McLeod Ganj, Himachal Pradesh, India
Diwali, November 14th, 2020
My friend and teacher, Father Bob Ochs, S. J. died over two years ago on May 4th, 2018 at the Claude de la Colombiere Center in Clarkston, Michigan. He was 88 years old.
I began to write about Bob in December of 2019 when I learned of his death. More than anyone, Bob was responsible for the Catholic Enneagram enthusiasm, and this is where I thought I would focus my attention. But during the long retreat imposed by the Covid pandemic, more and more memories began to flood my mind, and I came to truly appreciate the gift he gave me during a personal crisis, a time of questioning that would radically alter the course of my life. Recounting our experience together today, from my home in the Himalayan foothills, I am filled with gratitude.
His story, and both of our stories where they intersect, did not follow a clear, straight path, and cannot be told without venturing into places most people don’t dare explore—places that one rarely explores without a friend or a guide. Bob was my guide, and although I can no longer ask him to clarify his side of the story, this is not a compelling reason to censor what I write. I also know how much that exploration cost Bob on a personal level. I will not censor myself here either. I cannot write a pro forma panegyric that avoids the dark places. Murky places in the mind might distort the path—there are no clear guides, except perhaps prohibition. But we cannot just declare them out of bounds and be true to ourselves. Only in myth does the word of God come emblazoned on gold tablets. In the real world, in ordinary human conversation, the truth is in the details, and sometimes those details are buried in mud.
As difficult as it is to sort out the details of a personal story, it’s also the story of passing a teaching from one culture to another, from the East to the West, from an alleged mystical Sufi source to a group of Christian practitioners, from spiritual practice to psychological investigation, from an oral tradition to one that employs books and written lists of personal traits and characteristics. Such a complex transmission opens itself at best to honest differences and interpretations. At its worst, it breeds parochial infighting, condemnation and closed-mindedness.
The lack of clarity also might add fuel to the Enneagram controversy and arm its detractors. But if we can avoid persecutions and burnings, if we trust ourselves and follow our best instincts, there is something very useful about argument and debate. They point to the most useful path for an individual. It’s a spiritual practice with a long and revered history. I remain as convinced as Bob was that we can actually connect with the numinous mystery of life.
I am an Enneagram student, not a teacher, and over nearly 50 years I’ve tried to nurture my personal understanding for my own inner work. I will try to be non-judgemental, and only speak about people and events about which I have first hand knowledge. My comments do not pretend to be definitive statements about any specific approach or understanding of the system. I’ll leave discussion of technical distinctions about typing or proto-analysis to those who specialize in Enneagram studies. However some comment and analysis may be necessary to map out the early history of the Enneagram’s transmission.
As we examine the arising and falling away of experience, some argue that if we trace its source and pinpoint its origin, we spoil the recipe. All they’re really saying is that some things are better left alone or impossible to figure out, but I'm certainly not going to discourage self-investigation. In fact I want to encourage it. The Buddhist practice that I’m familiar with teaches that we can unlock real possibility and opportunity when we deal head-on with what are known as hindrances. The Enneagram is also part of the strong tradition that inner work dictates unflinching self-observation in tracking our thoughts, feelings, memories, and “mental-reactions.” This trains our attention and allows us to see ourselves more clearly. I am thoroughly persuaded by the last option. It’s a difficult task, but we only get into trouble by not speaking directly and honestly about these matters.
It is in this spirit of animated conversation coupled with love and admiration that I’ll discuss Bob’s contribution and talk about our relationship.
I just want to give Bob a big shout-out: You threw open forbidden doors. You were authentic. Through you I discovered a path probably cut off for this young Jesuit emerging from a straight-jacketed Catholic worldview. The reforms of Vatican II had relaxed that grip, but they were not the leap required to enter the spiritual path. I was discouraged as I witnessed the spiritual enthusiasm of Council ebb when political pressure hedged and contained its driving force. But doctrinal formulations are not about jumping from a hundred foot pole, Kierkegaard’s leap of faith without a safety net. I was in the midst of the personal crisis but barely aware of it. You, Bob, invited me to jump into life.
