Sunday, March 31, 2019

The Stubborn Persistence of Invalidation and Why it's So Toxic

"It wasn't like that for me"
"You must be remembering it wrong"
"It wasn't the same for everyone"
"I don't see myself as a victim"
"You're allowing yourself to be a victim"
"I've moved on. You should too"

These are some of the invalidating things that fellow indiakids have said to me regarding our upbringing. Just like the normalizing stuff, invalidation lacks empathy and can be incredibly hurtful. It is the very thing that stands in the way of healing and recovery.

If the experience of growing up in chaos, separated from my parents, in a foreign boarding school, and a highly demanding religious cult had been purely singular–that is to say, if I was the only one to go through something like this–I could work on my recovery in a singular manner. I likely wouldn't need validation from anyone. But it wasn't. This was a collective situation. The collective re-remembering it with fellow survivors comes from a genuine place of need, but can also trigger a lot of stressful and uncomfortable feelings. The paradigm of this collective yet disparate and really stressful relationship can be compared to a co-dependency. It has the capacity to be toxic.

I have been tethered to this paradigm of co-dependency, of seeking solace with peers. Honestly, I think it is born out of an innocent desire to stay in touch, but also maybe even to be of help. And finally, yes, maybe through this, find some validation for myself too.

The desire for validation is really important but I'm skeptical that it can be fulfilled by peers. Ever. I'm in my mid 40's now, and it's feeling like a merry-go-round at this point. I hop on and spin around and around until I'm so sick that I fling myself off, only to hop right back on when I tell myself I'm better and it won't make me sick this next time. Well of course I get sick again. And again. And again.

Getting better will take a lot more work than hopping on and off the merry-go-round. It may take confronting the need to seek validation, so that I let myself begin to discover what sort of loss is triggering it. It may take the courage to speak as an individual and not as a representative of a group, or as a consensus-builder. It may take owning a certain amount of loneliness in being honest and saying the words that best describe the reality. Words such as:

  • Cult
  • Institutional Abuse (encompassing Physical, Sexual, Emotional & Spiritual Abuse)
  • Indoctrination
  • Post Traumatic Stress (C-PTSD & PTSD)
and finally
  • Recovery
  • Survivor
I say these words knowing they are strong words, knowing they can be discomforting. But sanitizing words and straddling conflicting values–just to give those in my cohort the semblance of comfort is not helpful to anyone, and is the dishonest thing to do. And it only enables more invalidation.

We were brought up with the word TRUTH being spoken every day. We said Sat Naam truth is the name. We said Sat Sri Akaal the great, one truth. We said Bole Sone Haal, Sat Sri Akaal whenever we speak the truth we will be fulfilled.

Truth. It's hard, maybe even unbearable. But it's the thing that will set us free.

Friday, November 23, 2018

Good Food and Giving Thanks For It

Thanksgiving for us meant 'home again'. My parents started flying me and my sisters back for the full winter break starting in 5th grade. We usually got home right in time for Thanksgiving and the home cooked feast that came with it.

Food was a really big deal for me, beginning in early childhood. Good food meant care and love. Bad food meant negligence and ineptitude. My mother and my aunts cooked GOOD food. My guardians, and my other ashram 'bhenji's' cooked god-awful swill.

The distinction between good food and bad food came to me at age five during my first summer at Khalsa Children's Camp. Eight weeks of burnt 'bear mush' porridge, peanut butter banana sandwiches (gross), whole wheat (cardboard) sheet pan vegetable 'pizza', wheat-berries, mung beans and rice, boiled-to-death vegetables, carob chips, and oranges–way too many oranges! No butter, no salt, no sugar, no honey, no chocolate, and no cheese.

Even as a five year old, I wouldn't dignify what was being placed in front of me as food, and I chose to go without. I angrily built-up resentment toward these so-called grown ups who demonstrated such disregard for what should be a sacred responsibility. I took the insult personally. How could I not? We depended on these adults and they didn't even care about life enough to give this essential part of it a shot. Then, when I was sent away to live with guardians at age seven... that was the worst. She sent us to Khalsa School–every day–with an unseasoned, cooked-to-death whole beet or whole squash stuffed into a paper bag. When you get a lunch sack like that at 4:00am it does not last 'til lunch time. It turns into a slimy, wet pile of compost. I have vivid memories of hurling my sack-lunch at the side of the school trailer. I'm not eating this! Splat! My anger over bad food, yeah maybe it was a little irrational, but it was very real.

I suppose my protestation was my way of expressing frustration at the separation from my parents and the discomfort it caused. Home meant warm baths, yummy food, television, hugs, getting tucked in to a warm bed each night, and then in the morning climbing in to mataji's bed to snuggle. Each and every one of those things was absent when I wasn't living at home.

Let us be reminded of why we were not living at home like regular kids. No our parents were not derelect in the legal sense of the word. And no, we children were not taken by CPS and sent to foster care. Our kind of separation was a choice–albiet a "bounded choice" (see Janja Lalich). Yogi Bhajan encouraged family separations in order to break up the strength of the family unit. The reason was so that he could control his devotees easier. He told them that "attachment" would make their children become "neurotics" (the noun not the adjective). And they believed him and they were genuinely frightened that they would 'ruin' their children. He told them that creature comforts weren't only unimportant but were actually harmful, and told them that if us children were deprived of them, then we'd know how to survive during the so-called "piscean to aquarian age transition" apocalypse.

It didn't matter that to a child, the comfort of home translates directly to being cared for, being nurtured and being protected. It didn't matter that this actually means something, and that children experience these things in a very real, palpable way. It didn't connect that being removed from these things would be really traumatic and that this trauma would have an affect on our developing brains which would carry over into adulthood or for the rest of our lives.

We knew the comforts of a loving, caring home, which is what made the experience of being taken from it that much more irritating. And it made that brief winter respite–and being able to be home for Thanksgiving–that much more special. It symbolized that all could be well with the world again, even if temporary.

Every year, I cherish Thanksgiving at home. We cook a delicious feast and we drink beautiful wine, and we relish in the comforts we have made for ourselves, each one chosen and intended. We sit down on our comfortable couch and we watch The Wizard of Oz and I cry when Dorothy clicks her heels and says "There's no place like home".

Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Halloween, 1984 – an update

It's been ten years since I wrote about what it was like to be in India on the day Indira Gandhi was assassinated. What took place on Halloween 34 years ago still remains a Specter that haunts. It's the specter of memory.

Let's neutralize this ghost with knowledge. Read this book: Amritsar: Indira Gandhi's Last Battle by Mark Tully and Satish Jacob. Because for me, things became a lot more clear.

For one, it fully confirmed that the Dal Khalsa leaders were housed both at Nanak Niwas and Guru Ram Das Niwas at the very same time we were there. Which was the winter of 1982-83 and the winter 1983-84 (when we were mostly in Anandpur Sahib, Damdama Sahib and Fatehgursahib, but made trips to Amritsar on occasion). This must be why I remember seeing men with guns. By the time we were at school in Mussoorie, Bindranwale–along with his people and a massive caché of weapons–moved their HQ from the Niwas to the 3rd floor of the Akal Takht. By the spring of 84, Amritsar had erupted in unchecked violence–much of it at the hands of Bindranwale–and culminating in the disastrous Operation Blue Star. As fall approached, revenge plans were solidified and Indira Gandhi lost her life. And we were up in the mountains, wondering if the riots and war that had broken out would reach our school. We weren't told much. Just to put our shoes and sweaters by our beds in case we had to be evacuated.

I have always wanted to to know more. I have always wanted to connect the dots between what we experienced as young children, and what was actually going on in India at the time. Well this book makes the horror clearer than I have ever known.

And the violence and aftermath at this time was indeed beyond horrific, but the book does not make it propagandistic. It does a good job of providing thorough political, religious and geographical coverage. And Tully and Jacob are equally thorough in outlining the arrangement of the Golden Temple complex–which includes the surrounding hostels–allowing us to appreciate the sense of time and place as we follow the various paths of people and activities that took place during this time.

But, what else can it do?

The book underscores the seriousness of the situation. So for me, it tells me that our parents were woefully misled and therefore woefully ill-prepared to deal with any situation that might have been on this level of violence and catastrophe. It tells me that our parents were given license to downplay, or even rationalize this period of political upheaval. So by the time Ms. Gandhi was assassinated, they were primed and ready to ignore its gravitas. I actually have an old VHS tape in which my father is literally doing just this: distancing, excusing, rationalizing and downplaying. Remind me to transfer it to a digital copy.

No one in their rational mind would send children alone into a war zone. No one. So why did our parents do it? 

One, they had already been conditioned to ignore and suppress their parental instincts. That physical and emotional bond between child and parent had been deprived time and again–through all the camps, family child swapping, and finally boarding school. It's the precipitous journey of a mind being exerted upon through acts of coercion.


I remember the winter of 1983/84. My mother came to India to be a winter break guide for all the little girls. At the end, she took the three of us girls to Amritsar for a week before she was to head back home. We stayed in a room in Nanak Niwas. It was delightful and wonderful. We prayed at the Golden Temple, we ate Langar everyday and our dear Mataji bought each of us a special gift: a harmonium for my older sister, a harp for me, and sword for my little sister. Photos of the trip are happy and cheerful. Sometimes I think: If they wanted us to learn Sikhi, couldn't we have just done it this way? Smaller, more intimate vacations to Amritsar with our parents? 

I also remember the day she left. She was kneeling down toward us and she began to cry. She told us she loved us, and she told us that she would write to us every week (which she always did). Then, we parted ways, and the joy and fun came to an abrupt halt. Our toys were confiscated right away. That special gift from my beautiful and loving Mataji was stolen from me the moment she was out of sight.

When I reflect on the tears in my Mataji's eyes that day, I think about her feelings too, and it's just heartbreaking. Her pain must have been very real. The pain of separation–even if someone was thinking they were doing the right thing–is still very real. It's real, it's horrible, and it's unconscionable.

Thanks for reading. You can hit me up on Twitter if you have comments or questions.

My original post "Halloween, 1984" is here. In it I refer to the Khalistan Separatist Movement, which is more or less synonymous with Dal Khalsa. But please note that there are complexities to all these designations, and it's better to just do the research.

Sunday, September 23, 2018

What 'Normalizing' Looks Like

Are these phrases familiar to you?
"I'm still glad for the experience"
"I wouldn't trade it for anything"
"I'd rather have been in India than in the U.S."
"My parents were worse, so I was better off away from them"
"I'm okay now, so it must have been okay"
"It wasn't all bad"
If stuff like this sounds familiar it's because it is familiar. These are words that get said all the time in relationship to dysfunctional and chaotic upbringings, including our upbringing in 3HO Sikh Dharma.

Thing is, these are philosophically hollow and emotionally dishonest things to say.

Childhoods are full of experiences, both good and bad and which form the basis for development. Whether a child's basic human needs are met or neglected/denied can irrevocably shape how our brains work, for better or for worse. Pertaining to the deprivation of basic human needs, we should not be getting used to saying that we would "rather have it that way". Ever.

What is okay–healthy even–is to be able to recall childhood with a realistic sense of ambivalence. Our difficult childhoods in 3HO and in India were nevertheless filled with ambiguities and contradictions. There were bad times and there were good times. There were tears but there was also laughter. The connectedness between us kids–the play and the laughter in the midst of what can only be compared to Lord of the Flies–was a sure sign of our resilience and determination. This in no way signifies that the decision to send us away was in any way acceptable. That decision was inherently wrong.

And the ambiguity can be explained. Our brains were working really, really hard at creating artificial, internal scaffoldings and supports for ourselves, out of the need for survival. Because the actual reality–the total lack of support and affection– is so bleak and depressing that we wouldn't have survived it if we hadn't invented internal coping skills. Those mechanisims–that might have once been really crucial to survival–do become vestiges later on, and carry over into adulthood and manifest in a myriad of emotionally dysfunctional ways.

Being emotionally honest about this is an important first step in stepping back from your 'normalized' experience, and toward healing, and building a truly healthy sense of self. One in which you are deserving of a good quality of life, self-esteem, self-love, and mutually healthy and beneficial relationships.

I actually coped pretty well in India. I joked around a lot, played a lot, got good grades, kept myself busy and creative, and avoided the big kids and grown-ups as much as I could. And my (personal) outcome after coming home was also pretty good. I went to college, I found love, I got married, made a nice home and I built a rewarding career for myself. None of this negates, erases, excuses, neutralizes or normalizes the actions, the poor judgement and the bad decisions of my parents or their guru Yogi Bhajan.

Put it this way: I'm okay. It wasn't okay.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

That one thing that makes me think MPA is worse:

It's the Yoga.

