Ravenna Michalsen’s Statement
In the spring of 2008 I was working on my second album of dharma songs with Nick Kranz, someone I considered a good friend and kalyanamitra, who I first met at Karme Choling. At this point, I was also friends with his long-term girlfriend and I myself was also in a long-term relationship with a live-in partner. Nick and I met to talk about the album and during the meeting I went to use the bathroom. When I returned, he was completely naked, and invited me to join him. My first thought was – where are his clothes? I blurted out, “What about (name of his girlfriend)?” And he replied: “This doesn’t concern her.” I was completely shocked and also completely confused as to what to do or say. I declined to get naked and have sex with him but he remained naked and oddly demonstrative for about an hour (standing with his penis out in front of a window). It was a deeply uncomfortable encounter that violated our working relationship, our friendship and my view of him as “spiritual friend” further along the path. It also forcibly brought to mind other smaller incidents of him getting erections while we recorded in his room together or while talking dharma at Karme Choling – which his co-workers laughingly called his “dharma boners”.
The episode with Nick was my third sexually violating incident in the sangha (he didn’t know that), and simply one of a string in my non-sangha life. That is the trick of sexual violation: you never know what traumas you are going to trigger off in those you violate. In this case, I was triggered to simply flee: I didn’t confront him, I just broke off our recording agreement, and didn’t speak to him for ten years. He never mentioned it or reached out. In the meantime, I hired a different sound engineer and went on tour. Outside of singing dharma songs, I stayed at a safe distance from the Shambhala community. I didn’t attend any major programs and felt largely consumed by inchoate anger watching the young(ish) men from my cohort rise and rise, not understanding the privilege they had to pursue dharmic activities without harassment, violation, assault, and the resulting fear and rage. I will also note that many of the men from my cohort, due to the fact that they weren’t sexualized as practitioners, were given opportunities denied to those whose role as practitioners included a sexualized element. My personal forms of confusion from having the sexual desires of older men non-consensually intersect with my dharmic interests were anger, sharpness and an unwavering desire to know more about the overall position of the embodied female in Vajrayana Buddhism.
When #MeToo broke in November 2017, I posted a general statement of my experiences in Shambhala on Facebook and was met with tremendous support. Largely due to that wave of similar stories, similar sadness-es, similar rages, in December I texted Nick and asked if we could talk. We set up a time in January, but then I think he remembered the incident and started to text me repeatedly to meet sooner, several texts in one day, etc. I felt really overwhelmed, anxious, sweaty and afraid, but decided to just DO IT. We set up a meeting and I told him it was going to be an uncomfortable conversation but that it needed to happen. I am, at heart, a lighthearted person with a sense of humor who detests conflict, so I wanted to forgive him very much. And it was good to talk with him, but he didn’t really understand that it was anything other than a pass gone wrong. In fact, it was indecent exposure, which is illegal and highly manipulative behavior. He talked about how he first saw me skinny dipping near Karme Choling years ago (which I don’t remember), and how sexy I was, how erotic my voice was, how he wasn’t having any sex in his relationship at the time, and how he wanted to “play with me” like a wild yogini, Milarepa, etc. I did want to forgive and move on, but as the months passed I realized more and more how much he was blaming me and my sexuality for his actions and deeply conflating my person-hood with the nameless, poorly described consorts that populate many of our Vajrayana practices.
I initially asked for Nick to step down completely as a shastri, but he refused so I asked Nick to step down from teaching as a shastri for six months, which he has also refused. He has had a version of this statement for nine days now; I have tried to be as kind as possible to give him advance notice of what action I was taking. I would like him to take time to work on issues such as boundaries, especially since Social Meditation involves prolonged eye contact. I myself have dealt with ten years of consequences from this violation and the compounded harm of what it triggered off – social, sexual and dharmic – and I think it is fine for him to now experience consequences for his actions, though I do not want them to be catastrophic.
Perhaps most importantly, I aspire to continue as a practitioner of meditation without the weight of feeling as if the sexual violations that occurred within the sangha by Vajrayana male practitioners were my fault. I want to remember what it is like to attend a retreat without corporeal fear of someone. This is not a worry most men in the sangha have and thus they are able to proceed along the path without extra encumbrance. To those men and women, mostly titled, who did nothing despite knowing about one, two or all three of my violations, who had long thoughtful conversations with me leading nowhere and who repeatedly asked me when Nick could teach again and to understand him as an “innocent” person: understand that you are an enabler of behavior like this; that is simply what an enabler does. There are many non-white, non-male practitioners in our sangha who will rise as excellent teachers without a history of misconduct to help change our sangha’s culture. I am making a public statement not necessarily for me, but for the young, excited and brilliant women who will be drawn to the dharma in the future. Sarva mangalam.
Nick Kranz’s Statement
I need to share with you a statement I have written in as part of a mediation process with Ravenna Michalsen, a fellow sangha member. She had at first requested that we release joint statements together, but she has since released her own statement on Facebook. I am here releasing my response.
