Claudio Naranjo - Seeker After Truth
Interview by Iain McNay
Iain: Hello. And welcome again to conscious tv. I’m Iain McNay and our guest today is Claudio Naranjo. Claudio is someone whose name has come up consistently over the years as someone who has had a great influence on people - and had an influence on me in my life. He’s written over 20 books. First of all I should welcome you, Claudio. Welcome to conscious tv.
Claudio: Thank you.
Iain: He’s written over 20 books. For my research I’ve looked through some of them: The Way of Silence, Healing Civilization and there are two that aren’t available now, one is The Ennea-type Structures [about] the Enneagram, and The Psychology of Meditation which you co-wrote many years ago. And we’re going to talk about Claudio’s life and he’s had many rich experiences and also met and worked with many fascinating people. Originally you trained as a doctor, didn’t you?
Claudio: Yes, as a medical doctor.
Iain: Yes. And then you met somebody when I think you were in your early ‘20s, Totila Albert, who was very influential on you.
Claudio: Yes, he was more influential on me than medical school. I had contact with him more or less during the time I was a medical student. And if I look back, certainly it was the most important influence of my early life and perhaps of my whole life. Even though I’ve been a thirsty seeker, I’ve sought in many directions, and some teachers brought me to levels of experience that were more dramatic. But with Totila Albert I feel as if he were a graft on my life tree, something like when some people speak of a spiritual father.
Iain: So what attracted you to him in the first place?
Claudio: I remember Gregory Bateson saying that the greatest explanations of things are stories. It would be easier to tell the story of how our friendship came about than say in an abstract way what attracted me. But let me try to do this as you ask. Nobody asked me this question before. I would say that I knew he knew. We met on the street. We were familiar with each other because he had been in my mother‘s house. My mother’s house was a kind of salon. Claudio Arrau, the famous pianist, who was a friend of my mother, used to say that my mother‘s house was like the Mendelssohn house in Germany where many musicians met, where many artists met. It was smaller of course and Totila Albert was a face I saw among my mother’s guests when I was a child. But I never approached any of these people in my mother’s house who spoke of serious things.
Iain: But when you said you knew he knew, what did that mean?
Claudio: We met on the street when I was in my last year of high school and he said, “How are you, Claudio?” And not knowing how to fill the emptiness of this “How are you?” he asked with such a degree of interest that I couldn’t just dismiss the question in a banal way so, I had to say something and I told him about something I had written in the school magazine about a new renaissance coming about. That would be not just like the Italian Renaissance, bound to a geographical zone, but a world renaissance and it was going to start in Bolivia and why I wrote this I don’t know. And he heard me with interest and then he remarked, “I wish I could be as optimistic as you are“. I asked with some wonder, “You don‘t agree?” as if I was naively in love with my idea of a new renaissance coming, though I had no basis to say it. It was just an intuition and I childishly believed in my own intuition. And he said, “I think we are in great trouble. We may even destroy ourselves.” And this was in the late ‘40s probably, when I was in my last year of school. When he said this, I knew this is the person I want to learn from because he knows first hand what he is saying.
Iain: From experience…
Claudio: Even though he was talking about the world being in trouble and in great danger of self-destruction. This was a new idea to me and trusted him. I should learn something from this man.
Iain: And what form did that teaching take?
Claudio: It was more his initiative than mine. From there we went to my house - my mother was in Europe - so I felt the freedom as a teenager to invite this man to my house because we were talking about music and I had composed something for viola and harpsichord - strangely - and he wanted to hear it. So I played [it] on the piano more or less from the score and he was impressed with my musicianship and I think that was part of the glue that brought our friendship to the next stage. But it was he who took the initiative of calling me on the phone a couple of times to ask how I was. And then at the end of my first medical school year I had typhoid fever. I had to be in bed for 40 days - the famous quarantine - and he came to see me and he brought me a book of poetry he had written in Spanish. He was not as fluent in Spanish as in German and I felt in the form of the poetry there was something like the organic form of plants. It was not formal poetry - there was one [line] spreading out like a triangle and on the opposite side - on the next page which completed the poem - it was a symmetrical triangle. There was an interplay between sound and visual form that I trusted as the fruit of a higher inspiration. And I was reading Kabbalah in those days during that quarantine, and there was an echo between what I was half understanding about the tree of life in Kabbalah and what he wrote. It was a fuzzy understanding but it was a kind of mutual reinforcement of these two things that were mysteries to me. So I would say this prompted me to want to know more through him and I started to pump him for wisdom. I remember when I read Plato’s Symposium, there is a remark about Apollodorus who says he follows Socrates and tries to learn even from the way he ties his sandals and I felt this is how I feel about my friendship with Totila. I am absorbing something; I don’t know exactly what it is. I would ask him questions. I would not understand very well many of the things he responded with, but something changed in me over time - I ripened. And he had many friends in the other worlds. I would say he was a close friend of Nietzsche, he was a close friend of Beethoven, a close friend of Goethe, of people he had read, or heard and come to feel like soul brothers to such a degree that the way he talked about them made them seem like people in his family and they slowly seeped into my own inner world as if they were also my family. It’s as if he bequeathed me an inheritance of influences and enlarged my inner world.
Iain: And obviously there was this thirst inside you because you were very receptive to him.
Claudio: He had undergone the great journey of all times, the journey of the quest without teachers. He was struck as if by lightening by the death of his father and that prompted his transformation that started him on the way. And I had faith in the things he said to me - they had a ring of truth.
Iain: Did trust come to you easily then? Because you mentioned a couple of times you had this trust in him.
Claudio: It has not happened often in my life. I had another friend by the same time who was also a Chilean poet - or Chilean born - like Totila. And I remember… I could say of him that I also learned from him. His name was David Rosenman and he’s a world-renowned poet. I had the impression that he was an enlightened being. He was connected with an esoteric school I came to know later in my life; he opened to me much later in my life. He was a little bit like a shaman. He could know things I was thinking. He could read people through their hands, or he pretended to read through their hands. So this man had an influence, but I distrusted him very much and I disliked him. And he once remarked to me - he said, “You know, you dislike me and people dislike me generally. But fortunately things like me. And the things I do like me, so I can be at peace.” We had intimate discussions. We were really friends. So Totila Albert was an exception - he came to be something like the grandfather I didn’t have and I could also say the same of Gurdjieff’s Beelzebub - Beelzebub as he tells his grandson of his adventures - he also seeped into my life as a being, more than the things he says in his many pages.
Iain: But did you find it very hard to read that?
Claudio: I found it very hard and I kept going like the donkey after the carrot, because he always promises that in the next page we’ll get it, and the next page, and the next chapter. And I kept going on with a vague sense that - as frustrated as I was in finding the answer to what he was offering - the carrot would lead me on and on, but I was getting something and in retrospect I have the impression I was getting an impact of his being, of Gurdjieff’s being projected through Beelzebub.
Iain: OK. I know that you quite quickly got disillusioned with medicine, especially the way that medicine was taught and practiced. And then you moved to Berkeley in California a few years later and that was very much a significant time for you, wasn’t it?
Claudio: Yes, well I was disappointed with medicine and with Totila’s influence. In spite of feeling he was a great being, I felt he was not a teacher. I was wanting to meet somebody like Gurdjieff. I had this image of what a teacher could be, somebody who can kick you into the next step, somebody who can tell you not to go this way, not to be this way. And Totila was always loving, I never felt there was anything wrong with me in his company. I remember saying he was like somebody who sings from the other shore but he’s not a boatman. I want a boatman - or a repair man.
Iain: Somebody who’s going to direct you somehow…
Claudio: And challenge me, and I met that in Fritz Perls.
