Monday, September 7, 2020

A Very Personal Question: Can I Forgive Bob Hoffman?

During 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 libido was enormous, I had no idea that it was no match for the power of self-deception. As the Indian Buddhist monk Shantideva 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 raped 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 Gurdjieff 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.


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 my 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

© Kenneth Ireland, 2020

No comments: