If You Could Live Anywhere

I met someone recently who has lived in the same city and state for his entire life of 60 plus years. He’s moved once – from the house where he grew up to the house he lives in now. He’s been at the same job for 40 years, and for the past 25 years, he’s met weekly for dinner with his friends from third grade.

If You Could Live Anywhere

I can’t imagine living in the same place for my entire life or still knowing friends from grade school, or middle school, or even from high school for that matter. I’ve moved almost as many times as I am years old, and I’m closing in on 65. It gets in your bones, moving. I can feel an itch after I’ve been somewhere for a while because my normal has always been change. I find it difficult to settle, to resist the itch. I long for roots, for a sense of belonging. I experience a sense of temporariness everywhere I go even though I am good at creating a cozy – even magical – environment to live in. I once complained to my dad that the Air Force life was hard on us kids – I’d moved 12 times by the time I was 16. “Bullshit!” my dad retorted. “You learned adaptability!” He’s right! I did! I’ve developed super sensitive sensors and my intuition is sharp. I can quickly scope out a situation and figure my way around. I’m not afraid of being somewhere new because I’m confident I will find a way to fit in, even if by becoming invisible.

As a kid, I was excited to contemplate the fresh beginnings that came with moving, the chance to start over, to leave the mess behind, and to fantasize about a clean, blank slate. It was sad, though, to leave my friends, the little communities I became part of and found comfort in. I tried to stay connected through letter-writing with my now pen-pals, but that proved impossible over time because we would live somewhere for six months, move to another place for a year, and then to another. The string of lost friends grew, and eventually people dropped off. I couldn’t help but stop trying. It’s challenging to remember all of the places I’ve lived and friends I’ve found and then lost. When I was a kid in a new place, I remember recognizing people I thought I knew from the last place I’d lived, as if the same people were everyone, but in slightly altered bodies. When I map out my life’s journey, the map looks like a spider’s web – from Illinois to Texas to Wisconsin to Newfoundland to New Jersey to Florida to Alaska to Florida to Maryland to Maine to Washington to New York.

Five years ago, I decided to relocate from New York to California. My kids were all out west. I work remotely so I can live anywhere as long as I have internet and am near an airport. I had nothing left holding me in the east. My belongings were packed in a POD, my bicycle was strapped to the back of my car. My dog and I headed west to LA where my daughter and her family live. Even though I wasn’t able to quite imagine myself living in this sprawling city, I decided to give it a try anyway. I love the weather, the Pacific Ocean, the desert, the succulents, the art community, the vibe. I am finding my communities and establishing roots. I don’t have to choose between the mountains, or farms, or beaches, or cities because because I have access to them all.

It’s been a hard year for all of us. We’ve been deeply impacted and changed forever by the pandemic. For me, in addition to the pandemic, my father died. I temporarily lost my job. My daughters’ marriages ended. It’s been a particularly bad year. Though I love where I am, I am feeling unsettled, and that compulsive, familiar itch for change is nagging at me. But what am I seeking? The sun and the moon and the birds are wherever I go, and so am I.

Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD)

drooping twoPost Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is is a mental health condition some people develop after experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event. Symptoms can include flashbacks, nightmares, severe anxiety, and uncontrollable thoughts about the event. Complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (CPTSD) is a condition where those afflicted experience some of the same symptoms of PTSD along with additional symptoms, such as difficulty controlling emotions or feeling very hostile or distrustful towards the world.

I am diagnosed with CPTSD. It’s an insidious condition that can be incredibly debilitating and lonely. In my most recent post, Dark Horse, I’ve tried to paint a picture of how mysterious it is and how overwhelming it feels when CPTSD comes to haunt. For me, once I fall into emotional disarray following triggering events, I have to work very hard to unbundle all of the difficult memories and re-balance myself.

I’m learning how to recognize my CPTSD triggers. I’m learning to pay attention instead of ignoring my own internal warning signs. I can avoid putting myself into a triggering situation when I pay attention, which is much less painful than the alternative. I will never be completely free of CPTSD, but when I take care of myself, and when I remember that CPTSD is a real thing, I am better able to manage it.  Awareness is key, and therapy is critical. Emotional honesty helps, too!

Dark Horse

Dark Horse

From what shadow does this dark horse come?
His silk-black fur streaked white with salty sweat,
he rears and gallops steadfast as he roams.

Whirling, nostrils spitting fiery foam,
he forces ironed hooves upon my chest.
From what shadow does this dark horse come?

