Thursday, November 18, 2021

Sex, gossip, religion? Can we talk?

One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious. --Carl Jung

I feel like I just stepped onto the set of The View and have been put on the spot for talking about priests, gurus, illicit sex and sexual molestation. Just use any of these words coupled with the name of God, and the door to the world of intrigue, power, domination, manipulation, forbidden pleasures is flung open. Ethical guidance is clouded by the dark forces that have been called forth.

I was stung by the criticism from a trusted friend. My friend felt that some of my writing about the sexual behavior of both teachers and students whom I know and have had some relationship with, Buddhists, Enneagram enthusiasts, meditators, “verged on ‘gossip”-- their words. Further, it gave fodder for some within our loose knit community to lob attacks and discredit opposing positions. Just talking about it might discourage people from undertaking the hard work of introspection, self-analysis, and meditation that we’d like to encourage. And I also suspect that on some level, my friend feels that the criticism is unfair. This is the way of the world.

For me, for the Jesuit in me, this poses some thorny ethical questions. I know that I have to discuss these issues openly, including my personal experience, but I want to both avoid gossip and honor the confidence of friends as well as other people whom I’ve known and worked with. I totally reject any underlying assumption that this situation is “the way of the world,” and that we should be mute because of some larger, more influential matters at stake.

In this essay I will look at some of the implications of accusations of sexual misconduct, gossip and spiritual practice. But first I have to look at the conversations themselves, and try to distinguish between gossip and real situations that are open to both analysis and criticism.

Gossip is defined as the “casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true.”

In our current culture, it’s very politically, morally, even spiritually “correct” to talk about the consequences of sexual conduct, especially if it’s misconduct. These conversations have their own cachet with their own rules. But this is nothing new, is it? Every religion on the face of the earth spends a huge part of its capital in trying to corral the impulses of the lower centers, legislate sexual behavior, and devise punishments for those who stray.

One of the main reasons for the huge #metoo movement, including digging into the egregious behavior of many in the formal institutions of religion, is that for generations negotiating these tricky moral areas was done in secret; it was never talked about in polite conversations. No matter the consequences, even challenging the wisdom of saints, there is widespread public support for this type of investigation. When people began to realize that even the Sainted John Paul turned a blind eye to the sins of some men in his work force, that blew the lid off.

John-Paul was a saint, but he allowed priests who molested boys and young men to remain in positions where they could continue to abuse. The church admits no error when it comes to declaring saints, but if there is erosion of public support, i.e. donations, is any revision or qualification possible? The slowing of monetary support might force some hard questions about how a religious institution spends its political capital.

There are consequences when this kind of conversation breaks loose, and creates its own weather system. Humans love a good stoning when the clouds begin to threaten our comfortable sunny afternoon--especially if the miscreants appear to be having their cake [bought for them] and eating it too. And we’re not talking, for the most part, about a modern tabloid version of the Salem witch trials with an emphasis on sleaze. These are factual cases of unethical behavior and, as in the case of my own abuse, criminal behavior.

There’s a lot of blame to go around, from the butcher, the baker, to the candlestick maker. Michel Foucault argues that surveillance and punishment are part of a technology that poisons institutions from the top down. I will leave that analysis for a later discussion. For now it is enough to note that the sins of pedophile priests are at least partially shifted to the institutional mechanisms that allow them to function and more importantly continue in positions of authority after they’d been discovered.

Of course there’s a tendency for an institution, an organization, a church to sweep this kind of behavior under the rug, particularly if any exposure endangers a stream of income. I have encountered this criticism: you were raped, but it happened 40 years ago. Get over it. The pain caused by the trauma actually is as much a result of my inability to move on and deal with my issues as was Bob Hoffman’s fault for abusing one of his clients in Psychic Therapy. When a senior teacher of the Hoffman Process told me that I should move on, that it was only the result of my “patterns,” he was gaslighting me. The definition of gaslighting is to “manipulate (someone) by psychological means into doubting their own sanity.” Obviously he wanted me to shut up, which in my view is the response worthy of a cult follower with no integrity.

There are several other characteristics of the conversation about sexual abuse in spiritual groups that I’d like to highlight.

This conversation with regard to clergy sexual abuse is, for the most part taking place in rich, privileged parts of the world. But it is also privileged in other ways. Privileged usually describes a person as having special advantages and opportunities. When used to describe a position in a conversation, analysis or controversy, it points to what we might call an unfair advantage, insisting on a position because of the status of the speaker rather than the merit of their cause.

It is a conversation of privilege in that the main actors are men; and in terms of “privileging” the conversation, the conversation deals with men in power. In a study “Female Sexual Assault Perpetrators” we see that only recently has any attention been paid to female offenders. They exist, of course, but the conversations we are dealing with only involve male perpetrators.

Either by rank, authority of position, or what I will call “privileged knowledge,” there is a dominant voice in the conversation. People apply a different set of moral indicators when dealing with members of the clergy, gurus, or spiritual teachers. Time-honored demarcations of power and authority which accompany sexual restrictions and practices are normally unquestioned. This complicates the discussion.

