Geshe Michael Roach, spiritual director of Diamond Mountain University and Retreat Center, has broken his silence regarding the death of Diamond Mountain University student Ian Thorson. The incidents of which read like a Hollywood thriller–a three year spiritual retreat in the desert and a married couple dealing with issues of alleged domestic abuse said to be fueled by spiritual influence. Both are asked to leave the retreat grounds, their whereabouts are unknown for two months until an emergency phone call is made from a cave in the middle of the desert.
Geshe Michael Roach gives a detailed account in an open
letter explaining the
events that led to the dismissal of Diamond Mountain co-founder and spiritual
director Lama Christie McNally and her husband Ian Thorson. The dismissal came
from the Diamond Mountain Board of Directors after allegations of physical
abuse were made. According to the letter, McNally openly addressed issues of
“mutual spousal abuse” at a meeting held in February. Thorson had previous
incidents in which he was said to be physically violent with other students at
the retreat centre. Both McNally and Thorson left Diamond Mountain on February
20th without any indication of where they were going. The only
person who knew of their whereabouts was McNally’s personal attendant. McNally
called the retreat centre on April 22nd in need of help as Thorson
was suffering from a dire medical emergency. They were found in a cave on
federal lands southwest of the Diamond Mountain grounds. Thorson later died of
explaining why she and her husband decided to stay within the boundaries of the
retreat centre. It was said to be because of McNally’s dedication to her 37
students that she decided to stay close and provide continued support during
their retreat. Devotion she has; however McNally’s training and qualifications
as both a spiritual leader and director are not so certain.
McNally’s credentials and educational background as well as how and where she acquired the title of Lama.
Traditional Tibetan Buddhist monks typically undergo over 20 years of training
and practice before becoming spiritual leaders or are ordained as lamas. This
is not to say that McNally’s intentions were not pure of heart. She had many
loyal followers at Diamond Mountain. However, it is unfair, irresponsible, and
even potentially dangerous to misrepresent oneself as a spiritual guide without
circumstances at Diamond Mountain, a man has tragically lost his life, and
McNally is now mourning the loss of her husband. Certainly this is unusual drama
for a retreat center based on spirituality to cultivate inner peace. Clearly
the couple had conflict within their marriage, but it seems they relied solely
on their spirituality to resolve these issues instead of seeking proper
psychological help. It’s hard to know if this tragedy could have been
prevented, but perhaps it can serve as a lesson on how to appropriately use our
spirituality. If we rely too heavily on meditation to “bliss out” or avoid
emotional pain, we may not taking responsibility for our feelings and actions,
and we could be using our spirituality to bypass the real inner wisdom that can
be gained from it.
Will this tragedy wake up the yoga
community to the dangers of spiritual bypassing?