3HO Youth doing yoga at Miri Piri Academy, Amritsar India

I grew up in 3HO in the 80's and I attended GNFC for six years and GRD Academy for two years. While at GNFC, we did absolutely no yoga. The only time we had to do yoga was in the winter months when school was not in session. At GNFC, while we may not have been fully assimilated with Indian and Thai born students (in that our specially designed 'bana' uniforms made us stand out) our day to day schedule conformed with the school's schedule. Mornings consisted of prayer recital in the dorms for young children and gurudwara for the older children, followed by breakfast, prep (study hall) and assembly. Then we had classes until 4:00pm. Tea time followed school, and after that we had an hour or two of free time, or sports time. Then, gurudwara again (for the big kids), followed by dinner, and more study hall. Lights out was at 10:00pm. There was simply no room for yoga, gatka or much of anything else outside the bounds of a traditional/colonial style boarding school routine. It might have been grueling and filled with drudgery, but at least we didn't have to wake up at 3:30 in the morning.

The 3:30AM sadhanas were part of our winter break, especially during those years we didn't get to go back to the US. It sucked. Some of the guides made us take freezing cold showers before meditation and yoga... all taking place before the sun came up. I won't go into the belief system that led to us being sleep deprived all the time. Let's just say that... yeah. This is cult studies 101. It's easier to control people when they don't get enough sleep.

Okay, so then there was GRD Academy, as sort of intermittent in-between school that only lasted a few years. Here they made feeble attempts at a GNFC-style structure, but since Yogi Bhajan put himself at the center, he was able to mix his own stuff into it. For example, at GRD we had to wake up around 4:30am for sadhana. And our after-school stuff was largely militant–things like gatka, martial arts and calisthenics. And evenings were reserved for 3ho-style, new-age chanting and meditation. The traditional Sikh gurudwara was just on Sundays, at a local temple in Dehra Dun.

Still. At GRD, if you weren't into the devotional stuff you could, with a little effort, avoid it and plop yourself down in the back, put your head down and tune it out. I'm not saying the yoga and meditation wasn't shoved down our throats. It was. But it was just a little bit easier to ignore.

Fast forward to now. I fear that for students of the 3HO run boarding school in India, Miri Piri Academy, this is no longer the case. At MPA it is a graduation requirement to enroll in Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training. This fact alone makes MPA a de facto cult school. End of story.

Kundalini Yoga is not academic. Kundalini Yoga is not extra-curricular. Kundalini Yoga has zero connection to scholarly, historic or traditional philosophies and practices, Indian or otherwise. I've said this before and I'll say it again: Kundalini Yoga is nothing more than a hodge-podge of calisthenics-like movements, mudras and mantras–all completely invented by one person who was never a Yogi to begin with.*

But what horrifies me more than this, the banal scam of Kundalini Yoga, is that the 2nd and 3rd generation of 3HO children–children who did not choose this for themselves–are being told... get this... that Kundalini Yoga "will unblock and heal"... wait for it...

... their trauma.


My head just exploded.

Seriously. There's some very real trauma that is being dismissed and ignored here. And that which is being ignored now will only emerge later on. That which continues to be actively repressed, will likely have a resurgence in another, more destructive form, either inwardly or outwardly.

The risk right now for MPA kids is high. That pesky graduation requirement only seems benign. But is very much malignant. What it actually means is that MPA kids are being corralled as future recruiters for 3HO. And they are being deprived of a real education. Their opportunities in the world are narrower, and they are being cornered into believing that a career as a Kundalini Yoga™ brand instructor/teacher/performer may be one of their only viable occupations. I've observed a host of MPA alumni acting on it too, either working within 3HO itself, or by inserting themselves into the 'wellness' industry. I've observed the towing of a familiar line: that their upbringing with "the technology and tools" gives a semblance of authenticity and 'cred'.

Except... Kundalini Yoga is bullshit. No amount of anything that anyone does in relationship to it will ever be authentic.

Most importantly, Kundalini Yoga is not–nor will it ever be–considered an effective or acceptable treatment for trauma. The only accepted treatment for trauma or a traumatic upbringing (such as ours) is Counseling–under a qualified and licensed Therapist who adheres to mainstream, evidence-based practices, standards and guidelines.

