Wednesday, October 21, 2020

This Victim Refuses Silence

My rape, its aftermath, and my poor choices

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Many readers have told me that this post was difficult to read. It was also difficult to write, but I will not be silent. I originally wrote about my abuse in Bob Hoffman—#GayMeToo. I have expanded on it in two other posts: Forgive and Forget? Impossible and A Very Personal Question: Can I Forgive Bob Hoffman?

I can find no silver lining in the story of my abusive relationship with Bob Hoffman, but even if there were one, the relationship was so muddy that I don’t know where to begin to look. It is a lot like trying to write about it. I feel that I cannot write because I would be obligated to disclose too much about what I consider personal failures. I cannot write from the position of a life that didn’t turn out even though opportunities and avenues were most probably closed off to me by the events I’m going to describe. The only thing I can say with any certainty is that my life is not what my parents nor I envisioned for myself, but it has been my own life, and I am responsible for my choices. 

Any light at the end of the tunnel would shine. It would mean that the residue of the abuse was over, and I would be able to forget Hoffman and our relationship. But that does not happen. It’s just not enough for me to declare “This happened,” and move past it as I’ve been counseled from many quarters, new age therapists, love and light gurus. I know that Hoffman’s selfish actions had an effect on me. Of course they added unnecessary suffering. As I recently told a friend, every gay person I know would love to be guided by the loving, wise and resourceful example of a older queer man or woman. But by the luck of the draw, I got a narcissistic predator. I’ve told the story of how Hoffman came into my life in some detail in my blog Bob Hoffman—#GayMeToo.

A friend recently told me that she had accomplished what the Hoffman Process promises, “putting the past in the past and obliterating the traces of your parents’ negative influence" in a 20 minute process of stamping out any memories of them in a ritual practice. Only time can judge its effectiveness. Only future actions which do not bear the imprint of past missteps can be trusted as indicators that the past is truly in the past. 

As I've watched the #MeToo movement unfold in the press, all the attention has been focused on the bad actors. Whether famous men Epstein or Weissman or Trump or Cardinal Pell or ordinary men like Hoffman, we cannot allow any one of them to escape the consequences of their actions. But it occurs to me that what’s still missing are stories of the victims. 

And so I have decided to write about my abuse. The only possible path I see to freeing myself is a thorough investigation of what occurred, including my own missteps. If my writing really leads to liberation, “the function of freedom," in the words of Toni Morrison, "is to free someone else;” so I will write as candidly as I can. I had hoped to avoid a painful and lewd description of the sexual encounter as I describe some of the repercussions, but find I have to talk about some of it. 

Bob Hoffman, my therapist and mentor, invited me to dinner less than 5 months after I completed the first 13 week Fischer-Hoffman Process of Psychic Therapy. After some very awkward conversation and a few glasses of wine, I found myself on the living room floor of my shared apartment 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—he 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 because it mirrored the reality of 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 godhead. I didn’t throw him out as I should have, had I been capable of it, 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 still in transference with him. In fact we maintained a strained acquaintance until he died.

I came out as a gay man in the Hoffman Process, but the process wasn’t coming to terms with a part of myself that I’d left hidden, festering under parental and societal disapproval. It wasn’t part of a program of careful analysis and self discovery. I wasn’t led by a professional to see layers of self-deception. Rather I stood uncomfortably in the doorway to Hoffman’s office, while he, red in the face, screamed that I was gay, told me that I was playing games and couldn’t love myself. This only reinforced my own learned, negative views of being gay. I sensed the same angry, defensive stance in the way he dealt with his own homosexualty and he certainly displayed its brutality when he forced anal intercourse.

Hoffman was both a narcissist and a predator, but I was in such denial that I allowed myself to be manipulated. Over the course of intermittent conversations which spanned more than 25 years, I discovered that he lied about many things; he exaggerated; he made empty promises; and he entertained grandiose ideas about himself. Dr. Fisher, the being whom he called his spirit-guide, had not been, as he proclaimed publicly, a family friend but rather his therapist; he felt he was destined to have a young lover because the immense contribution he was making; he had singled me out when he first saw me in Naranjo’s SAT; he started frequenting the only gay bar in Berkeley to stalk me, and not because, as he told me then, he usually stopped in to relax on his way home. The truth is that initiating a sexual relationship with me was a criminal violation of his professional responsibility as a therapist, mentor and spiritual guide, but his psychosis did not allow him to understand this.