His bloodshot eyes ablaze are set as stone.
(I groomed him once, massaged his shimmering coat!)
He gallops steadfast for his lonely home.

I know him, yet I am quite unknown.
He does not heed my sacrificial heart.
From what shadow does this dark horse come?

When I grab his mane and cast my bones
on his bare back, he bucks with no regret.
Leaving me, he gallops toward his home.

He emerges all at once:  handsome,
muscles rippling, downy ears alert.
From what shadow has this darkness come?
Alone, it gallops steadfast as it comes.

Laurie Schaffler
December 31, 2014

Daddies and Daughters

image-1I will miss my father on this Father’s Day as I have on so many others. I will miss him differently than I have missed him for the majority of my life, on the days when he was alive and we were not talking to each other.

My dad died on March 9, 2020, just following his 88th birthday. He died in his own home with his creatures and memories around him, and with me there to help.  I am deeply grateful for the tender memories. I am glad I was there.

As my dad lay on his deathbed, I found myself hoping he would utter an end-of-life apology for a half-lifetime of estrangement. I wanted him to soften, maybe crumble slightly, and make verbal peace with me, my three brothers, my sister, and my mother. I waited earnestly, hopeful we would appear in his stories, but we never did. He told stories of his life before us, after us, and around us.

I kept my dad safe and comfortable as he died. I held his hand and reassured him – when he thought he was being shot at – when he felt like he was falling from a ladder – when he shouted out to someone in the distance for help. I held his hand and touched his face. I loved my father.

Daughters need their Daddies. We need unconditional love from our fathers. We need guidance and involvement and adoration. When Daddies adore their Daughters, we are more inclined to expect love and adoration from the world around us.


B-Fest began about two years ago with Friday night grandchildren sleepovers and pancakes in the mornings.

My roommate and I live minutes away from our two daughters and their families. Our grandchildren are close in age and are more like siblings than friends. We are lucky to be close to our families and able to participate in each other’s lives daily, and we love Friday night sleepovers.

We started cooking Saturday breakfasts together and welcoming others to join us. Over time, B-Fest has organically evolved into a pulsating and spontaneous community of family, friends, friends of friends, old neighbors, and new neighbors who come together for food, conversation, play, and comfort.  We appreciate what we have created together. Not a B-Fest goes by without at least one person commenting about how valuable our gathering is and how fortunate all of us are to experience this safe community.

Love and appreciation for family, friends, and community is palpable at B-Fest. We all benefit, we always express gratitude, and every week we are reminded of our responsibility to each other. Children wake on Saturdays excited for B-Fest. Parents appreciate the leisurely pace of the morning.  Neighbors find solace in being welcomed by a new community. My roommate and I are honored to serve as surrogate mothers and grandmothers when we are needed. B-Fest is a magical example of the importance of community.

We love watching B-Fest evolve organically while we cook, eat, listen, learn, and enjoy each other’s company. We love the synchronicity of it all and the fact that for everyone, B-Fest fulfills a need.


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This Happened

I was drawn in.

My daughter asked me to help her choose a sari for a wedding celebration. In our quest for a store that sold saris, we wound up at a Hare Krishna temple. I haven’t been to a Hare Krishna temple since I left the movement over thirty years ago. My daughter saw that I was visibly shaken.  “I’m okay,” I said, “let’s go,” and we walked inside. My daughter was five when I left the Hare Krishna movement. She doesn’t have a conscious memory of that life.

img_3419The Govinda gift shop and the ladies who worked there were lovely. Their faces were welcoming and effulgent, and they were kind and helpful to my daughter. The shop was filled with saris and cholis and dhotis and kirtas.  Brass dieties. Incense. Dr. Bonner’s soaps. Baby Krishna.

I asked if there were discounts for devotees. I found myself compelled to tell them I was a twice initiated disciple – by Srila Prabhupada – a devotee like them! I had this odd longing to belong again to so much memory.

We heard music in the temple room, so we slipped our shoes off and went inside. A devotee was leading kirtana. Another devotee was placing an offering of food at the feet of a life-size statue of the guru, Srila Prabhupada. I stood with my daughter wrapped in my arms against my chest, remembering ten years of this life. We both wept.

