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Confessions of a Dharma Sex Kitten.

46 Heart it! Marcella Friel 13.3k
July 9, 2018
Marcella Friel
46 Heart it! 13.3k

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I can no longer remember how many men I’ve slept with within the Sangha. 

Some of my lovers were rank-and-file Dharma guys; quite a few others were ex officio lineage holders, senior teachers, high-level administrators, and legions of meditation instructors during month-long retreats. They were single, married, divorced, divorcing, bisexual, polyamorous, and partners with my best girlfriends.

None of these encounters ever qualified in my mind as sexual assault, as so many brave women (and a few men) are now describing. The term power differential was nowhere to be found in the spiritual vernacular of the 1990s and 2000s, when my escapades occurred.

We were all just having fun, oblivious to harm or consequence in our guilt-free playground of sexual nirvana.

The walls came crashing down for me in the early 2000s, when I was fired as a department head by my former lover (and boss), ostensibly for being “too emotional.” In reality, he and I both were ensnared in such a toxic web of jealousy and betrayal that, had we not been in so much pain, we could have made millions writing an HBO series about it.

In one day I lost my job, my home, my community, and my reputation. My years of playing with fire boomeranged on me big time. I left the land center in disgrace to couch-surf at a dear Dharma sister’s home while I spit-glued my life back together.

One of the most frequently quoted slogans in the Lojong teachings of Mahayana Buddhism is, “Drive all blames into one.” Of this, meditation master Chögyam Trungpa writes,

“When you say, ‘It wasn’t me; it’s you who did it,’ the whole thing gets very complicated. You begin to find this little plop of a dirty thing, something like a football, bouncing back and forth. And if you fight over it too much, you have tremendous difficulty dissolving or resolving that particular block, plop, slug. So the earlier you take the blame, the better. And although it’s not really, fundamentally your fault, you can take it as if it’s yours.”

When this person sent me into exile, I wanted blood. I wanted justice to be served, his head on a tray. I certainly recognized my own lapse of judgment in getting involved with him in the first place, but felt certain that he was more to blame. After all, he was in the power position and so should have restrained his advances.

In the spirit of “Drive all blames into one,” however, I knew I had to pull my spirit back from the belief that he was the source of my suffering.

As I journeyed into my healing via 12-step recovery and trauma resolution work (along with my Dharma practice), I met within myself the hungry ghost of a lovelorn little girl who had been molested by her grandfather, abandoned by her father, and left on her own to find whatever male nurturance she could get, like a mangey puppy sniffing back-alley trash cans.

Especially appealing were men in authority positions, father and grandfather surrogates who conferred an ersatz prestige on me as their paramour, their consort, their courtesan. (As a Dharma sister pointed out during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, “Oh come on! Tell me it isn’t a major power score to give the president a blow job!”)

The shame I felt at meeting this part of myself was enough to boil the skin off my body.

The only reason I didn’t commit suicide was because I knew, as Trungpa Rinpoche often stated, that destroying my body wouldn’t solve the problem.

One particularly dark night, The Tibetan Book of the Dead caught my eye on my bedroom bookshelf.

I pulled it down and opened to a random page.

It said,

“Oh [daughter] of noble family, do not be afraid of the sharp, luminous, and clear white light, but recognize it as wisdom. Be drawn to it with faith and longing and supplicate it, thinking, ‘It is the light ray of Blessed Vajrasattva’s compassion. I take refuge in it.’”

For an hour, maybe more, I read those words again and again.

Something slowed to a halt.

I felt disoriented.

I knew exactly what those words meant.

I had no idea what they meant.

The silence in the room grew heavy.

Then it dawned…

I. Am not. My traumas.

There’s nothing wrong with me.

There’s nothing bad about me.

All of it had to happen. Exactly as it did. To bring me here.


The shame evaporated into space, leaving in its wake an unfathomable freedom that has remained ever since.

It was done.

With the support of my sponsor, I took inventory of my entire sexual history and made amends first to myself for all the ways I had abandoned myself, devalued myself, and falsely believed that love on the sly was all I deserved.

I then contacted those in my history I felt I had genuinely harmed. In most instances my former lovers met my sincere remorse with equally sincere admissions of their part in the confusion. Where we were once co-creators of each others’ suffering we now became allies in healing.

