I’d been in India a week, taking in some of the holy sites with a group of friends.
It wasn’t my first trip to that magical country but it was my first time traveling under another’s direction. Our last day arrived and we were taking it in turn to spend a few moments alone with the Indian teacher who had been our spiritual guide.
Now it was my turn, and he and I were talking: me, talking about my experience of the trip; he, watching, listening, nodding.
“Would you like a healing?” he asked as I finished, his dark eyes looking directly into mine.
Why would I say no? Although I didn’t know him well, others who did held him in high regard and what I’d seen of him showed him to be a loving man. Anyway, I’ve always been curious and what harm could there be in a healing?
He got up from his chair and before I knew what was happening, I found my head being held firmly by warm hands and a tongue thrust into my mouth.
I stood rooted to the spot, my hands on his hips, his tongue in my mouth, wanting to push him away but caught in the surprise of the moment like a startled rabbit in headlights. What was this?
A healing? Really?
I’d had plenty of experience with healing before and there was no movement of energy or a warm glow with this exchange—nothing to suggest the shift in energy I was used to with healing work, whether it came in the form of acupuncture, reiki or tantra. My head reeled with a hundred thoughts, trying to make sense of what he was doing.
But, strangely, it was what happened next that really made me uneasy. He pulled away, looked at me and said, “no one must ever know—you must not tell anyone.”
I walked back out of the room in a daze. The rest of my little group were chatting and I remember looking around them, wondering, does he do this to everyone? Right up to our departure the next day, I kept feeling the urge to drag one of the other women aside to ask her if the same thing had happened to her. But, in the end, I never did.
I didn’t want to create a scene or appear ungrateful after the hospitality we’d received. And, I wondered, had I perhaps somehow tacitly agreed to it? Despite the fact that I said nothing to others at the time, I still wasn’t comfortable with being asked to keep it a secret—especially since I hadn’t been given that option before the healing took place.
Anyone who knows me, or knows my writing, is aware that I don’t do secrecy particularly well. It’s not that I can’t keep a secret. It’s more that I have an innate desire for openness.
I’m the one who has to point out the elephant in the room.
Not only point out the beast, but invite others to come take a look. “Hey, there’s an elephant right here! I know you all can see it. C’mon over for a closer look—I promise it won’t bite. Feel the ears, pull the tail, try to climb on. Isn’t it amazing?” I’m fascinated by what remains hidden and why.
Naturally, I came home and told my partner all that had happened in India, including the unorthodox healing.
He freaked, then he calmed down and then we talked about what had happened and why I had said nothing at the time. We began to see the funny side of it. I wasn’t traumatized by what had taken place and I’m no stranger to the healing power of sex. (Maybe I should add here that the above happened before my books on sexuality were published).
No harm done, right?
I chalked it up to experience, assuming that something in my openness about sexuality might have attracted the situation in the first place. Like so many women in similar situations, I tried to find a reason for why I might have unwittingly encouraged the unexpected behavior.
Months later, though, I had reason to re-visit my assumption. I heard through the grapevine that he had attempted a more intimate sexual encounter with another woman—one who, unlike me, was deeply upset by the experience. And it wasn’t to be the last such story I heard. It seemed it wasn’t just me, after all, who had received such attention. Nor was I the first, as I learned that some of his male acquaintances were aware of the behavior but had kept it quiet out of loyalty.
What bothered me most, though, in addition to this covert silence among a small group of men, was that some of the women he’d attempted a sexual healing on were deeply disturbed by having their trust in a teacher breached in such a manner.
I have also heard since of other healers in the area of sexuality who cross the line with unprepared clients. When a therapist/teacher and client have developed a strong basis of trust and open communication, it can support such action at times. But without this strong base, there is a danger of re-traumatizing a client.
It seems a shame that at a time when many are trying to engender greater openness in, and respect for, forms of healing that incorporate sexuality, there would still be some who are exacerbating old wounds.
As I scratched below the surface for possible motivations for my Indian friend’s behavior—and that of others who act similarly—there were a few things that struck me.
The first was the idea of boundaries.
There is a huge emphasis in therapy and in personal development on the concept of an individual having healthy boundaries—of knowing what’s okay or not for them, and of trying to act accordingly. There is also a strong emphasis in many spiritual traditions on unity, on the basic interconnectedness of all beings. Coming from this latter perspective, there are no boundaries apart from those which we construct to serve us in the material world.