And then I was angry. I remembered the children who were separated from their families and sent to the Gurukula schools, and who were abused and mistreated. There are so many deeply disturbing stories. I remembered the corrupt behavior of the leaders that we all rationalized as acceptable because we believed everything they did was in the service of God. I remembered the tricks we were taught to play on non-devotees to coerce money from them because we were convinced that taking from their pockets for the service of God would only benefit them. I remembered the cruelness inflicted on me and how vulnerable and devastated I was. They will say things are different now. If they are, where is the apology?

I Have Lived in This House


Whenever I am on the streets of Capitol Hill in Seattle, I am drawn to a corner, one of memory, as if by standing before this old house, I will unravel a clue to reconciling a past I love and a past I hate. 

This house is where I learned to cook large vats of ghee, yogurt, and dahl, and make piles of chapatis. I learned to meditate, and I sewed clothes and made flower garlands for the deities, Radha and Krishna. My marriage was arranged here, and this is where my wedding ceremony was performed. I lived here when I became pregnant with my first child.  

I am inside this house.

I am upstairs, inside the second story porch, my sari neatly pleated and tucked around my head and body. I worship the Tulasi plant, circling her with offerings of flowers and a ghee-lamp burning with camphor-soaked cotton balls. I sing, “vrindayai tulasi-devyai, priyayai keshavasya cha.” I kneel to offer obeisance.

In the temple room, I am among the women, submissive and entranced. We sway before the altar, arms lifted, devoted, chanting to the hauntingly beautiful trilogy of harmonium, cymbals, and drums. Musky incense smokes the air.

I wonder if the new residents sense a vibration in the walls and floors. Do they smell the lingering spices? Do they feel the hum of early morning meditation?

I do.

Hare Krishna STDs and Modern Medicine

“Not in this country,” the doctor said shaking his head and frowning, his hands planted deep inside his white-coat pockets.  “Chlamydia only exists in third-world countries.  Not in America.”

The doctor looked over the rim of his glasses at me, his forehead creased with puzzlement. He must have thought me odd:  an American girl dressed as if from India, wrapped in a purple and orange sari with intricately woven golden borders, the bridge of my nose painted with a sandalwood-paste lotus petal, my forehead marked with U-shaped lines, red kumkum powder coloring the part in my hair, a red dot between my eyebrows.   I held my newborn daughter, Krishna-Lila, in my arms; Suniti and her brother Kana skipped around us, their rubber sneakers squeaking on the granite tiles as they chased each other.

“My husband lived in India for a while,” I explained. “Is there a chance he could have gotten Chlamydia while he was there?” I looked down at my sleeping, infant child and lightly rubbed my thumb across her eyelids.


We stood in the foyer of Montefiore Hospital in Bronx, New York. My daughter, Suniti, had already been seen by at least a half-dozen specialists, but no one could tell me what was happening to her eyes. Suniti had been suffering from eye ailments since she was an infant, and now she was four years old. Her eyes were not getting better.  Often, it would take up to thirty minutes for her to be able to open her eyes when she woke in the mornings as she adjusted to light and air exposure. Sun and wind caused pain. Much of the time, she squinted and covered her eyes. Now, my infant daughter, Krishna-Lila was scheduled for eye surgery. Her tear-ducts were clogged, and they would have to be probed. She wasn’t producing tears, and her eyes were swollen. She would need anesthesia for the procedure. She was less than one month old. Two daughters with eye problems:  it seemed logical there might have been something common between the two of them. Both had been born in natural conditions with no eye treatments at birth, and I thought it was possible they could have contracted Chlamydia during delivery. My son had been treated with an antibiotic in his eyes as required by the birthing center where he was born, and he had no problems at all with his eyes.

At the time, Montefiore Hospital was one of only two hospitals in the United States doing research on Chlamydia. The other was the University of Washington Hospital where I had gone for prenatal treatment briefly during my first pregnancy, where I had agreed to participate in a study on Chlamydia, and where I had tested positive for the sexually transmitted disease. When the dozen or so interns and researchers had come to visit me in the exam room, they told me the disease causes pneumonia, glaucoma and blindness in third world countries; research was just beginning. No warnings were given when I was forced to change hospitals for insurance reasons, and nothing was said to me about treatment. I honestly did not think anything of it at all and did not know there was any danger. I myself had absolutely no symptoms. How ironic to have contracted a sexually transmitted disease when I was not even allowed to have sex!

The Hare Krishna philosophy was based on four principals:  eat no meat, fish, or eggs; drink no alcohol and take no drugs (including caffeine); do not gamble; and remain celibate except for purposes of procreation within marriage. This meant that even within marriage, sexual intercourse was only permitted if the couple was intending to have a baby, and then only one time per month at the point when the woman was most fertile. The idea of love or physical intimacy in a marriage was frowned upon, and the arranged marriages in the Hare Krishna movement were intended to provide a bit of “licensed sense gratification” for a period, but within limits. During our seven-year arranged marriage, my husband and I had sexual intercourse ten times.  We did not sleep in the same room, nor did we ever hold hands or show any affection toward each other.

Suniti, my oldest, had been less than one month old when I started to worry about her eyes. They teared constantly with yellowish discharge and crusting, and they were always bloodshot. I tried a honey solution and my own breast milk, but the symptoms persisted. There was an unwritten expectation amongst the Hare Krishnas that we should follow alternative forms of treatment rather than trusting modern medicine and procedures. We were encouraged to use naturopathic remedies, so I tried everything I could think of. I even sent a saliva sample to a naturopathic healer who told me that Suniti had herpes in her eyes, and there was no cure; she would likely go blind. I was desperate and terrified. The Hare Krishna philosophy focuses on the concept of karma, and we were taught that sickness was caused by our own sinful activities. I could not help but wonder if my child suffered because of something I had done in this life or in a previous life.

I had just turned twenty-two years old when I gave birth to Suniti. She was born in my Seattle apartment, on the floor, as I lay atop my sleeping bag. I had hired a licensed midwife to help me. When I first met the midwife, she interviewed me, asking about my health and my family history.  She also asked me, again and again, “Are you sure this is what you want?  Are you under the influence of the group you belong to?  Do they say you must have your child at home? Are you sure?” I insisted I was not under anyone’s influence, that I wanted to have a natural, home birth, but I sensed she did not believe me. The truth was that I had been programmed to believe doctors were untrustworthy and modern medicine was a scam. I did not want to have my child in the hospital because I believed the programming. The midwife insisted I have back-up care with an OB/GYN doctor during my pregnancy in the event she deemed it dangerous for me to have a home birth. The only reason I knew about the Chlamydia was because I had back-up care.

Suniti was an overly fussy baby, but I thought she cried because she was hungry or wet or maybe colicky, so I fed her and changed her diaper and bounced her to quiet and soothe her. I never imagined her eyes were causing pain. Despite my distrust of modern medicine, I took Suniti to a pediatrician to see if he could help. The doctor diagnosed her with conjunctivitis and prescribed a topical medication for treatment. As long as I continued to put the medication in Suniti’s eyes, she seemed soothed. Her eyes stopped discharging, and they weren’t as bloodshot. As soon as I stopped the medication, though, the symptoms came back. The pediatrician sent us to a specialist, who said she had ulcers growing on her corneas, but he didn’t know how to stop them from causing damage. He sent us to more specialists for more tests. The doctors put florescent drops and shone lights in Suniti’s eyes, prying her little eyelids open, clenched shut because the light caused her so much pain, and we could see the little spots forming on the corneas right above the pupils. Three little dots on each eye eating away her corneas. No one could say what was happening. This went on for several years.

How many times I had explained that I tested positive for Chlamydia when I was pregnant with Suniti! My explanations and pleas fell on deaf ears until the doctor I met in the foyer of Montefiore Hospital finally agreed that it couldn’t hurt to test, even though he doubted me. Both daughters – and my son – had samples taken of the inner lids of their eyes. My daughters, in fact, did test positive for Chlamydia as I suspected. My son did not have the disease because he had received Erythromycin drops in his eyes, the cure for Chlamydia, when he was born. My entire family was prescribed to take Erythromycin for ten days.  Immediately, the girls’ eyes started getting better. What a joy it was to see Suniti able to open her eyes when she woke in the mornings!  How glorious to watch her swing on a swing-set without squeezing her eyes shut!

When I Stopped Chanting Hare Krishna

Hrsikesa and I were living with the Hare Krishna community in Lake Huntington, New York where a temple and a school had been established.  The property had once been a summer camp and was nestled in a rich, green valley in upstate New York. A small farm was situated on the property with lush vegetable and flower gardens and a couple of cows who roamed freely.  It was a lovely property in the country with dirt roads and summer cabins and rabbit hutches in the neighbors’ yards.  Hrsikesa had saved some money and secured a loan to purchase a mobile home for us, thanks to the help of his father.  The home was installed on a small hill across from the temple building, and we were welcomed as members of the community. The plan was for Hrsikesa to help with temple matters, and he also hoped to start a granola bar business.  I would care for the children and be a good wife.  We were off to a good start, even though our Hare Krishna friends teased us, calling our home “The Yellow Submarine” because, well — it was yellow — but more so because it was considered opulent, despite its simplicity and sparseness. The few other married couples who lived in the community shared space with each other in one of the old camp buildings.  We, on the other hand, had our own private home with a small kitchen, a tiny bathroom, and two bedrooms — one for Hrsikesa and one for me and the children.

