This is the story of Natacha. She was on a spiritual quest and met a guru named Swami Chetanananda.
Chetanananda declares he is an enlightened and loving teacher.
When Natacha met the guru, he lived at The Movement Center in Portland, Oregon.
Natacha came to live there and devoted herself to the path the guru laid for her.
She spent more than six years under the guidance of the guru, Chetanananda.
Natacha served as the manager of The Movement Center’s Yoga Studio. In the end, Natacha jumped off a bridge.
According to Swami Chetanananda, Natacha “broke her back in two places, split her sacrum… and lost her L1 vertebrae.”
He calls himself a holy man. He is J. Michael Shoemaker, AKA Swami Chetanananda. The wolf in sheep’s clothing. And ripe to be sheared.
The Movement Center, a residential meditation and community center, was founded in 1971 by Swami Chetanananda.
Natacha tried to speak up about her abuser at The Movement Center.
“The amount of mental fuckery that I have undergone in the past 6.5 years living with a teacher that abused my trust in him,” she wrote, “beating up on myself for not being ‘perfect,’ for not having an open enough heart. For not being a devoted enough student.”
March 20, 2017 Natacha returned from the hospital to the Ashram. The man pushing the bed is a decades-long devotee of Shoemaker. He is with Shoemaker in Gold Beach, Oregon. His name is Jim Brissette, and he has followed Shoemaker from Ashram to Ashram.
Abuse of Trust and Power
Natacha wrote, “I was not able to recover from the pain of waking up a little over a year ago to the realization that it was all a lie. My teacher had no love for me. He was just mocking me and pulling me back to the Ashram because of his own personal agenda.”
“I am hurt beyond words, time or space,” she wrote.
After Natacha jumped off a bridge and the hospital released her, she returned to the Swami.
He posted her photo on Instagram to create a record of how he tried to help her. He was guiding her back to sanity and health as if she was the misguided one.
To read the public record sans Natacha’s statement, one can only conclude that Natacha was mentally disturbed and he saved her.
He wrote on his Instagram: “Natacha… wearing pants for the first time in 7 months. All surgeries complete. Time to walk again… She is a walking miracle!”
The Swami does miracles. That is the impression one gets. He saved her. The Lord blessed Natacha for bringing her to him. Her incredible good fortune, her good karma, brought him into her life.
The internet record says this: The Swami saved Natacha.
But is it true?
Natacha wrote – before he intimidated her into taking it down:
The realization that my teacher did not love me and was not trying to help me broke something fundamental in me.
That part of me broke when I realized he was not holding a loving space for me, but pretending. He had anger and resentment towards me, rather than faith. If my life was spiraling before this moment, it started spiraling triple time after this, when he, too, realized I was not making any efforts (because I had reached my breaking point).
How can you lift your heart every day and offer it to the man who abuses you endlessly, mocks you constantly, and destroys your self-esteem and confidence through sex, drugs, and mind-games?
Here is a revelation. Sex and drugs. Are we to understand the Swami had a hand in this?
He fed her drugs and told her to have sex. Not as a lover or friend, but as her guru. As the man who knows what’s best for her. The loving guru gave her drugs. He had sex with her. That is apparent.
He made me believe my lack of effort was because I was not devoted enough. He continued daily to misguide me, mock me, and abuse the trust I placed in him.
Not only did Natacha take her story down from Facebook, but she noted that Swami Chetanananda took his Facebook page down.
For those wondering why Swami Chetanananda is no longer on Facebook, here is your answer. He knew his name was going to come up in non-positive ways. He’s been mocking the #metoo movement for months now, probably knowing that it was soon coming out, knocking on his door.
But the Swami avoided the knock. He did not need to mock #metoo. He needed only to intimidate Natacha into taking her Facebook story down. She did.
She vacillated many times. Even before she posted her story on Facebook – before he scared her into taking it down, she was uncertain.
I kept hesitating to post this on Facebook because part of me still believed my teacher loved me – not as a woman – but in that divine love that we are led to believe our Guru has for us, his/her children. I kept telling myself he was sincere in telling me we could heal, I could heal, that I could trust him… so I would return to the Ashram… and be betrayed and mocked again.
She went back and forth about sharing her plight. That reflects the state of self-doubt and insecurity she had.