A gifted healer is aware that they work in territory where their energy field and that of a client are, in fact, merged. The line between a healer and a client, such that it is, is always being crossed.
The issue is more one of awareness—how aware the client and therapist is of themselves and the situation.
It is not unusual for some of the great gurus and teachers in history to take this awareness into practical action, creating a fundamental change in a follower through some shocking or unexpected behavior. Could my Indian friend have been acting as a channel for divine intervention, responding automatically to the deepest need of the moment? Was he a holy soul who cared more for my well-being, and that of others, than for his own reputation?
But, then, what about his request for secrecy?
There are many reasons for secrets. Sometimes secrets are simply things that are not easily accessible, hidden from the majority by lack of understanding rather than by any deliberate attempt at concealment (think of the as-yet unfathomed depths of quantum mechanics).
Sexual tantra has never been a practice for the masses, although I think it has much to offer. Could his request for secrecy have been prompted by his knowing that others wouldn’t understand and, therefore, what they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them? If that was true then what about others who openly speak, write about and offer sexual healing—should they be keeping it quiet too on the basis that the masses won’t understand?
Doesn’t openness support greater understanding?
There is a more common reason for secrecy, though—fear. Secrecy is normally driven by fear of what might happen should something become known. Could my friend simply have been afraid of what associates and acquaintances would say were he to openly acknowledge his use of sexual techniques? Was his need to maintain a certain image so strong that he was unable to align his words with his actions, unable to live authentically?
Or, perhaps, there was a deeper reason—and this is the sad conclusion I eventually came to.
Perhaps he and others who act similarly are unable to acknowledge, and find a healthy expression for, their own sexuality. Their actions become the result of projecting their own unaccepted needs onto others, seeing a reflection of their own unmet desires in the faces of those they encounter as students or clients. Consciously or unconsciously, they take advantage of the opportunities that being in a position of responsibility can afford.
There are many reasons why someone has a difficulty in finding acceptance and a healthy expression for their sexuality.
Sometimes it’s a cultural or social issue which has become deeply embedded—the way in which they were raised or the place in which they find themselves living. It can be that the strength of their desire can scare them or can make it difficult for them to find an appropriate sexual match. It can be a history of abuse.
And it is an irony (or possibly the simple law of attraction) that those with a need for sexual healing can end up being drawn to those who are also in need of the same thing—an opportunity for deep healing, if approached sensitively, but otherwise a risk of deeper hurt.
If a therapist is aware of their own sexual and emotional needs, both those that are being satisfied and those that aren’t, they are more able to differentiate between their own desires and their client’s needs. A teacher who lacks this awareness, however, is someone to be wary of.
And what about the women who are at the receiving end of such unexpected attention?
As I did initially, many women say little or nothing about such incidents. Sometimes this silence comes from a desire to simply forget the at-best distasteful and at-worst traumatic experience. Often it is low self-esteem or self-doubt that is behind the reluctance to speak up—even a fear of being criticized or ostracized.
“Maybe I misunderstood the situation?”
“Perhaps I somehow invited the action without realizing it?”
When we are drawn to a healer or teacher, we are usually in a place of need—hoping that another can reconnect us to a strength we have lost. To discover that we’ve misplaced our trust means not only feeling that we’ve been taken advantage of but also feeling as if we’ve lost some of the hope of improving our lives which we initially had. It’s a double-whammy of hurt which we may be slow to publicly declare.
But sometimes there’s another reason. For my part, one of the reasons I kept quiet for a long time was out of affection for the man in whose eyes I saw a deep capacity for love and from hope that his behavior might change without the need for public shaming.
I had no desire to hurt him unnecessarily. Now, I’m writing from that same place of affection and also out of respect for others. The secrecy and covert acceptance of such behavior needs to end. At a time when humanity is being prompted to grow in awareness and self-responsibility, one person acting as they see fit with another without dialogue is no longer appropriate, if it ever was.
Verbal communication around such issues, no matter how awkward, gives everyone an opportunity to deepen understanding and trust.
And with greater openness around sexuality in general may come the healing that he, and others, are seeking. Perhaps, in one of those mysterious twists of the universe, his unexpected action with me will turn out to be a healing after all—though not quite in the way he may have imagined.
Oh my sweet lord!
Was love so hard to come by
That you stooped so low?
With dignity you could have asked, and got,
So much sweetness to hold.
Could you not trust?
Or was forbidden fruit your goal?
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Editor: Catherine Monkman
Photo: elephant journal archives