Claudio Naranjo: A Teacher Who Shaped My Life – by Martin Cohen – Jun ’07 |

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February 23 by The Running Son


a Teacher Who Shaped My Life

Claudio Naranjo

(Full article titled: R. Buckminster Fuller, Ivan Illich, and Claudio Naranjo:Teachers Who Shaped My Life)

Claudio Naranjo was a seminal figure in the flowering of the Human Potential and New Age movement in psychology and spirituality that began in California and centered around San Francisco and the Esalen Institute south of Monterey in the 1960s and 1970s. His work brought together gestalt psychotherapy, spiritual a nd meditation practices, psychopharmacology, and shamanism. He created almost single-handedly the still-controversial field of the enneatype as a means for diagnosis and psychological self-understanding and development. Today, Naranjo actively continues his exploration and practice in these fields in Europe and Latin America, but he is much less known in the United States.

Claudio Naranjo is at least as radical a figure, at least as paradoxical as Fuller or Illich. His work is wide-ranging: psychopharmacology and ethnopharmacology; music and musical interpretation; social criticism; psychothera py; and psychological typology, the psychological explication of enneatypes for which he became famous. But his over-arching concern has been the ongoing spiritual development and evolution of the human organism, how people live and grow and transform through the course of a lifetime. It may be said that the New Age movement seeks to fuse religion, education, and psychotherapy. Naranjo celebrates this convergence.

Naranjo has lived in several worlds. He is fluent in languages. His work spans numerous disciplines of thought and human endeavor. As were Fuller and Illich, Naranjo is a person at home in the world of learning, for whom no area of human knowledge is closed.

Naranjo was born in Chile and educated for some years by an ideosyncratic private tutor before entering the school system. He learned piano and might have entered a career of musicianship and composition but instead studied medicine. After completing a psychiatric residency in Chile and working under the direction of Matte-Blanco, he came to the United States and studied and taught at Harvard, the University of Illinois, the University of California, Berkeley and in other institutions. He was invited to teach and work at Esalen where he became the disciple of Fritz Perls.

After his work at Esalen, at the invitation of Willis Harman at SRI, he wrote a monograph on modalities of spiritual seeking (later published as The One Quest). He then returned to Chile and underwent a profound transformation in connection with the enigmatic spiritual teacher Oscar Ichazo. Later he also experimented with a variety of spiritual practices including shamanism, Sufism, and Buddhism. He travelled to India and studied meditation and has worked extensively with the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Tartang Tulku Rinpoche.

In the U.S. during the 1970s, under the rubric SAT (Seekers After Truth), he led groups of spiritual seekers, giving them the benefit of his extensive explorations and engaging them with a variety of practices and a wide range of teachers.

He rapidly developed a following of hundreds of people in groups located not only in Berkeley but in other cities in California and across the country. These groups, composed of people intensely working on their psycho-spiritual development, seeking transformation and hoping for transcendence in the heady New Age atmosphere of the time, looked to him as a spiritual leader.

After a few years of meteoric activity with the groups in the U.S., he abandoned this work and sought a different direction, a different locale, and a different culture and ambiance for pursuing his mission. He ceased working with people in the U.S. and ceased to sponsor or inspire ongoing groups. Instead, he concentrated his activities in Latin America and Europe and changed the form of the work. Over the course of two decades he developed and perfected programs of time-limited workshops directed toward the training of psychotherapists. He shortened these programs, still called SAT, from three-months duration to one month and then to 10 days.

n the past few years these workshops, under new auspices, have been directed toward teachers and educators. These are the SAT for Education programs. The aim of this current project is to bring the benefits of a generation of experimentation in psychological transformation into the schools through the ongoing re-education of teachers.

Naranjo in his writing and teaching about persona lity emphasizes the negative. He shows in exquisite detail how personalities are shaped and formed by the deficiencies that people feel.

People are governed by passions which derive from their acute (and usually unconscious) sense of lacking what they need in life. Even their virtues are constructed as means to relieve them of these deficiencies in socially acceptable ways. For Naranjo, human behavior grows out of what is missing. Unlike some popular writers about personality, he is rigorous in his focus on these negative elements.