The issue of misogyny: the conversations in the Catholic Church have been focused on male clergy because the actors are male and clergy. The conversation is skewed by a strong undercurrent of misogyny also present. Some indicators would be the differences in the level of condemnation between men and women (listeners); the conversation is also prejudiced by the high level of homophobia among the listeners.

Let's look at some other characteristics of these conversations.

The conversation can easily be shut down as gossip because it involves private behavior. What happens in secret, in the bedroom for example, automatically becomes hearsay. When some secretly recorded tapes were circulated of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, "Uncle Teddy,” seducing seminarians at his private beach house, I posted them to a group of mostly heterosexual former Jesuits. The response was “just crickets.” Actually they were so explicit and damning that most of the group just didn’t believe that they could possibly be true. After a two year Vatican investigation, McCarrick was defrocked. The crickets were speaking loudly but for my listeners, they spoke a coded language.

Another indicator that the private nature of most the behaviors prejudice the conversation is the evidence of widespread victim blaming. When a few victims of molestation by priests began to come forward, one of the hardest obstacles to highlighting the severity of the problem was the reluctance of other victims to speak openly given that the abuse was sexual, and for the most part, homosexual.

There are many divergent views of what is acceptable sexual behavior. The social norms, for example, in the gay community, and what is expected of a parish priest, a monk, or the leader of a New Age Spiritual Community are quite different. Gender, marital status, age, race, level of education, income level, sexual orientation, all play a role in how severely or leniently we judge sexual misconduct.

In some cases, sexual conduct outside the norm is excused because it is outside the norm. In an interview with Dr. Jeffrey Mishlove, Claudio Naranjo gave Swami Muktananda a free pass for breaking his religious vows: “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. . . . “ In this regard Claudio was far too optimistic. Although Muktananda retained some following, both in India and internationally, his sex life did not help his “cultural mission to be an educator on a large scale.” He proved unworthy of the kind of trust that is required for a spiritual teacher to function. But given Claudio’s logic, again it is the fault of those of us who are uneducated rather than "the one who knows," who is enlightened or has some special knowledge

Naranjo also had, in my view, an outsized evaluation of the role of trickster in a spiritual teacher--the devious nature of our egos can only highlighted when we were tricked, or forced, into seeing our personality types, our behaviors, attitudes and mindsets, and their consequences by unorthodox methods. In my view this led him to place undue confidence in psychics, e.g. Bob Hoffman, Ann Armstrong or Helen Palmer, and 4th way teachers such as E.J. Gold and Henry Korman who were, the only word that comes to mind, bullies. This prejudice also tended to blur or excuse any sexual misconduct on the part of the male psychics or teachers.

People also tend to compartmentalize, and separate the offense from other qualities, events, teachings, which they value. This includes both those who are not directly affected by the abuse as well as the victims. A Zen priest told me that he felt Katagiri Roshi “got a bad rap” because Katagiri had been an important influence during a particularly difficult period of the priest’s training. Katagiri, a married man and Zen teacher, did have sex with his students, but in the subjective evaluation of my friend, the Roshi had other qualities that outweighed sexual misconduct. In my own case, I refused to acknowledge the damage that Hoffman caused because he was part of a much larger radical change in my personal life.

False equivalences ignore and/or exaggerate both similarities and differences. The distortion is particularly confusing and pernicious when it suggests that there is a moral equivalence between two or more things that are being equated--in the Katagiri case individual sexual misconduct and teaching meditation, or in the case of Hoffman Process, the pervasive influence of parental conditioning and my personal transference to Hoffman who was my therapist and counselor.

In summary these conversations about seuxal abuse are not gossip. They are not casual or unconstrained nor are they easily categorized. However, no matter the particular case, Catholic, New Age, or Buddhist, they all seem to contain several of these characteristics:
  • They take place in rich, privileged parts of the world, but they are also privileged because the main actors are men.
  • These are factual cases. For generations they were kept secret, but now open discussion has widespread public support.
  • They have developed their own cachet with its own particular rules.
  • They erode public support for institutions; they undermine the authority of teachers.
  • The conversations themselves are privileged because the status of the speaker is used to support a position or the perpetrator.
  • Some of the conversations are not easily understood because they are spoken in a coded language. They are prejudiced by misogyny as well as a high level of homophobia. There is also evidence of widespread victim blaming.
  • There are many divergent views of what is acceptable sexual behavior. People apply a different set of moral indicators when dealing with members of the clergy, gurus, spiritual teachers.
  • People tend to compartmentalize. Their arguments contain many false equivalences that ignore and/or exaggerate both similarities and differences in discussing actual cases.
Agatha Christie, through her gossip detective Miss Marple, makes a strong case for collecting useful information by paying attention to the whispers and tell-tale signs of bad behavior. Marple entered the until then exclusively male realm of English detective fiction as a female outsider whose methodology veered from the careful Aristotelean observation of, for example, Sherlock Holmes. In fact, I might argue along with Christie that what is commonly called rumor or innuendo is sometimes the only reliable source for gathering key information about bad behavior and holding people to account. Some would even argue that the blanket prohibition against gossip and gossiping was created by dominant male actors to protect themselves.

In the next part of my exploration I’m going to ask the questions: What next? Is there a way out of this? Can we perhaps step out of a black and white set of responses and look at the situation in a different way? I actually think that we already have. We’ve been forced to--a fact not yet recognized, accepted, or fully understood.