Baby Kana

Before moving  to Lake Huntington, we had lived in many different locations, moving from Seattle to Port Royal, PA to Pittsburgh to Puerto Rico to New York to Bellingham, WA and back to Seattle where my second child was born.  We scoped out the famed temple in West Virginia, a temple in Tennessee and other places I don’t even remember.  We had been married for under four years, and we seemed to always be on the move.  Often when we moved, we did not even know where we were going next, and we would land in New York to stay at Hrsikesa’s father’s house until he sorted it out.   Hrsikesa had a hard time staying put and getting along, and eventually, wherever we were, he would come up with a reasonable justification to leave and go somewhere else, finding fault with something or someone, or believing another place would be better. To say the least, it was tiring to persistently go from one place to the next, especially with young children, and much of the time me being pregnant.  My duty as his wife, though, was to follow my husband, to abide to his authority, not to question his decisions, and to willingly, without complaint, go along for the ride.  Even though I was feeling increasingly unnerved with every move, and I was extremely tired, I suppressed my discontent and forced myself to remember that my role was to be submissive and subservient.  If I chanted hard enough, I could make the discontent disappear for awhile.  I was supposed to have blind faith.

We lived in Lake Huntington for almost a year.  Except for our time in Seattle, this was the longest we had lived anywhere during our marriage.  Hrsikesa was working at his granola bar business and attempting to get along with the temple authorities. I kept busy taking care of my little ones and helping in the kitchen when I could.  We had also conceived our third child.  There were a few other women with small children who I became friends with, whose children were not yet old enough to send away to school.  We were expected to do this — to send our children away to a school somewhere geographically far from where we lived so that we would not interfere with their spiritual growth, and they would not interfere with ours.  The school of the Lake Huntington temple was located at the far end of the property, and the only adults who were allowed in the school buildings were the teachers.  From a distance, the children appeared animated and fun-filled, but close up, you could see how skinny they were, how regimented they were, and how sad they seemed.  They looked run-down; they looked beaten.  Sometimes, the children were visited by their parents on weekends, but most parents lived too far away to come very often, if at all.  The pressure was mounting for me to send my oldest daughter away to school, but I had seen the abuse of children in Seattle, and I could see the sadness in the eyes of the children in Lake Huntington.  I never succumbed to the belief that these little people were simply material attachments and were satisfying some need in me to play with dolls for a while.  It was my job to protect them, and I was beginning to suspect that their safety was at stake, and so was mine.

After some months in Lake Huntington, I could see Hrsikesa beginning to itch with dissatisfaction.  The granola bar business idea was not getting off the ground, and the tension was rising.  The temple leaders were becoming more and more displeased with him and he with them, and they all seemed at odds with each other.  We were finally asked to vacate the property.  Hrsikesa told me we would be moving back to the Port Royal, Pennsylvania temple and farm, so I packed up our things and got ready to move again.  By now, I was seven months pregnant.  I was sad, frightened, and I was beginning to genuinely question his ability to be a good husband and father.  I had made a little home for myself and my children, I had made a few friends, and now I was uprooted again and on the road.  I asked one of my friends what I should do, but she only reaffirmed that I should follow my husband, that this is the role of the wife – to be submissive and to serve her husband, and that is how the wife would grow spiritually.  Hrsikesa snarled, “Trust me” when I whined to him a little about moving again, and so I kept quiet and followed. Something had broken in me, though.  It didn’t make sense that I should have to keep dutifully following this man when nothing seemed to work out.