Ravenna and I met as peers at a Meditation Instructor Training in 2004. During that period at Karme-Choling, there were a few occasions of nudity among our friend group. One time, a bunch of us all undressed and sat around together talking about dharma. Later, we all streaked around the Karme-Choling campus. On another occasion, some of us went skinny-dipping. We were young people living at a dharma center, inspired by the stories of yogis like Milarepa who were naked and unashamed. These were things we did together as friends and peers, and, to me at least, they were about freedom: they were playful and not sexual in nature.
Ravenna and I stayed friends, and one evening in 2008, she invited me over to a place she was house sitting for a social visit. We talked for a while downstairs, and then she invited me up to see the bedroom. There was a warm intimacy to our conversation, but I didn’t take the invitation upstairs in a sexual way. After talking more in the bedroom, I went into the bathroom. I was remembering our past adventures being naked together, and in the context of this open-minded friendship I thought we shared, I decided to come out naked and invite her to join me. I thought it would be funny and playful, as it had been at Karme-Choling. But clearly I was mistaken: she didn’t experience it that way.
I came out of the bathroom naked, and she was surprised. She asked me, “What about your girlfriend?” I felt awkward and responded something along the lines of, “It’s not like that.” Ravenna was clear that she did not want to get naked with me. From her statement, she remembers that I was undressed with her for about an hour, but in my memory I was so embarrassed and mortified to be making her uncomfortable that I went right back into the bathroom and got dressed, apologizing profusely for misreading the situation. I went home shortly after.
Our friendship continued for a while after that, though as time passed we drifted apart. Knowing what I know now, I am sorry that this inappropriate gesture came between us as friends. More importantly, I am deeply sorry that this choice impacted Ravenna’s feeling of safety and well-being in the community. My recollection of this event is very different from hers; however, my priority is to try and understand the impact this event had on her rather than defending or justifying my intentions.
At the end of 2017, Ravenna reached out to me, asking if we could talk about the incident. A few days later, we met over video chat and had what felt like a healing conversation. During the call, I apologized to her again for surprising her so inappropriately. I expressed sincere regret for my negative impact on her. During our conversation, Ravenna shared at length about the assaults she has suffered in our community and beyond. I was devastated to hear what she’s been through.
Then, over the summer, I heard Ravenna had been posting about me on Facebook and was planning to contact a journalist to do a story about our interactions. I felt surprised, saddened, and afraid. It was shocking and painful to see what she had written, because her version of events was, and still is, very different from my perception of what happened. Over the past month, we’ve been in communication through a third-party mediator. I learned a lot about Ravenna’s perspective, and this statement is the result.
While we disagree factually about what happened, I still take full responsibility for the fact that my actions negatively impacted Ravenna. This mediation has caused me to reflect deeply about my impact on others, especially paying mind to my embodiment as a white male. I did not ask for Ravenna’s consent in exposing myself to her—I assumed it. What constitutes consent is much better articulated now than it was ten years ago, and I am committed to learning and reconciling any of the ways I’ve fed into a culture of harm. It has always been my intention to help create a community that feels just and safe for everyone, and this has been a hard learning experience in just what that means.
I do feel it is important to state outright that I have never had, nor will I ever have, sexual relationships with students. Not that it excuses anything, but Ravenna and I were peers and equals, I was not in any teaching capacity to her, and the incident in question did not take place at a program or center. Foolish as they may have been, I meant no violation or disrespect to her by my actions, and I am deeply remorseful that what I did triggered a trauma response.
I have come to understand how difficult it has been for her and other women in the community to watch me and other male peers take on teaching and leadership roles. In our broader culture and in Shambhala, we have disproportionately encouraged men to teach and assume leadership positions, while women again and again are put into secondary and supportive roles—a reality that is made all the more painful when we behave in ways that cause harm. Not only have women had to deal with ongoing inequity, harassment, and assault, but they are currently doing most of the work in educating us about these dynamics.
Men of my age have so much to learn, and my hope is that trained advocates—not victims—can be empowered to educate us on our blind spots. This process has been extremely difficult and humbling for me, and I know there is much more work to be done.
Ravenna has requested that I step down from teaching for a period of time. Rather than either of us deciding what is appropriate, I feel that the assistance, training, and expertise of The Olive Branch or Shambhala Care and Conduct is required to help navigate where we go from here. I have already reached out to Care and Conduct and will comply with their process. Although Ravenna pulled out of the mediation process because she felt I was taking too long to compose my statement, I am committed to continuing on this path and hope it may bring about the kind of resolution I know we both hope to find.
In closing I wish to say to my friends, colleagues, mentors and students that I accept that it will take time to rebuild the trust I may have broken as a teacher in this lineage.
Addendum – 4/26/2021
Since the time of composing the statement in 2018, Shambhala International Care and Conduct reconvened with Ms.Michalsen and I.At this time I offered to step away from teaching in Shambhala for three months to reflect and begin to work regularly with a therapist, as well as undergoing ongoing education around gender power and boundaries.
Since this time I have continued with weekly therapy and weekly ongoing education on the topics mentioned.
After realizing that Sakyong Mipham the leader of the community of Shambhala, was not going to support or enact further communication, healing and activities for students in Shambhala in the west, and with the resignation of many of the Acharyas, my peers and mentors, in the fall of 2020 I resigned as a Shastri in Shambhala.
I continue on a lifelong journey of spiritual and personal growth, and it is my wish to be a helpful servant in the transmission of the Dharma to the west.