In true predator fashion he groomed me. He told me that, if I played my cards right and listened to him, I was destined to become a leader in the gay community; that I had extraordinary powers, like his spiritualist mentor—I think he named her, Florence Becker, though he was vague—had singled him out as a person of great psychic abilities. He also insisted that I was attracted to him, and he knew it because he was a powerful psychic as well as the fact that I had an erection during our encounter. Recalling this fills me with disgust. I recall that most of the people around Claudio viewed Hoffman as a buffoon, a conman, or at best a crazy wisdom seer. I thought he was unintelligent and crude plus being sexually repulsive, yet something compelled me to continue to place my trust in him.

Within a year of our encounter, I’d left the Jesuits, moved to San Francisco with my SAT friend Hal Slate and began experiencing the burgeoning Castro gay scene of the ‘70’s. I became promiscuous, but, at the same time, I was very unhappy and frustrated with sex itself. I could not achieve orgasm. I cannot claim that Hoffman’s brutal abuse was the direct cause of my sexual dysfunction but I am certain that it played some part. But my solution to the problem became more of a problem. As in my college days and my life as a Jesuit, alcohol became an antiseptic for the wounds. But now pot, and eventually cocaine and methamphetamines, became a way to lubricate sexual activity. 

There is a very high rate of alcoholism and substance abuse among victims of rape, and that is certainly part of my story. Drugs opened up a whole new world for me though they took an immense toll. Eventually the number of days of work I missed because I was still too high to work safely began to outnumber the days I was late because I was hung over and unable to get out of bed. This December I will be 10 years free of drugs and alcohol. The 12 Step Program does not encourage any playing victim and always redirects a person to recognize his or her own part in the matter. However facts and situations do matter. Hoffman’s sexual abuse, the threads of our relationship, and my part in the matter are all part of the equation.

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —

Success in Circuit lies

Too bright for our infirm Delight

The Truth’s superb surprise

As Lightning to the Children eased

With explanation kind

The Truth must dazzle gradually

Or every man be blind —

Emily Dickinson

I'll explore "playing victim" in the next post: Forgive and Forget? Impossible

© Kenneth Ireland, 2020

Monday, September 7, 2020

A Very Personal Question: Can I Forgive Bob Hoffman?

the very first Hoffman Process, under the direction of Claudio Naranjo, I had a breakthrough that radically altered my life’s trajectory. I saw clearly the reality of a circumstance in my life that I’d been struggling with since puberty, and, at least for an instant, I experienced enormous freedom. There was no turning back.

I was, however, as naive about the workings of my mind as I was about my sexuality. Because my insight involved sex, the fire was bright and ferocious. Although I had been warned that the power of the libdo was enormous, I had no idea that it was no match for the power of self-deception. As the Indian Buddhist monk Santideva wrote, “by the mind the world is led . . . The mind swings like a firebrand, the mind rears up like a wave, the mind burns like a forest fire, like a great flood the mind bears all away.” When my sexually awakened life began to present its own difficulties, I returned to the well where I’d first tasted freedom, expecting to dredge up water to put out the fire, but it had gone dry. 

My mind always tagged Hoffman with that sense of freedom. This proved problematic because Hoffman himself was problematic, and for many reasons other than the fact that he sexually abused me. I will not blame Hoffman and his behavior for my allowing my life to deteriorate, but I do trace the roots of the problem back to him. He stood for nothing other than enhancing his own self image, position and power. He was not at all professionalin fact he was as vehemently anti-professional as he was anti-intellectual. This of course came from deeply unresolved feelings of inadequacy, but I was trapped listening to an important person in my life denigrate what I cherished most. He was gay but consciously took a stance against the emerging gay liberation movement. He lied about his own life. He was a fraud.

When I could not stomach him anymore, I looked for some other figure to guide me, beginning a long series of teachers whom I could not trust. I switched my allegiance to Scientology, then to the Gurdjeiff work, and then the Landmark Forum—grasping for something outside myself to deliver me from problems I created myself. For many years I stumbled around, fumbling for solutions, sabotaging my relationships, throwing all my energy into poorly conceived plans to get my life on track and ending up disappointed, all the while using alcohol and drugs to soothe my frustration.