Iain: OK. I know when you first went to Berkeley you did a Zen course with Suzuki Roshi.
Claudio: That too.
Iain: Initiation to meditation, I think.
Claudio: I started meditating: Zen meditation, but in parallel I started to attend workshops, whenever it was possible, with Fritz Perls. And Fritz Perls was also like a Zen master, like the ones in the books who would not tell you just to sit, but would kick you into enlightenment, or say very challenging things or dismiss you.
Iain: I just want to go back a little bit because when I was doing my research, there was quite a fascinating story about how you met Carlos Castaneda before he wrote any of his books, before he was famous. Somebody introduced you to him and said, “You two guys should meet. You’d get on.” And I think you drove to Esalen together - Carlos drove you - and you knocked at the door and the person who opened the door was Fritz Perls, which was an incredible start!
Claudio: Yes. The real start of that story is that a man called Michael Harner, the Head of Anthropology, of the Loamy Anthropology - the museum on campus - once called me and said, “I would like you to meet another shaman’s apprentice here, or sorcerer’s apprentice”, he said, and he brought me together with Carlos Castaneda and proposed that the three of us come to Esalen and do a workshop on shamanism. And so we came as apprentices of shamanism. Carlos had not written his first book yet. And I had the challenging experience of having Fritz in my audience as I was talking about shamanism. And Fritz was a very argumentative person, polemical. But it was all very filled with synchronies and it was very remarkable that when Carlos and I after four hours driving were about to knock at the door of what’s called the Big House in Esalen, the door opened by itself because Fritz was coming out at that very moment. So he introduced himself, “I’m Fritz Perls” and I’d read his book, his book from the ‘50s and I had given lectures inspired by that book even in Chile. So I asked the silly question any tourist could ask, or a cocktail party question, “Have you written anything new?“ He gave me a very interesting answer he said, “I don‘t have much compassion for humankind.“ Something of that sort.
Iain: That’s a strange answer, actually.
Claudio: As if implying on the one hand “Don’t think that I’m a good person or a kind person,” but saying at the same time the only valid reason to write is if you have compassion. “I don’t write for show. I don’t write for intellectual performance. I’m not part of the academic game.“ It was all blended into that response and that interested me very much.
Iain: I know at that time - or roughly that time - you were experimenting with LSD and ecstasy. They were both legal then. What kind of influence did they have on you to start with?
Claudio: Well, ecstasy I introduced later. I was the one who hit on that whole family of drugs.
Iain: You actually discovered…? I didn’t realize that. OK.
Claudio: I discovered MDA and then I explored a number of derivatives or related compounds and it was Sasha Shulgin [Alexander Shulgin] who discovered that MDMA, which is ecstasy, was available in catalogues of chemicals. So he gave me the information and I was in Chile where there were no prohibition laws and I worked in medical school so I could do a lot of experimenting. I was an associate of Sasha Shulgin who was a great chemist, who had a very great talent in synthesis so I was the Chilean partner who did the clinical experiments, tests.
Iain: And how did you actually do those tests?
Claudio: I usually started with myself as a guinea pig in small amounts, and then went up. Then with people I knew, volunteers; and then with patients to see how it worked in healing. I tested many of them, many which are not in the books, only in some magazines like Nature. They didn’t come to be street drugs, but I introduced a number of drugs, also hibogaine from Africa. There was a factory in France selling it as a form of convalescence but they didn’t know that in high doses this was used in greater amounts by the natives for initiations, so I suspected that hibogaine would be a hallucinogenic and I tested it on myself too.
Iain: So what effect did it have on your view of consciousness when you first took ecstasy?
Claudio: When I first took ecstasy - this was much after the time we’re talking about when I came to Esalen. When I came to Esalen I had conducted experiments that became very much talked about - on the alkaloids of a plant in Brazil and Peru and Ecuador, called sometimes ayahuasca, sometimes yagé. I had been to Columbia to visit some Indian tribes and search for information about yagé and collected enough samples of the plant, started experimenting in Chile with this plant and conducted chemical analyses too. And these were very traumatic experiments because a great number of the people hallucinated snakes, or tigers and this was not influenced by my telling them this came from the tropics, or that it was used in Indian cultures. I was only telling them - my volunteers, “This is an extract of a plant we want to experiment on”. I gave no information whatsoever, but the visions that they reported were comparable to the visions of the natives in Columbia, so it was very intriguing. Is there a case of telepathy from the Indians? Or is it a demonstration of the collective unconscious? How can this be explained, that the imagery of the Indians is the imagery of my volunteers? It was certainly a demonstration that it’s not a cultural artefact that Indians have these visions because they are taught, or they’re told, so they expect to have them.
Iain: And what was your view at the time of what was happening?
Claudio: I was intrigued by it, I was inclined to think that there are certain experiences that are naturally translated into images and that these could be regarded as experiences of our reptilian brain, of a very primitive, instinctive brain and just like the kundalini experience which is also symbolized naturally, or visualized sometimes in connection with the snake. So my take on it was that this is an artificial trigger of the kundalini experience.
Iain: So going back to Fritz Perls, what did you feel you really got from working with Fritz Perls?
Claudio: [laughs] Nobody has asked me - again - this question in a such a long life. I got more honest; I got to be more daring. I remember those years in his workshops, I was a better seeker than ever before, or after perhaps, to the extent I was willing to let go of everything but my impulse to go forward and let myself be guided by him. There was even a point where I overdid it and he said, “I am not interested in corpses.” I had said to him, “I’m ready to be open like somebody who is before a surgeon” and he saw that that was a corpse-like attitude, too passive. He wanted me to take more initiative. He was a genius of therapy interaction, but the word ‘therapy’ gets to be too small. It’s as if he knew what’s missing and like a Zen master knows when to ring the bell for you to leave because you haven’t given a satisfactory answer, he would be dismissive. What I got - I might explain it by going back to my first session with him and to my fear. I had been told that he was a kind of surgeon, that it was a painful experience because he was so blunt. And I remember thinking, “If what he says to me is true, and I’m looking for the truth, how can I be hurt if I’m getting what I came for? I should be grateful if what he says is true and if he tells me something about myself that it’s hurtful, because it’s not true, then how can it be hurtful if it’s not true?”
Iain: It’s an intriguing question.
Claudio: It was an act of surrender after examining my motives, reaffirming my wish to surrender in a way to him, to his influence. So in a sense I could say I learnt to make myself open to somebody with a higher authority, experience-wise. Not as an intellectual authority. Open to guidance.
Iain: This sort of burning within you for the truth… What did that feel like at the time, can you remember?
Claudio: Oh yes. I had been a seeker since I was twelve, when somebody gave me books by Vivekananda and by somebody who wrote under the name Ramacharaka, some American yogi. And these books had the influence on me of turning me into a seeker in a kind of not active enough way. It’s as if the word ‘Om’ became a natural symbol of something I wished for and because I had this thirst that was answered by ‘Om’ rather than answered by any worldly goal, I was in a sense protected by this awareness of seeking, protected from becoming too ambitious and of saying, “What I want is this girl,” of interpreting my search in any way less profound.
Iain: It was keeping you focused somehow.
Claudio: Yes, I was in search of something, I had an awareness of seeking. But at the time I attended my first workshop with Fritz Perls and he said, ”What are you feeling now?” I said, “I feel such a yearning. It’s like thirsting for… what can I say? Thirsting for being.” And he was very dismissive and said, “Tell me something more concrete. How do you feel in your body?” He wanted sensations; he wanted down-to-earth experiences and not these spiritual interpretations of experience, from his point of view. So I had a kind of rejection from him as an opening. But I do remember the feeling in answer to your question, “How did it feel?” Like a thirst. This satisfaction has an emptiness.