It's hard, but not that hard to reckon with the full scope of our upbringing. Looking at it really broadly and critically helps to really see it for what it was, and allows us to unpack it fully so that we can understand it fully. It's not easy, but it's not impossible either. I know because I've been there. I thought I could take some of it, and leave the rest behind. I even taught a few Kundalini Yoga classes here and there. Then, I looked at it critically, and knew that it's just not copacetic with what it means to live a truly free life.

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Miri Piri Academy... Meet your new boss. Same as the old boss.

There are a lot of reasons why I believe things have not changed for the 3HO children at boarding school at Miri Piri Academy in Amritsar, India. There's one reason why I believe it's worse: Mandatory Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training in order to graduate. I'll talk more on that later.

Those 3HO kids over there, all on their own at boarding school in India... it's simply not a safe environment. That is a given. The kids who don't thrive right outta the gate, they really don't thrive. The kids who do thrive, they are navigating a shitty situation the best they can. In these kinds of places the overachievers are rewarded with cues to continue 'performing' for the school (camp, church... what have you), and the underachievers are negatively reinforced, often with things like shame, exclusion from regular participation and harsh punishments. Either way, ask yourself: Is this, even at base-level, a healthy environment?

And that's looking at it as if NOTHING else is going on. Which we know is bullshit. We've had too much post-India hardship. I'm heartbroken every time I learn about someone having a rough time with adjusting to life after going through all what we went through.

Let me just say that it's super common to not even know where to begin. And it's also super common to tell yourself you know exactly what to do–you keep performing, of course! At work, at school, in relationships... you aim to please. And it's super common to suppress or internalize your pain, your confusion and your frustration, simply in order to navigate the world. It's also really common to go back in to the community, even. It's understandable.... because there's deep discomfort and insecurity as a result of being separated from family and loved ones the way we have. And being out on your own... that's a lonely experience sometimes. It's only natural that one would do what it takes to make that uneasy feeling go away, even temporarily.

The above situations I outlined are illustrative of the fundamental and problematic dynamics of being raised in a cult. The hard truth is, our very sense-of-self(s) were not intended to belong to us. There was a man who felt he had the right to own our minds, own our bodies and own our spirits.

Nobody has the right to control your autonomy. Nobody. Remember that.

Those of who survived GNFC, GRD or Amritsar Academy... we want to support. But, we also don't know how to help because a chasm has been carved away between us, and our voices have been suppressed by 3HO and the Miri Piri Academy administrators, teachers and alumni association.

I'm putting out a beacon to let you know that we feel in our hearts that all is not well over there for the MPA kids. But in order to support, we need the stories. And we won't have the stories until you, the MPA kids tell us your stories.

Tell us your story. We're here to help.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Um, what?

How insulting is this:

Yogi Bhajan Separates Families

Hey. Assholes.

RIGHT NOW there are 3HO Sikh Dharma children who are thousands of miles apart from their parents–children who have been separated because Yogi Bhajan told their parents to do it. Told their parents that their "children don't love them". Told their parents that "distance therapy" is a thing. And whose parents put the needs of the cult of Yogi Bhajan and 3HO above the needs of their own children.

There are children who have, who still are, and will continue to experience a profound trauma because of the orders of this man.

A meme doesn't change ANY of this.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Separating children from parents is wrong. Very wrong.

What's happening now–Children being torn from their parents at the US border–might feel all-too personal. It can trigger a lot of unhappy memories.

I have a clear memory of how I felt in my body and in my mind when I was really young and separated from my parents. I remember not feeling, and just being kind of confused and disassociated from reality. And I remember that when I was 'more present', my body and mind were nervous and fidgety. In my first and second years in India, I developed a nervous disorder called Trichotillomania, or compulsive hair pulling. I pulled out all of my eyelashes. Then I got made fun of, so I forced myself to stop so that I wouldn't get made fun of. No adult, teacher, older kid or nurse ever noticed. All I can say about it–in an internal sense–is that I felt like when I was pulling or picking or fidgeting that I was disappearing into an invisibility cloak of my own invention. No one bothered me when I was scrunched up into a little ball minding my own business. And that felt good. Eventually I started to cope with my nervousness through arts and crafts, knitting and needlework– at least as much as I could make time for. Many of us knitted with found yarn and lollipop sticks. Even if it was to knit something, take it out, and start over, that's what we did. So much of our time was spent with these odd, but self-soothing regimens.