Why do I feel so strongly about Hoffman? Why can’t I put his abuse in the past and even honor the work that has been beneficial to many people? Listening and reading the reactions to my posts, several friends have commented that often those who assume spiritual leadership, even if they do have spiritual gifts, seem to be hopelessly entangled with predatory, abusive and larcenous behaviors. One wonders why so many people continue to be swayed. Does setting an example make any difference at all? Of course we all have faults, but some leaders can't really be open and honest? Many of course are simply charlatans who obscure the truth for their own enrichment, but some have had genuine enriching, enlightening experiences.  

Forgiveness seems to be the clearest path to putting the past in the past. But one thing is certain: the abuse of any responsibility as a teacher, a therapist and spiritual guide cannot be forgiven or excused in any way. Here in India, particularly among the practicing Buddhists I live with, the key is compassion. It has a different nuance than the Western notion of forgiveness. It doesn’t offer an easy promise of freedom. Coming to understand Hoffman’s influence on me required rigorous self investigation. I discovered that forgiving him would be an act of compassion to myself.  The introspection that Buddhist teachers advocate looks something like what Fyodor Dostoevsky, describes in Notes from the Underground: “You look into it, the object flies off into air, your reasons evaporate, the criminal is not to be found, the wrong becomes not a wrong but a phantom, something like the toothache, for which no one is to blame, and consequently there is only the same outlet left againthat is to beat the wall as hard as you can.”

Hoffman said over and over, “everyone is guilty and no one to blame.” In the crude psychological model of his Process, this refers to what might be understood as intergenerational guilt. Hoffman’s understanding of forgiveness was a kind of psychological jolt or emotional release, but as a tool for self analysis or understanding, it is, in my experience, a blunt instrument. The trauma passed from parent to child involves a complex psychological mechanism; it’s a disorder which, like much of Hoffman’s work, painted all negative behaviors passed from parent to child with a broad brush. Treatable psychological disorders, stage fright or anorexia, for example, are lumped together with severe depression, and the solution is always the same: after experientially touching the repressed anger through a bitch session, or bashing as it now called, the client traces the origins of the negative influence back to his or her parental figures. Then there is usually a kind of staged emotional release that allows a release.

In the 12-Step world, there is the counsel to make amendswhen you discover that your actions caused harm, even if your mind was hijacked by alcohol or drugs, you are required to clean up the mess you made. Over 25 years of intermittent contact with him, I found no evidence that Hoffman ever felt that he was obligated to make amends to anyone. I certainly don’t feel any need to make amends to him. Ironically I was in such denial that I actually thought that if I made the effort to repair my relationship with him, it might bring some order to my life. I finally came to the realization that I needed to make amends to myself.

At least from my prejudiced point of view, Hoffman suffered from internalized homophobia. I never saw any change in his behavior. On the contrary I saw him over and over enter into relationships with younger men, try to dominate them, and then sabotage the relationship. I personally met two other young men whom he singled out for his attention which was not reciprocated. Of course I have no way of knowing if they involved sexual encounters such as I experienced, but I do know that he was insistent that these men have a romantic relationship with him, and that the men found their relationships with him “complicated.”

And this brings me to my own life and living my amends. I am blessed. Now in my mid-70’s, I lead a relatively quiet life in northern India surrounded by many interesting and dedicated monks and nuns from most of the Buddhist traditions. I have many wonderful Himachal friends, Hindus, but also Muslims, mostly young entrepreneurs from Kashmir, and I cherish my friendship with several other fellow expats. I know several very creative, amazing young Indians. It was one of them, Kumar Abhishek, who asked me a question about continuing my relationship with an abuser that inspired so much of the self-reflection here. My own path is clear: to continue the rigorous work of self investigation, to help where I can, to never exploit another human for my own pleasure or greed, and to speak the truth when required. At this point this is the place where my abusive relationship with Bob Hoffman and the Hoffman Process have taken me.

