These views are my own
I am very lucky to have friends in my life who hold me to account for mistakes that I have made, so that when I face accusations I can rely on their help to distinguish real mistakes from habituated self-shaming.
I have not published anything here for several months as I have been dealing with something very challenging in my personal life. This post is a return to regular writing, and I wish to begin with a bit about what's been going on in my life.
A few months ago, a former romantic partner of mine wrote a medium post critical of the Monastic Academy (a Buddhist spiritual community where I am currently a resident). The person's name is Shekinah Alegra and central to her post was an accusation of sexual assault. She did not name the person she was accusing of sexual assault, but it is clear to me that these accusations were directed at me.
Shekinah and I were in a romantic relationship for much of 2021. It was a relationship that enlivened me and helped me to write in the way that I did in 2021, but it ended very badly. Towards the end of the year I returned from a backpacking trip and Shekinah told me that she had slept with another man while I had been away. We had some agreements about this but Shekinah did not honor them. After mulling it over for a few weeks I decided to end the relationship. Soon afterwards Shekinah wrote the post accusing me of sexual assault more than a year prior.
I have discussed the details of the event that Shekinah now describes as sexual assault with the people in my life who I trust most to hold me to account, and have concluded that sexual assault is a completely inappropriate way to describe it. There are some very significant facts that Shekinah omitted in her essay that I will not describe here as I do not wish to turn the beauty of the relationship that erupted between us into an energy source for a needless fight.
For this same reason -- not wanting to turn a past romance into a public fight -- I have not responded at all to the accusations until now. But the accusations are now hurting the spiritual community that I am part of, because together with the accusation of sexual assault, Shekinah's post accuses the Monastic Academy of covering up this alleged sexual assault. This I will respond to directly because I think it's important that anyone considering visiting or collaborating with the Monastic Academy can incorporate some facts that have not previously been written about.
At the time of the event, I was executive director of Oak (the California branch of the Monastic Academy), and Shekinah was visiting for a one-month training program. I had made specific monastic agreements not to engage sexually or romantically with others in the organization, and I broke those agreements by engaging with Shekinah, so I informed and apologized to the community. Upon hearing about this, the head teacher, Soryu Forall, informed the internal leadership group and board of directors the next day, informed the whole community within about a week, spoke one-on-one with external donors within about two weeks, and wrote a very frank account of the whole episode in the quarterly report the next month, which is published on the website and sent out to supporters via hard copy. Shekinah describes this as a cover-up, but it seems to me like the exact opposite of a cover-up.
Around the same time, the head teacher asked Shekinah and I to write a letter clarifying the status of our relationship and our intention to stay in or leave the community. This is important in a monastic setting because when a whole community has agreed not to have romantic or sexual relations with each other, any breach cannot be left in an ambiguous state or else everyone will question whether the rules still apply to anyone. Shekinah describes being coerced into signing a letter, but when I reflect on the conversations between us I cannot think of a way that I could have explained more gently why we were being asked to write such a letter, nor made it clearer that it was up to her whether she did so or not. Shekinah was not an employee of the organization and was nearly at the end of her one-month visit, so there was little room for implicit leverage.
Shekinah describes being forced to leave the organization, but in fact she simply came to the end of her pre-agreed one-month visit. The agreed-upon dates are quite unambiguous in the emails from before Shekinah's visit.
Shekinah makes many specific accusations in her post, but does not give very many details about specific events that gave rise to these accusations. I and others at the Monastic Academy have been considering these accusations almost non-stop since they were published. It has actually been very difficult to think clearly as an organization about what parts of Shekinah's accusations we can take responsibility for and what parts are mischaracterizations. It is extremely tempting to incorporate everything that Shekinah says into a kind of uncalibrated personal and organizational shame, especially due to the sexual core of the accusations. There is a strange aura around sexual accusations against a spiritual organization: from the perspective of the accused it can seem at times just logically impossible that any response other than total personal shame could be warranted. But this makes no sense; of course we have to apply discernement to accusations, taking responsibility for what we can and saying no to the rest. The more I look at what happened, the less I believe that Shekinah is pointing to some darkness deep within the heart of the Monastic Academy, and the more I believe that her accusations are straightforward mischaracterizations.
I have the sense that whole lives are regularly lost to episodes like this, and I can now see exactly how that could happen: public outrage incorporated into uncalibrated self-shame, leading to disconnection from one's friends and then a whole life lived in the vicinity of a tight ball of grief and sadness, henceforth choking off all real connection that threatens to go beyond a carefully managed exterior layer. It's not so easy to avoid this fate; it seems to be just what happens by default. The hard part is that we need to not just say "yes" when accused of a mistake we really did make, but also "no" when accused of a mistake we have not made. I have found this exceedingly difficult to do for accusations of a sexual nature.
I'm extremely grateful to have found myself in connection with some spiritual teachers and friends who have helped not just with the "yes" part of this equation, but also the "no" part. My own teacher, Soryu Forall, has been shockingly clear in this discernment. I have also sought the guidance of a Christian friend who has lived for many decades according to an extraordinary vow of stability, as well as a Buddhist nun of many decades who visits the Monastic Academy from time to time. I did not understand what spiritual expertise was until the past few years, but I see now that this episode would have left me completely lost but for the guidance of these guides who have made it the purpose of their lives to set up a kind of unmistakable integrity so that when all basis for clarity is lost and I'm just spinning in the hurricane, their voices still carry clearly through the darkness and I can follow it back to the ground. I'm not sure how I came to be in connection these extraordinary guides -- it's certainly not that I knew to seek them out. I can only really account for it as a kind of grace.
Thank you for reading this post. I have written many versions of it over the past months and am glad to finally have it out here. I am grateful for the existence of this community here on LessWrong and I look forward to more writing over the coming months. I hope you are all safe and well.