Tara Brach was four months pregnant when she miscarried at a women’s retreat in Española, New Mexico. She was 30, and had spent the last eight years as a devoted member of 3HO, a community promising spiritual awakening.
The loss devastated her. She believed that extensive physical activity in the desert summer heat might have contributed to her miscarriage, so she wrote a note to her spiritual leader, Yogi Bhajan, suggesting they exercise care with pregnant women in the future.
Bhajan waited until the next public gathering to respond. In front of a roomful of her peers and without previous warning, he sternly declared that no summer was hot enough to cause a woman to miscarry. He then called on Brach to stand up and “hear the truth”.
She had lost the baby, he said, because she was too worried about her career – and “motherhood is not a profession”. Now shouting, he accused her of being a liar; he could tell she was one from her aura. “You wanted to have a child, that is true. Everyone knows that. Otherwise you would not have spread your legs,” he spat. “But you got it, and then what?”
He told her she needed to go sit and “work it out”.
A garden Buddha stands in Tara Brach’s garden. Photograph: Alyssa Schukar/The Guardian
Brach, in shock from the public humiliation, retreated to a little one-person meditation hut called a gurdwara, where she spent most of the night.
Meditation in her ashram – which she practiced for several hours after meeting the day at 3.30am with a cold shower – focused on cultivating a “state of peacefulness, energy or rapture”. This practice usually made her feel less distressed or anxious, if only temporarily, by pulling her out of her feelings.
That night, she decided to try something else and forced herself to sit with her feelings of shame, sorrow and fear, instead of trying to escape them. After several hours of doing this, she asked herself if she was feeling bad because, as Bhajan said, she was bad, or because she had lost a pregnancy and had been abused by her spiritual teacher in front of her community.
That moment changed everything. She started to listen to her body and her intuition, and came to the realization that the world of meditation had a serious problem with sexism and patriarchal practices. So she decided to do something about it – starting with self compassion.
In late September, I visited Brach at her home at the end of a dead end street in Falls Church, Virginia. Brach, 68, wore all black on her petite frame. Her wavy hair is the blond of a kid who …….