Ruth: Swami Chet ‘School’ Taught You What? Who Did It Hurt?

By Ruth Graham

I lived at the Movement Center for seven years.

I measured my start at the Movement Center from 2004, when I was 18. I started seeing Andrew, went to classes, and worked for Julie Galaski.

I moved in in 2005, at age 19. I got my Associates Degree and couldn’t get a job. I was short on rent. I owed the Center $600.

Sharon Ward knew my circumstances. I was desperately looking for work. I didn’t have a car to look for a job and had ZERO money. I was kicked out in mid-2007, because I owed them $600 dollars.

What compassionate wisdom! What a caring place!

I was “allowed” back in July 2010, because I paid them what I owed. I was desperate for a place to stay, because I was homeless. This is something I told Sharon was a risk I faced if they kicked me out in the beginning.

I lived there until early 2014.

I knew it was called an “institute”. And was explicitly told by Sharon Ward that people there were “students.” I knew this from the moment I moved in. Although what was being taught to the “students,” I still don’t know.

What was there to learn?

How to be a good mindless slave so I can burn all my karma?

How to sit completely still and hold your pee when Shoemaker drones on for 4 hours about word salad nonsense?

Maybe I “learned” a special unspeakable energy transmission from Michael’s superpowered eyes?

Maybe he taught me everything I needed to know when he groped me?

Maybe the class was to teach me that I was supposed to have sex with him.

That’s the instruction I missed, right?

Where are my certifications for the landscaping and construction jobs I accomplished?

What license did I apprentice for and obtain as part of that program?

The yoga teaching license? I should definitely sue, since my yoga certification is forever tarnished coming from your group.

You put a known pedophile as a teacher trainer, someone caught having sex with underage prostitutes in Nepal, as well as doing meth in the parking lot with prostitutes in front of the grounds.

You had teacher trainers like Natacha who were high on drugs while teaching, actually high 24/7 actually.

His women used the yoga school to fish for women for Shoemaker to abuse. Shame on you.

What personal mentorship did I get to help me succeed as a human being in the outside world and heal from my traumas?

You want to blame me for “settling in” to a cult designed to trap people?

The Guru himself frequently remarked on the brokenness of the outside world and how people are dying out there. How everything outside is just rotten tension, unconsciously repeating itself, people being born in “envelopes” of tension from their parents and never being free.

I was told “you think it’s bad here, just think about the outside world.”

During meals, we often talked about the horribleness of the outside world. People would literally get anxious, leaving the grounds for fear of losing the “guru’s protection.”

People were afraid to breathe wrong if it offended the guru. I remember people like Kelly Ponzi anxious about having permission to do anything or upsetting Swami in any way. There were multiple people like that there, all affirming this culture of fear and submission.

Sharon Ward and Swami Chetanananda, AKA Michael.

How did people become independent there? Where was the help?

I’m not the only person who ended up being “stuck” there. People were coming in clean from addictions and lapsing badly while there, even dying like Ayaz did.

Ayaz Quadir

People with money and lots of resources, like Michael Bazzani, were lapsing on their addictions and had to leave. People were getting institutionalized for getting involved with Shoemaker just a little bit.

People would say it was because of his strong energy, and it wasn’t his fault. Sure, right.

It was a known threat that he would even say to people, that people tend to leave him and “go crazy” or “commit suicide.” Even Sharon would say that.

If I was smarter, I would have run away the second I heard that. Well, now I’m smarter.

The compassionate wisdom I got from Shoemaker when discussing depression with him one time (I didn’t even discuss suicide with him) involved him singing the MASH song to me with a disgusting smirk on his face.

“Suicide is painless…it brings on many changes.”

I left feeling nothing but confusion. I certainly didn’t feel helped. Was it a special shaktipat for me? I now see it in retrospect for what it is, a demonstration of his contemptible sociopathy.

