I sat for an interview for the Wondery podcast Guru: The Dark Side of Enlightenment because ten years later there is still a much bigger conversation to be had.
It took me a few years to understand that attempting to conceal my involvement in the fatal Spiritual Warrior “sweat lodge” was stunting my recovery from trauma and grief. For the past three years I have referred to it occasionally on my Free Your Inner Guru® podcast.
The ten year anniversary of Spiritual Warrior came and went quietly last fall. In the weeks surrounding the October 8 milestone, a flurry of media inquiries came in, seemingly out of nowhere. Around the same time, I had been sharing my experience at speaking events in Toronto, where I live.
Ten years seems to be the amount of time it’s taken for the story of Spiritual Warrior to come home to roost.
After many years of obscurity, time may be finally up on the silence surrounding the circumstances surrounding the deaths of Kirby Brown, Liz Neuman and James Shore.
When I entered the self improvement industry in 2014, I knew my attempts to hide and avoid it couldn’t last forever. Spiritual Warrior was out there, in the collective memory bank also known as Google.
In the early days I stayed out of the media. With an impending criminal trial, and a sense of moral duty, I made the conscious decision to speak only to lawyers involved in the trial.
In the fourth episode of Guru, my testimony is described as grueling.
According to host Matt Stroud, I seemed to be weighing each word very carefully. While that was true, I was also feeling unwell. I attributed a strange persistent dizziness to the effects of stress and jet lag. One day bled into the next as I waited, sleepless, in the motel designated to witnesses.
With the weekend looming, and a brand new business operating without me, I demanded to be called or I was getting on a plane back home to Canada.
The dizziness continued throughout my day on the stand, and persisted after I was safely home.
In the time between October 2009 and my reluctant testimony on March 2011, I had met the man I would marry that June. I had made a home with him and his teenage son. I didn’t know it at the time, but the dizziness was because I was pregnant.
Listening to the fourth episode brings back the memory of what it was like to return home, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually beaten to a pulp. The miscarriage that followed was another unexpected shock.
For many years I would try to put words to the impact of how these events fit into the larger context of my life.
But every conversation veered towards justifying why I was there. “What were you thinking?” “How could you believe what he was selling?” “Is it possible you were in a cult and didn’t know it?”
Flashbacks came often and I would be overtaken by shame.
My first step towards reclaiming my voice and freedom came when I sat for my interview for the documentary Enlighten Us. It was another grueling day, reminiscent of my day on the stand. But this time was different. As I left the house where it was filmed, sunlight fell on my face. In that moment I felt its warmth, and my energy shifted. The heaviness I had become accustomed to began to lift.
Somehow sharing my part in this larger story brought a sense of hope and relief that our experience would not be left out on the margins. Maybe something constructive could come out of the pain. It didn’t happen with Enlighten Us.
That was 2015.
Several Spiritual Warrior participants were interviewed for Guru – The Dark Side of Enlightenment.
Two voices were used in the produced narrative – me, and Brandy Amstel. Being featured as the main representative for the participants is an honour and a privilege. It’s also a lot to process.
Brandy and I spoke on the phone today. That’s one thing I love – when the phone rings, even if it’s been years, Spiritual Warrior participants always pick up for each other.
We spoke of what it is like to take the risk of pouring our hearts out. To speak of surviving and lessons learned, and instead be reduced the sidelines of the narrative.
Brandy is pleased that I am included in the seventh and final episode of, a Q&A with Matt Stroud and Kirby’s mother, Ginny Brown. At long last, one of us was given the space to weigh in on the issues.
It’s one step forward, but it’s an important step.
Each time the story is shared, we are one step closer to preventing harm from being done in the name of personal transformation. In the case of my circumstances, we also have one more chance that someone will listen to their inner wisdom and not defer to someone – even their leader – who thinks they know better.
We also move one step closer to humanizing the participants.
If every survivor shared their story, there would still be room for more. Because each one is unique and carries its own revelations.
I don’t know if a critical mass of people will care about a bunch of seekers who went out to the desert and the three of us who didn’t come back.
But I do know this – there is no shame in having been there.
The true shame lies in the lack measures to prevent future harm in the name of self improvement. There’s no legislative or regulatory body to treat the industry as a profession. Nothing to prevent the next version of this tragedy. No leaders within the industry who came to the forefront to say we will make sure this will never ever happen again.
Their silence is deafening.
In the meantime, there’s a void to fill. And I’ve got a lot more to say.
[Note to reader: I’ve got Free Your Inner Guru® podcast interviews with Guru host Matt Stroud, fellow Spiritual Warrior participants and relevant others on the way, plus an episode by episode blog.
- For more Spiritual Warrior / Guru-related content, click here.
- To submit a question for a future podcast or Daily Letter, or let me know what you’re interested in, send me a message here.
- To be notified when new content is released, click here.
- Media requests, contact me here.]
The Wondery podcast Guru: The Dark Side of Enlightenment was released to the public on July 1st.