By Ruth Graham
I am writing for the first time, the story of how Wangdulama Rinpoche raped me.
Of all the things to talk about, this is one of the hardest. It was shocking and sneaky. It’s hard for me to grasp – even to this day.
In my first article, I wrote about the Movement Center, but I did not write about my rape.
Before I talked to Frank, less than three people knew about this. But I’ve been waiting long enough. Waiting and preparing for this day.
I feel deep sadness from this crime.
I also feel a fair amount of worry, doubt, confusion, and embarrassment because the perfect recollection of events was stolen from me, because I’m certain I was drugged.
Worst of all, I didn’t know I was raped and drugged until I left the cult.
I was so naive. I didn’t even know what a roofie was.
I didn’t know what the different effects of being drugged were. I didn’t know you can be drugged by one person, who then brings you to the rapist at a second location. I thought I had a spiritual experience, and that’s why I couldn’t say no.
I thought I consented, because I walked there myself. And there are significant things I don’t remember, literal black spots.
I don’t remember when it was. Although I’m pretty sure I’ve narrowed it down to a window of time.
I was a member of the Movement Center for ten years.
I think part of my lack of certainty about the date is that when I lived and worked at the ashram, I lived an extremely isolated, simplified, and repetitive life.
I was completely under the control of this cult, and I did what they told me to do, and meditated and ate, every day at the same time, day in, day out. No vacations. No trips. No meeting with friends. I had no friends there.
I lived in as much isolation as I could, because I learned fast that talking to anyone was dangerous. The only thing that changed in my monotonous experience was holidays, the “gurus” birthdays, and retreat weeks.
This is part of why I don’t recall when it happened. All my days blurred together.
At the time the rape happened, I didn’t have a car. I didn’t leave the ashram for months at a time. I was also celibate. I had no libido. I thought I was asexual.
This is another reason I can tell you I was raped. I would not have said yes if I could say anything to anyone.
Another thing I feel guilty about is that I lived at the ashram for a year or more after this happened before I started to question things and mentally and physically prepare myself to leave.
I now know that I was doing something many people do when they are subject to years of extreme high-control groups. You ‘self-edit’ yourself to the point where you compartmentalize your trauma, so none of your emotions peek through to your abusers to use against you. You basically force yourself to normalize abuse.
You ‘memory hole’ yourself.
By succeeding in not feeling your pain because you self-edit your own mind, you don’t have to be vulnerable to anyone who will see it as an opportunity to bully or triangulate you.
Examples of this type of dangerous emotional vulnerability in this shit-hole cult would be:
(a) crying during a meditation class
(b) looking distraught or scowling while walking down the hall
(c) being irritable at work while experiencing a severe after effect of an assault.
All these are “weak spots” that would be like blood in the water to someone like Monica O’Neal, Jim Brissette, Sharon Ward, or Shoemaker himself.
Moni ONeal and J. Michael Shoemaker.
Or anyone who had to attack someone else on a particular day because they themselves feel insecure.
In fact, one of these memorable incidents for me was when Moni (Monica O’Neal or “Moan I” as I would secretly call her in my head) bodily cornered me one day at the base of the service stairwell (the stairwell used most by kitchen workers, furthest from Shoemaker’s apartment) at the compound and yelled venomously, “You need to open your heart chakra, Ruth! It’s completely closed!”
I think I yelled back something, but I don’t remember what it was. This is one of those incidents I feel weird about. I felt betrayed, and sad. Like if you’re falling into a dark place that you will never get out of.
Because this was mere weeks after I endured another sexual assault, right at the end of my stay there. Maybe I will share that later publicly.
Like everything else at that ashram, nobody had sympathy for anyone about anything. I was just sexually assaulted, and the care I got was being yelled at that my heart chakra wasn’t open enough.
Did anyone bother asking, “Are you okay?” or offer a hug? Or ask, “Is there anything I can do for you today?”
Nope, that’s not how compassionate wisdom works at that place. The compassion and wisdom work like a Chinese factory or a Russian gulag. Everyone for themselves.
It’s because of Jessica Becker that I have now learned that this type of abuse is called spiritual bypassing.
Spiritual bypassing is when a person attacks you for normal emotions, thoughts, or doubts you have or are presumed to have, and then that person makes you feel like your “sinful” or “lower” inner state is something that you need to be afraid of, or ashamed of, or guilty for.
Like someone accusing you of having lustful thoughts or being possessed by demons. Sometimes such people can approach you with this as if they were your friends.
In a sickly-sweet way, they teach you to cut out your own healthy responses to trauma. It’s a horrible form of abuse, and I was subject to it at that ashram for years.
I will never call it “my rape.”
I was raped, but it was Wangdulama’s rape of me. It’s his and his assistants to own, not mine. It was his rape. Of me.
On that day, I remember I woke up starkly depressed. The kind of depression that doesn’t move easily. The kind that’s heavy, like you’re underneath an entire cliff of malaise.
In the morning, I went to work in the kitchen. I was making dinner for everyone.
I worked there usually for eight or more hours a day. I would start at 9:00 am and work until 12:30 pm. Then I would go back from 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm.
These were the same time blocks every day for years, with no days off, no vacations. One person often did the morning shift of cooking. It was all the “prep” for the actual cooking. I prepared the ingredients to be used. I cleaned, cut, measured, peeled, and did light cooking, like slow cooking beans or boiling broth. I enjoyed working alone. I could listen to my own music or work in silence.
However, one could never be sure if someone important would come to the kitchen. I was always on guard.
On this day, sometime in 2011, I think, I had an unusual pair of visitors.
Wangdulama would come to the ashram for months or weeks at a time from Nepal. He would always bring family and assistants with him. I believe (though I’m not sure now) the two assistants who visited me that day in the kitchen were cousins of his. Or at least that is what I was told. They are similar in age to me.
However, these two girls would not ever really talk to me, so this was a very unusual thing. They didn’t really approach me. We would sometimes share space during “seva” (service) days (sometimes they’d help us make Tibetan ‘momos’ or dumplings in the kitchen) or ceremonies/special events, but they didn’t show interest in me, and neither did I show interest in them. I never hung out with them. We lived in different worlds.
But one day, as I worked alone, after I was almost done with my prep work (I remember I was finishing early that day), they appeared. Just for me. They came up to my workbench alone and were talking to me and asking how I was.
I was happy about it because I was lonely. I was deeply depressed and lonely, but I knew it was safer to be alone. I think they were both dressed in their traditional clothes. So, it was odd to see them in the kitchen in fine embroidered silk shirts and skirts.
One of them asked me, “Would you like some tea?”
This was odd. None of them ever offered me anything before.
I think I said I didn’t need it because I had already had my morning cup of black tea. But they seemed insistent, so I relented.