Yogi Bhajan and the Kundalini Community: Premka's Own Your Self Journey
I used to hate men. And, all the while, as I attended a male-dominated college, and entered into a male-centric profession, I was diligently working to emulate what I perceived to be characteristic masculine competence: unfailing rational mind, incisive wit, and relentless fortitude. My core feminine essence (and the locus of my intuition), on the other hand, seemed to be crumpled into the garbage each month with my empty birth control pack. As a self-identified feminist, I was deeply conflicted, invested in egalitarian politics around gender aptitude and opportunity and simultaneously relishing every opportunity to feel validated in my pervasive sense of victimhood around how I and women have been wronged by men since the beginning of time. I couldn’t see then, how my narrative only served to lock me more securely in my own cage.
Ten years ago, I would have jumped all over the scandalous exposé that is rocking the Kundalini yoga community. I would have read Premka, White Bird in a Golden Cage, My Life with Yogi Bhajan, and learned the story of a 25-year-old seeker who, in the 1970s, was held hostage by a malignant guru who held indentured slaves for several decades of his tenure as a self-proclaimed spiritual master, a sexual predator, liar, and manipulator who played with his devotees lives like pieces on a chessboard. I would have felt confirmed in my already held belief that men are fundamentally incapable of handling power without corrupting it and abusing those in their midst. I would have roiled in disgust and indignation.
Had I already been certified as a Kundalini yoga teacher, as I am today, I might have even thrown out all of my books, abandoned my early morning meditation practice, and erased the video files in my online programs.
And I would have wrapped another cozy layer around my many layers of felt victimhood, dependency, and ultimate powerlessness that, themselves, reflected the pain of my own self-judgment, recrimination, and rejection.
But, today, I see something bigger happening. I feel a grand opportunity afoot…
Child Psychology and the Collective Consciousness
It may be possible that we have reached the developmental adolescence of our collective consciousness on this planet. We have lived a figurative childhood rife with abuse, disconnection, and survival-oriented thinking for millennia that has, until this point, served us. We have, until recently, benefited from our application of a materialistic worldview that says what we can observe is all that is, so let’s discount, dismiss, and ignore anything that might suggest we are more inextricably entangled than we might appear. We operated, culturally, from an atomistic perspective that renders every man and woman, fundamentally isolated, on a planet with scarce resources, and competitive forces at play. In this primitive psychology, an entity is only ever good or bad, and we fight the bad, hiding our own bad, so that we can feel good. At least for a little while.
We have brought this psychology to our interactions with externalized authority figures such as government officials, CEOs, doctors, and group leaders, and we have parentified these entities and institutions. In fact, we have vested the qualities of the good parent into the institution of medicine, itself. We are still, in our little childlike hearts, longing for the trustworthy guide who will take care of us. So we trust Fox News. We trust our oncologist. We trust our husband. We trust the FDA. We trust our daughter.
But we aren’t really trusting them. We are trusting the idealized projection we are putting on them to never do wrong, to never be bad, and to live up to our fantasy expectations of their goodness. Like a moral siv, we allow anything that doesn’t fit in with our idealized projection to slip through the holes of our perception….UNTIL….there is, what psychologists call, a failure of empathy. This is when our fusion and symbiosis with the idealized entity or belief system ruptures into an unresolvable difference, revealing our individuality and in a way that feels dangerous and terrifying because we have only ever known safety through a kind of merger. There is a moment when we feel personally violated or betrayed. And then what we thought was good, now becomes bad, and we can’t hold any fragment of the goodness while the bad takes over.
This black-and-white thinking is the bedrock of victim consciousness that is ultimately the driver of suffering, in my opinion. Victim consciousness blames others for our pain. And it, fundamentally, divests us of our power because the perpetrator is the one who did this to us. They had the power to take something from us. That perpetrator can even be faulty brain chemistry or “bad genes.” We wallow in this blame-oriented helplessness and it actually feels good in a way. It feels validating of a feeling we have that we were, indeed wronged, and our needs unmet earlier in our lives. In fact, the only way we might know to experience a little foothold of control may be to feel right about being wronged.