Saturday, November 6, 2021

A cruel joke: The Doctor and the Haberdasher

I am not without blame, but I imagined that I could get away with it. I cannot. I let my hatred for Hoffman surface and tried to hurt him. I imagined that I had volunteered to be the hospice caregiver. That was impossible because the patient was dying but would not admit it. He’d looked for a miracle from a psychic surgeon in Sao Paulo suburb, a terrible mistake that landed him in what remained of the Jewish Mount Zion Hospital in San Francisco. He then underwent a painful resection of his liver in hopes that world class oncologists could do the work where Doctor Fritz had failed. 

He was refusing to reconcile with the most important people in his life. He spurned his son and his wife was of course completely absent. He would die like a dog.

Sometime during his brief recovery from the liver resection, there were a few weeks where the dream of defying a cancer diagnosis once again seemed possible. Hoffman decided to host an elaborate dinner at the famous San Francisco restaurant, Tommy Toy's Cuisine Chinoise. He booked one of the dowager empress’s private dining rooms and invited all the doctors who had a part in his treatment, a virtual who’s who of the UCSF oncologists. He was set on making a show of his indebtedness as if it might act as a magic charm and prolong life.

I remember that there was a lot of fuss about making the booking and ordering the food. It was all done in advance. There was some concern about catering to the Kosher needs of some of the doctors and, more importantly, one of their wives--how could you go to Tommy Toy and not include the seafood bisque? 

But Hoffman already had the piqued look of a terminal cancer patient. If the pain of having half his liver cut out had not diminished, he was determined to make a show of being on the path to remission. He could blame his discomfort on the rich foods. 

At some point in the evening’s strained conversation, I think that he asked each of the doctors to tell a joke. Or perhaps it might have been one of the doctors who initiated the contest. Hoffman sat at the end of the table and would have the last laugh. 

I encouraged Hoffman to tell a joke that he’d told me, the tailor’s diagnosis. After some hesitation, he agreed and launched in.  

Marty Finkelstein, let's call him, was feeling poorly. He had headaches, devastating mind-blinding bouts of insomnia, dizzy spells when he could barely see straight. Something had to be done. He went to the trusted family doctor. After a full work up, careful examination, the doctor had a recommendation. He knew it would be hard to stomach but he was sure it would cure what ailed Marty: castration. 

It was such a shocking treatment that of course Marty hesitated, for weeks, and eventually months, but the symptoms persisted and, well to make long story short, finally he decided to undergo the procedure. He lost his nuts. The original symptoms disappeared but Marty couldn’t shake a persistent depression. The family doc had a treatment for that too, see your tailor and get a sexy new suit. 

So off Marty went to the habasher. A new suit. He went in and began to buy some nifty duds. He told the tailor that he was a size 42. The tailor looked surprised and said, politely but firmly, you’re a 43. Indeed a 43 suit jacket fit perfectly. Marty thought well, OK, but as for a shirt, give him a 16 and half neck with a 32 inch sleeve. Again the tailor looked skeptical and said, but I’m sure you’d feel much better in a 17 inch neck. And on it went from the inseam to the length of the cuff. 

Finally they got the waist size and underwear, the tailor was exasperated with Marty’s insistence that he was a 34 inch waist. He was a “36.” It was clear, and the results of trying to squeeze into 34 underwear were very terrible: headaches, devastating mind-blinding bouts of insomnia,  dizzy spells when you could barely see straight.

A terrible joke. Nervous laughter. My stint as Hoffman’s caregiver was over. I might have lasted a few more weeks--actually at the time I couldn’t see the writing on the wall. I was far too angry to do him the service of caring for his last weeks, days and moments.

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

The Truth about Bob Hoffman

Despite the public portrait of Hoffman as a kindly Jewish grandfather, he was a fraud, a liar, a conman, a psychopath, a narcissist, and a sexual predator. But I followed him, and tried to be his friend. I had a powerful experience when I did the Fisher-Hoffman Process of Psychic Therapy, and I thought that being grateful was the right stance.

I was wrong, but I am still here and angry that he took me for a ride. In therapeutic terms it was unresolved transference which took years of difficult personal work to resolve, and cost me thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars in therapy. I can barely bring myself to look at the other costs, the frustration, lost opportunities and wrecked relationships which I can never recover.

Within 7 months after I finished his course of therapy, Hoffman also raped me. In the real world he would have been subjected to enormous fines and barred from working with other people as a spiritual counselor, or even sent to jail, but we’re talking about the world of psycho-spiritualism, trance mediums, messages from dead relatives about their confused and deluded rearing so we’ve already abandoned reality and the normal consequences for criminal behavior.

I have earned the right to say something. Telling the truth will be my starting point.

Here’s how Hoffman begins his story. In the dead of night, sometime in1968, the spirit of the late distinguished German psychotherapist, Siegfried Fisher stood at the foot of his bed, and woke him up with an urgent message: the key to psychological well being was contained in a concept called Negative Love–we are blindly tied to repeating the mistakes and negative behaviors of our parents because we are starved for authentic love. It’s just a game of giving to get. Then Dr. Fisher cured Hoffman by taking through psychic therapy, and charged him to spread the word. He said, “Doors would open.” 

