he wanted us to discover eachother, I don't know. He’d told me when we first met up that he would keep everything about us just between us and would like that in return. I thought he was just being respectful of my situation, but now I’m seeing it as so much more, as him trying to protect his secrets. It really fucking pissed me off that he was so cocky and confident about it, and then even pushed me towards a friendship with her after we met. It felt kinda cult-leaderlike to me.
So I asked her a little bit about how they met. She told me that the first time they got together, they eye-gazed and saw past lives together. She told me it was a soul connection they had, that they had been lovers in many past lives. I nearly choked on my breath. I wanted to respect her and be happy for her, as she was clearly very much in love, but her story was almost verbatim to the first time I met him, when we eye-gazed and he told me of our soul connection, of our past lives of being lovers. I couldn't shake the feeling that he'd been using the same stories over and over with every young woman he met. I felt sick to my stomach. And now after hearing Jewels's story, the evidence doesn't lie.
Did you tell her about what happened with him?
Adara: No, I didn’t. I wasn’t ready to play my hand yet.
I knew I needed to confront him first. But I was also pissed off, and I wanted the truth more than anything else. So I wanted to fuck with him a little first...
(Come back next Thursday to read the conclusion of Adara’s confrontation with the man who manipulated her, and hear her and Jewels’s reflections on their experiences, as well as read stories from others who have been spiritually/sexually manipulated and learn how to be more aware of the warning signs. If you have had personal experience with this and would like to share, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and include a short paragraph about your experience to be anonymously featured in part of next week's installment. I will also be sharing a personal story that happened to me. This is an important conversation. Let's have it.)