Once we arrived in Port Royal, we learned there was no room on the farm for us, or at least, that is what Hrsikesa told me.  I suspect we were not welcome at this point.  For about a month, we stayed in the attic of a married couple whose house was located just outside the farm property.  I spent most of my time in the attic with my children.  When my children napped, I cried.  When they slept, I cried.  I cried hard, uncontrollably, violently, every single day.  Oh, how I worried that the baby in my womb would be damaged by my distress!  I had no idea where I would give birth to my baby or where we would ultimately wind up.  I wasn’t without a place to stay, but I was homeless.  I tried to comfort myself with chanting, turning my prayer beads between my fingers, but the words would not form in my mouth; I could not chant.  I slowly stopped going to temple services with Hrsikesa, using the excuse that I was too tired, too pregnant, and I was sick.  This was terrifying because I had been programmed for years to believe that if I did not chant for at least two hours every day, if I did not worship Krishna every day and eat holy food and drink holy water, I would be doomed and my spiritual life would be ruined.  I was convinced that I was on my way to hell, and I was taking my children with me.  I had horrifying nightmares about driving stakes into my childrens’ necks and killing them.  My world and belief system had been shattered, and I felt I was falling into a confusing abyss of nothingness.  It is amazing, dumbfounding, in retrospect, to think how deeply programmed I was.

It is difficult to go back so many years and remember the details of these events, and especially challenging to remember how I felt because I had been well programmed not to feel, but this experience has not faded.  I was devastated and felt like I had been kicked one final hard kick in the gut, and I could barely breathe. Here I was, a very faithful and trusting Hare Krishna devotee, following a man who I was told to marry and who was entrusted with my care and with my children’s care, who could not stick to any thing or any place, who had been kicked out of the temple because he could not get along with people, who I had to follow – with my two toddlers and my belly about to burst with my third baby.  It all seemed illogical.  We Hare Krishnas expounded the idea that we were the most compassionate people in the Universe, and here I was — a Hare Krishna devotee — I was one of them, and I was being treated with the most intense lack of compassion I could imagine.    This didn’t make sense to me.  I had bought into the idea that the Hare Krishna community was my new family.  I had been ordered to give up my biological family – my father, my mother, my brothers, my sister, my grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins, my high school friends, my dog – I gave up everyone because I had been convinced that my attachment to them and interactions with them would cause me spiritual harm.  Then, I was abandoned by the family I had adopted and believed in.  This was the ultimate betrayal.

I wish I could tell you I stopped chanting Hare Krishna because one day, I simply woke up and had an epiphany, realizing the tenets of the Hare Krishna philosophy were wrought with twisted and distorted ideals, recognizing that the guru and his appointed leaders were manipulative and abusive.  I want to be able to tell you I stopped chanting Hare Krishna because I was intelligent enough to understand how vile and corrupt the leaders were and how exploited and deceived I was.  But I can’t tell you these things because I was chanting, every day, for hours, and my thinking was entirely clouded.  It wasn’t until I stopped chanting that I started, slowly, to realize how horrible the Hare Krishna movement really was.  To this day, decades later, I am still unraveling the programming.  I admit, I had personally witnessed and experienced things that were despicable and awful, but I managed to push those images and experiences out of my mind as I had been trained to do.  If ever I doubted the guru, the leaders, my husband, the philosophy, or anything I was told, I found fault with myself, believing I was being influenced by evil.  The mental programming was intense, all pervasive, and difficult to overcome, as Anke Holst describes so well in her lecture, Hare Krishna is bad for your health.  For years, I had been rigidly programmed not to think, not to feel, not to doubt, and I had learned to block any misgivings by chanting loudly, maniacally, and for long periods of time.  I was fairly adept at clouding my own thinking.  As much as I would never want to relive the pain of being abandoned by the family I believed in, trusted and entrusted my life to, I am grateful that I was shaken into thinking again.

No Kidding. My Children. Not Yours.

“We’ll find a wet-nurse for it.  We’ll put it in a basket and keep it in the attic.”

Padyavali followed me into the kitchen, and before I could stop myself, I turned and said, “No.  No one is going to be my baby’s wet-nurse. I am not giving up my baby.”  Padyavali reached up and slapped me, hard, on the face.  I heard the clap of her palm against my cheek, but somehow, I did not feel the sting.  I was stunned, but what was most surprising to me was that I said ‘no.’  I had never said ‘no’ to her before.


Padyavali was older; she did not have children, nor had she ever been married.  She was our headmistress, the overseer of the women and girls of the Seattle Hare Krishna temple.  Rocan, our temple president, had hired her as his right hand ‘man’ so he wouldn’t have too much direct contact with us.  Women, according to the Hare Krishna philosophy, were the downfall of men.  We were full of lust, and our brains were half the size of a man’s.  We were simple minded, and if supplied with enough children, jewelry and saris, we would be satisfied.  It was unusual for a Hare Krishna woman to have any position of authority, but Padyavali was not woman-like; there was not an ounce of femininity about her.  She was short and skinny, and her movements were jerky and rigid.  She was pinched and tight-lipped, her forehead lined with deep furrows, a permanent scowl chiseled into the middle of her dark eyebrows.  Her wide, black eyes darted behind thick-lensed glasses that constantly slipped down her hooked nose.  Despite her size, she was powerful and foreboding, and we all feared her.  Padyavali hovered around Rocan constantly, her white-widow’s sari engulfing her small body, her arm hooked up like a princess to prevent the folds from falling.  I suspected she had a secret crush on Rocan, that she was jealous of me and the other women because we were young and pretty, but I chalked this up to my own sinful thinking and wiped it away.  I had learned to be good at that — ignoring any doubt that entered my mind.  I remember the way Rocan looked at us, though, tilting his head back slightly, fluttering his eyelids and rolling his eyeballs in their sockets as if he was experiencing some sort of ecstasy, oddly flicking his tongue around in his mouth while he led chanting sessions and preached inaudible sermons.

After my pilgrimage to India, when it was deemed I needed special attention  and guidance because of my lack of surrender, because I could no longer meet my daily quota of collecting $250,  I was informed that it was time for me to be married.  My future husband, Hrsikesa, had flown to the Seattle temple from New York seeking a wife, and we were betrothed.  “Please,” I begged, “Please don’t make me marry him.”  I sat on the floor, cross-legged, my head bowed in a gesture of humility, while  Padyavali and Rocan sat on satin pillows on the other side of the room, stone-faced and cold: “You need your own personal guru.”  I was usually good at forcing myself to be submissive and quieting my mind, but I was concerned about marrying this man, and submitting to the idea was difficult. Hrsikesa was a stranger to me, a man with a thick Brooklyn accent and anxious, tense expressions.  Even though he had a handsome face, with soft blue eyes, and he appeared strong-bodied and healthy, something about him made me uncomfortable.  We were discouraged from knowing each other, from becoming attached to each other, from even liking each other. During our betrothal, we were allowed to interact for one hour each day, and then only to read scriptures together in the temple room.  I didn’t want to get married, but I was not given a choice, or at least I believed I had no choice.  If I didn’t follow the plan, I would be forced to leave the temple.  For me this was terrifying because it equated to going to hell and being damned for life.  “We know what is best for you,” Padyavali said, and she forced me, fully clothed, into a cold shower and berated me until I agreed to surrender.  I had witnessed one of the other women refuse an arranged marriage, and she was shoved down a flight of ceramic-tiled stairs, out the door, and into the street.  I pushed away my thoughts, my feelings, and my unhappiness about this arrangement.  Hrsikesa and I were married less than six months after our betrothal.  A few months after we were married, I was pregnant.  I was twenty-one years old.

My husband and I stayed in Seattle up until a month after I gave birth to my daughter.  For much of the first year of our marriage, I wasn’t permitted to live with Hrsikesa, even while I was pregnant.  Padyavali continued to control my daily activities, so I remained in the temple, living with the other single women and working in the kitchen.  On the weekends, I looked after the young girls who lived at the boarding school and whose parents did not live close by.  We took trips to parks and playgrounds, but I always asked the girls to keep our activities secret.  They were not supposed to be having fun, and we would all be punished if anyone found out.  One Saturday, we took a trip to the beach on Lake Union.  It was an early Spring day, the air crisp and chilly.  As soon as the girls were out of the car, they romped and raced toward the water, hooting loudly, stripping off their saris and slips. They jumped into the frigid lake, swimming and splashing until their lips turned blue and their teeth chattered, but they seemed immune to the cold — they were having too much fun.  I suspected this Saturday’s adventure would be impossible to keep secret.  In her excitement, one of the girls told her mother about the day, who in turn told Padyavali.  I was called to the office and severely chastised for having been such a bad influence, for having allowed the girls to be so unchaste as to frolic around in their panties, in public. “But, they need exercise,” I said quietly, trying to defend myself and the girls.  Padyavali sneered, clenched her teeth and proclaimed, “They get exercise going from one building to another to attend classes!”  I was no longer permitted to care for the children.