For anyone with a taste for otherworldly drama, this has everything that Hollywood, or Mme Blavatsky could provide including a simple, down-to-earth maxim any idiot can understand. And it also comes with the validation of a highly qualified psychiatrist, bona fides all the way from Vienna, at least in his lineage.

But on closer examination, even for a person who believes in messages from the other side, the lies start right here. Hoffman claimed that Fisher was an old family friend, that he somehow knew his wife’s family. The truth is that Hoffman had been Fisher’s patient for years at Langley Porter. And Fisher’s specialty was severe psychosis. Hoffman claimed that he and Fisher had convivial dinner table conversations about the unseen world and what are generally called psychic phenomena. The dinners were perhaps the only truth in the story. Fisher, according to his son, David, did not follow the modern professional guidelines about social contact with patients. He remembers Hoffman coming to his house for dinner as well as visiting Hoffman and his family. 

But Hoffman needed a cover story. He was not in any way qualified to receive an insight that had evaded generations of highly trained psychotherapists. He was a tailor with a rudimentary education. His main interest, when not measuring the inseam of custom suits for the Oakland Raiders, was immersing himself in the Spiritualist teachings of a psychic named Rev. Rose Strongin. 

Hoffman was also a man of limited intelligence with a heavy dose of strong opinions and fixed beliefs. His reliance on spirit guides would have been difficult terrain for Fisher to negotiate as a therapist–they provided a ready defense for Hoffman to deflect any meaningful attempts to deal with his psychosis. And, Fisher’s son told me that his father thought that homosexuality was “cureable,” which, if my own experience is any measure, became a long and costly war with a very closeted, homophobic gay man.

The stage was set for an epic battle, and what better way to resolve all the conflict inherent in a deep self hatred of being gay plus transference, than your therapist’s death coupled with the omniscience of seeing life “from the other side?” A dead therapist cannot defend himself. Questions are answered by the only voice we can hear. An unequal battle is won when one party quits, or dies. 

I also had real experience of unresolved transference, but it was not settled with Hoffman’s death.

Why do Intelligent people believe nonsense?

I cannot really answer this question other than to say it’s true. I know that in my own case it was unresolved transference as well as not cleanly dealing with my own homosexuality. But in the case of Claudio Naranjo, the answer is less clear. Claudio was a psychotherapist of extraordinary abilities and insight. He is best known as the person most responsible for the dissemination of the Enneagram teaching in the West. It was in his SAT Group in Berkeley that he introduced Hoffman and, it was on his recommendation that I undertook Fisher-Hoffman Psychic Therapy.

Both Hoffman and Naranjo are dead. Neither has woken me in the dead of night, and I do not claim to have any secret knowledge about their codependent relationship. But I was a participant in their early collaboration, and will be as honest as I can about what I observed and what is substantiated by the record. 

Naranjo met Hoffman and did his rudimentary analysis, the Process of Psychic Therapy, in the basement of Hoffman’s tailor shop on 15th Street in Oakland. It was emotional and exotic enough to capture Claudio’s interest. He says that afterwards he felt he could help Hoffman shape a group process, and become his John the Baptist. Yes, Claudio really used this messianic analogy. I was a guinea pig in that initial group experiment, and this is what I saw–both painted their collaboration as destined by heaven. It was not. It was a very rocky road. Hoffman ended it before it was complete. Although both men tried to paint their rupture in the best possible light, as with an accurate reading of the Baptist’s story, it did not end well.

In the chapter of Naranjo’s book, End of Patriarchy: And the Dawning of a Tri-Une Society, about Hoffman, Claudio says that he directed the first group process, that his indications were delivered by Rosalyn Schaffer with Hoffman a silent witness. To my recollection, after one rather awkward introduction, Claudio never stayed for an entire group meeting. The mild mannered and soft-spoken Rosalyn delivered her instructions, and then yielded the floor to Hoffman who was hardly silent. His rhetorical presentation was gruff and angry. He cajoled, demeaned, and baited, picking out a participant’s single trait, the way he or she dressed, combed their hair, the tone of voice. Then he used it to humiliate them, shouting that we couldn’t love ourselves, that we were unwitting victims of negative love. 

This unprofessional behavior went unchallenged, and Hoffman continued to be a bully throughout his teaching career. He justified it as “breaking down to build up.” Fisher apparently did not cure Hoffman of a chronic sense of inferiority coupled with arrogant entitlement. Any therapist in the group was singled out for particularly harsh attention. Hoffman was afterall a psychic tailor playing in a world of highly trained mental health professionals. It’s also worth mentioning that Hoffman loved having the endorsement of a man of Naranjo’s stature.

As a participant it was clear to me after about a month that Naranjo lost control of the group process, and Hoffman was increasingly unhappy when Claudio tried to regain control, particularly in insisting on the pace of the work. Their much heralded collaboration lasted 9 weeks on the outside. After weeks working on “Mother Bitch session” (now called “bashing” in Quadrinity parlance), Hoffman had enough of the careful exploration of repressed anger, and suddenly announced that he and Claudio had reached a friendly agreement to end their experiment, and Claudio’s participation, after the “Defense of Mother.” And, with appropriate fanfare, he announced that he would be leading his own 13 week Process beginning that January. With Hoffman it was always a loving divorce, a friendly disagreement, or his righteous indignation, jejune double-speak that only highlighted that he was a very angry man.