My Buddhist koan guide, Jon Joseph, sent me this poem which captures the irony of the teaching. I’ll end with these lines from “A Color of the Sky” by Tony Hoagland as my capping verse. 

What I thought was an end turned out to be a middle.   

What I thought was a brick wall turned out to be a tunnel.   

What I thought was an injustice

turned out to be a color of the sky.

Outside the youth center, between the liquor store   

and the police station,

a little dogwood tree is losing its mind;

overflowing with blossomfoam,   

like a sudsy mug of beer;

like a bride ripping off her clothes,

dropping snow white petals to the ground in clouds,

so Nature’s wastefulness seems quietly obscene.   

It’s been doing that all week:

making beauty,

and throwing it away,

and making more.


This is just one of series of posts about Hoffman and the Hoffman Process. Here are some links.

#GayMeToo—Bob Hoffman A recounting of a very personal and very traumatic episode in my relationship with Hoffman.

An Elusive Silver Lining was difficult to write and it will be difficult to read. But I had to be honest with myself.

Forgive and Forget? Impossible. An inquiry into Victimization.

A Very Personal Question: Can I Forgive Bob Hoffman? In short, if I can forgive myself.

"Bob Hoffman was a criminal. Simple." A respected Zen teacher reacted to #GayMeToo.

The Ontological Odd Couple, and the Origins of the Fisher-Hoffman Psychic Therapy, July 31, 2004.
Revised September 16, 2006

New Age Miracle or Fraud, June 29, 2008
An introduction to my thoughts and experience with Fisher-Hoffman Psychic Therapy, now know as the Hoffman Process.

Science vs. Spooks, skepticism, scientific research and the Nostradamus effect, June 29, 2008, Revised August 11, 2011 
Jonestown and our Deliverance from Cults, April 9, 2007

© Kenneth Ireland, 2020

Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Forgive and Forget Hoffman?

When an old friend who also knew Hoffman read my account of his raping me, she wrote that she embraced me with “angelic frequencies to find healing for your heart.” An even closer friend here in India read it and asked, “Why did you see him after that? How could you remain his friend for more than 25 years?” I will try to answer this difficult question while being grateful for the prayer for my healing. Perhaps the two are congruous.

The first friend I mentioned said something about “victimhood.” She also emphasized forgiveness as if in my self-examination I was somehow not understanding enough of Hoffman and his predatory, abusive behavior. I know that playing the victim card is not particularly powerful or useful, so I was led to further self-examination. Playing victim is defined as “the fabrication or exaggeration of victimhood for a variety of reasons such as to justify abuse of others, to manipulate others, a coping strategy, or attention seeking.” 

Let me be completely clear: I do not forgive Hoffman for his behavior. As I wrote in earlier posts, Hoffman had a professional relationship with me over 8 or 9 months, yet he stalked me, he groomed me, and then he raped me. By rape I mean uninvited, forced anal sex, outside any ethical or legal time frame for a therapist or spiritual counselor, which was the designation Hoffman used to skirt not having any professional training much less license, to be “dating" a client. Hoffman was aware of what he was doing. These are facts. I am not exaggerating or fabricating them nor am I trying to manipulate others or looking for attention. Telling my story is a coping mechanism which I own.

I met Hoffman through my work with Claudio Naranjo and, because Naranjo recommended him and supported Hoffman’s Psychic Therapy, I ignored my first impressions that Hoffman was an uneducated, unprofessional, bumbling fool. I recounted that first encounter in some detail in The Ontological Odd Couple—The Origins of the Hoffman Process. “At our group’s first meeting with Bob Hoffman, . . .  it was soon obvious that he was not educated in any psychological discipline, but he dominated the room, alternatively talking then yelling in a kind of dumbed-down jargon filled with what became known as ‘Hoffmanisms.’ The paradoxical definition of ‘negative love was illogical logical and nonsensical sense,’ and if we didn’t understand that, we were just playing dumb out of negative love; if we thought he was too well dressed, it was negative transference and an indication that we didn’t love ourselves. . . . ”

The current proponents of the Hoffman Process have refined Hoffman’s double negative gibberish, but even when Hoffman’s characterization of “Negative Love” first appeared in print, “Getting Divorced from Mother and Dad,” one phrase was excised: “. . . It is illogical logic, nonsensical sense, and insane sanity, yet masochistically true or we wouldn’t behave in such a fashion.” Attributing negative behavior to masochism has been expunged, but Hoffman repeated it often and loudly. 

