Wednesday, April 14, 2021

What would Bapuji be doing?

Originally posted on April 23, 2020. Today, April 14, 2021, is again the first day of Ramadan and we are still in state of lockdown here in India.

Yesterday I fasted. It was the thirty-second day of the Coronavirus Virus lockdown in India. It was also the first day of Ramadan. I am not Muslim, or even particularly religious, but I’d been asking myself what would Bapuji be doing during this pandemic, and my answer was very clear: he would be fasting. 

Since the founding of the Republic, Indians have faced many challenges. Being true to the principles that created the largest democracy on the face of the earth, each generation has to reformulate an answer in the language and the circumstances of the present moment to this question: what would Bapuji do? This question is more than lip-service to the man whose compassion and courage inspire us. It is more than just a sound bite on the TV news to gain some political advantage. When facing the silent enemy of the Coronavirus, a life and death situation, our answer might determine whether we live or die. 

The threat of death and the economic destruction brought on by the virus is very different from the occupation of the British Raj. There is no enemy we can point to, no foreign army, no terrorist, no General Dyer. Its victims are not defined by the language they speak, nor the clothes they wear, the clubs where they hang out, nor the religion they practice. The virus does not obey human laws or ordinary conventions. It is a force of nature.

And the threat is very grave. People are dying. Crops are not harvested. Shops are closed. Temples, mosques, shrines, churches, and gurudwaras, all are empty. The hospitals are not turning sick people away because all the beds are taken. Doctors and nurses are not yet being overworked, getting sick themselves and dying because they are caring for huge numbers of patients, but that is only because Indians, some more willing than others, are following the advice of our leaders and health professionals and staying home, reducing the rate of infection.

But this comes with a cost. Nerves are frayed. Families confined at home are seeing both the love that brought them together as well as the negative traits that they would normally tolerate. And yet, we have to do what we can because our survival depends on it. 

Of course it is far too early to begin to draw any lessons from this experience. But certain things are clear, and I think we should keep them in mind because we cannot really know how long this situation will last.

First we are all in this together. The virus does not discriminate between Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Buddhist, Christian, or secularist. Our only defense is a united front. We will only succeed if we work together. We number about 135 crores and share a relatively small section of the earth’s surface. This is a difficult situation even under the best of circumstances.

Second, we have faced other crises in the past, and we have prevailed. One of the reasons why India has such a low infection rate per capita is because people know how to work together facing impossible situations. We've realized that any struggle is hard work, but there is no way to avoid the pain that our human life presents us.

Third, Coronavirus is stealthy. It hides. In war, soldiers wear uniforms so that they know who they are fighting with and who are the enemies. The virus has robbed us of that luxury. It has no memory of past injustices. It does not hold grudges. It does not discriminate. To those who might say that the virus itself is God’s punishment for evil, I would just beg for humility in the face of calamity. Which one of us really knows the mind of God? It is perfectly understandable to try to blame someone else when facing an overwhelming fear. It is an instinctive reaction to lash out, and we think it helps. But the virus does not share our prejudices.

And fourth, there will be pain, and suffering, and loss. These are the facts of our lives now. There is no way to avoid it. 

When I first learned about Bapuji’s fasting, I was puzzled. It seems obvious that the way to fight an enemy is to use all the strength and power at our command. I thought he inflicted pain on himself to motivate others, perhaps even through guilt, to come to his way of thinking or unite against the British.

But perhaps it was the only thing he could do. There was no other defense. There was no power that he had to defeat the oppressor other than his inner strength. He nourished his soul by depriving his body. It was also his way of standing up to the suffering of life, accepting it willingly. 

I feel helpless in the face of the epidemic. I remain confident that the situation will improve, but I cannot predict when or how. In the meantime, I will do my best, and I will try to overcome my prejudice and work with everyone to defeat our faceless enemy. And I will fast.

Ken Ireland with Ankit Deshwal

Tuesday, April 13, 2021

Sex in the bushes: the real story

In the wall-to-wall news coverage of despicable, unbelievable denials of sexual misconduct by people in high places—today Matt Gaetz, yesterday Donald Trump—I began to wonder about the prevalence of vague sex talk, the circumlocution, the double talk and outright lying about sex that we’re expected to countenance. People say that the times have changed, that we can be more open about our sex lives now in a way that we couldn’t be even a few decades ago—that this openness causes the problems as well as giving us a degree of freedom that our parents didn’t have. The real problem, however, has always been the lies about sex.

Yesterday I had the honor of hosting a distinguished Tibetan Rinpoche for a small lunch in my McLeod Gan flat. My friend Alex asked if I was going to leave up some of my own art, visual puns, combining Greek pottery figures with French primitive art from the late 19th century. It’s not erotic art, so there was no question of offending a celibate monastic.
the non-offending art

On the other hand for anyone with even the slightest understanding of same sex realtionships, it would tip them off that I am gay. Of course it stayed up. I do not hide who I am, and certainly feel no need to be duplicitous, even when dealing with high lamas. I know I can trust them to accept me as I am. I am not going to complicate the relationship by lying or pretending.

For too long, actually, pretending has been at the root of the lying and duplicity that never seems to let up in the tabloid news. I've written about my relationship with Bob Hoffman, and my coming out in #GayMeToo. There was sexual abuse as well as bullying and coercion. But there was also lying and pretense. Hoffman argued that he couldn’t be honest and open about his sexuality because of the negative repercussions on his “important work.”

But the reality was that Hoffman couldn’t be honest with himself. And he tried to force me into that endless denial by accepting his self-justification. And for a while I did, but thankfully his pretense was so shoddy and full of holes that eventually I got fed up.

After Hoffman took 50 or so people through his Process of Psychic Therapy in UC Berkeley’s Tolman Hall, and turned the Process over to Dr. Ernie Pecci, he retired to Puerto Villarta in Mexico, and as I later learned to also deal with his first bout of cancer. At the time he was in a relationship with a man named Harold whom I met on several occasions. Hoffman eventually returned. I can’t remember if it was just to check in or if it was when he decided to curtail Pecci’s psycho-spiritual version of the Process, but I do remember that he and Harold were no longer a couple. I asked him what had happened. Well, he said, he’d discovered that Harold was being unfaithful. Oh really? Here’s the Poor Bob story.
The path into the bushes in Aquatic Park

It seems one day Hoffman needed to get some for some fresh air. He was in a back-to-nature kind of mood. He just happened to drive down to Aquatic Park in Berkeley, a notorious gay cruising place for furtive sex. His excursion was of course entirely non-sexual, to enjoy the scenery, but who should he discover lurking, having sex in the bushes while leisurely strolling along the lagoon watching birds? Harold! Hoffman was now the offended partner. They had it out, and Harold, in the face of Hoffman’s "righteous indignation," rushed back home to Piedmont and packed his bags.
I was expected to believe this story. Of course I didn’t, but neither did I confront Hoffman and challenge him. I couldn’t. Still in transference, I had to allow him the saving grace of pretending to be a virtuous man instead of dealing honestly with his promiscuity and anonymous sex adventures.

Lies build on lies. Justifications pile up sky high. At some point there’s no escape. I didn't take down my innocent humorous washroom art to sanitize my life for the Rinpoche. I learned the hard way: if I lied, there would be no end, or as the Zen saying goes, it’s turtles all the way down.

Thursday, February 18, 2021

Called for Jury Duty

We walk through life pretending that our path is fairly normal and predictable until we’re caught up short, or perhaps we stumble into a situation that unexpectedly catches us off guard and something opens up that changes our perspective. Some might even call this a blessing.

I was called for jury duty, and early one Spring morning, I dutifully reported to San Francisco’s Hall of Justice. It is a nondescript building, really just a plain block of grey-white marble, filled with an odd assortment of people, police, people on their way to work paying traffic fines, lawyers in suits, municipal workers in jeans and shirts with badges, men and women, mostly people of color, in orange prison uniforms filing in for arraignment. I made my way to the second floor and joined the line of ordinary people waiting for the 8 AM call. 

The doors to the courtroom opened, and we filed into a windowless grey hall with harsh lighting and simple wooden benches. Most everyone sat apart, leaving wide spaces between themselves. A few did sit together and chatted which I found odd. We were strangers to each other, and I was determined to keep it so. I knew that I would be very unhappy sitting in a courtroom for an indeterminate number of days listening to someone else’s sad story, and I certainly was not alone. After the officers of the court thanked us for doing our civic duty and introduced the lawyers, they made it very clear that the selection process would only excuse people for cause, real reasons, not just that we would be bored and might have preferred to watch daytime soap operas. We were sworn in, taking an oath to answer their questions honestly. To soften my mood, I tried to listen and make myself curious about what had occurred and why this was a complaint that had to be settled with lawyers and judges and a few of my fellow prospective jurors sitting in judgement. Others read books or newspapers. 