I worried, for not only were the children prohibited from being children, but abuse and horrifying punishments were being inflicted on the little girls.  These were children. Padyavali and Rocan rationalized and attempted to hide the abuse, but it was impossible to hide it all.  One day, I found a little girl in the basement standing before the washing machine, waiting for the wash cycle to complete, her urine-soaked panties pulled onto her head like a hat, sobbing while she chanted the Hare Krishna mantra at the top of her lungs.  She was a shy and sweet little girl, with curly reddish hair, her cheeks and nose spotted with tiny, red freckles.  She tried so hard to be pleasing, and she seemed always anxious and remorseful.  Her mother lived in a temple in another state, so she could not see what was happening to her daughter, and her father did not know where she was.  If I tried to help the little girl, she would be punished even more.  The most I could do was to gently rub her back and whisper, “It will be okay.”  How sad she was!  Despite her punishment, she could not stop wetting the bed, so she was locked inside the basement’s dirt-walled root-cellar, behind a heavy, metal door, too heavy to push open, her chanting so loud and desperate you could hear the anguish all the way on the third floor of the building.  “She’s a bed-wetter!”  Padyavali condemned the little girl, her lips curled in disdain, when I expressed concern.

Another time, I found a little girl locked inside a dark, basement closet as punishment because she could not control her energy.   She was impish and giggly, but her sense of humor was considered defiant and disrespectful.  She bounced even when she walked, and her laughter was infectious.  I heard scratching behind the door, so I quietly unlocked it and snuck in.  She was humming to herself, scribbling little cartoon characters on the walls with a crayon she had smuggled in with her, a little mischievous smirk on her face.  We whispered and read together for a while, and I only hoped she would not feel alone and frightened.  A few of the children’s parents lived near the temple, and they were able to spend time together with their girls on Saturdays, but even they seemed helpless when it came to their own children.  A mother asked me one evening to come to her house.  Her six-year-old daughter slept in her lap while she stroked her hair.  Tears streamed down the mother’s face.  She showed me her child’s bruised and swollen lips.  “Look,” she whispered. “What do I do?”   A protective, maternal sense was waking inside of me; what I was seeing was deeply disturbing.  I would have a child soon.  I could not fathom any child being treated so badly.

During my seven-year marriage, Hrsikesa and I had three children – two girls and a boy. The Hare Krishna standard was for parents to send their children away to boarding schools when they reached the age of five, and it was encouraged to limit contact with them.  It was not unusual for parents to only see their children a few weeks out of the year.  Children were considered material attachments, we were told, and material attachments were impediments to spiritual advancement.  We were expected to procreate, but we were also expected to hand our children over to others to raise.  We were discouraged from loving our children and our spouses; we were told that love was a perverted sense of lust and kept us stuck in the material world, impeding our spiritual advancement.  As my oldest daughter was nearing the age of five, pressure was mounting to send her away to school.  I had seen too much abuse, and I was not going to allow this to happen to my children. Even if Hrsikesa tried to force it, I would not send my daughter to a Hare Krishna school.

This, in my Hare Krishna life, was the second time I said ‘no.’  I was not going to give my child to someone else to raise.  I was not going to send her to a boarding school, away from me, where I would not be able to protect her.  With a great fear of the unknown, I snuck away with my children, finding refuge in New York with my mother and father-in-law, who were kind and offered protection for us.  After leaving, I received countless threats, and I spent many sleepless nights, staying awake to protect my children from their father, worrying that he would sneak into the house, kidnap them, and drive with them across the border to Canada.  I feared if I fell asleep, I would never see my children again.  My fear was not unfounded.  There were cases like this:  Hare Krishna members kidnapping children and hiding them from estranged spouses, taking them to other countries where they would be impossible to find.  There were cases of young runaway teenagers hidden from their parents by the Hare Krishna movement, and even a case of a father who committed suicide because he could not find the daughter who was taken from him.  I can imagine nothing worse than having my children taken from me.

Prior to being recruited into the Hare Krishna movement, I did not see myself as a mother. I was fairly certain I did not want to have a family.  But, my indoctrination into the group was complete and overwhelming.  I lost all sense of self, and I surrendered to a group of people who told me they knew what was better for me than I did, even to the point of telling me who to marry.  As a Hare Krishna wife, my role was to be submissive and follow my husband, to serve him and to bear children, and I did just that.  Ultimately, my children saved me.  These three people are the greatest gifts of my life.  Even if it were possible, I would not turn back time and eradicate the Hare Krishna experience despite the incredible pain and abuse I endured over nine years because it would mean I would not have these three wonderful people in my life.  My children saved me, they gave me purpose, they protected me, and they helped me to grow up.