Before the camps, the child swapping and the boarding schools, I was actually a confident, happy child. The separation chipped away at my self-esteem and my feeling of security and safety, both emotional and physical. I was able to fake cheerfulness at times, make jokes and laugh, but inside I was deeply insecure. And, gosh, there were so many unsafe situations. Too many to count really. Children getting struck by lighting at Ram Das Puri, Nav Jiwan Kaur falling to her death at Nambé falls, Ong Kar Kaur nearly drowning at Abiquiu, Me and my sister nearly getting killed in a Flash Flood while camping with "guardians"... Then there was the physical abuse, the emotional abuse, the sexual abuse, the neglect and the TOTAL lack of affection.

That last one, that's a major one. Greater than we ever thought. In the absence of it, you don't even know you need it to survive. In the absence of it–the part of you that makes you you–experiences a profound, physical and emotional loss. Your crucial, human sense of self is put at risk.

All of this, while we were supposedly part of a community that believed in love, and in raising the consciousness of the world through compassion, kindness and selfless service. I can't begin to imagine what the children in the I.C.E. detention centers are going through, while under the guardianship of politically motivated, profiteering xenophobes. Okay. Yes, the circumstances for our separation were different than what's happening now, but the resulting affects were no less profound. Separation affects on the mind, body and spirit are traumatic, not matter the circumstance.

Most of us survived and were able to build happy lives for ourselves, and many of us have had the therapy we needed to understand the long-term affects of family separation. This is all the more reason that as survivors we speak up against what our country is doing. We must be there for these children and their parents, in whatever way we can be–financial, political or vocal.

Let me finish with one last thing. I cannot believe, for the life of me, that people in 3HO Sikh Dharma still believe in sending their kids far away to India to attend Miri Piri Academy. It's unfathomable. It's appalling. It's shameful. It's criminal. It's worth noting that 3HO Sikh Dharma profits from the private I.C.E. Detention Centers. Some of the I.C.E. jails contract with Akal Security for the staffing of Corrections Officers. Akal Security is officially owned by 3HO Sikh Dharma, and the some of the profits from Akal Security are used to promote their new-age arm: Kundalini Yoga, White Tantric, Yogi Tea brand tea company, Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training seminars, and their sappy, saccharine music brands like Spirit Voyage and White Sun. This new-age arm puts forward a progressive image, but within its nesting doll structure of for-profit and non-profit entities, 3HO Sikh Dharma as a whole is benefiting from and enriching itself on the horrific policies of our government and the increasing privatization of government functions. There's nothing progressive about that.

Monday, June 18, 2018

Amritsar c. 1983

Yogi Bhajan, Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, Nanak Dev Singh, a 3HO child who looks to be no older than ten years, another 3HO child probably a teen, and a 3HO woman.

I can't even begin to make sense of this scene. Can you? Do you have first-hand knowledge of it? Let me know in the comments section below.

Monday, April 23, 2018

There's no deadline for grief

...Meaning, it might take a while.

After years of keeping this blog, I have had the opportunity to speak with a number of ex-classmates, talk to people, and have real conversations about growing up in 3HO Sikh Dharma.

When I do take time out of ordinary life to reconnect or have a conversation, what usually follows is a familiar pattern and string of emotions. First, I experience a little bit of euphoria because I was able to reconnect with an old friend. But after that feeling wears off, I feel exhaustion, thirst and brain-fog. My emotional state is sapped, my thoughts become sort of non-verbal and I don't possess enough brain-power to process my feelings. Then I go through a night (or two) of restless sleep and hypnagogic states of nervous internal dialogue. Still, I go about my day, telling myself This Too Shall Pass.

During this fog-brain state, I will experience a nervous energy and a feeling of true dread. There's a heavy pit in my stomach and a churning pulse in my abdomen, neck and face. My vision starts to feel a little off, glassy sort of. What I am experiencing is a sludgy kind of anxiety, and I have come to recognize as a sign to get myself some self-care.

Even if I get care, sometimes I'll ride the anxiety for a while, trying to process my feelings and sort them out in a coherent way. I might scour the internet for any sign that our story – the un-varnished one, that is – might be getting told by more people. That bit-by-bit we will come forward and speak our truth, discuss our experience, and process it like the fully-aware people that we are (right?).