Naranjo is an engaging man, full of humor with an attractive personality. However, his teachings, like Illich’s, are difficult for many to follow comfortably. He approaches people and institutions not to comfort them with reassuring extensions of what they already believe and are prepared to do, but with radical critiques of their very foundations and personal myths.

Naranjo is interested in fostering freedom and autonomy (End of Patriarchy, p.54). His early book The One Quest is an exploration of many methods and paths to human development. It discusses psychological, religious and spiritual, and educational practices with the idea that these various practices and disciplines may be seen as different paths to a similar goal, and that even these different paths may have more similarities than had been understood at the time. In the first chapter, “An Introduction to the Quest for Growth”, he points out that the book is “a work of theory and general ideas — not one of description” and he is careful to say that he is not evaluating or comparing the different paths (p. 27). In general, he is rigorously careful not to indicate that one approach may be better than a nother. Rather, he contends that the difference between one path and another is less important than “the understanding and quality of the persons who represent it” (p. 27). Thus, among the myriad paths to personal development, the key, like that of making a friend or finding a suitable mate, is to encounter and commit to the right person. There is no codifiable way of ensuring success through a defined technique.

Naranjo was an important developer of Gestalt psychology and today a majority of the Gestalt psychologists in training in Spain go through his SAT workshops there. In discussing the process of gestalt therapy he emphasizes that “the alternative to identification with a [limited] self-image is … a direct contact with one’s reality rather than a substitution of a ‘better’ self-image for the old one.” In this emphasis, Naranjo reveals a difference between his goals and method and that of much of psychotherapy and even spiritual practices, especially those which aim either at making people happier or better adjusted to society. What he  advocates through gestalt psychotherapy, in contrast with the method of “psychocybernetics” and other supportive psychotherapies based on helping a person change his/he r self-image to one more open to experience, radical transformation. As he put it, Openness to experience that depends on a preconception of the self (however conducive to the experience the self-image may be) still does not make a person free. Such a preconception may be used as a crutch, a device, but still falls short of the aim, which is represented by a condition where openness to experience is unconditional, and constitutes its own reward. (One Quest, p. 134)

As a therapist and teacher, Naranjo strongly advocates the openness to experience that a person in touch with his own reality and not identified with a particular self-image can have. In describing personalities, he outlines in detail the obstacles and traps which lead people seemingly inevitably into one or another limited image of themselves, images which restrict their freedom.

This negative method, detailing how people are not free, is outlined at length in his seminal book on the enneatypes Character and Neurosis . In his teaching today, Naranjo typically emphasizes the desirability of overcoming one’s deficiencies, of “going against” one’s tendencies in order to free oneself from habitual limits.

Woven through all of Naranjo’s work is a consciousness of the place of mystery – in the world, in history, and as a foundation for creative life. In the final chapter of The End of Patriarchy, following a brief review of world problems as out lined in a 1974 report of the Director-General of UNESCO and in the 1984 Encyclopedia of World Problems, Naranjo describes the growth of a “new shamanism” as a contagion exploding beyond the bounds of any profession (e.g. beyond medicine, psychology or religion) and even beyond the notion of professionalism itself. As he puts it the “Dionysiac” spirit of shamanism is inherently at war with the “Apollonian” nature of industrial society (The End of Patriarchy, p. 121f).

Naranjo identified himself as a shaman, or neo-shaman, and includes within that category all manner of healers and transformative personages including Sigmund Freud and Fritz Perls as well as the myriads of self-discovered practitioners who have been called as wounded healers rather than trained professionals. While in general celebrating the explosion of interest in and practice of such “unprofessional” spirituality and unlicensed therapy, Naranjo does offer a brief caveat, and the brevity and somewhat apologetic nature of his caution is indicative of his own sympathy with the dionysiac style (by contrast with the severely disciplined style of Fuller and Illich):

Many, surely, feel narcissistically stimulated in viewing themselves in the elevated and mysterious role of shaman — and even that can be inspiring, not only for them but for others. I only want to suggest that we don’t forget the distance between a sorcerer’s apprentice and a true sorcerer. A shaman is not just one who has known altered states of consciousness or who embraces a magical view of the world, but one who has come to ripeness through a deep transformation. (The End of Patriarchy, p. 133-4)

Naranjo is fundamentally a mystic and he writes as a visionary. In The End of Patriarchy, he offered “an optimistic interpretation” of the transformation he saw, or wished to see, occuring (p. xiii). His interpretation seems to rely less on analysis of the actual conditions of the people in the world and how they life materially than on the psychology of the individual. The transformation he sees possible is a transformation of the individual. Through this transformation of individuals somehow the society is to be transformed. He repeats, in End of Patriarchy (p. xvi), “many are convinced that we are coming into a new age, ‘an age of Aquarius,’ an age which as Sri Aurobindo and Teilhard de Chardin anticipated, may constitute the supreme realization of our species.”