But Hoffman did get something from the SAT Group that has become a hallmark of the Process. The Wiffle bat and overstuffed pillow have become synonymous with releasing repressed anger, something that he had tried unsuccessfully in his psychic readings by having his patients write “an anger letter” to his or her parents after they’d written an emotional autobiography. He had little use for Claudio’s therapeutic exploration, and certainly not the methodology of Fritz Perls, or the Enneagram for that matter. It took too long, and actually went to the root of anger. Hoffman only cared about tapping the deep repressed emotional reservoir. The process of expressing anger, followed by the fabricated understanding that came from his psychic readings, would reappear again and again in the development of the current Process. Hoffman loved an emotional jolt. He was a junky and a one trick pony.

I wrote extensively about the development of the 13 week Process when the first rewrite of its history was undertaken by the current owners of Hoffman’s intellectual property, The Ontological Odd Couple—The Origins of the Hoffman Process, Fisher-Hoffman Psychic Therapy, The Quadrinity Process, and The Hoffman Process, Originally posted July 31, 2004, 1st revision 9/16,/2006, 2nd revision 6/6/2011, © Kenneth Ireland, 2004, 2006, 2011. I’m not going to repeat any of it here. Needless to say, Hoffman in his self-inflated posture appropriated the work of many professionals and claimed it as his own, or the direction of Dr. Fisher, his spirit guide while the current promoters altered and streamlined the narrative for marketing purposes.

If this Process were an important breakthrough in the development of psychological treatment, such an investigation might be interesting. It is not. However, working with Naranjo and Gestalt therapy, I had a major personal breakthrough. It began an unravelling that changed the trajectory of my life. I recognized on a very deep level that I harbored a well of repressed anger towards my parents, my rearing, and the Jesuits. I began a long and difficult journey. I turned my back on 10 years of rigorous religious training and started afresh. Over the course of trying to locate Hoffman’s contribution in this equation, I can only say that he was the loudest voice in the room when my emotional defenses began to crumble. But given the vagaries of the process, I went into massive transference. 

Hoffman was not at all equipped to manage his own countertransference, much less mine. In fact he used mine to manipulate and sexually abuse me. When he announced that he would be starting his own group process, he made a point of taking me aside and strongly encouraging me to join. I was one of only a handful of SAT members who did. In retrospect, Hoffman was just following the predator’s script, grooming me for sexual conquest. His unethical and criminal behavior would play out over the next 9 months.

Hoffman’s first 13 week group Process of Psychic therapy began sometime towards the end of January of 1973 in a nondescript rented classroom in UC Berkeley’s Tolman Hall, the home of its psychological department. We met every Monday night, and an assignment was due by Wednesday. It was more of a forced march than a psychological inquiry. The main elements of the current Process were there, a rigid set of exercises, the requirement to complete the assignments with as much emotional expression as possible, and to be on time. Keeping up meant in Hoffman’s estimation that you were willing to break down your defenses and see yourself clearly.

Hoffman claimed that we would discover that “everyone was guilty and no one to blame.” After experiencing how our parents had ruined our lives by passing on their negative behaviors and admonitions through the mechanism of Negative Love, we allowed them to defend themselves. We were instructed to imagine a conversation with their prepubescent emotional self recounting a story of how they inherited negative traits from their own parents. 

We were told that these imaginary conversations had the same function as Hoffman using his psychic power to look into our parents' history and discover actual events and circumstances of their programming. Hoffman claimed that after he had opened us psychically, we could tap into the same deep unconscious emotional knowledge which contained the truth about our parents’ rearing. There's a proper term to describe this well established psychological principle--Bull pucky.

Shortly after 5 on a hot Wednesday afternoon, I hand delivered my “Emotional Autobiography with Father'' to Hoffman’s office on the second floor of a building in downtown Oakland. His secretary had already left for the afternoon. Hoffman was recording his feedback for another patient on a cheap cassette player. He’d thrown his feet up onto the desk. I stood awkwardly in the half open doorway. There was no chair and no invitation to engage in a conversation.

He told me to hand him my work. Right on the spot he’d read a paragraph, comment on the emotional tone, and then make a simplistic, predictable connection between the specific circumstances I’d described and a negative pattern or character trait that he asserted I’d adopted from my father in an attempt to bargain for love.


Hoffman read through to an incident about my father resetting the stone wall at the back of our lot. As Dad was lifting stones into a wheelbarrow, he uncovered the nest of a woodchuck who’d built her nest in a cranny between the rocks. As she ferociously defended her cubs, my father killed her and her cubs with his shovel. As I remembered it, he began to beat her viciously. Her screams were chilling. 


Hoffman complimented the emotional tone of my writing, but then he began to raise his voice. Obviously my Dad was a homosexual he said, and then, “You’re also gay, aren’t you?” I countered how he could deduce that my dad was gay based on bludgeoning a woodchuck? His voice became louder and louder. He just repeated “You’re gay.” Now he was almost screaming—obviously my father was a sadist. What? Then he yelled, “You’re gay? Don’t play games with me. I know these things.” I said, of course I had gay feelings, but I was unsure if I was gay. “Don’t play games with me,” his voice was angry; his face was red. I had watched Hoffman attack clients, but I could barely believe that I was now his victim. 


My Dad was not gay. The idea of having a same sex relationship never crossed his mind in his entire life. Hoffman’s readings were projections and his own pathology. What he asserted was so off base that it isn’t worthy of even the weirdest pop psychology. But because there was one note of truth in analysis–that I was in denial about my own homosexuality–the whole thing became plausible, and I destroyed any possibility of a real relationship with my father for the next 30 years. In exchange I got the debilitating transference to Hoffman. 

I remember that the price of that first group Process was no more than $300. The real cost was devastating. Instead of dealing with coming out in care of a professional, compassionate therapist, I had the bad luck to land a closeted gay predator as my guide. When I described this incident to my therapist, his immediate response was: when you stayed, he knew he had you. And he did.

When I returned to the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley that fall, I told my superiors honestly what I had experienced, and they supported my decision to reconsider ordination. I took a leave of absence from my religious order, and began an extremely difficult period of my life. I loved being a Jesuit, and if it weren’t for the obligation of celibacy, perhaps I might have been able to carve out a very happy and successful life as a priest. 

Another man in Naranjo’s SAT, Hal Slate, and I rented a small apartment on the Berkeley/Oakland border. It was just a short walk from the White Horse, a college-town gay bar.

Towards the end of September, Hoffman started to show up at the bar every night around 9 o’clock, leaning awkwardly against the elbow bar, pretending to look off into some distant corner of the universe. He claimed that he normally stopped by on his way home. Another lie! He later admitted that he never went to gay bars because being recognized might negatively affect his important work. In reality he was tracking my movements, and making himself known. This was exactly stalking–out of the predator’s playbook.

I recall one conversation in particular which helps me accurately date Hoffman’s obsessive pursuit; it also should have alerted me that he knew exactly what he was doing. Almost in passing, and perhaps as a way of excusing or justifying his behavior, he mentioned that although the usual period for a therapist seeing a patient was 6 months after the professional relationship had ended, he thought that I had so completely and lovingly divorced myself from my parents, perhaps the usual 6 months could be compressed. Misinformation,  or perhaps he considered himself above the law. In California, “Therapy Never Includes Sexual Behavior. . . . Sexual contact of any kind between a therapist and a client is unethical and illegal in the State of California. Additionally, with regard to former clients, sexual contact within two years after termination of therapy is also illegal and unethical.”*  Less than 4 months after working with him, he nervously gave me his “private” phone number, and asked if he could call me.

Finally, I agreed to go out to dinner with him. He imagined it was a date. I thought it was dinner with a friend. I can’t in any way recreate the events or the conversation that ended with him returning to my apartment, but as with many sexual predators, Hoffman’s ability to read his victim, what he would describe as his “psychic powers,” lent themselves to skillful manipulation. And of course after working with me on an intimate level for almost a year, he had a real window into my psychology that was far more accurate than his psychic reading. After an extremely awkward series of interactions included a lot of “why don’t we try this?” and “do you like that?” I found myself on the living room floor of my shared apartment with a man I found sexually repulsive, naked, on my stomach, being brutally raped. After Hoffman had his orgasm, my anus was bleeding. 

Then the situation became surreal—I listened to apologies which were actually blame shifting—Hoffman told me that pain was normal when a man first had anal sex and that in time I’d learn to enjoy it—that anal sex was an important part of spiritual development. It mirrored the mother-father god, both active and passive. I remember this statement after all these years because of the horror and lunacy of justifying rape in the name of some intrasex deity. 

I didn’t throw him out as I should have, had I been capable of it. Every time I think about this, I ask myself why didn’t I say, “This isn’t working. Why don’t you put on your clothes and leave?” But I just kept my mouth shut and endured him trying to apologize for physically hurting me. But when he asked if we could have another date, I did say no. However, in true co-dependent fashion, I left the door open to further contact as friends. I realize now that I had to—I was in transference with him. In fact we maintained a strained acquaintance until he died.

I had hoped to avoid a painful and lewd description of the sexual encounter, but I have decided to write about it openly, describing its repercussions. A thorough investigation, including my own missteps, is the only possible path I see to freeing myself. If my writing really leads to liberation, “the function of freedom," in the words of Toni Morrison, "is to free someone else.” 

Was Hoffman a Wounded Healer or a fraud?

A longtime friend who also had a very difficult relationship with Hoffman contacted me. He agreed with my assessment of Hoffman, labeled him a malignant narcissist, confirmed that he was a sexual predator, a bully, and nearly impossible to work with. Yet my friend Stan spoke of a life-altering experience working with Hoffman. He compared it to receiving a sacrament from a corrupt priest. By luck or grace, my friend feels that the Process arrived unpolluted by the sins of being human.

Stan is very skilled in self-observation, and I believe him when he says that the experience was not an illusion or a panacea. His experience was life-changing and valuable in itself. He didn’t surrender to some weirdo messiah. He’s not blind to Hoffman’s flaws or inflated self-importance.