For those lovers I couldn’t remember or couldn’t contact, I performed symbolic rituals of contrition: dropping unaddressed letters to “John” into mailboxes; apologizing to their photographs; circumambulating stupas and dedicating the merit to them.

I saw that the slogan “Drive all blames into one” has nothing to do with blame at all. It’s a profound teaching on social ecology. The only way I could have cleansed that dirty little plop of shame from my heart was to recognize myself as the source of my experience.

I look back now on all my Dharma sexcapades and smile.

They were fun at the time, they make great war stories, and they remind me always, as it says in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, 

“No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.”


Marcella Friel is a mindful eating mentor and recovering sex kitten who helps health conscious women heal the traumas that cause them to harm themselves with food. Her online course, “Lose Emotional and Physical Weight with Tapping,” is a top-10 bestseller on DailyOM. You can reach Marcella through her website,

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46 Heart it! Marcella Friel 13.3k
46 Heart it! 13.3k

york.stillman Jul 10, 2018 2:21pm

Nice to read an article/story that is so honest and real — the way life was back then and the reality of being responsible for our decisions. And outside of this glimpse of sanity, thanks for the people you have helped, some close friends of mine. From Brasil – hugs!

    Marcella Friel Jul 11, 2018 11:32am

    Thanks york.stillman ~ and “besos” to your Brazilian friend 🙂

    Glad you enjoyed the article. ~M.

Marcella Friel Jul 15, 2018 12:20pm

Hello Dear Readers, it’s Marcella Friel here, the author of this article.

I would like to add a corrigendum to this story that was brought to my attention by a Dharma brother who witnessed the firing that I referenced in this article.

His perception was that my termination might not have been entirely for personal reasons, that there were issues with my attitude and job performance that might have inspired my supervisor/ex-lover to let me go.

The reasons for my termination weren’t clearly laid out, so there’s no way to know for sure. In a spirit of transparency, however, I offer this for your consideration.

Thanks so much.

    Sooz Mann Jul 18, 2018 5:42pm

    I assumed when I read your article that the sacking was likely due to job performance but it’s easy to lose sight of that in light of the sexual relationship. I was once sacked from a job where I had slept with each of the directors as a stupid young 20 something. They sited job performance. To this day I believe I was collateral damage and an awkward reminder of infidelities. Both moved on to other women (apart from their wives). I was not mature or worldly enough to understand the power and the politics. I was seduced by expensive gifts and attention making me believe I was special and desirable. I was, in fact, fresh meat and expendable. I own my naivety.

      Marcella Friel Jul 24, 2018 9:52am

      I certainly understand! Thanks for posting. M.

Mark LaPorta Jul 16, 2018 7:53am

Sometimes when important details are left out it constitutes a very important omission and reflects incomplete personal inventory.
Stopping the behavior is difficult, so kudos, but keeping in mind that the behavior(s) reflect an underlying mental state, more will be revealed every day.
One clue: titling “Dharma sex kitten”. Evocative and alluring, but not really recovery behavior.
Thanks for writing.

    Mark LaPorta Jul 16, 2018 7:55am

    PS1> (As a Dharma sister pointed out during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, “Oh come on! Tell me it isn’t a major power score to give the president a blow job!”) —hysterical!

    PS2> the photo? also evocative and alluring.

    Marcella Friel Jul 16, 2018 10:07am

    True enough. And fortunately, as we say in the rooms, “we’re not all crazy at the same time,” so thank goodness others can point out our blind spots.

    Glad you enjoyed the article.

fitzgarce Jul 16, 2018 8:58am

just what I needed to read today.

    Marcella Friel Jul 16, 2018 10:08am

    Wonderful ~ so glad it was helpful. XXOO

Dr. Robert Bradley Jul 16, 2018 11:47am

I’m a 60-year-old veteran of the sometimes almost fatal encounters (not physical disease-based mind you) from the arenas of sexual attractions and appetites (tail-end of 70’s was my coming of age era–with all that flotsam and jetsam). Last year, I began work on a project centered around an in-depth study of the psycho/mythic nature of Eros and our culture’s ghettoization of this most crucial of human aspects. My research has led me so far to:

1. the chat boards of Narcissist recovery groups (where the healing rate is infinitesimal and the survival rate is not much better), where figurative blood practically drips down the screen, borne by heart-rending words shredded with the pain, terror, and hopelessness for recovery from the very often mortal/fatal wounds rendered by the befanged’ “perps” who know no mercy. Recovery from this trauma is so brutally difficult to realize. The tough nut to crack (sic) is that one must transform oneself before the conditioned attraction to such destructive people can be released, allowing more healthy relationships to form. In fact, my research taught me that field cites as the only healing method possible is a result of cultivating gratitude to the perp for pointing out areas of oneself that needed to heal (See “limerance,” a form of obsessive love that can result in death according to the research. And if one has ever been caught up in this kind of obsession, that possibility is easily understood). Some data states that recovering from withdrawal from these relationships is the most difficult of all addiction challenges, ahead of recovery even from heroin addiction.

2. to a therapist who told me that romance was pathology and if I returned to my narcissistic partner he would no longer treat me, saying it was like someone returning to crack. As a poet and artist, that shocked me but proved all too correct. Brutal truth, but truth all the same. So the digging into my own personal cthonic shadow (Jung) began.

3. to books like Herbert Marcuse’s EROS AND CIVILIZATION that provided me with the core reason for this marginalization of Eros (Important to note that mighty Eros is a far broader concept than our culture’s pitifully infantile reductive interpretations). Marcuse’s theory basically posited that the Apollonian order required for “OPTIMAL INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION” (direct quote) would be undermined by encouraging or allowing the ecstatics of Eros free reign which are more aligned with Dionysian unpredictability.

3. and, as a citizen of the “Bible Belt” (Nashville–where mainstream religious conventions spike major upticks in the sales from mini-bars in hotels, not to mention escort services), I have become more and more aware of the near-suicidal (not an exaggeration) results of our attitudes towards the redemptive, transformational power of Eros (broadly defined).

Forgive the length of this but the topic struck a deep chord in me (also, as Lawrence Sterne stated in TRISTAM SHANDY: “I progress as I digress”) and my work on the topic compelled me to share some of these disturbing data points.

They underscore the cultural context that has set the stage for journeys such as the one the author is making. And thanks be to her for such a compassionate yet warrior knife-edge meld in her treatment of the topic.

I’ll stop with one final anecdote that was the product of online research that I followed through both “high” and “low,” sacred and secular sources. I exchanged texts with an extremely professional and erudite Dom from England and, as we shared views, I was struck intuitively by the power of the vulnerability she demanded of her clients. And how that conscious release into the sometimes terrifying realms of the release of “control,” however faux control might be, could be a more powerful healer than the endless cud-chewing, tail-chasing of the therapeutic enterprise, one of all-too-many social constructs we’ve developed that are part of the cult of mediocrity that threatens to implode the republic. When I shared this with her she excitedly agreed and we explored the gestalt of that possibility. This radical, consciously chosen vulnerability (one might think of the analogy of the back-float–you clutch up, you sink) has become an impeccable ally in my own recovery. The taboos of my traumas have been leveraged through this kind of Eros practice into a wisdom parallel to the author’s through point.

And finally, this conscious vulnerability has become one of the most remarkable aphrodisiacs I’ve ever shared with a lover.

At any rate, as Walt Whitman said, “the theme is creative and has vista.” And that theme of redeeming the shamed and shunned aspect of our own natures –is an erotic force indeed.

    Marcella Friel Jul 16, 2018 5:01pm

    WOWWW Dr. Bradley, this is great. Thank you so much for taking time to post it.

    Apropos of your sentence,

    “Marcuse’s theory basically posited that the Apollonian order required for “OPTIMAL INDUSTRIAL PRODUCTION” (direct quote) would be undermined by encouraging or allowing the ecstatics of Eros free reign which are more aligned with Dionysian unpredictability,”

    You might want to read D. H. Lawrence’s “Lady Chatterly’s Lover,” which I referenced in the image attached to this article. The book was supposedly banned for its sexuality; but I believe it was banned because it was such a scathing and accurate attack on how Industrial Culture kills the collective libido.

    Glad you enjoyed the article. Thanks again for posting. ~M.

pet35et6 Jul 16, 2018 2:16pm

I loved your message of embracing forgiveness towards ourselves. As women we are all often our own judge ad jury but it is nice to work towards a place where we can receive feedback lovingly. Thank you.

    Marcella Friel Jul 16, 2018 5:01pm

    You’re very welcome. So glad it was helpful. ~M.

Pamela Strickland Jul 16, 2018 3:30pm

Thank you.

    Marcella Friel Jul 16, 2018 5:02pm

    You are so welcome, Pamela. ~M.

joannakortik Jul 16, 2018 3:58pm

Beautifully written. So much love to you for sharing your story and inspiring others to realize the past brought them to “now”..

    Marcella Friel Jul 16, 2018 5:02pm

    Yes! As Shakespeare said, “What’s past is prologue.” Thanks for posting! ~M.

Linda Lewis Jul 18, 2018 4:25pm

Brave and honest article, thank you. VCTR would call it the “manure of experience” we can all put to use to grow “the field of Bodhi”!–the field of wakefulness. So often we try to embrace what we were not able to embrace in our childhood, and wind up embracing a familiar pain, instead of friendship and love. There is absolutely no blame when we learn from our experience. And…in the 20th/c it was certainly more common and acceptable to experiment innocently w/ drugs, sex, and rock and roll than it is now.

    Marcella Friel Jul 18, 2018 6:15pm

    Linda, that is so beautifully articulate. Nothing else really needs to be said! Thanks for posting this, and I’m glad you appreciated the article. XXOO M.

james.wilton Jul 20, 2018 8:13am

There are two issues regarding sex in the sangha.

One issue is the need to work with ourselves, to realize that in the relative world of causes and conditions all things are mutually dependent. We use lojong practice to reverse habitual patterns of putting ourselves first and contemplate teachings such as “Drive all blames into one.”

The second issue, not addressed in this article, is what to do when a teacher uses his position as a guru and a lineage holder to sexually abuse students and, in doing so, derails their practice path. For example, as Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche did in just one incident where he called a long time female student serving in a dharma role and asked her to “take care of this” — pointing at his penis. For this second issue, Tibetan Buddhists pray every evening at dusk for dharma protectors to expose duplicity and to “be an arrow of awareness” that exposes perversion of the dharma. This is Mahayana practice of the highest order.

The timing of this article just days after the Shambhala sex abuse scandal was reported on the front page of the New York Times and its advocacy for students to work with their emotions, with only a passing perfunctory reference to the women who were abused by Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, can only be seen as an effort to deflect from the severity of the problem in Shambhala.

    Marcella Friel Jul 22, 2018 10:28pm

    Thanks, James, for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response to my article.

    I agree that, in situations of this nature, or any stressful situation, it’s helpful to work with our own minds first, and Lojong practice is one of the best tools for that.

    My intention in this article was to share the power that Lojong practice and other healing tools have had in helping me release both the shame I felt toward myself and the resentment I felt toward others around stressful circumstances in my sexual history.

    I didn’t write about teacher abuse because that wasn’t my experience.

    I can only speak with authority about what I myself have been through and can’t presume to know how others should handle that challenge.

    The New York Times article about the Sakyong appeared on July 11. This article was published on July 9. So my article was days before, not days after, the NYT expose.

    Thanks again for posting. Best, M.

      Cassell Gross Aug 19, 2018 9:15pm

      Thanks for that post, Marcela. It’s so refreshing in this murky time to see clarity emerging from the lessons learned in an equally murky time (to which I was witness & participant). I’ve been thinking a lot, a lot about how easy it is to fall into the “drama triangle,” the heightened & insidious world of victims and perpetrators and rescuer/enablers. I’ve been longing to hear from people who have managed to escape the deadly fangs of that dragon – without simply going into exile. I know the other roles all too personally and well. Your post is one of the few so far that express the feeling of being “out” of the triangle. I know there are others and those are the voices I want and need to hear. Looking forward to seeing you in September in Crestone. Thank you so much for posting this.

        Marcella Friel Aug 23, 2018 9:32pm

        Hey Cassell thanks so much for posting this. I know what you mean.

        Lojong practice has been hugely helpful in getting me out of that triangle, as has the 12-step saying, “When we are emotionally disturbed, our first task is to quell the disturbance within us regardless of who or what caused it.”

        It takes a lot of effort to pull that energy of “blame” back into oneself, but there’s no other way to freedom, in my opinion.

        And yes, do look me up when you get to Crestone in September. Would love to connect. XXOO

robinowen Jul 20, 2018 3:21pm

Thank you so much for sharing your story.

    Marcella Friel Jul 22, 2018 10:15pm

    You’re very welcome. XXOO

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