The kinds of “resources” Naranjo offers as agents of the transformation he seeks are methods and techniques of personal psychological work. Some of these are done in groups, but the “transformation” is personal and not directly societal. His way of seeing these as socially transformative is to advocate their use in the schools so that, through teachers who have experienced the processes of psychological work, the students (including children) may be transformed.

Naranjo’s construction of his ideas is in some ways, and perhaps at base, frankly mystical. He points out that the essays in The End of Patriarchy “constitute variations on a single idea that the transformative change entails and is achieved through the reintegration of a threefoldness” (p. xiv). This “threefoldness” is variously identified as father-mother-child, as masculinity-femininity-childlikeness, as body-feelings-intellect, and as the parts of the brain identified by Paul MacLean as reptilian-mammalian-human. This threefoldness shows up as well as the underlying structure of the psychology of the enneatypes where the basis of personality is revealed in the dominance of one or another of three primary passions that govern the orientation of a person to the world.

Nranjo seems committed to the idea of what he calls “threefoldness” and uses this concept extensively in his analysis of numerous phenonmena. He uses the term “threefoldness” in preference to the word “trinity” and does not seem to invoke the Christian term. His commitment to the idea of threefoldness goes beyond convenience. For example, in The End of Patriarchy he is at pains to point out that while “[t]he fact that in the second chapter I address the fourfold of body, feelings, intellect and spirit is no exception to the theme of threefoldness, for I do so in the context of an understanding of spirit as both unification an d transcendence of the physical, affective and mental realms” (p. xiv).

The mystical idea that the phenomena of the world may be understood best in terms of threes and multiples of three pervades his work. It may derive from his fidelity to the vision of his mentor Totila Albert (a Chilean artist, sculptor, poet and visionary).

Naranjo’s thinking, like that of Illich, is at odds with the underlying assumptions of industrial and post-industrial society. But Naranjo works from very different premises. It would be hard to characterize his outlook as theological. If it were, it is a very different type of theology than that of Illich. Naranjo names his enemy “the patriarchal structure of the mind and society” (The End of Patriarchy, p. 101).

In “The Agony of the Patriarchal Order” Naranjo takes up explicitly the theme of the societal change he hoped for in the 1960s but which did not occur. In the 1960s, Naranjo was fully engaged in what he saw as “the death of a culture and the birth of another.” (End of Patriarchy, p.1) At that time, his attention focused on the “New Age” and “consciousness revolution” that seemed to him to point to an imminent birth or re-birth of a new culture. He, like others at the time, hoped that it might simply be possible to leave behind the old culture, that a change in personal values could come from within individuals and spread by infection from one to another.

The change in culture would occur like the spread of a new and vibrant religion. From the perspective of the 1990s when The End of Patriarchy appeared, and even more today, it could be seen much more clearly that it is the death and not the birth of a culture that we are called upon to experience.

Naranjo has been a member-associate of the Club of Rome. The group became widely known in the early 1970s as a result of the publication of a Report entitled The Limits to Growth. This study, based on fairly simple computer models , showed in a variety of contexts how (in Naranjo’s words) “everything which was being called progress entailed an imminent danger” (p. 2) It showed how unlimited industrial growth in evitably had catastrophic effects in the depletion of resources and the destructive pollution of the environment. At the time, the Report attracted much attention due to the prestige of its source and the publicity it was given. It was highly controversial not so much due to the techniques it used but because it challenged in a highly visible way the underlying assumption of the society: that economic growth was a good and that the economy could grow itself out of whatever problem in which it found itself. However, the Report did not challenge an even deeper assumption: the identity of economy and the culture.

Today it is painful to see that both of these assumptions still underlie the public choices before us. To me this is a further sign that, at least in the West, we continue to live through the death agony of the old and not the birth or rebirth of a new culture. We are witnessing today effects of the continued evolution of the industrial economy similar to those predicted 35 years ago in the Report (e.g. in global warming and the decline of petroleum production). Yet movements to change the direction of this evolution toward a sustainable economy or to change the underlying values of the society in a humane way are not widely in evidence.

Perhaps the new culture that is arising to replace the old is coming in the form of the strong communitarian ideologies of what are called fundamentalist religions and cults. Most of these seem to have values very different from those that Naranjo would espouse. And their relations with one another promise unending warfare rather than the peaceful millennium envisioned by New Age thinkers.

Some Reflections I was attracted to Fuller, Illich, and Naranjo from somewhere beyond a consciousness of their thought or what they said. They offered me a vision of meaning, a way to approach the world whole, to speak to the whole world-situation. So I approached them and learned something from them about how to see the world. My relation with them as teachers was unlike my relation with other teachers. With them, I was touched on a deeper level than learning. They touched my desire for meaning and significance.

Fuller, Illich, and Naranjo all lived heroic lives. Each found his own course in a world not always conducive to what he was doing. Each worked tirelessly toward goals that changed with the circumstances of the world but reflected underlying constancies of intention. Each lived and worked with deep faith in the value of what he was doing. Most important, each sought an independent point from which to stand in order to critique and influence the course of human evolution. Their ability to find and maintain this locus of leverage, in Fuller’s words, this “trim tab”, was central to the challenge they faced: how to be sufficiently within society’s institutions and common discourse to affect them while not succumbing to the strictures and limits. Each in their own way walked the edge. This quality shows particularly in their written discourse. Each found it necessary to stretch the language in order to say what he wanted. Fuller’s sentence structure and  vocabulary can be tortuous and easily parodied. Illich was notorious for the high sarcasm with which he wrote and the affected style in which he spoke. Naranjo’s serious writing is sometimes stilted, sometimes maddeningly vague not out of sloppiness but through conflating categories of discourse. In spite of these obstacles to “communication” each was able because of the richness of his experience, the breadth of his vision, and the height of his purpose to attract, enormously capable colleagues, collaborators, and students as well as a wide following and to achieve great social credit for their work and their personal integrity.

Each of them also lived long enough to see the world change under his feet, to see his aspirations for a better world fall away. While I knew them at different times, I see them as contemporaries in the hopeful, tumultuous, tragic world of the 1960s and 1970s . Fuller had a long career before this time, but in the 1960s and 70s he was most in demand as a speaker to large and diverse audiences and when his books were most widely read. Likewise Illich was most influential and prolific in the 1960s and 70s, when CIDOC was at its height as a center bringing together thinkers and activists from all over the world to develop radical and creative critiques of the major institutions of industrial society. Naranjo continues his work with numerous student to this day, but it was in the 1960s and 70s that he found the broadest and most diverse audiences and was able, along with others, to envisage a radical change in society emanating from the ferment of personal and social experimentation going on in California. By 1980 it was evident that the hoped-for changes would not occur. Fuller interpreted the Soviet invasion of Afganistan in 1978 as a sign that the undemocratic heartland powers of Asia would overcome the more democratic maritime societies. Illich closed CIDOC in 1976. Later he noted how the institutions he had advocated disestablishing had evolved into systems closed to radical critique as the people working within them came to see themselves no longer as critical agents but as parts of the system. Naranjo may still hope to transform society by transforming education (as the title of a recent book would indicate) but the humanistic social changes he imagined imminent in the 1960s and 1970s were thoroughly swept away in waves of repression and disillusionment.

The nature of a hero lies in the struggle in which he engages, not the outcome. Victorious or not (and no victory can be more than partial), a hero finds within himself the elán to continue, the courage to face what comes, and the vision to know his own goals.


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RFB editor Jim Aldrich, Joshua Tree CA 2013

RunningSon aka Jim Aldrich, Joshua Tree CA 2013 | This site is dedicated with the deepest gratitude to Dr. Cláudio Naranjo, whose writings gave me life.

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