Why did Sharon want me to lie to the Federal Government and claim mental disability while they had me hanging from scaffolds and cooking meals for 100 people?

More than one person knows the truth BTW about the people I’ve accused. So please do claim they are false. We survivors know what happened and who is who.

What did you learn from this “school”? Tell us.

About the author

Frank Parlato


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  • If you are conflicted about talking to Carol Merchasin, Frank Parlato, Detective Nathan Wollstein or Laura Hoeppner. Take some time to talk to a helping professional who knows about living in and leaving a cult.

    These three professionals live in Portland.
    Kent Burtner is a exit counselor with experience in supporting people who have left the Shoemaker cult. Kent Burtner can be reached, 503-475-3429. He helped the exmembers who participated in the Richard Read Oregonian series and continues to provide support for Ex-members and families

    Dr. Ken Garrett is a Christian minister who left a cult and he participated in a court case against the leader who had sexually abused the members. Dr. Ken Garrett, you can find him through his church and at, 503-762-9941
    He and his family were part of an abusive Christian adjacent cult and he participated in a court case against the pedophile leader. Here is some information about the case which had many twists and turns. Putting a cult leader in jail is not easy. Ask Frank or Ken!

    Ashland Hilliard has a counseling service, she was born into a high demand religion and worked in Utah with people leaving polygamous families and groups. Ashlen HIllard’s company is People Leave Cults. here is the information about People Leave Cults

    She also works with Joe Kelly and Pat Ryan, two long time exit counselors. (You can find them on line)

    You can listen to Ashland Hilliard on a number of podcasts
    Ken, Kent and Ashland can be found volunteering with a support group in Portland.

    Ex-Cult-Member support group in Portland:

  • It is true that what I am about to say is conjecture. But–those of us who know him, know that what I am am writing here is insightful. Let’s just say, for arguments sake, that a student came along who was one in 20 billion. Someone who completely “took off” spiritually. Another Rudi, or another Nityananda. A real “superstar” student. Swami Chetanananda would do everything in his (considerable) power to wipe that person out. He would do it, out of jealousy. Now, let’s take that a step further, and say 5-6 or even 10 students, really “got it”. Wow. How amazing would that be? Swami would be out of his mind with jealousy, envy and competitive feelings. He would never, ever allow for it.
    Now–what if ALL of his students grew into spiritual giants within one year! Imagine that? Swami would be out of a job now wouldn’t he!
    My point is: while obviously this is a highly speculative scenario–we all know–this is exactly how he would respond to guess what? Someone actually succeeding in what he has been teaching.
    At the end of his talks, Swami was known to say, “in your endeavor, I sincerely wish you well”. I believe this was true–up to a point. He doesn’t want anyone succeeding at anything. He would far prefer having a bunch of dependents, that he can lord over, than have anyone actually develop into self sustaining spiritual people, or god forbid, leaders in their own right.

    Someone might disagree with my outline, but I have a good idea that I am onto something. This ASSHOLE doesn’t want anyone to grow beyond him. Just sayin’…………………fuck you Swami!

    • You are right on with this point. I came into the group with a well developed spiritual practice and was able to hold my own in the tradition of open heart, Bakti, practice.
      I survived by returning heart love when he was abusing me for not doing the work.
      Ironically, my own practice was strengthened in the gales of his dissing and verbal abuse.
      BUT at a price. It was often confusing and painful to have a “teacher” who was holding me down.
      A pathetic, sociopathic, narcissist like this swami would hate having a student excel; it would drive him crazy.
      He’s a typical Con man, seems to exude confidence, which is very compelling and seductive to many people, BUT, con artists are also famously insecure and pick up on the least sign of disapproval or withdrawal. That makes them really vicious.
      One day he gave a special class, at extra cost, of course, and he kept saying, “This practice is all about power!”
      That’s when several of us old-timers decided to leave.