Anatomy of Suffering
My friend Charles Eisenstein has referenced that when you judge another, you might consider that you would make the exact same decision as they have if you had lived their entire life in totality up until that point. So, when we are condemning someone for their inbuilt badness, we are reifying our own superiority, which may itself be an illusion that serves as a balm to the ego and an aching injury to the soul that knows otherwise. Indeed, when we point fingers at anything outside of ourselves for our experience of pain, we are investing the power to hurt us in another.
But what if we are the ones who have to give another the power to hurt us? What if, as Byron Katie says, only you can hurt you? If even through the story you tell about what happened?
Premka describes her 16 years of working as General Secretary for Yogi Bhajan, a larger-than-life guru who, in 1969, is credited with bringing Kundalini yoga to the West. Premka, as he called her, took on the responsibility of running his staff of 12 women, his multiple businesses, and his growing, international 3HO yoga community, as something of a spell that she was under. In her early years, she was charged with massaging the Yogi to sleep, having sex with him, driving him, and applying her professional skills 7 days a week without ever being paid a dime. She was impregnated, driven to her non-elective but complicit abortion, and left hemorrhaging in a London hospital, only to go on to officiate the marriage of the love of her life to another at the Yogi’s spiteful request.
Throughout her narrative, Premka is clear to present the nidus of conflict within herself. In this potentially corrective #metoo era that often involves the lynching of the male transgressor, she walks an unusual line of self-authority, stating:
“I had given him the power to guide my choices and actions…I resolved to defy, to override, my rational mind, to disregard my own intuitive voice, to dedicate myself to following this spiritual teacher wherever he might lead me.”
She recognizes something that I aim to foreground in my own communications, writings, and teachings —which is that we cannot command our destiny until we’ve developed intimacy with our whole selves, and resolved the split that hides our unlovable parts in the closet, while curating our people-pleasing parts in service of avoidance of the pain that is fundamentally perpetuated by our own self-judgment, and ignited again and again, opportunistically, by those we choose to empower. Until we learn to feel the feelings we thought would kill us as children, we are not yet strong enough to shed the self-betraying behaviors that enable others to violate us.
Premka acknowledges the power of her unhealed childhood wounds as the fundamental driver of her idealization and parentification of the Yogi, ultimately leading to her dependency and seeming capture.
“My own strongest inclinations included my great desire to please along with my need to be wanted, to be loved.” She goes on to say, “‘Wrong’ was a sensation that felt life-threatening to me. Up to this point in my life, a span of 40 years, my existence was oriented toward trying very hard to be right.”
We are, so many of us, children running around in adult costumes, operating programs of love acquisition that served us in childhood and arrest us in pain and dependency in adulthood, until and if we answer the call to initiate to our adult selves.
Self-Reclamation and the Fall of the Guru
The gurus are falling. The lid is off. And we have officially entered into the realm of transparency, revealing our prized leaders as small humans. Nearly every individual who has held a position of power has been taken to task for transgressions including sex, money, and even murder. Most of them, men. I, myself, don’t hate men anymore. Because I know that what they often represent in dehumanized caricature, are traits and qualities that I have buried deeply in the basement of my own consciousness, and my hate and blame are ultimately feelings toward myself that I must resolve.
I see men as struggling with their own pain, inherited, incurred, and self-inflicted. And I see us all stepping out from beneath the veil of patriarchy, itself a term to reference the imbalanced drive toward power disconnected from the receptive field of love. Through this lens, we are all victims, and none of us victims. We are now, grappling with the opportunity to transform our experience of pain. Human pain. This transformation requires personal responsibility and curiosity.
I believe this is happening now for a reason…so that we can – if we choose to – reclaim our power as individuals from where we had invested it externally. The dyadic power dynamic of doctor/patient, master/student, guru/follower has been revealed for its potential corruption and limitations, and now we are left with the communities that gathered around that authority figure. We are left to think for ourselves. To divine our own navigational system, and to learn, as Premka says:
“to sense a deeper and more spacious connection to my own True Nature. I learned to meditate in silence, in stillness, and to be guided by the inner compass that had always been there, quietly leading me through my entire life journey.”
