It used to be an easy shorthand to describe somebody at the top of their game as the “guru” of [fill in the blank]… the tech guru, the marketing guru, the fitness guru, etc. In Western vernacular, “guru,” came to mean someone who possesses deep wisdom, experience, and insights, and is often sought after for guidance or advice.
The title, of course, arose from the world of yoga and spirituality where certain spiritual teachers stood as role models – and coming from the East were seen as possessing the esoteric knowledge that holds the ticket to transformation. A personal guide through life, if you will.
Then came the explosion of bad actors on the scene over recent decades as many high-profile “gurus” in the spiritual world were discovered to be manipulators, cheaters, abusers and sexual predators. There was the infamous Bikram Choudhury of Bikram yoga, revealed as an abuser and sexual predator; the same of Yogi Bhajan who introduced kundalini yoga to the West. Another leader, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche, this one in the Buddhist community, also couldn’t keep his (excuse my French) dick in his pants.
There was Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (Osho) in Oregon, who committed criminal acts during his leadership. And yet another naughty boy, Amirt Desai, called a pioneer of yoga in the West, who preached a strict code of behavior for his unmarried disciples, yet was outed as a then-married philanderer who had ongoing sexual relationships with a number of female students.
That’s just a tasting menu of blacklisted “gurus” who betrayed those who once regarded them with the utmost admiration. However, it’s important to acknowledge that despite the erosion of the “guru” title and its subsequent loss of credibility, there are countless spiritual mentors* today who genuinely embody wisdom, earn respect as educators, and stand as exemplary role models for individuals on their spiritual paths.
Enter the Shaman Mystique
Now, we’re witnessing the rise of the title “shaman” in Western consciousness – and there’s an air of déjà vu. The allure of shamanism is intertwined with the mystical appeal of ancient ceremonies and psychedelics. Western tourists flock to spiritual centers in South and Central America, booking months in advance for transformative ayahuasca ceremonies.
Yet, what’s becoming apparent are the risks similar to those we overlooked in our embrace of Eastern gurus. The title shaman, like guru before it, is being tainted by stories of ongoing episodes of abuse and exploitation.
In an exhaustive investigative report in 2017 (dated but reflective of the continuing cascade of deplorable reports), The Cut, a blog site of New York Magazine published “Sexual Assault in the Amazon: As the ayahuasca tourism industry grows, so do accounts of abuse”.
The article recounts the ordeals of women who fell victim to predatory shamans using powerful plant medicines to exploit them sexually. It concludes that experts, such as advocates, activists and researchers, in the ayahuasca community recognize that sexual misconduct is an escalating issue.
Ahem, sound familiar?
The big difference is that these episodes with shamans are a world away in the jungles and backwaters of tribal communities. So unlike the ability to trace the activities of North American-based gurus, it’s difficult to hold these “spiritual” men accountable.
Is the Romanticizing Over?
Who knows, maybe we’ve learned our lesson in romanticizing this latest version of holy men and superimposing it on other professions – staying away from terms like the tech shaman, the marketing shaman and the fitness shaman.
Above all, I believe a key takeaway is that, as spiritual seekers we need to remember that the true core of spirituality and healing lies within us, not solely in the hands of gurus, shamans and others who claim to lead the way.
Having said that, if you’re seeking a secure and transformative healing journey led by women with the use of sacred medicine, I invite you to join me in southern Portugal this October 2024. You’ll find yourself surrounded by breathtaking natural landscapes and enjoy luxury accommodations without extravagant expenses. If this resonates for you, please join my interest list here.
P.S. *I must acknowledge the contributions of one of my spiritual mentors, GuruMeher Khalsa, who was an early student of the disgraced Yogi Bhajan. GM emerged from the kundalini community with his integrity intact and his brilliance shining, ultimately becoming the creator and developer of Emotional Liberation.