February 22 by The Running Son
APPROACHES TO GROWTH:
EAST AND WEST
With CLAUDIO NARANJO, M.D.
Dr. Claudio Naranjo
( Source: http://www.intuition.org )
JEFFREY MISHLOVE, Ph.D.: Hello and welcome. Our topic today is a look at techniques for human growth, a comparison of Eastern and Western approaches. My guest, Dr. Claudio Naranjo, is a seminal figure in the human potential movement, the author of several books including The Healing Journey, coauthor of On The Psychology of Meditation with Robert Ornstein, and also the author of The One Quest. Welcome, Claudio.
CLAUDIO NARANJO, M.D.: Thank you.
MISHLOVE: It’s a pleasure to have you here. One of the things for which you will be remembered in the history of the consciousness movement was your role in bringing the Arica school to the United States from Chile. Maybe that’s a good place to start, since Arica introduced many, many different techniques, and attempted, I think, to synthesize Eastern and Western approaches. Can you tell me a little bit about how you got involved in Arica?
NARANJO: Well, I worked in Chile before coming to California.
MISHLOVE: You were a psychiatrist there.
NARANJO: Just before migrating I left many people hanging. I had a group that had become a therapeutic community, where I had partly applied the inspiration of Esalen, where I saw many approaches under the same roof that were normally not found under the same roof in other places. I undertook to do something of that sort, but just with my resources, so I created a program with meditation and Gestalt therapy and readings from mystical literature, fencing, and so forth — a collage of approaches, which I thought were converging. Naturally people were a bit desolate when I left. It’s said that when there is a need a teacher appears, and probably there’s some truth in that, in that this group contacted Oscar Ichazo, or Ichazo somehow appeared in their midst soon after I came to the States.
MISHLOVE: In other words, he filled in the vacuum that you left at that time.
NARANJO: Yes. People in that group wrote me and said, look, there’s a very interesting Sufi here that you might want to meet one day. When you come to Chile next time, make a point of knowing this man. I was then traveling every year to spend vacations with my son, after a divorce. So when I did come to Chile I did make a point of meeting Ichazo. A good friend of mine, who at that time was head of the Chilean Psychological Association, had invited Ichazo to give a series of lectures in Santiago. In addition to the two months of lectures — I don’t remember how many times a week — I was invited by him to spend hours every day with him. He said, “I want to give you this attention because I feel you will bring other people to me.” I said, “I don’t see myself in a role of propagandizing for anything. If I want to work with you, that’s what I’ll do.” He insisted, “Other people will follow, whatever you do.” And that’s how it happened. I was very ambivalent about the experience of those months. I came back to California, and particularly to Esalen, where I was considered an associate in residence and held workshops. I came back feeling that I had had remarkable spiritual experiences by meditating in his presence or by following directions, and at the same time I felt great distrust for the man. I felt he lied a lot, and I told him to his face just before departure. I told him, “What should I do about this? I perceive you as a liar and as a manipulator, and I don’t know whether I can work with you under these circumstances.”
MISHLOVE: It was very forthright of you to say that.
NARANJO: I came from the Gestalt tradition; I rather believed in that approach. He said to me, “In this manner of working, we don’t need sanctimonious reverence. All that is necessary is that you work and you let me work. Honor your distrust; you have been deceived in the past. And allow yourself the time to know, because you cannot judge now; you can only judge by the fruit. So if you work with me you will come to Arica” — and this is the part of the story I’ve never told publicly before; I think at this point I can — he said, “You will know very soon, because what I will do with you is take you through a process involving only several weeks of retreat in the desert, a very powerful process after which you will know for sure.” He made a great emphasis on that being secret at the time. Now what happened later was — well, to say it succinctly — a new birth. I experienced a new beginning.
MISHLOVE: You went to the desert.
NARANJO: I went to the desert, and I could validate that indeed it had been a good idea to accept his offer. At the same time he played like a typical Sufi trickster. At the end he told people that I had gone to the desert on a Jesus Christ trip, disobeying his orders instead of staying with the rest of the group in Arica. Because indeed many people had followed my footsteps. First it was five; Ram Dass wanted to come, and Stanley Keleman and John Lilly, very well known people. Ram Dass ended up not coming, and Stanley Keleman didn’t come.
MISHLOVE: But John Lilly did.
NARANJO: But they attracted many people, because knowing we were coming, others wanted to. And then Oscar asked me and John Liebtraub, who is still with him, to select no more than fifteen. Then it was no more than twenty, then no more than thirty, and the group kept increasing. The maximum was thirty, but forty came.
MISHLOVE: For a training in Chile.
NARANJO: For a training in the city of Arica, which is the northernmost town.
MISHLOVE: For which the movement was named.
NARANJO: After which the movement was named, after everybody left Arica and came back to the States. But at this point we went different directions. I became the black sheep of that group, because I didn’t abide by the group’s decisions after a while; it was a choice we all had to make. I chose to be my own person — a little bit like Gestalt tradition again. And so I came up a bit earlier, and started teaching in Berkeley in my own way, which was integrating the Arica experience with my earlier Gurdjieff background, with Gestalt, and increasingly with Buddhist meditation.
MISHLOVE: I suppose it’s worth mentioning that within a few years, two or three years, of your experience there with Oscar Ichazo, the movement spread in the United States, and must have encompassed thousands of people.
NARANJO: Many thousands.
MISHLOVE: And has shrunk down now.
NARANJO: Yes. I think his purpose in doing that was very different than the Arica experience. The experience of the few of us who were down there was, I think, deeper and of a different nature, in which he was improvising. Then he created a kind of spiritual supermarket designed, I think, to turn people on to the quest in great numbers, since he was convinced that it would make a difference politically one day — or in even a wider sense, that the future of our species, according to the old prophecies, would depend on the degree of spiritual orientation.
MISHLOVE: Well, we are faced today with this supermarket situation, and I suppose it’s fair to say that you in your own work have combined a variety of Eastern disciplines with a Western psychotherapeutic practice.
NARANJO: Yes. Not only have I combined them, but I have also espoused the attitude of creating exercises that people can take home. I think we are in the midst of a democratization of psychotherapy. First psychotherapy was part of medicine. Then it became wider; it broke the professionalism and went into psychology social work. And then I think a new shamanism has emerged — a phenomenon of contagion that goes much beyond professionalism, a phenomenon of vocation.
MISHLOVE: I think you’d have to say that here in California, where there must be thousands and thousands of people practicing psychotherapeutic disciplines outside of the recognized professions.
NARANJO: Yes, and I think there is a hope in that. At the time when psychotherapy started with psychoanalysis, psychoanalysis has a very imperialistic attitude, a monopoly which discouraged self analysis. I think today it is more suitable to encourage the potential everybody has to work on himself and to assist in the work of others. So I’m all for support groups and self-help procedures, only I think there are particular tools that need to be generated and training that needs to be given, so professionals might now turn their attention to a different function in the community.
MISHLOVE: One of the parallels that I suppose one might draw between the Eastern and Western approaches is that of the guru, the Eastern teacher who is often very authoritarian, and the therapist, who in his own way can also be quite authoritarian. You yourself seem to have run into some difficulties with this. How does one, especially a Westerner, deal with the authoritarian aspects of it?
NARANJO: It’s a very interesting question. I have lived it very personally, since as I have mentioned my first powerful influence after psychoanalysis was Fritz Perls. I believed in the democratic, all-American attitude — personal transparency. And even though Perls had a masterful use of authority, it was different from the guru’s authority. It was not supported in holy books or anything beyond himself; it was only supported in his wishes and in his impulse. And then, after working with Oscar, I came to believe in the possibilities of being a group manipulator in Eastern ways too, and I adopted that for a while.
MISHLOVE: What do you mean by that, in Eastern ways?
NARANJO: I was very charismatic during that time. I attracted lots of people. Little by little I started to accept the position of a taskmaster.
MISHLOVE: The mystique of the guru, perhaps.
NARANJO: I started using authority in a subtle way. I haven’t spelled it out very carefully to myself either, what it consisted in. But I only know that at some point I was feeling uncomfortable about being at the same level as others. It is as if I had something at stake on being one who knows more, one who is followed. It was a long process to regain my original stance, and now I would say I have come through experience to a point where I get respect, I am heard in a way, even more than I have in the past, when I was unconsciously seducing the audience by being brilliant. But I can see in retrospect that many people today are caught up in the guru role — therapists who have found refuge in the guru role without quite being up to it. There is such a thing as being addicted to applause and not knowing the difference, which is different from the role of a true master, Oriental style, who can sometimes handle that situation — who can hold court, as Muktananda, for instance, used to do, in a masterful way, without really needing it for himself. He can sort of use the human energy polarized to him, and act the role of a hierophant, or like some of the great Tibetans, and use the paraphernalia, like the throne, as the Pope does.
MISHLOVE: It seems if you look into the writings of the followers of even some of the well recognized gurus, such as Muktananda, there’s a lot of gossip that comes out, that they didn’t fulfill the idea role ultimately. They had their foibles.
NARANJO: Well, I think Muktananda’s case is very complex. My own interpretation of him is that he was playing the role of a saint according to Western ideals, or to cultural ideals in general. I think he was a saint in the real sense, which has nothing to do with that. For instance, it’s the popular idea that a saint has no sexual life, and he was playing the role of a Brahmacharya, which I think was part of a cultural mission he was on, to be an educator on a large scale. It was fitting that he did that role, and my own evaluation of him is that he was clean, because he was not a lecher. He had a healthy sexual life, let’s say, but he was like some of these Orientals that I have called tricksters. I think it’s an old tradition that runs all the way from days of shamanism up to contemporary teachers, particularly in the Middle East, that have this characteristic. I think because the human ego is such a trickster, it can be very useful to have a trickster to play chess against for the ego, to be tricked beyond oneself. Some people have taken up this subject in contemporary therapy, like the followers of Erickson. It’s not the core of the humanistic movement, but I think there’s something to be said for that.
MISHLOVE: You mean Milton Erickson, the hypnotist, who would trick people into trance states.
MISHLOVE: Very interesting. I’d like to talk a little bit about meditation, since you have authored a book on that subject. When we think of Eastern techniques, surely meditation must be the archetypal Eastern technique. It’s one that seems to be the most acceptable from a therapeutic point of view, wouldn’t you say?
NARANJO: It is self therapy. It is one thing anybody can do for himself, and it has much to do with psychotherapy. For instance, one aspect of meditation is paying attention to one’s experience in the moment. This was the earliest form of Buddhist meditation, Vipassana, and it was rediscovered by Fritz Perls with Gestalt. It was coming with the evolution of psychoanalysis, but Perls could be called the prophet of the here and now. He made this discovery a socially accepted, socially valued idea.
MISHLOVE: Yet he wasn’t conscious that he was deriving it from Buddhism.
NARANJO: He was not, he was not. He had some acquaintance with Zen. But that is not the core of Zen. The core of Zen is non-doing, dropping the intention to do anything. But the earlier Buddhism, the first five centuries of Buddhism, converged on this practice of finely recording one’s experience, paying attention not only to the mind but to the experiences of the body, even experiences that we would consider psychologically trivial, such as posture and breathing. This Perls rediscovered, and the difference is that in Gestalt and in the many therapies that Gestalt influenced and that go with different names — eclectic, group therapy, existential therapy, and so forth
— there, it is paying attention to oneself in a social, relational context. But it’s the same basic tool, and in this way there are many aspects of meditation that are also shared by therapy, only in meditation the situation is simpler. It’s done by oneself before coming into contact.
MISHLOVE: What you’re talking about as you describe meditation sounds almost identical to me to a technique developed by Eugene Gendlin which he calls focusing — I believe at the University of Chicago.
NARANJO: It’s a convergent thing — Perls with the continuum of awareness, and Gendlin with the focusing idea. It was one of these ideas that was ripe at the moment, and as Nietzsche says, when the fruit is ripe, it’s part of the zeitgeist; anyone can just pluck it. Many people in the same generation sometimes pluck the same thought.
MISHLOVE: But in the Eastern tradition, the notion of the guru is essential for meditation, is it not?
NARANJO: Not so much for meditation. That’s different in different traditions. For instance, in early Buddhism the meditation teacher is more a specialized instructor, not so much a guru. It is with Zen that the idea began of a personal transmission beyond instruction — the idea of the contagion of being that could happen not only through the practice of meditation, but by just being around an enlightened being.
MISHLOVE: Muktananda used the term the Shaktipat, the transmission of Shakti energy.