It's happening now, and I'm hoping more will follow. Sonofasikh is a blog written by one of my schoolmates as he processes his childhood by revisiting the place where it all went down. It's funny, charming and nostalgic. And it is especially poignant. My goodness. His account of being tortured by Nanak Dev Singh–this singular moment among far too many–was nevertheless astonishing and horrifying. And it was heartbreaking. But it was revelatory too, because I found myself able to live inside his experience and fully be a part of it and empathize with it in a way I hadn't done before. I must admit, I had become so familiar with my own family experiences of assault and battery that, well, they just take up more room in my consciousness. This shook me out of that myopia, and for that I am grateful.

But it also made me feel so much sorrow and so much loss.


Our experiences as 3HO children were both collective and individual at the same time. We each experienced and remember slightly varying versions of the same kinds of abuse. At the time, our only way of commingling those disparate forms of antagonism was to form a sibling-like bond, and forge ahead as best we could. But we had so little space to experience the full range of emotions that are so crucial in childhood development. Empathy was often sacrificed in our day-to-day coping. So much so, that it became nearly amputated from our lives. And our parents were cut off from it in their own cultic environment too.

Empathy. It's not the same thing as compassion, love, forgiveness or acceptance (all important faculties). Empathy is the ability to validate another person's feelings by acknowledging their experiences, even when you might have a different point of view. People like us–the indiakids–may not be aware that we might lack empathy. It was actively revoked from us, and we were not shown how to demonstrate it to one another. If we have developed it, we have had to take whatever kernel exists inside ourselves and grow it on our own... and probably as adults, and probably in a very flawed and messy way.

I don't really have a way to end this post... I guess I'm still processing.


Monday, October 23, 2017

Walking away from the bad.

We need to tell ourselves that it's okay to walk away. We are not going to fail. We are not going to collapse. We are going to be okay.

When someone is treating you badly, manipulating you, making you feel less-than, they rely on a prevailing and toxic narrative that there will be dire consequences to you choosing your freedom. This is called Coercion.

The hashtag #MeToo is proving that the number of women who have been harassed, abused and manipulated is near to ubiquitous. And it's proving that the deafening silence around the culture of sexual harassment and abuse has everything to do with this toxic narrative – this coerciveness.

Those of us who grew up in 3HO Sikh Dharma and the boarding schools in India have experienced and witnessed harassment since we were pre-pubescent. This isn't counting the Patriarchal structure, and strict gender roles within the cult even. We experienced crass street harassment. We were harassed and objectified by our classmates at co-ed GRD. Then we were blamed for being ogled by our male classmates. Some of us were harassed by our teachers. Some of our male teachers conducted themselves lewdly in class. We made jokes to minimize the disgusting reality that one of our teachers was probably, well... gratifying himself right there in front of the entire class.

One year, at G.R.D. Academy, I was suspended. I was suspended for confronting one of the teachers' children who had been stealing. I was sent to wait out the end of the school year at the Chancellor's house in New Delhi. With me was one of my classmates – who was a very beautiful girl. We stayed in a unit at the rear of the main house. We had no way of preparing food, no access to restaurants, no transportation, and hardly any money. We were in a residential neighborhood with nothing to do, nothing to eat and no legal guardian or parent to talk to. The Chancellor was rarely around, but his staff was always present. They did not speak to us. They did not ask us if we needed anything, or allow us to use the kitchen. Meal time was at their deciding. The drudgery and boredom became brutally oppressive. We spent all of our Rupees taking expensive taxis into downtown so that we could just eat something, or walk around. It was hot. So unbelievably hot. The chancellor had a pool, but it was empty. One day we thought no one was around, so we tried to fill it with a garden hose. It didn't fill, and someone was around.

That night after dark, my friend left to use the bathroom. She returned in a terrible state. She told me that a man snuck up from behind, wrapped his arms around her and attempted to grab her. She used her elbows to fight him off and he fled the scene. Right away, we barricaded ourselves in our room. We called Siri Akal Singh and Hari Kaur and we told them what happened and that we did not feel safe there. They told us they would do something about it. Nothing happened. And they questioned the believability of our story. Were we to be believed at all? I remember feeling like we were totally on our own. We were not afraid. We were furious and ready to fight. We looked out for ourselves like we had already been trained to do since the age of eight. We were even prepared to run away. I know that in that situation, the hyper-vigilance that had been developing inside ourselves had protected us from far, far worse.

