Early Enneagram Accounts pt 1: “What is the ‘Real Work’ of the Enneagram?” – by Ken Ireland |


March 13 by The Running Son

What is the “Real Work” of the Enneagram?

by Ken Ireland , Nov 2011
I have been personally engaged in the study of the Enneagram since 1972 when I began four years of intense personal work in Claudio Naranjo’s SAT group. Until now I have only spoken privately with friends about the proliferation of books, teachers and controversy about the Enneagram. In all the hubbub, I hope that the real value of this work is not lost or diluted to the point that it becomes no more than an interesting curiosity.

This was the first of a series of articles about the Enneagram, its history and use as well as its spread among the Jesuits.  I created a database, An Enneagram Bibliography, using online resources as well the recommendations of Enneagram students. I have included books, studies, DVD’s, tapes and other materials that deal primarily deal with the Enneagram as it is presented in the West plus materials from the Gurdjeiff sources which contain information of interest to the Enneagram enthusiast.
Claudio Naranjo in Berkeley 1971-1976
One current myth about the Western transmission of the Enneagram runs something like this: in the early 1970’s, Claudio Naranjo, fresh from his short and incomplete training with Oscar Ichazo in Arica Chile, begins a tentative conversation with a select group of therapists and teachers in a Berkeley living room. He distributes crudely mimeographed nine pointed figures to the experienced self-observers he has called together to flesh out the sketchy outline of personality characteristics that Ichazo had developed for each point. Then these highly trained psychologists and teachers set about the task of connecting Claudio’s and Ichazo’s fragmentary notes with well documented psychological research and the best diagnostic tests.
As someone who is devoted to the study of ideas and the ways in which they shape culture, I love stories of discovery and invention. Some of the stories are obviously self-serving while others have the ring of real experience. In either case, still filled with many assumptions, obvious and hidden, they are rich in information.
Sometimes it is very clear that the myth itself is part of the teaching method—for example, a great Japanese Zen Master copied a key koan collection the night before he secretly left China. His teaching emphasized the immediacy of zen insight, diligence of practice and the spontaneous breakthrough: stay up through the night and enter a new world before the sun lights your ordinary one.
In other cases the myth supports the domination of one school over another. Elaine Pagels and others have shown convincingly that the Council of Constantine authorized only the Jesus Teachings that supported the authority of the bishop of Rome as opposed to the Gnostic teachings that were equally prevalent in early Christianity. This move was so successful in suppressing an idiosyncratic teaching that we only knew about these sects from the polemical literature written to brand them as heretical until the remnants of a Gnostic library were discovered in the Egyptian desert in 1948.
I think that both these motivations can be found in the Enneagram myth: an early substantiation of the early link between Enneagram study and serious, scientific psychological investigation, and secondly, that the basic elements of Helen Palmer’s “authentic” narrative tradition come from the “Source” itself and were somehow misplaced.
I do not wish to sound mean-spirited, but this smells like either a carefully crafted version to promote Palmer’s teaching or, at best, her followers over-simplified reading of history in the light of their experience and what they have been told about her oral teaching method and her sources in Naranjo’s work. Any myth, distortion or fabrication that is in the public record or published materials is fair game. I would like to describe that seminal period from my own experience.
In the Fall of 1971, Claudio Nanranjo began to teach a small number of students in Berkeley (beginning with 25 to 30, SAT grew to more than 100 by 1975). He had recently returned from Arica where he had been part of another group of 50 Americans, self-selected from the vanguard of people who represented the new thinking centered in Esalen California, the first Americans to work with Oscar Ichazo. Aside from Nanranjo, John Lilly was the most prominent, and the most steadfastly insistent on maintaining an independent stance.
I estimate that Naranjo spent more than two years connected to Ichazo and Arica, whether in preparation, traveling, conversations with Ichazo, participating in all the exercises in that first Arica Training as well as experiences where Ichazo directed him personally. (Claudio, for example, did live in a solitary retreat for 40 days in the Arican desert – his only contact with other humans was Ichazo driving out to see him everyday). I will let Naranjo speak for himself about these experiences as he has done in his teaching and writing and will certainly continue to do in the future.
When I joined SAT in September of 1972, I found myself in a more ordinary group than the Arica pioneers from Esalen. We were relatively younger, perfect students for Claudio’s teaching, spiritual idealists of the 60’s generation, liberated in our attitudes towards sex and drugs, deserted by the faiths of our collective fathers, holding strongly to the idea that spiritual practice could overcome the ills of society that was becoming increasingly materialistic and egocentric, aggressive and greedy. There were a few Ph.D.’s, several Ph.D. candidates, two priests, a Jesuit and a Franciscan, medical doctors, school teachers, a designer, several carpenters, a sprinkling of licensed therapists, but far more therapists in training. A good cross section of ordinary, highly educated, college town Berkeleyites.
We worked together at general meetings on Tuesday or Thursday evenings—these were shock points, times according to some Sufi tradition, when real change was possible. At other times during the week, we also broke into small group meetings. Most of us meditated for at least a half hour everyday, wrote in our journals, focused our work, our self-remembering, through directed exercises that were suggested, or “indicated,” by Claudio and delivered by either Rosalyn Schaffer or Kathy Speeth (who as a child sat in the lap of Mr. Gurdjeiff and taught us the sacred dances, the “movements” of Gurdjeiff).
Frequently on Saturdays and Sundays, Claudio sat on a tattered sofa in the front of a large living room of an old fraternity house on Hearst Avenue while we sat on the floor. Claudio would begin saying, “Let’s do zazen,” and we sat in meditation for an hour. Then Claudio began to talk informally, exploring points on the Enneagram, asking questions, telling Sufi teaching stories about a character called Mullah Nasrudin, even stories about cats. (I can remember that Sunday very well because by the next Friday I owned two stray cats). There were many references to G.I. Gurdjeiff, the trickster; Claudio was very familiar with the work of Gurdjeiff though he never claimed that he had ever been trained or authorized by any of Gurdjeiff’s successors.
It was always a lively conversation. Claudio drew on his expertise as Fritz Perls’s foremost disciple and explored conjunction of meditation and psychological practice. There was always psychological work. It was also creative and challenging; for example, as a classical pianist, he created mediation experiences with Beethoven symphonies.
One thing was clear to all of us: Claudio Naranjo was, during that period of time, an inspired teacher. Something of a momentous spiritual nature had happened to him in Arica, and we were present while he was unpacking that inspiration. We were part of a great experience, willing guinea pigs in a psychological spiritual experiment.
This first use of the Enneagram as a teaching tool for spiritual growth and inner work was not delivered on crudely mimeographed diagrams although there were copies of Enneagrams that we used to make our own notes and observations. Claudio Naranjo developed and tested his work in real situations with a group of bright people who were dedicated to self-understanding and deep inner work. It felt more like a crucible than a study group. It certainly was not just the intellectual exercise that is portrayed in the literature that began to appear about 10 years after Claudio finished his initial work.
In the next post I will try to probe the “muddied origins of the Enneagram”, looking for signs of its descent in psychobabble.

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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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