NARANJO: The transmission that goes from heart to heart beyond the scriptures, is the way it’s put in Zen. Which are also the words Beethoven used to express his intention to express himself in music — to go from the heart to the heart. I think it’s a universal phenomenon that Zen acknowledged — that there is a much richer interaction between people than the mere sharing of a technique, and particularly between a more conscious person and a beginner. This was an evolution that culminated in Tantric Buddhism, especially Tibetan Buddhism, where the guru is so important that there is a specific place for initiation. Initiation is not only a ritual situation, but also a situation where the teacher not only instructs but demonstrates a mental state by infusion, so to say — making you feel a way of being through his presence, and saying, “Well, this is it. Now you have to cultivate it.”
MISHLOVE: This is common to the Sufi tradition.
NARANJO: Yes, not only the Sufi tradition, but it was in Christianity at the beginning of Christianity. The idea of baptism was originally very different from now. It was originally an adult that was baptized after immersion in a river and experiencing the risk of drowning. It was an act of insufflation by the holy spirit. The priest or the holy one, the patriarch, would blow the ineffable quality of sanctity over the novice to precisely convey this presence.
MISHLOVE: Well, as we’re discussing all of this, Claudio, I get the feeling that really the differences between the Eastern and the Western approaches are minimal. And yet, somehow intuitively that doesn’t quite seem right to me. One thinks East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.
NARANJO: I think the main difference is that traditionally the East has specialized in going inward, introspectively and individually; whereas what the Western contribution is is the expressive component. Psychotherapy began by being expressive, by being a talking cure, with Freud. It continued being even more expressive with Wilhelm Reich, who believed in breaking through, not only becoming aware of repression — not being aware of repression in the Freudian sense, which is making something unconscious, but also to liberate the human impulses.
MISHLOVE: In the body, literally.
NARANJO: Liberate behavior from the straitjacket of culture, an excessive constraint of the social ego, let’s say. Reich and D.H. Lawrence, in literature, were champions of this. So the later movement, and particularly with the new age — and Perls was very important in this again — was a step further, was a liberation movement, like many liberation movements. More and more an expressive quality came — the use of dramatic means, and the use of letting go, of relinquishing impulse control as a way to know oneself. Traditionally the way to self knowledge was one of self observation in containment: stop yourself from acting, and then you will know yourself. If you put your hand against the water, you feel the resistance of the water.
MISHLOVE: Now you say traditionally. Do you mean in the East?
NARANJO: In the East, and in the past, implying also the Western spirituality — rather Christian spirituality, and Islamic. It was a life of virtue and contemplation and not acting out of one’s impulses, whereas in modern therapy there’s an invitation to catharsis of the good and the bad
— expression which is in many ways — well, catharsis in the Aristotelian sense. It’s something like an exorcism of the passions, or a psychological judo, you could say — a process by which letting the anger out, or letting the greed out, in the form where you become a caricature of yourself, you end up being able to take distance to a whole layer of your psyche.
MISHLOVE: I suppose in a sense that may stem from the influence of the theater itself on the Western tradition.
NARANJO: The theater was important, and Perls was trained by Max Reinhardt, had that background. But many other ingredients came; psychodrama with Morino was important. But I think it’s also in the spirit of the Western culture.
MISHLOVE: That notion of catharsis isn’t present so much in the Eastern traditions, is it?
NARANJO: Certainly not. Social life in the East is regulated by etiquette, by norms, whereas in the West it is an adventure of improvisation. The libretto is not written before we’re born into it.
MISHLOVE: We have greater freedom.
NARANJO: It’s a creative challenge, and psychotherapy is a help in exploring that creative challenge of human relationships.
MISHLOVE: Well, my sense is that for people living today in our modern world, we can draw on East and West as you have done, and it’s almost incumbent upon us, I suppose, if we are serious about our own growth, to taste of the richness that is available to us.
NARANJO: Yes, I think it is not only useful for us to meditate as well as engage in psychotherapy, to absorb from both, but there’s much to be said for the interface of both. I have particularly been interested in creating what I call psychospiritual exercises, where there is a psychological content, but a meditational task too at the same time.
MISHLOVE: Claudio, our time is up. It’s been such a pleasure having you with me. Thank you very much.
NARANJO: You’re very welcome. It’s my pleasure.