Iain: So it was an emptiness you felt…
Claudio: Yes, an emptiness and a hope that this emptiness could be filled with. For a long time I thought it would be filled with some kind of knowledge and then I went to medical school thinking scientific knowledge would fill it and I was disappointed in that. But then it was a kind of higher knowledge I was seeking and Fritz Perls would not reinforce that. He thought I needed to know something more basic about myself than know what I was standing on, or what my down-to-earth experience was.
Iain: I need to move you on because there’s so much to cover and unfortunately our time is finite in this interview. And I know that after a time you returned to Chile and I think it was there you met Oscar Ichazo, who was Bolivian. Again he was a great influence on your life, but also it was challenging in a way because you weren’t sure, when you first met him, were you? I think you heard about him first, from students of yours.
Claudio: Yes, my students told me, “You must come and meet this man”. And there was a sense that when people are ready a teacher appears. I left a group without a head when I came back to Berkeley. I had started a group on some work… and this emptiness came, and was filled with visits from Ichazo who was living in Bolivia at the time - he was a Bolivian. And they recommended I come down. And they said extraordinary things about him and when he first received me in the house he was occupying in Santiago he was very polite, “Come this way doctor, sit down please. I’m sorry I’m not wearing a tie.” [both laugh] I felt he was playing a role and I disdained him from the beginning: excessively polite, excessively conventional. He didn’t command admiration from me and as time went on, I saw he was not reliable and he seemed to be intentionally showing me he was not reliable.
Iain: But there was something else there, wasn’t there, that was very strong for you?
Claudio: There were two things. One is, he was my connection to the mysterious school behind Gurdjieff. The only person I knew who claimed to be in contact with that mother school.
Iain: So you feel he had been to the same mother school as Gurdjieff?
Claudio: Not only did I feel, but there was some confirmation. Confirmation of a different nature. Once he told me Gurdjieff was in the courts. “What do you mean, in the courts?” And he said, “Court of the Bees.” And I said, “The ceremony?” [Ichazo replied] “Ah you know about the ceremony… yes, that’s where I come from.” So there were moments of confirmation in private conversation. He once told me a story very much like the one told by Gurdjieff in his autobiography, Meetings with Remarkable Men when he crosses a high bridge blind-fold - the same story. I didn’t know whether it was true or not true, but he was letting me know he was in touch with those people and the main argument for my thinking he was, was such a convincing body of knowledge related to the Enneagram. It was not knowledge that Gurdjieff had put out, but it was completely coherent with Gurdjieff’s manner of discussing the Enneagram as a universal map that could be applied to different levels of experience. So here was the next chapter.
Iain: And where do you feel that Oscar had got this information on the Enneagram from? I’ve heard different stories, one that he got it in Afghanistan, another that he actually channelled it. What’s your own feeling from what he told you?
Claudio: Well, he told me a number of things over time but perhaps I should preface everything I say about him by telling you that he never described any of the character types. When people say, “A [type] One is like this” or “A [type] Two is like that” or “The pride type has such-and-such traits”, that comes from my own work. And that’s why only people that came through my school became teachers of the Enneagram. Everybody who’s been taught the Enneagram has been taught by somebody in my original school, or some have become teachers like Hameed, who became Almaas, and like Sandra Mandel Baum who became Sandra Maitri. They were not in Arica, but there were a couple of people who were in Arica, like John Lilly, or my helper Rosalyn Schaffer who was in my original SAT group. She had been in Arica and she was amazed how she was hearing for the first time descriptions of the characters that Oscar had never produced and this is what people took notes about, and transmitted to people outside our group even though there had been a commitment.
Iain: The image I’m getting is that you took a basic map that you had from Oscar and that you filled in lots of details.
Claudio: I filled it in. And as Oscar said, “I have been trained as a seed individual many times…“ his function was to be a seed individual. It took many years for me to understand that what I had done was to water the seed. I had cultivated the seed and everything that emerged from my work was of that sort: fleshing in the skeletal information or the schemes he passed on.