    • I did. It was something I felt I had to do in order to protect my position there as well as survive potentially with some type of credential in the outside world. I was already mentally deprogramming myself. I tried to make friends with Natacha at the same time, and feel her out on how far deep she fell into it before sharing with her my concerns. She was swept up so fast into the drugs/delusion (although I didn’t know there were drugs involved at the time). I remember the glazed look on her face…so I gave up trying because she clearly wasn’t able to listen and I had to save myself. I believe it was 2013 when I finished the course. I had to hold constant cognitive dissonance in my head about it. Be compliant and pretend while I was preparing for the inevitable exit. Jesse Sweeney was one of the teachers there and being in the same presence as him and to be one of his “students” was extremely difficult to say the least. I remember having to run out of the classes in the middle of the instruction sometimes and just cry, I realize now this was from fight or flight (panic response). I told Jesse he was not allowed to touch me. I warned some of the other students about him (this made me unpopular), I even warned Natacha about him. I don’t think he had a girlfriend at the time, I never saw. I would have warned her too I had seen that. I think at that time he was not on good terms with the ashram although this obviously changed since he went to Gold Beach with them. He was just there for yoga classes and then left.

        • I mean that I was protecting myself from further abuse and criticism and scrutiny, in the sense that they can’t say I’m not interested in the “practice” because I’m going through the yoga training program.

          • To the person saying “so i could continue living there.”. Yes so i could save what little money I had as I was preparing to exit. I had no family to return to, no support outside of the cult, no car, no job. Nothing. I knew I was facing homelessness, harassment and all “job references” from the ashram being useless.

            Similar to what many do in abusive situations where a huge amount of the abuse has to do with the financial control that keeps you dependent it was no different for me. This is well known in domestic violence with family situations it is not any different with high control cults.

            It’s also why I tried to connect with and warn people at the same time but had to juggle saving myself with saving others.

          • But the teacher training costs thousands of dollars as I recall! So did you work in trade for that training as well? How could you afford a specialized training program that consumes as much time in the day as a part-time job?
            That is Consumer’s Regret

            You enrolled in a timely and costly yoga teacher training program knowing your ex boyfriend was lead instructor.

            You paint yourself as a victim but paint washes off.

          • Hey anonymous.

            The “thousands of dollars” comment is interesting. Anyone can put a price on anything and claim that is the real value. But is it? You talk about paint washing off. Interesting….

            What do you think the real value is of all the work I did at the ashram under the table for years as a “credit” to my tuition? Do you think it was only worth “$8.00 per hour” (as they told me), unreported to the IRS and with zero workers protection or health insurance? The stump grinding, mowing, gutter cleaning and repair, hedge trimming, weeding, planting, roof work, concrete work, masonry, painting, metal grinding, flooring, electrical, irrigation, carpet removal, deck removal and installation, caulking, boring, edging, cleaning, vacuuming, vacuum repair, food prep, cooking, dishwashing, carpentry…etc.

            Call what the yoga training program was “timely and costly” okay, then what is it that I did for the ashram? Was everyone who taught there as a yoga teacher paid properly for their contributions equal to the value of what they actually did (or what your claiming they did?) Was Natacha paid properly while she was doped up 24/7?

            I do also like that you imply that this was just something I did with a full broad horizon in front of me, no coercion, no threats, no pressure, fat wads of cash in my pocket right. Yes? A sympathetic organization giving me a opportunity nobody else ever had.

            No devil’s arithmetic at all. Nope, just pure love and compassion and freedom the whole way. Tell me more.

            And yes I made a decision to not let his presence there get in the way of my chances of survival in the outside world (including connecting with people who might be able to help me exit). Please do tell me more about how he was a lead instructor. How was he paid? Were all instructors paid the same? Are you in contact with him? Would you like to explain about how his known drug and abuse history at the ashram was not a red flag?

  • Thank you for telling your story. I can only hope it helps someone. Hopefully, another victim will come forward and share their story as well.
    You are brave.