We are wired for devotion. We long to see the divine nature in another because it restores a sense of peace and love that we know is always available beneath the surface of a more bereft human landscape. But for devotion and reverence to be something other than a bypass, we must first feel this for ourselves. All aspects of our selves. Because spiritual communities, and belief collectives in general, have often not embraced this shadow work as a mandate for individual devotional practice, members are susceptible to idealizing leaders at their own expense. And as these communities and “cults” are exposed, one by one, we are entering into that moment of rupture wherein we have a choice: continue to engage in black and white thinking that would demonize the fallen hero or take responsibility for where we have invested our power, reclaim it, and initiate ourselves to a locus of control that is never outsourced.
“The next Buddha will be a sangha.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
Individuation and Adultification
This process of initiation is fundamentally, a resolution of the merger of our curated personality (the traits we learned early on would get us love) with the idealized traits of the external authority. The rupture of that merger, as I’ve mentioned, either leads to the external authority flipping to the bad while we remain in our curated mask of goodness and rightness, or we begin the harrowing process of adultification. This adultification is the transformation of consciousness into an expanded capacity to hold multiple realities simultaneously, an embrace of complexity, and individuation of the self from the merger state of the child who only knows how to please others and comply in order to get love.
This individuation process allows there to be as many realities and truths as there are people. It allows for us to understand that we can never really know another’s experience. And it resolves our potential to judge or condemn another, understanding that confusion, pain, and disconnection rather than fundamental badness lead to all of the violence, harm, and injury on this planet. This, in no way, invalidates the felt experience of someone who has experienced trauma. Individuation empowers that person to reclaim their power from the endless energy drain that anger, resentment, and vilification demands. In Own Your Self, I wrote that suffering ends where meaning begins. As we understand the patterns of victimization that have visited our life, we are presented with opportunities to respond differently. This different response is the reclamation of the adult. Premka says, “I often remind myself that if I had not had these lessons to learn, they would not have come to me.”
Here she takes uncomfortable responsibility for what could easily be her life’s anthem – the victim story of her persecution by a sadistic charlatan. She is also seemingly able to hold him as a mixed object – not entirely good, not entirely bad. The capacity to do this is an adult psychological state. It’s when we finally resolve the projection of our badness externally and sit with the uncertainty of multiple operative truths. This means that we get to be both good and bad. We get to be all of it, and we still deserve our own love.
The Risk of Self-Ownership
“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” -Anais Nin
I have watched hundreds of individuals come to that moment of rupture – where a story they staked their identity on (I’m sick, I’m broken, I’m traumatized, I’m born into mental illness) reveals its limitations to support their emergent sense of self. And an existential question seems to drop in front of them on their path, “Are you sure this is who you are?”
I too was confronted by that question right before I walked away from my prescribing privileges, my allegiance to western medicine, and later my family of origin’s belief system.
Those of us who pursue the path of self-discovery, ultimately let the mask fall. We find out what it means to be exactly who we are without being anything we thought we were. We move beyond the tribal pale, and we relinquish all sorts of securities as we discover that comfort is different from the safety that self-ownership confers.
The rattling of the soul in the cage can be ignored. It can be medicated. But the rattle will continue, and often, the opportunities to respond come through louder and more violent shakes of the cage.
The narrative detailed in this book, and in claims that Yogi Bhajan taught a self-generated composite of Sikh and yoga teachings rather than an ancient lineage, are an important part of the evolution of our collective consciousness around polarity dynamics that would keep us each and all arrested in dualistic, good and bad, psychology. A childlike psychology that leads to avoidance of pain, non-intimacy with our most human tendencies, and a lack of faith in our own capacity to feel and hold feelings. Learning how to resolve fears of abandonment, shame, and rejection, and to tame the inner critic that keeps our curated personality on lock – these skills come through the trial of a dark night of the soul. And they deliver you to an experience of self-sourced ok-ness, wholeness, and a deep capacity for compassion and love for others.
The only teacher worth investing your trust in is the one that reminds you that you already have the knowledge you seek.
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