Iain: And then, I know that you lost your son. Your son died and this was obviously personally a big blow to you, but it also opened a new stage in your life and I think - I don’t know if it was at Oscar’s suggestion but certainly under his guidance - that you went into the desert in Arica for 40 days and 40 nights.
Claudio: Yes. And the way that happened was that I told him in Santiago the year before, six months before approximately I said, “Can I be your student, given the fact that you seem to me to be a liar and a trickster, can I still work under you?”
Iain: You asked him this?
Claudio: Yes, given that I see you as a liar and a manipulator. And to me, the decisive factor in joining him was that he smiled. He smiled kindly and said, “Yes, you have been disappointed many times. I honour your distrust. But you see, our way does not require great veneration. Our way is almost scientific. All that’s required is that you work and you let me work.” And that was to me what made it possible to go ahead, but I was undecided still and he said, “Eventually it’s by the fruit that you will know whether I am for real or not. And you won’t have to wait for long because I want to make you a very special offer. I want to send you to the desert for 40 days, and that’s all that it will take and you will call the higher bodies and you will find everything you have been looking for. Just 40 days.” And how could I not accept that offer? And I came to Arica because it was understood between us that this was a secret at the time, that after a couple of months there with the group at Arica, he would send me secretly to the desert. I would have to make up some excuse for disappearing from the community… and then he did strange things, like he betrayed our secret. He told the group that I had gone on my own to the desert, probably thinking I was the second Jesus Christ, thinking I’m better than the group and failing in a sense of commitment and sense of community. He was very critical of me for going to the desert, but I was bound to the secret between us: that he had sent me.
Iain: And what happened to you in the desert?
Claudio: It’s very hard to put into words because the basis of everything was a deep silence. It was like a fountain coming out of silence, out of nothingness. I’m reminded of a Sufi story of somebody who has to go into a kind of Aladdin’s cave and find a candlestick of iron and he finds so many pearls and emeralds and fills his tunic with all kinds of pearls and almost forgets the candlestick of iron. Afterwards everything dematerializes, everything is gone and only the candlestick remains. It’s as if everything flowed from my ability to get out of the way, to empty myself, but from this self-emptying came all kinds of visions, insights and understandings - rituals. My hands would go into movement [waves hands in circular motion] and do all kinds of things as if I was in synchrony with something that was much beyond me; it was a cosmic event and I was at the same time experiencing this as if it were the development of an embryo, as if an embryo had been born in me and I was beginning to experience its life.
Iain: Were you completely alone for the 40 days?
Claudio: He visited me several times. He validated for instance this insight: that some of the physical feelings of the movement of energy that are explained as energy moving between the chakras, are actually embryonal feelings. I remember for instance the embryo that this heart is formed next to the brain and then descend. And the testicles are originally formed where the kidneys are, and then descend. So I would feel these movements as if it was a flow, and I had a sense that this was something like an embryonal process. I remember telling him and he said, “Yes! You’ve discovered it’s like Columbus’ egg, I never thought of it, but that’s it!” And so he would validate my experiences and tell me that I was going through something that he had gone through and that it had been a great event in the school, as if for a Westerner to experience this, it somehow went beyond the previous generation level of experience. It was a kind of prophetic feel for the way he talked about our experiences, as if this were something necessary for a new world.
Iain: Because you spent a year with him altogether, didn’t you? And you saw him most days during that year?
Claudio: More or less, yes.
Iain: A very intense time…
Claudio: Less than a year.
Iain: Did you feel awakened afterwards? How did you feel in terms of your spiritual development after the time with him?
Claudio: It was as if I could switch into another level of my mind. I was not continuously there, but in meditation I could go into a deeper self… in contact with a deeper self than I had known before. And from there I looked upon my ordinary life as very pitiful, as if from my expanded awareness, I felt as if I had no arms and no legs and no voice. If I talked it was my old self speaking. I didn’t feel good about myself. It was as if having a higher self meant that my ordinary self became lower than ever. And this was a factor of growth, of purification or stimulus.