  • Sadhvi–you are next in line. This entire Ruth Graham story really highlights the abysmal so called mentoring of young people at the ashram. You guys stink at it. This hierarchical, “old school” bullshit way of interacting with young folks doesn’t work. Got it? Poor advice, misleading and confusing interfaces with Swami, leads nowhere. Fuck you for thinking that you are leader of any kind. You cold, person you. You have no warmth about you whatsoever, and you are deeply involved in the running of, and sustaining of a cult. Look up Stockholm Syndrome. You are involved in that, whether you recognize it or not.
    You failed in your leadership, and Ruth Graham is a shining example of that. The Eastern based spiritual Guru dissolved his community, and went to live in considerable luxury in a southern Oregon coastal town. Paranoia increased, and the cult like environment increased as well. How cliche. And, how disappointing, and ultimately completely sad.

    • So is Ruth a joker, or is she a shining example that really highlights the abysmal mentoring, misleading interactions and poor advice? Or you only like picking the aspects of other’s stories that suit your narrative? I don’t disagree with your assessment of the place, btw. But I would add, using, infantilizing, treating as personal slaves, exploiting, grooming, and sexual assault. Maybe stick to the facts of this story and contribute that way instead of your personal (and pretty damn ugly) abuse of Ruth. Don’t like her stories, don’t read them. And better yet, write one yourself so we can all critique it in the same way.

  • Ruth Graham is a joker. A joker is a person who is not to be taken seriously. Frank–this is the best you can do, giving Ruth Graham this much opportunity to voice her views on sexual abuse, prostitution etc?
    This most recent article is proof that Ruth got nothing out of her experience at the ashram for a number of years. Sad. tsk tsk. Go somewhere else, Ruth, your story has been “juiced”, you have nothing more to offer. People stayed at the ashram for decades because there was something of great value there for them, which, quite obviously completely escaped you

    • I think Ruth has a lot more to say and is a talented writer, in my opinion. But Horsetail I urge you to write about the Swami. Your insights will be valuable.

  • Why did you go to the institute in the first place? What was the appeal for you? Was it simply an alternative to a homeless shelter? And why were you homeless? Seems like you were capable of working. In a city like Portland a young blonde white woman could easily get a low paying job in a cafe or retail that would let you pay rent on a room in a place with other young roommates. Do you struggle with mental illness or addiction? It’s just not adding up since it sounds like you are not the typical spiritual seeker who would go to live at an ashram.

      • It’s completely valid point.

        Ruth signed up for extra classes instead of going out and getting a paying job so she could find her own place to live.

        She traded her labor for classes. That Yoga Teacher course is a huge time and money investment: does Ruth teach yoga and support herself with the money? Doesn’t sound like it…. So why did she take that course? Knowing full well her arch enemy was the lead instructor?

        This entire story has more holes than Swiss cheese and it stinks

    • I had outside jobs while i worked there and also finished my associates degree. I dont feel with the “blonde woman” comment I’m dealing with a grounded individual with regards to how the world really is towards women in the workforce. Odd comment. Are you the type that thinks i batted my eyes and uncrossed my legs and had jobs just falling into my lap? Really? You’re clearly not in my age group (millenials( let alone a woman.


      How does it not add up? Is this a fishing expedition by a cult member?

      My entire reasons for being there have both vulnerabilities and personal interests as causesI didn’t have addictions. I did have a difficult (abusive) family and indeed was having existential issues and I was looking for answers for my purpose in life because of that. When i entered the ashram i was also brought there by my father, who at the time was also one of my narcissistic abusers, including physically. He even convinced me that I didn’t deserve college, despite I was an honors student and nationally ranked athlete (div 1 all american). Google “scapegoating” if you want to understand the role I had growing up in my family.

      I was yes, indeed interested in buddhism from my teenage years, so you can understand therefore there was an appeal for a meditation and yoga community there. They hd a convincing fiction around who they are and what they are about. A glossy cover. Is that too hard for you to understand?