I'm not sure why I am reminded of that incident. Because, well here I am saying "Walk Away", and at the same time re-telling a time when we were physically trapped, a predator man was lurking outside our door, and those who were supposed to be looking out for us wouldn't do anything.

Maybe it's because this was just one incident from an entire upbringing in 3HO Sikh Dharma that was oppressive, coercive and abusive. So when it was time to truly walk away from 3HO Sikh Dharma // Kundalini Yoga, I did not need to go through the motions of weighing the pros and cons.

They expected us, after all what we had been through, to simply stay and accept the drudgery. And they used the toxic narrative – the threat of dire consequences – to scare us into silence. They didn't consider the hyper-vigilance that had been developing while they failed to do their job to raise us. Yogi Bhajan told me, "If you leave you will end up a prostitute lying in the gutter". You don't hesitate when someone says something like that to you. You GTFO.

When I left I lost almost my whole family. I lost any financial support I might have gotten from family. I lost the whole community's support and I gave up the employment that I had when I was part of that community. Aside from the communal support from some of my Indiakids alumni friends and my siblings, I was definitively on my own from the time I walked out the door. But no. I did not "suffer" any of those "negative consequences" that we were told to be afraid of. No, I did not end up a "prostitute in the gutter". Furthermore, if I, or any of my fellow indiakids had ended up in the gutter, it wasn't because god decided to punish them for their sins. It was a result of unfair conditions being imposed on them. It was a result of any sort of familial support network dropping them like a hot-potato soon as things got tough. The failure rests squarely on those who were supposed to show care and love and who didn't.

Despite the tough times... I am here to say that walking away is still a net gain. If you stay, you suffer inside. Even if you get to keep your family, or get to make advances in your career, or climb the social ladder, the psychic pain of living under the umbrella of abuse is too detrimental a cost. When you say "No More", you get that you will gain your freedom just by saying "No More". And it will undoubtedly open the door to new growth and fresh opportunities.

To every survivor of harassment, coercion and abuse who says #MeToo: Know that I am not blaming you. I am super angry that this toxic narrative persists – that some mysterious and spooky fate that will befall you if you speak out, come forward or leave. I am super angry that it gets inside us and eats away at our autonomy and free will. I am super angry that this toxic narrative keeps enabling the creeps, the perverts, the abusers and the harassers.

And to every 2nd generation person, male or female, who was a victim of abuse, and who held it inside, and figured you could just deal with it on your own: If you need to talk, I am here for you. You have a friend in me.

And finally, to every 2nd generation adult born and raised and who then remained in 3HO Sikh Dharma // Kundalini Yoga: It's time to accept the truth about your spiritual leader. He abused his power in every possible way. If you have insulated yourself from the horror stories, it's time to rectify that mistake.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Can someone regret something even if they've never apologized for their role?

Last week, Dr. Dre issued a public apology to the women he beat up back in the N.W.A. times. While it reeks of PR, it's still a step in the right direction. Perhaps now he can put his money where his mouth is and donate to causes that prevent domestic violence, and to those that help victims of domestic abuse.

And here we are. Looking at domestic violence and physical abuse through the lens of Popular Culture, as if it happens elsewhere. No. Abuse in 3HO Sikh Dharma was (and likely is) right in our own homes, schools and institutions.

Yet, to date, not one adult Guide who was in India while we were in school there has ever come out publicly or apologized publicly. Yes, Nanak Dev is deceased, so it's too late to hear those words from the person who was most abusive. But there were plenty others that were both abusive themselves and/or complicit in not doing anything while kids were being beaten.

I find this to be shameful.

If rappers can do it, why can't they? Maybe it has to do with real regret, as opposed to lip-service regret. Maybe none of them really regret their behavior? Maybe they don't think it was wrong? Maybe they are too fragile? Maybe they struggled to get back on their feet after India that they just needed to re-establish themselves, forgetting about all the young adults that had their own futures ahead of them? Maybe it didn't occur to them that the kids they beat and the kids they watched being beaten will take those involuntary scars with them for a lifetime.

Like Dee Barnes said "I have a souvenir I never wanted".

No one wants those kinds of souvenirs. The people who inflict harm on others are culpable until their victims get justice. Bottom line. There is no other way to have a civilized society.

If our childhood Guides think it's okay to simply go on, holding their heads high against the reality of what they have done, they are wrong. One man has chosen to take it to his grave. Will the rest of them follow suit, or will they do the right thing?