Iain: So there was still a process in a way going on…
Claudio: No, not in the same way. There was a time when I felt I was going up and up. This proceeded for several months and then I had a kind of full birth experience. Like my experiences in the desert - many were with my eyes closed - of going into myself. And several months later when I was back in the city, when I went to my mother’s house in Santiago, I was more eyes open in the world and everything became the divine presence in the outer world too, everything became divine. I started writing an autobiography a couple of years later. I called it Rolling Down Mount Sinai because from there onwards it was coming down, gradually. I felt it was progress, as if coming down the mountain was coming down and integrating with ordinary awareness; integrating with other people, beginning to teach, but at the same time it was as if a seed gets to be used up when it’s transformed into the growing shoots. I was becoming new life, but I was disappearing. The source, like a yolk sack, was being consumed…
Iain: Like the caterpillar and the butterfly…
Claudio: …and then I came to Berkeley and started to teach and as I taught again, it was another burst of…
Iain: Let me just stop you there… because you started a small group called SAT: Seekers After Truth, which I think Gurdjieff had also used a similar name.
Claudio: Yes, I imitated Gurdjieff’s…
Iain: I know two people in that early group were Hameed Ali, who you mentioned earlier - A. H. Almaas - and also Sandra Maitri, who’ve both written books about the Enneagram. Sandra was telling me that at the time, that group was very important because you were the only person who was available who was bringing together spirituality with psychology.
Claudio: Yes - that was my attempt - I wanted to integrate what I learned from Mahesh and Oscar together with Buddhism and with psychotherapy. So it was a tall order - high aspiration. And Buddhist meditation was part of it and psychological exercises; I tried to… translate much of psychological knowledge into exercises people could practice with each other so as to become independent of a therapist.
Iain: Yes. Enquiry type exercise…
Claudio: But then I was also feeling I was losing it. There was a kind of friction with the group, using up energy, and I felt as if I was using up my reserves. And I tried to compensate by meditating more. I became a kind of hermit at home. When I was not with the group, I was meditating all the time as if going back to my life in the desert, trying to not lose altitude, trying to go against this descent. But it was unavoidable. I kept going down and down and it was the entry into the so-called dark night of the soul.
Iain: So what did that feel like practically? Was it energetic… you had less energy? Was it a mental darkness somehow?
Claudio: Well, Grace cannot be described, but when you fall out of Grace you know it. It’s as if loss of inspiration, loss of creativity, loss of motivation… a kind of apathy.
Iain: Did that scare you at the time?
Claudio: I had, for many, many years, kept journals. It’s the first time in life when I stopped writing. I had nothing to write about. I didn’t have the motive to write, or a sense of interest in what I could say. When it came to the worst, the nadir point, the deepest, I felt like a fool. I felt embarrassment about my own foolishness and I think it’s the enlargement of something I had always felt. I always felt awkward as a teenager, I always felt prone to ridicule and this was as if this basic feeling that had been latent, or hidden behind other things, now became the foreground.
Iain: The deepest conditioning was coming forward.
Claudio: Yes, it came to the surface. I was invited to teach at the University of California at Santa Cruz and I was very… I was so embarrassed to be up there teaching the group and feeling “I am not embodying the things I’m teaching. Who am I to teach this or that, whatever?”
Iain: But people got a lot out of the SAT group, didn’t they?
Claudio: Oh, the SAT group. That was before I had fallen.
Iain: But you did mention starting at that time…
Claudio: People got a kind of speeding up of their own process. Many people who were not seekers became seekers. Other people found their way to the next step in their life. Some people went into Tibetan Buddhism, other people went into the Bob Hoffman [process] work. Other people became therapists and tried to help others.