The trust that a true spiritual aspirant places upon a teacher is sacred. It is my saddest and most painful experience that Swami holds no respect or appreciation for that extremely vulnerable aspect of his students.
I can say so much about the abuse of power around SC. And it is indeed his undeniable power that surrounds him that makes one DOUBT ONESELF. This is the core of the abuse.
Natacha now tells how it started. She was 28 and had spent a year of her life before coming to the Ashram in “intense spiritual practice.”
She had mystical or devotional experiences. She wanted more. She prayed for a teacher to guide her.
She had a goal. To become enlightened, self realized. To achieve the highest state a human may experience. The goal yoga purports to offer to the few who are faithful. Samadhi. Nirvana. The super-conscious state.
She arrived at the Ashram, she saw Swami Chetanananda as a rare and powerful being. He was 65. But he was anything but tired or old. He was filled with energy and love. He was the first man she had seen to achieve this high state.
He could teach her. He was the answer to her prayers. He could guide her to the state he had achieved. She believed this. She was ready and eager.
She understood that the guru requires strict obedience. He had her highest welfare in mind. He could see things she couldn’t. And if an instruction was puzzling, the advice given was to do the practice, follow the instruction then judge the results. She followed every instruction he laid down.
The Swami observed this beautiful young woman doing whatever he told her to do. Eager and intense.
There is an ancient saying. “Gurus can be had by hundreds and thousands, but of chelas, there is none.” Natacha was a chela, a sincere disciple.
Within four months of moving into the ashram, Natacha received an invitation from the Swami to attend a dinner at his apartment. He had these dinners. He rarely ate with the ashram members. It was an honor to be invited to his apartment for dinner where a select few would be invited to join.
He told Natacha, “Please don’t mention this to anyone, as I am trying to keep it simple.”
She was nervous about his invitation. In awe of him. Not confident about her worthiness. She wondered who the other guests would be.
She went upstairs to his apartment. She came inside. There was no one else present. The lights were off. There was no food.
In a matter of three seconds, I had to decide if I fully trusted this man as my teacher to guide me to the place where my heart and soul were committed to going. I decided to trust.
He raped her then whispered in her ear, “I love how submissive you are.”
Her admission is stark and candid. She trusted him. He took her to his bed and raped her. Without consent he satisfied his own lusts, without regard to her welfare.
She did not know it but he had been doing this for more than 40 years.
I know this should have been a red flag but I was an eager student and thought this was an instruction from a teacher to his student.
I was intensely passionate about the spiritual quest. I imagined, and felt deeply, that he recognized the passion and sincerity in my quest, and that this is why he had decided to give me teachings directly.
The Swami was persuasive. If she had doubts at first, he assuaged them. He spoke a lot. He explained how this practice and those to follow would illuminate and bring her closer to the goal. He was doing this for her.
I now recognize that his endless talking is less about actually illuminating the understanding of his students and their self-knowledge and more about dizzying and distracting them.
He constantly seeks reassurance about his personal insecurities and decades-old wounds that he still holds on a pedestal.
I hope this sounds like a big red alarm to you because it is. To have a deeply insecure, powerful, spiritual teacher is an extreme danger to the vulnerable, eager and receptive student.
What happened in the days, months, and years following was something Natacha would have found inconceivable when she had first come there four months before. Or even the hour earlier.
He began to teach her one on one. He introduced her to his BDSM culture. BDSM stands for bondage and discipline, dominance and submission, sadism and masochism.
Natacha explained what happened to her from these sex practices disguised as spiritual teachings.
There is a dominant and a submissive. This dynamic, especially the sexual component, exacerbated a deep shutting down within my system and my ability to trust my intuitions, feelings, and instincts.
It also provided him the platform for endless manipulations and mind games. It was the platform to bring out intense insecurities on my part.
It was a complete misdirection of my awareness and energy away from the inner pursuit of my goal in the belief and trust that he was taking and guiding me towards that goal in the ‘work’ we were doing one-on-one.
Note that Natacha called it “work.” She did not think of it as sexual enjoyment. As pleasure or even love. She thought of it as part of the work she must do to accomplish her goal. To obey her guru who knew best. It was work – and that tells a story in itself. But it had a curious contradiction to it.
Natacha explained. She enjoyed it at first. But it worked on her in invidious ways.
For me this was the most sacred series of events, and yes it kept me in a state of joy that ironically was completely disembodied, since sexuality was still very new to me.