There were perhaps 35 prospective jurors in the pool, and it was after lunch before I was interviewed. We were questioned by the lawyers to see if we could be impartial, but it was also clear they were also looking for people who could be swayed by their version of the facts. Gradually some particulars of the case came to light. A middle aged woman had accused a Latino house painter of sexual molestation. I began to piece together the thread of the prosecution's argument: the painter had mistaken the flirtations of the woman as an invitation for sex. I couldn’t determine if they’d actually had sex, but apparently the woman was also, what are the words, at ease with her sexuality. The denouement was being held in suspense as if to entice us to follow salacious emotional details in the conflicting versions of the story that would be the heart of the case. 

He was younger, and although no movie star, I imagined that he would have played the lover’s role convincingly. But there was some disconnect between his attitude and the alleged aggression that was beginning to emerge as a central point of the woman’s complaint. His smile was genuine. I could see that. Of course there were language and cultural barriers. I had worked on construction sites for years. I knew many immigrants who worked with their hands, and I respected them. I also knew the sexual banter that passed the time. I recognized his clean but rumpled denim shirt. He could never pay a fine. He couldn’t even afford a lawyer, and I actually had to wonder if he even understood the gravity of the accusation. 

Their inequality, the arrogance of the woman--at least that was my first impression--she’d made no attempt to dress like a nun for the proceedings, my curiosity about trying to delve into her motivation for bringing the charge--I toyed with the idea of actually sitting. Suddenly a wave of conflicting emotions swept over me, doubt and fear, sympathy and revulsion, attraction, even sexual fantasy. My first impression was that he might have misread the situation. He certainly didn’t rape her, or did he? I couldn’t be sure. But more to the point: I couldn’t rely on my own judgement. In all honesty, I knew that I couldn’t serve on the jury. Even if I could have been impartial, even if there was the possibility that I could have saved a man from an unjust accusation, I knew I couldn’t sit through days of intense psychological reckoning while lawyers tore apart a poor man’s last shred of dignity. 

Possibly I could have negotiated a path through the prosecution and the defense’s arguments. Possibly I could have sorted out my own feelings and really listened to what actually occurred. Or could I? I had been trying to do that in many situations in my own life with mixed results. My sexual encounter with Bob Hoffman was rape. I had been the person who misread the circumstance. Although I fully understood that my naivete didn’t relieve Hoffman’s guilt, I couldn’t trust myself to render judgement in a situation where so much was at stake. I couldn’t trust myself to render judgment in my own life.

My name came up. I was asked if there was any reason I couldn’t serve. “I was raped,” I responded. “Thank you. You’re excused,” the judge said quickly. I wish it were that easy.

Saturday, February 13, 2021

The Sad Demise of Bob Hoffman

It is with a great deal of sadness that I find myself writing again about Bob Hoffman of the “world famous” Hoffman Process. I am aware that the group work that was developed by Claudio Naranjo and Hoffman, among others, has seemed to have been the catalyst for positive change for some individuals. As with many “New Age” personal development courses however, its promises do not mitigate the risks. I have detailed my involvement with Hoffman and Process in my other writing about the Process, but this is a story about Hoffman’s death in 1997.  

An enthusiast chided me with her spiritual understanding that everything in life happens for a reason, and claimed that she would never have changed a thing. She asked me if I would have made different choices knowing what I do now? My answer, “Of course, I’m not a complete idiot.” Nearly 50 years ago my life was falling apart. I made choices. Of course I have to live with the results of my choices, but to say that I always chose wisely is pure insanity. And I will certainly tell the story in hopes that some other kid can perhaps choose a more reasonable path. 

Hoffman’s roots are in the Spiritualist Churchnot the hip Science of Mind practice, but the one with trace mediums, seances, and spirit messages. Hoffman claimed that the kernel of the Fisher-Hoffman Psychic Therapy, “Negative Love,” was transmitted to him during a visitation one night in 1968 by the spirit of Seigfried Fisher, a respected psychiatrist who had fled Vienna during the Nazi occupation. The disembodied Dr. Fisher took him through his own process and became his “Spirit Guide” who promised to open doors for him. 

Although Naranjo, along with Dr. Ernest Pecci and several other mental health professionals tried to mould a process that might allow a person to experience his or her own psychological life as the result of negative attitudes, behaviors, habits from their parents, it remains an orchestrated, contrived emotional experience where the risks far outweigh any promises. 

Despite Hoffman being a very difficult manand I am not alone in my assessmentI always tried to remain friends with him. He was a man who had deeply influenced my life for better or worse. He was also another gay man who struggled with his sense of self-worth and purpose in an antagonistic culture. However, for reasons that were inevitably labeled as my personal failing or the result of a lack of understanding, empathy, love or compassion, I never succeeded. Whenever I made some effort to maintain or develop the relationship, and I was always the one who reached out, it would last for a period of time, and then I would have to back off. 

I phoned Hoffman in the Fall of 1995 or it might have been early in ‘96. I had returned from Hawaii where I’d tried to do a lot of self-care after working in a Buddhist AIDS Hospice for several years. Hoffman told me that he’s just been diagnosed with liver cancer, and that of course, there had to be some reason that I’d called. In Hoffman’s narcissism there was always some great mysterious purpose in events that only he could fathom. I thought the reason might be more mundane. I had been with many men who were dying. Perhaps I might be of some service, and I easily fell into sitting with him during his doctors’ visits, ct scans, disappointments and grasping for life. 

Before he began the very invasive medical treatment before the disease killed him, Hoffman decided to travel to Sao Paulo Brazil where there was a successful Process center. I forget the exact reason for the visit, but he told me that he had been treated like a guru, flowers strewn in his path, and that pleased him. 

I’ll never forget the circumstance of the conversation. We were in his room at the old Mt. Zion Hospital in San Francisco where he was recovering after being flown back from Brazil in an air-ambulance after a near death experience in the Albert Einstein Israelite Hospital in Sao Paulo. He’d seen a psychic surgeon, known as Dr. Fritz, who had operated on him with a kitchen knife, and nicked his liver, causing bleeding, infection and hospitalization. Luckily he’d just received the deposit from the new US owners of the intellectual property of the Process because the $50,000 for the flight had to be paid in cash in advance. Another fortunate quirk of fate, but this act of the telenovela came at a steep price, and he was a man who was always very interested in money.

It was surreal. A man who’d built a career around an otherworldly visit from a dead psychiatrist would of course be nearly killed by an unlicensed, untrained man channeling a dead surgeon doing a barbaric medical procedure in an filthy kitchen in a Brazilian suburb.

The denouement of the melodrama unfolded. Many visits to several oncologists, encouraging promises of cure, liver resection, an extremely difficult and painful recovery, a very brief remission, and then a steep rapid decline. 

I did not stay till the end. I saw some parts of his personality that for an ordinary man might be best left unsaid, but given that he is now a public figure, I will talk about them. I think that they are both part of the story of the Hoffman Process as well as my story and I intend to write more about my involvement and my transference. But for now, I will just mention that food that didn’t have to be kosher but had to look kosher. I called a rabbi to see what I could prepare that he could eat, but the sandwich was refused because vegetable spread looked like dairy. Then there was the saga of finding a hospital bed that had never held a dying person. It would have jinxed his recovery. And I confess that my hostility took a nasty turn when I tricked Hoffman into telling a very uncomfortable joke to his doctors at an elaborate party he organized to celebrate his cure.

Hope was dashed. None were immune to his anger when death finally had to be faced as inevitable.

I tried to be his personal assistant. I set up meetings with the people who meant something to Hoffman, including people with whom he had unfinished business. I had hoped that Hoffman might be able to repair some of his messier relationships and, in the terms of his personal belief system, be able to move on. God it was difficult. As I waded through the wreckage with him, he receivedthere is no other word of itpeople he’d trained as Process teachers, people who’d helped him, other people to whom he owed a debt, people who were vying to make some money from his notoriety, and in all fairness, many people whom he’d helped.

I was personally very distressed that he would not reconcile with his own son. I didn’t see this at the time as part and parcel of my own transference, but it was. Whatever outcome between Hoffman and Michael was their affair, but it this experience eventually led me to finally reconcile with my own father before he died 15 years later. I will try to unravel this in my next post.

So I am faced with a personal dilemma here: do I call Hoffman a fraud? From what I experienced myself, he was a powerful force and it was negative. Has the Process that bears his name actually helped people? The answer is yes to both questions.

Here are the pieces that I've written about Hoffman. Although I have tried to be objective, it is impossible to take a disinterested position with regard to the Process. Hoffman sexually abused me about 6 months after I finished that first process.


The Ontological Odd Couple, and the Origins of the Fisher-Hoffman Psychic Therapy


The Sad Demise of Bob Hoffman

This Victim Refuses Silence 

A Very Personal Question: Can I Forgive Bob Hoffman?

Forgive and Forget? Impossible. An inquiry into Victimization.

"Bob Hoffman was a criminal. Simple." 

New Age Miracle or Fraud

Why Do Cults Need to Rewrite History?

Science vs. Spooks

Jonestown and our Deliverance from Cults