      • I understand.
        50 years ago I thought I had happened upon a safe place filled with kind people who would be like a family; a place to grow and be involved with positive workings.

        I was naive too. And so very hopeful.

      • Why do you always have to be so gross and creepy “uncross my legs”?

        You’re wrong about my age and gender. If you hadn’t been taken to the ashram you would’ve seen for yourself how you most def would not have been homeless if you were capable of doing even the
        It’s basic type of work. I know from experience it’s easy for young white women in a city (women of other races too, but let’s face it, white privilege is real) to get all kinds of entry level jobs and to find an affordable room for rent. The roommate of choice is a young woman bc they tend to clean up after themselves). The east of getting jobs is Not because of “uncrossing legs” but because people hire young women to work as baristas, sales clerks, and receptionists. So the answer to my question apparently is you were fooled/bullied into thinking your options were only ashram or homelessness. Tragically, that was not the reality at all.

        • You say: “If you hadn’t been taken to the ashram you would’ve seen for yourself how you most def would not have been homeless if you were capable of doing even the
          It’s basic type of work.”

          Have you faced homelessness? I wonder. This comment is just so disgusting and invalidating. You should be ashamed of yourself.

          I’ll have you know, that I did have a job while I was homeless. Yes. I was employed. I was not only employed, I was a coach for cross country and track, and was attending community college. Do you have brain damage which prevents you from realizing you can be employed and homeless at the same time? This comment of yours reeks of class privilege. It’s clear you’ve never faced homelessness.

          I was actually homeless. Yes. I faced that. If you face it, and get out of it, it is a fear that will likely haunt you, as it still does me.

          You say: “Why do you always have to be so gross and creepy “uncross my legs”?”

          What do you think gets a blonde woman a job? Tell me what you mean. I’m not going to pretend you didn’t mean what you implied, that it was some sexual favor, sexual attractiveness thing.

          You’re not going to tell me with a straight face you think people hire women (supposedly more than men, lol, but I have no proof of that) based on perceived superior competency vs men, are you? Please show me a source for that, lol.

          You seem to have issues way beyond a personal objection to my story, which go into the realm of a personal grudge. And it shows in your insane blanket statement that no competent white blonde woman could ever be homeless.

          And your personal experiences do not match up to reality btw:

          Some more sources:

          And some more:

          And it certainly does not match to my lived experience. You know, which should be valid right? So you can make blanket statements to invalidate my lived experience? Who are you again? What’s your name. Where are you coming from?

          So I wonder, were you applying to a bunch of jobs with some white female friends at the same time, for the same positions, and they got them and you didn’t and you know, for a fact, it was due to some racial bias against you? I’d love to hear the actual story here. Your actual anecdotes. Which still don’t justify your disgusting statements. But I’d be willing to hear it out anyway. There’s obviously some kind of story.

          A final note on grossness, you’re the gross one (fact) for your invalidating, insulting, and unnecessarily racially charged statements.

          • “This comment of yours reeks of class privilege. It’s clear you’ve never faced homelessness.”

            Wrong. I’ve worked since I was 15 and 100% supported myself since I was 17. No family or other help whatsoever and I had a period at 18 where I had nowhere to live having suddenly lost my housing and was awkwardly crashing on the couches of acquaintances til I could find a place of my own.

            Class privilege? I would say that you bumming around in a Portland ashram for 7 years reeks of class privilege more than my life experiences do.

          • Anon,

            As long as you are anonymous your story is as believable to me as anything spoken by Trump when he calls himself a tremendous genius who everyone loves.

            Do tell how you were couch surfing – so this means you admit it’s feasible one can be homeless and employed at the same time. I rest my case.

            A final note, I would love to show you the scars I have from the work I did at the ashram. Yes, I was just “slumming.” You have issues, whoever you are.