Iain: You were a real catalyst at the time.
Claudio: I was a very strong catalyst. And in a sense it was not something I was doing, it was more like Totila Albert said of his poetry: he never knew what he would write, but his hand moved as if by itself. Much of what is now in the Enneagram literature came to me by automatic writing. That also happened to me. But there was that quality even in my speech, as if I didn’t know what would come out of my mouth during a session. I could trust that it would be of interest and people would get their tape recorders out. There was a sense of some precious material coming out.
Iain: This period lasted about fifteen years, didn’t it?
Claudio: No, the rich period about three years only.
Iain: No, I mean when you were in the decline.
Claudio: Oh, the dark period. Yes, that was long.
Iain: That’s a long time to be in this… So did you despair sometimes?
Claudio: Yes I did. Sometimes I blamed myself for having done something wrong, for having allowed my inspiration to make my ego bigger, being so near to the spiritual source became a kind of narcissistic satisfaction. I always felt I had nothing to give, even when I trained as a psychoanalyst, I couldn’t sustain the psychoanalytic role because it was like cheating people. I didn’t feel I could really help such desperate people who wanted my help. I was too sensitive to that. And now I had my hands full, so I was able to give for the first time, and it was such a joyous thing that when I was empty-handed again for some time [I] interpreted [it] as if I was giving out of personal satisfaction. “See! Finally I am somebody who has something to give!” It was an ego-contamination. Then I came to appreciate that it was also a gift for the Grace to be taken away. I was learning to be empty-handed; I was learning to become poor.
Iain: So there was somehow an acceptance that was evolving…
Claudio: It was a full training. And of course I kept reading things, and knowing that the Sufis know this process very well as a time of expansion and time of contraction and time of contraction is a blessing. I’d read how St John of the Cross says that when we enter the dark night, it’s as if it’s not like breast feeding any longer. We don’t feel the abundance which is like breast feeding, because we need to learn to eat solid food and chew and walk with our own legs and not be carried in our mother’s arms.
Iain: So now you’re teaching again. You’re in London to do some teaching this coming weekend…
Claudio: Well I’ve been teaching for the last twenty years or so. What I started in Berkeley and then dropped and closed down, this was re-born in Spain in the late ‘80s as SAT programmes in Europe - I’ve been doing that for a long time - and during the last ten years or so I’ve become especially interested in getting teachers to go through this programme because I feel that if teachers get this transformative experience, they will pass it on more to their students, to society not just like psychologists I’d been working with before, and psychotherapists. They help a few patients, but they don’t make such a dent on society. So I’ve become more sensitive to the world and more interested in doing something about the world and I have a feeling that SAT is like a missing link in the process of changing education, or changing other institutions.
Iain: Yes. We need to finish in a couple of minutes. One thing you said to me on the phone last night when we were talking, was when I asked you how you felt these days, you said you felt the taste of abundance.
Iain: I thought that was lovely.
Claudio: Yes, I used the phrase some minutes ago: I’ve been a thirsty seeker. Very thirsty, always seeking, seeking, seeking, almost to the point of despair. Over-seeking, and not minding earthly affairs very well because the seeking impulse has been so strong. And now I cannot say I’m a seeker, I’m a waiter. [They laugh.]
Iain: You’re a waiter!
Claudio: I’m somebody who’s going with the stream and knowing that the stream is taking us very near the time and place when it comes into the ocean. I can smell the ocean!
Iain: Thank you, Claudio, very much, for coming and talking to us on conscious tv. I think you’ve been incredibly honest, so I really appreciate that. And your life has been very rich and you’ve had wonderful experiences.
Claudio: Thank you.
Iain: And thank you again for watching conscious.tv. I’m just going to hold up a couple of Claudio’s books that are currently available, Healing Civilization and The Way of Silence. He has another eighteen books or so, so there’s plenty to seek out if you want to. And I hope to see you again soon on conscious tv. Goodbye.
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