Stan describes Hoffman as a wounded healer. Carl Jung coined the term to describe one aspect of the transference between patient and therapist; he created an archetype by alluding to Greek mythology. Hoffman dealt with so many “sick people” as he called us, he was always restimulated. Yes, wounded and healer can be used in the same sentence, but identities and functions must remain separate–even if it was the experience of being hurt that allowed the healer to gain insight.

I tried to see if trying to step inside my friend’s experience might help me understand why I was so taken in by Hoffman; to see if Jung’s term wounded healer connected Hoffman's own pain and abuse in his life with his path to become a healer. And at the same time, allow me to forgive Hoffman’s continuing psychotic behavior.

I’ve never had much taste for Jung’s archetypes. The mythological centaur Chiron is the model for Jung’s archetype. Chiron is, as far as centaurs go, a rather upright creature. He doesn’t drink and carouse but rather educates young men in the healing arts that were taught to him by his stepdad Apollo. So far so good. But he has to give up his immortal status to save Prometheus–the exchange is negotiated by the immortal strong man Heracles–and Chiron dies when a poison arrow pierces his ankle.

But Chiron dies immediately; his wound is incurable. To my logical mind, I don’t see how he could be continually wounded and use his pain as a balm to heal others if he’s dead. The myth is of course a myth, and Jung had to juggle the elements of a complex mythological narrative to make it fit his archetype. We all have to compromise and make adjustments.

At the beginning of the Covid lockdown, I woke up in the dead of night and vowed never again to believe nonsense. Reliance on spirit guides giving messages in sanctuaries filled with divine light, simplistic talk of negative love and fictional scenarios of my mother’s emotional child telling me her sad story. All this is too far a stretch from Freud’s free association on a couch in Vienna. In a best case scenario, doing the Process could be something like attending an amazing show off Broadway, albeit with an expensive ticket, but deeply moving and life changing in subtle ways. In my case the performance was spoiled by the producer who hid a casting couch backstage, and raped me.

I harbor some resentment towards Claudio Naranjo for not doing due diligence before introducing Hoffman. I question Claudio's reliance on insight coming from a Spiritualist Church rather than rigorous psychotherapeutic practice. It was the 70’s. We can call it reckless experimentation.

It is possible for a lunatic to be cured, and go on to become a healer of others. Even the fake guru can heal or provide some measure of relief, but at some point the myth has to be stripped away. Our only chance is to move outside the guru’s thrall and claim the experience as our own.

And, most importantly, tell the truth. Hoffman was a fraud, a liar, a conman, a psychopath, a narcissist, and a sexual predator.

Here is a link to all my writing about Hoffman.

I know that my remarks and observations will piss off a lot of people. Apparently Hoffman is big business and a number of people depend on the Process for their livelihood. This was a consideration, but not strong enough for me to remain quiet. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Head versus Heart, Faith and Reason, Reason and the Emotions

The Discernment of Spirits in the Spiritual Exercises

After I published my discussion of Ignatius’s Discernment of the Spirits and William of Ockham's Razor, Occam’s Razor of Emotional Discernment, I received several careful and astute objections from the Companions, a group of former Jesuits. Ed Mowrey said: “a subject worth discussion—head vs heart in discernment I’d call it.  His reminder to ‘bring all of ourselves into the process of discernment’ is of course easy to hear.  Ironically Ken’s own approach in this little essay is all head-based.  I don’t fault him for that because it’s the inevitable outcome of growing up and being educated in a culture that clearly values head over heart. . .  .” 

I’d like to rise in my own defense, and attempt to spell out my reasoning. This is indeed a subject worth discussion. I contend that “Head versus Heart” is at best an oversimplification and, in the context of Ignatian spirituality, it may also be a strawman. 


I remember back to my college days, sitting through rambling one-note sermons of the Newman chaplain at Dartmouth, Father Bill Nolan. He came from the rigid, classical Thomistic theology taught in all seminaries pre-Vatican 2 (he’d been a Redemptorist before returning to the regular priesthood). Looking back it seems a rather defensive position at one the premiere liberal arts colleges in America, and in the end, didn’t hit the mark. He articulated in a rather rudimentary way what was a pretty widely held position that there was no essential conflict between faith and reason; that a good Catholic could hold the “supernatural” doctrine of the Church, and still be a thoroughly modern, scientific, clear thinking, rational human being. That in fact some doctrinal statements were amenable to the process of reason. After all, we had Saint Thomas Aquinas as our guide.

I graduated from college in 1966 and entered the Society. In Philosophy Edward MacKinnon, S.J., and a few others were trying to continue the appropriation of modern philosophy to the doctrinal bandwagon of Catholic theology. Foggy Mac, a slur more than a humorous Jesuit style nickname that reflected in my view some deep anti-intellectual bias in the rank and file, Ed left the Jesuits and, we imagined, the Church, as if a purely intellectual pursuit inevitably led one astray. Actually I think that he just decided to honor his sexual instinct in the normal way and give his emotional, sexual life a larger playing field. A simple explanation, but religious discourse is sometimes susceptible to far fetched and exaggerated stories. 

