Spiritual Betrayal: My Experience with the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center Part 1
This story relates to the late 80’s, early 90’s version of The Cambridge Insight Meditation Center. I do not know what they do now but all I know is that I was psychologically, emotionally and spiritually abused at this place. I devoted two and a half years to these teachers, the center and to meditation. There was no closure to be had when everything blew up in my face.
I leaped in blindly as many do at a young age with spiritual groups. I went in with an open, loving heart, vulnerable, desperate to find some peace of mind in those months of early recovery in 12 step programs. I didn’t care about the religion Buddhism. I cared about meditation, the practice, the solace and the center within me that I found from going to this place and sharing weekly with Narayan, one of the two primary teachers there. I loved meditating but did not care about the Buddhist path.
I went in believing in God, higher power or whatever you want to call it and the power of faith and prayer. Narayan seemed to be open and fine with whatever I believed in. “Everything was practice”, she said. They were fairly new to the community and they wanted people to come back of course. There were a number of 12 steppers there so it seemed like a good fit. Little did I know. What I do know is that somewhere along the way I stopped praying, the teachers and center became my whole world and I felt like I finally belonged somewhere for the first time in my life.
Initially I was in love with the charisma of Larry, the primary teacher who could spew a bunch of Buddhist philosophy with an animated weaving of words that left one breathless in awe and high on meditation at the same time. I was devoted and had my one on one “interviews” with Narayan regularly. I never took a formal meditation class. I jumped right into a one day retreat and went on every retreat possible after that. I simply wanted to be with myself. I elevated the teachers to infallible gods which they seemed to enjoy and was an obedient, loyal meditation member of this group.
Everything seemed perfect for a while…
My critical thinking was gone from the get go. I really never had it to begin with. If it felt good it was good was my ruler to measure anything by. There were red flags along the way. I thought meditation was the answer to everything. As long as one didn’t question the path or the teachings you were in good with the teachers. They were very convincing. Larry was an attractive, charismatic teacher and had basically given up his college professor life to devote to meditation when hallucinogens didn’t do the trick. Oh he had convincing credentials. He studied overseas with some esteemed monks and teachers and could pronounce their complex names so effortlessly. I admired his command over the language and words. I was convinced he knew what was right for me.
Narayan was the perfect female teacher looking like an angel in her white feminine attire. She appeared to be very open to the fact that I believed in a God or higher power of sorts so after a while when I was ready to take the Buddhist refuges and precepts in a ceremony I was having a problem with the wording of taking refuge in the Buddha. Another 12 stepper said just substitute the word God for Buddha so Buddha was elevated to the position of God and on equal footing apparently. I told Narayan I was going to substitute God for Buddha in the ceremony. She seemed fine with it. No big deal, right? These people did talk about Buddha and the teachings like they were the word of God or some supreme being. Really he was just a human like all of us.
My openness and free spirit seemed to be a match for this place at first and second glance. Where things turned sour for me was when Narayan thought I was getting too attached to her. She was part of that process. It’s a two-way street. In one big swoop at an interview with me after she got back from a retreat she turned our relationship upside down. She went a full 180 degrees from a warm, loving being to a cold, judgmental, detached being and that’s how it remained for the duration. My feelings or even talking it through to my satisfaction were no concern to her. She made it all about me and somehow it was all my fault. She of course had nothing to do with my attachment to her. That was a red flag right there but I was so invested in this place that I could not leave.
Oh I learned all about detachment I learned about detachment and that coveted word, “mindfulness.” I loved to sit and watch my feelings and not get swept up in them. I was a regular human robot. I sat on a mound of feelings from my past so high that they were bound to burst eventually. I had a very disturbing past and I was a very sensitive artist as well. I was fine until the volcano erupted and the lava of feelings poured forth and hardened on my sensitive skin. This happened during and after after my second 9 day meditation retreat. My whole identity was tied to the group and the teachers and the community. I wanted to be the best meditator and the teachers’ pet.
I had an incredible eye-opening experience during and after this 9 day retreat and wanted so much to share this discovery that was important to me. I thought I could be open and trust these teachers after two and a half years so unfortunately I shared what was important to me and sacred with the wrong folks. I thought I could trust them to be happy with my progress and happy for me. Boy was I wrong. I told Narayan I didn’t want to be taught about “that”. Her response was, “I should keep certain things to myself.”