I realize now that some key parts of myself shut down and froze. For him I realize it was just another girl who he was being grand enough to offer an “opportunity”.
All the words to characterize the specialness of my work with him were blatant lies and manipulation….
Even from within me, as I tried my best to rise to his requests… this was not truly coming from the most natural place within me… I was forcing myself to be a “good student”… and honestly… It was the loneliest years of my life… and the saddest part is… I have become estranged from my own self from it all.
As they did their “work,” the Swami spoke often to her. He told her had prayed for her to come for five long years prior. He told her was deeply in love with her.
And he played the pity card.
He recognized an ancient bond between her and him, more precious than anything in the world and she began to recognize it or thought she did because she trusted him.
At the same time, Natacha was in an awkward position. She had to constantly reassure him emotionally. At the same time she had force herself to do as he commanded.
To “surrender” to his ancient and eternal “love.”
While he practiced BDSM with her as the submissive.
It got more intense. And he added something else.
Swami Chetanananda is a drug addict. He has been an addict for decades. His method is more of the binge user. But he is an addict. Cocaine. Meth. Pain pills. Alcohol.
He commanded Natacha to become an addict like him. It would not be drugs as druggies use them. The yogi can control the harmful effects and reap only the high -without the low.
I have not mentioned the drugs I was exposed to countless times. I was told they were to help me “open”… and which I figured was part of my service to my guru.
Of course, he was not an ordinary man. He had supernatural powers. He could read anyone’s mind. He told Natacha, and she believed it.
The truth is, I was incredibly intimidated by him and scared of him. He would tell me that he knew what I was thinking at all times. I began to feel unsafe even in my mind and block out my inner alarms and intuitions for the sake of “trusting and opening.”
He would text her constantly. He demanded sex at any hour. And not just sex but severe BDSM practices. He sent her out on the street. He commanded her to do vile and unspeakable things.
Unhealthy things. You would think it horror-fiction if you were told the depths of what he told her to do.
This was not monogamy. It was abuse. It was violence. It was meant to destroy her health and mind.
He was an old demented drug and sex addict, a power-hungry ruthless psychopath, preying on a beautiful young woman. Destroying her health and peace of mind.
The sadist reveled as Natacha went from a shy, lovely, spiritually grand young woman to an ever more degraded unhealthy drug user – like he was.
People observed the radical change. She went from polite, attentive, kind, and attractive to coarse, inarticulate, distracted, and unable to concentrate, as drug users are unfit for the drugs that cloud their minds. He got the highs, and she got the lows.
All the while she believed she was following the path towards liberation.
I followed like a gullible fool, when what was obviously needed was less time with him and more time with myself, my heart, my feelings, my breath, my own awareness and my own practice. This was difficult because he would call on me at all hours of the day, text me at work, text me wherever I would go. He did this I believe because he is either bored with his life or does indeed have a difficult time being in silence by himself with no stimulus.
Yet even in the face of all the red flags, I kept telling myself… “he is just trying to give me spiritual teachings, and I need to open my mind, my heart and trust.”
It is simple to explain what he was doing. Pretending it to be rituals of initiation, of spiritual grace, he slowly disempowers the student.
Natacha became increasingly confused by the Swami’s constant drama, texting and asking her to “prove herself.” Proving herself was more drugs and more extreme BDSM practices.
She ran around wildly like a chicken with her head cut off, attempting to do what he commanded to “prove herself.”
He had initiated her. He said he had taken on her karma. In return, she had committed herself to him. She made a vow. He demanded that it be renewed daily, through drugs and sex and mind games.
He texted to encourage. A flood of texts and messages and compliments.
And messages of mundane drama and distraction. She was profoundly lost and confused.
She always felt inadequate. She was submissive, and he was the great guru ruining her life.
She bent over backwards for years to try to please a teacher who kept making her feel bad about herself.
She was ill and anxious, overstimulated by excessive sex and drugs. She believed Swami Chetanananda recognized the ancient bond between them. To her, it was more precious than anything.
It went beyond family, conventions of society common sense realities. Nothing mattered in the world but to please him, which was getting ever-harder.
He was, of course, lying the whole time. Having his sport. The kind he played for decades. And, of course, not with her alone.
And one day, and that story we will try to tell another day, she went to an overpass of a thruway and jumped off.