Another Hoffmanism was “righteously indignant,” which he used to justify his anger towards clients or a staff person with whom he had an issue. He was a very angry man. He liked to say that he had “to tear down to build up.” Nearly everyone I know who was close to Hoffman would be forced to admit, if they were entirely honest, that they ran afoul of him at one point or another. Often the solution to resolving personal conflict was to force a person to redo the therapy so that the object of his displeasure could “put their awareness on their unawareness”—there was obviously something that he or she had missed. They were acting out, and Hoffman was the object of their negative behavior—it always fell to the other to assume responsibility. I personally reviewed the Process 3 times. 

In a professional setting, Hoffman’s confrontational behavior towards clients was problematic. On very little evidence, just a turn of phrase or a misused word—his understanding of a Freudian slip, he would assess a person’s character, label some trait as “negative love” and go on the attack. He was relentless and often cruel. And in my case, after all the shouting accusations, I discovered that although he was accurate in pointing to my obvious homosexuality, his “clairvoyant evidence” about my Father was entirely wrong. 

Another Hoffmanism, a characteristic of Negative Love, was “giving to get.” When we were in the thrall of our parents’ negative love, we were deceived into believing that if we acted like them we would get their love. “”See Mommy,” he would say, “I’m acting just like you. Now will you love me?” But Hoffman posited true love as the straightforward giving and receiving of affection without expectations. When in the early 70’s he read about the Tasaday tribe on a remote Philippines Island, who lived a simple life without anger or hoarding or amassing wealth, he thought that he’d discovered the Holy Grail. When the Tasaday turned out to be a carefully crafted hoax planted by Philippine politician Manuel Elizalde, a crony of Ferdinand Marcos, it mattered little to Hoffman. Like so many nuances, they were denied or papered over. I think that Hoffman’s understanding of love actually was no deeper than the sentimental Bing Crosby song “True Love” which used to be sung at the graduation ceremony.

The truth was that Hoffman was almost entirely motivated by money. He tried to calculate how much money Werner Erhardt made doing his est trainings. I heard him speak of Werner Erhard and Swami Muktananda in extremely deprecating terms. He had nothing but disdain for anyone he considered a cult leader. He thought of himself as the anti-guru guru. The only person whom he never talked badly about was Naranjo. Naranjo was his path to legitimizing the Process in the professional world. However, privately he thought that Claudio never really got the Process on the deep emotional level that Hoffman demanded. He told me this several times, and I was appalled. 

This is the kind of behavior characteristic of cult leaders, and Hoffman, despite his protests, matches most of the criteria for a cult leader. I think that this is the place to make the notation that the current owners of Hoffman’s intellectual property and the Process teachers are often people who have history in various groups widely considered cults, from est to Life Spring and Bhagwan Shri Rajneesh’s ashrams. 

To return to my friend Kumar’s question: Why did I continue to try to be his friend for nearly 25 years? He sexually abused me. He was not particularly smart or intellectually interesting and stimulating. He was an angry man and quite unrestrained in displaying his anger. He attacked anyone he considered a rival. He was self-righteous. He could be generous, but there were always expectations. 

I’m sorry, Mr.Kumar, I have not answered your question, but I hope that I’ve at least laid the groundwork for a more satisfactory explanation. I’m not looking to make a compelling, water tight case for why I continued to be friends with Hoffman, but I’d like to arrive at a place that allows for some peace of mind. It seems that there are several more chapters to write.


Here are links to my other posts about Hoffman and the Hoffman Process:

#GayMeToo—Bob Hoffman A recounting of a very personal and very traumatic episode in my relationship with Hoffman.

An Elusive Silver Lining was difficult to write and it will be difficult to read. But I had to be honest with myself.

A Very Personal Question: Can I Forgive Bob Hoffman? In short, if I can forgive myself.

"Bob Hoffman was a criminal. Simple" A respected Zen teacher reacted to #GayMeToo.

© Kenneth Ireland, 2020

Wednesday, June 17, 2020

What would Bapuji be doing?

April 23, 2020

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