However, before moving onto considering the post-Vatican 2 fallout, especially in the new playing field of sexual freedom, let me make one observation: the fields, or domains, of faith and reason were held as essentially separate. Christianity is a revealed religion of the book. It has its roots in (quasi) historical personages and events which are themselves not easily amenable to reason. They behave more like myths. Thus the narrative of faith and its doctrines have to be held in an essentially different way than, say,  the Laws of Thermodynamics or Euclidean Geometry. As long as the wall between the domains stands, we confidently claim that we maintain our integrity. This is not to deny that grace, charm, even fun and play are available in the faith domain. That can be seductive which is also problematic.

Post Vatican 2, emotion, sexuality, our immediate feelings and their expression entered the world of religious practice. They just did. And as with the release of any repression, it lead to both a whole new world as well as unleashing a host of issues heretofore unattended. I may be exaggerating, but certainly in my own case, I would describe it as a kind of unravelling. 

Enter, or rather re-enter Father Ignatius and his revolutionary spiritual insight at Manresa. In 1522, he began an interior search to discern the will of God for himself as an individual, and eventually for his burgeoning religious order. Never veering from the given commandments and injunctions of the established Church (and perhaps fearing the harsh sentence imposed by the Inquisition), he sought to discover his personal destiny. What was the Spirit calling him to do? Where, or in the service of what mission, should he devote all his energy, his life, his entire will? When we undertook this discernment ourselves, he counseled us to weigh actual feelings, consolation and desolation, in a focused, orderly way which, over time, led to an “election” or an informed spiritual choice.

Voila! Here in this morass of unleashed emotional religious enthusiasm, sexual feelings, exploration of our underlying subconscious motivations, we have the example of a revered saint who used these very human parts of our psyche to discern the will of God. We got to play in a new ball park, and include an unexplored domain in our spiritual lives. 

There have been many positive things that have emerged from this exploration. Not only did we learn to use “I” statements, but therapists began to experiment with meditation as a tool for resolving or at least relieving the effects of trauma, while other psychologists mapped the distinct language of the emotions. They invented the new field of Emotional Intelligence. We have even begun to pinpoint the locus of the origin of emotions in the brain, and distinguish between what are broadly described as base emotions--fear, anger, and derivative feelings such as shame and guilt. The same can be said for distinguishing between the human sexual instinct and love.

The above description of the “Heart Domain” is not intended to be in any way definitive, but rather to indicate that the terrain is rich, varied, and bumpy, with lots of threads, sometimes conflicting, that require our attention. It is also a relatively new discipline, a work in progress. But we have to acknowledge that it is a far step from what Ignatius described in the early 16th century as the movement, conflict, even outright clash between the spirits of good and evil. I would contend that even though his mental model was viscerally real, his descriptive language was charged with an almost gnostic flavor which is very different from what we understand today as the science of mental health. 

It is not a bridge too far to take what we understand of our emotional life and interchange it with Ignatius' experience of conflicting spiritual forces. This exchange or interpolation, however, is not simply a case of X = Y where Y has all the attributes, causes and conditions of X! 

How are we to use this new rich “heart” vein to inform our spiritual lives and the real life decisions that we face in our day to day lives? I have spent a great deal of time over the past 35 or 40 years actually trying to understand the inner-working of our emotional lives, our basic drives, our instincts--the many facets of what we might generally for convenience call our “spiritual” selves. In the beginning of my search I immersed myself in Enneagram studies with Claudio Naranjo, then I explored every human potential school that I could find. I described my experience in the post Vatican 2 opening to the world of emotion, feeling, and sexuality as an unraveling. And to some degree, all those pieces remain in heaps on the floor where they fell. 

At the beginning of this short paper, I began to defend myself against the observation, perhaps opinion, that my use of Ockham’s Razor in analyzing the flow of emotions, felt impulses, attraction and antipathy, and trying to use this “information” was “head-driven.” Reading emotions is not the objective exercise where creating a list of pro’s and con’s helps yield a larger profit on the bottom line. On the other hand, listening to the language of our hearts is not learning to decode the strange language of Mars or Venus. It does not require that we suspend our intellectual judgement. It simply requires that we pay attention in a different, inclusive way. We have to bring all of ourselves to the endeavor of arriving at a good decision, especially one driven by a desire to do the will of God. 

I talked about the pre-Vatican 2 attempts to reconcile Faith and Reason. Following Aquinas, Bill Nolan et al tried to use the structures of Aristotelian analysis to negotiate the world of faith, but, I contend we had to maintain a wall between the world of Faith and that of our ordinary lives, which includes everything from making coffee to deciphering the algorithms of a Google search. Aristotle might help us distinguish between the human and divine natures of Jesus as long as the virginity of his mother Mary remained intact as a matter of faith. 

It may be a useful practice to suspend our habitual intellectual judgement when we first experience an onrush of newly discovered or released thread of emotions. In fact, it’s recommended in most psychological practice, a kind of agere contra to our normal head-driven way of experiencing the world. But this does not mean that the heart, our emotions deliver a kind of coded message that is separate from our heads, or normal intellectual processing. There is no need to erect a wall between our reason and emotions, our heart and our head. In fact, I would argue that the exact opposite is called for--to tear down any walls that exist. This is why Ignatius recommended the careful weighing of consolation and desolation over time. They have a natural way of sifting themselves out, and providing useful input for our decision making. 

Ockham’s Razor for our emotional life.