I had been a depressed person most of my life and I needed so much to feel good and I needed to feel excited and totally embrace my internal experiences whatever they were. The problem was this required some kind of attachment on my part and this brand of Buddhism didn’t allow for any of that.
Basically after sharing with Larry and Narayan something personal like this what they said ultimately took me from being present in the moment to being in my head about something that I did not need or want to be in my head about. I was simply being myself which supposedly Buddhism leads you to and I was already there.
It was about opening like a flower and connecting to my heart of divine love and light. They judged my experience and their negativity got inside of me. They didn’t have boundaries and I didn’t know what a boundary was.Would you go in a field of blooming flowers opening in the sun and stomp all over them, cutting out their beautiful existence? This shut down the positive good feelings within me and it cut short an internal process that was important for my body to complete.
The belief and connectedness to the divine or the source within me was an attachment that I came in with. This was my soul, my spiritual faith. It was just budding and new to me. They obviously didn’t get it or try to resolve my dilemma with being mindful to the point of obliterating my experience and being detached with something that did not require detachment or mindfulness or observing what’s around this God of mine. That really screwed with my head and heart. I just wanted to be one with my experience.
When I heard and felt Larry’s judgment and was upset I was met with a very defensive Narayan defending Larry and once again blaming me for my feelings and her behaving very irresponsibly with no compassion whatsoever. Larry was a broken record of, “Don’t get attached” which in my world did not compute or make sense in this particular case.
My ensuing confusion led to disastrous sessions with Narayan who basically shut the door in my face and was cold and detached like a good Buddhist at the time. After all, I was too loud to sit with the group any more and all I did was cry and that was disturbing the peace of the group. I said I missed being able to sit with the group and she said, “ Don’t be so dramatic.” I got the, “It could take up to 7 years” for this explosion to pass. Have a good life, forget about closure and by the way meditation can only be done this way and any meditation teacher would respond like Larry did which isn’t even true.
At the time this was devastating so basically I was given the message that what I was doing was wrong. The message Narayan gave was,”This is a certain path of meditation leading to happiness and freedom, the only way to meditate. I wasn’t looking for a specific path to follow. I’m a free spirit. Narayan said it must have been a misunderstanding? Really? I was judged which was a big trigger for me, I was the one with the problem and there was no accountability to be found with the teachers. I feared them now and I had devoted two and a half years to this place and practice. I was on my own and I took what they said to heart and was tormented spiritually, psychologically and emotionally from the dynamics of my experience there and my soul was screaming.
I never went back but I couldn’t move forward. The pain inside was excruciating and I was inconsolable and in a full-blown spiritual crisis with no way out.
For some reason my faith went with my meditation and I couldn’t do it anymore without feeling that my inner world was wrong. My mind triggered by what they said and their negative energy got in the way of my heart. Since we dealt with breath awareness it was a nightmare. How could my perfect teachers be so wrong about me? Why would’t they allow me to experience myself fully? I was a gifted artist and my feelings and emotions and divine attachment fed my art. The tool was good but the path they were preaching was not mine which took me a long time to figure out. They just weren’t open to other points of view when it came to meditation.
Without feeling like I was allowed to practice meditation in my way, I essentially had nothing to fall back on including my faith. My self, meditation, faith and everything had been and was tied to this place, this center which turned into a hellish experience for me. I didn’t know what happened. I was so confused. What did I do? How come everyone I talked to including a psychologist/ teacher at the Cambridge Insight Meditation Center said, “That’s not what “this” is. That’s what it was for me. He also said,” “Boy they really missed with you.” Why couldn’t I believe in a higher power, be attached to a higher power and meditate the way I had been doing? What the hell? That vague word, “This”. Why weren’t they up front about “this?” How come other people could have a higher power of their own understanding and be able to meditate there? Was this two and a half years a total waste?
How come even today if you go to their website they are open to all faiths? Maybe they changed since it’s basically under new leadership with the 3 main guiding teachers being people I meditated with in that soft cult. Who knows? Also they still don’t see the need for the “Ethics and Reconciliation Council” which many Buddhist centers have in place for this kind of thing. That speaks volumes that they don’t feel the need to have a committee in place for those who have been harmed in some way and had the burden of more suffering as a result. It reeks of arrogance and ignorance that they don’t feel the need to have a grievance committee.
People need to have a voice especially in the wake of a guiding teacher who has overstepped their bounds. It would help members to feel safer if they know that they will have a voice in the event that something happens with a teacher.