          • Ruth wrote: “Do tell how you were couch surfing – so this means you admit it’s feasible one can be homeless and employed at the same time. I rest my case.”

            Yeah, but it doesn’t mean you have no choice but to go live in an ashram for seven years. That’s what I’m trying to gain some understanding into.

          • “A final note, I would love to show you the scars I have from the work I did at the ashram. Yes, I was just “slumming.” You have issues, whoever you are.”

            I have scars all along my forearms from the grease splatter at the fast food job I starting working when I was 15. And they just paid me minimum wage. No room and board, no included yoga and meditation classes. *shrugs*

        • Also I definitely was right, you’re not in the age group (millennials). I think I might know who you are. It’s interesting. I feel sorry for you. You position yourself in a way similar to other enablers of the Swami. You knew what was going on, did nothing, and you victim blame and declare yourself “not one of the weak ones who would get hurt.” Are you going to write an article to Frank with your name about how much you appreciated what Swami did for you? I welcome it.

      • Also, why do you have to be so condescending and assume that people who are here on a website devoted to the subject of abusive cults need to do a Google search to understand what scapegoating means?

          • Yes, condescending. Telling a person to Google a widely understood word, when they did not even ask you what it means, is condescending.

            I’m not anyone you know. I came to this blog for the NXIVM news, long before any of the Swami Chet stories.

          • This is not your playground Ruth.

            Let’s stay on topic of Chetananada or get the fuck off this blog

          • I find Ruth’s commentary interesting, and she is attracting a following. I think this is perhaps partly due to her critics. That creates controversy.

          • To Anon:

            Why are you so angrily obsessed with me? If you want the focus to change, then stop focusing on me. Simple concepts for simple people.

            Start writing your own material and submitting it to Frank maybe. Instead of being mad someone else is providing something for Frank that Frank is adult enough to chose what to do with. This is his playground actually. Don’t like it, get the f*ck off his blog. Sh*t or get off the pot as they say.

        • “Start writing your own material and submitting it to Frank maybe”

          Giving unsolicited advice is another hallmark of a condescending person.

          • I can indeed be scornful to people who are scornful, deceitful and abusive to me. This doesn’t make it my whole identity. I see that you are trying to make that so. Sure. You are free to say that. But I have rules. You treat me a certain way, I will reflect that energy back. You try to pass off bullshit, I call it out. This is actually healthy behavior on my part. Abusers operate by demanding nobody stand up to their abuse, demanding a double standard. I never advocate pacifism. Do you?

About the Author

Frank Parlato is an investigative journalist.

His work has been cited in hundreds of news outlets, like The New York Times, The Daily Mail, VICE News, CBS News, Fox News, New York Post, New York Daily News, Oxygen, Rolling Stone, People Magazine, The Sun, The Times of London, CBS Inside Edition, among many others in all five continents.

His work to expose and take down NXIVM is featured in books like “Captive” by Catherine Oxenberg, “Scarred” by Sarah Edmonson, “The Program” by Toni Natalie, and “NXIVM. La Secta Que Sedujo al Poder en México” by Juan Alberto Vasquez.

Parlato has been prominently featured on HBO’s docuseries “The Vow” and was the lead investigator and coordinating producer for Investigation Discovery’s “The Lost Women of NXIVM.” In addition, he was credited in the Starz docuseries 'Seduced' for saving 'slave' women from being branded and escaping the sex-slave cult known as DOS.

Parlato appeared on the Nancy Grace Show, Beyond the Headlines with Gretchen Carlson, Dr. Oz, American Greed, Dateline NBC, and NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, where Parlato conducted the first-ever interview with Keith Raniere after his arrest. This was ironic, as many credit Parlato as one of the primary architects of his arrest and the cratering of the cult he founded.

Parlato is a consulting producer and appears in TNT's The Heiress and the Sex Cult, which premieres on May 22, 2022.

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