In the early Summer of 1973. I was living in a large, sprawling apartment in New York’s Upper West Side with a group of seven other Jesuit scholastics and our mentor, Avery Dulles. Late one evening and into the early morning hours, during a rambling conversation with another young Jesuit from Chicago, I heard about a priest who taught a nine pointed diagram that described personality types, about study that led to a sense of liberation through intense self-scrutiny, and finally, to give the story the feel of the real stuff of human life, a description of a group, men and women, lay and religious, taking off their clothes during the last session as a sign of fearless self-investigation. He assured me that it was not at all sexual, that the nuns carefully folded their habits and laid them down almost reverentially.
I was stunned. But I also remember being dazzled by his enthusiasm—something inside me knew that I had to meet this Jesuit. I was not unique among young seminarians of my generation in feeling that conventional religious practice had failed me. Looking back it might have been a classic “Hail Mary!”
I phoned my religious superior in Boston and asked for permission to transfer to the Jesuit School of Theology in Berkeley. Within 10 days I was traveling across the country, with a complete stranger. I was about to open a chapter of my life that I could never have imagined. My own awakening would wait for the recognition of how much pain I carried inside.
When I arrived in Berkeley I called Bob. He asked me, “Why don’t you join Claudio’s group?” I called the number he gave me, and I started four years of work with Claudio and Bob.
In 2009 I asked Claudio Naranjo to do an interview about the “Jesuit Transmission of the Enneagram.” Bob’s relationship with Claudio Narnajo and first SAT groups, “The Seekers After Truth,” in Berkeley were the source of his teaching. If we distill the teaching from this amalgam, we cannot come close to tapping the Enneagram’s power. Claudio and Bob’s relationship as teacher-mentor is central, and I will talk about the small part I understand though much remains a mystery, lost in the passing of both men.
I am absolutely certain that Claudio had his own powerful insight working with Óscar Ichazo in Arica Chile. Although it may be misleading to describe Claudio’s experience as an enlightenment, the word hints at the power of the insight he was “unpacking” while at the same time formulating his own vision, informed by his psychological training. Bob also had a powerful experience working with Claudio, and became part of creating what we now recognize as the Western Enneagram.
Claudio and I talked at length on four occasions. He might have preferred “The Jesuit Jumbling of the Enneagram” because he insisted that there was no transmission. He asserted that the errors in prototyping by Jesuit and Catholic practitioners invalidated the authentic passing of his knowledge and understanding. But he confirmed that he had indeed “delegated” Bob to do SAT work with the group of Jesuit and religious students at Chicago’s Loyola University as well as the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley (JSTB), the settings were where Ochs introduced the Western Enneagram to a Catholic audience.
Claudio also laughed about what he called the “now-infamous event” when everyone took off their clothes in a Chicago seminary. He said he just threw out this indication on a whim hoping to give the religious students a powerful experience of self-remembering.
Although Claudio said that Bob carried his “indications” to the groups, that he had not been authorized to teach the Enneagram, Bob brought his own passion to the work. It was no polite intellectual exercise. It was spiritual in the deepest sense of the word. His intellectual and spiritual gifts were a good match for Claudio. He was a Jesuit through and through with outstanding theological credentials. He had trained at Université Catholique de Louvain, Jesuitenkolleg in Innsbruck, and was awarded a PhD in Theology from Institut Catholique de Paris in 1969. He had written two books.* He was dedicated to the work of spiritual revolution in the spirit of Vatican II.
*Bob’s books include The Death in Every Now (1969) and God is More Present Than You Think (1970).
The Jesuit Enneagram
In a letter that I sent to Father Paul Lucy, who was my direct Jesuit superior, I wrote, “If this is not what Father Ignatius intended in the Examen, it’s what he should have intended.”
As a Jesuit novice I was trained in the Examen: three times a day, for 15 minutes, just note how many times I’d broken the rule of silence, when I’d had stray thoughts, where I’d neglected to keep “custody of the senses.” After taking inventory, I was instructed to generate compunction, and resolve to avoid specific thoughts or actions—avoiding sin and the occasions of sin were the way towards self-perfection.
Bob’s adaptation of the Examen was far more nuanced and sophisticated. He asked us to really experience the feelings in our body as we looked over our day—How did it feel to get up in the morning? Did we smell the stew we cooked? What attitude did we bring to our study, did we notice the way we held the book in our hands, even how we felt when we used the toilet?
We have to train ourselves to feel directly, not after-the-fact judgment or analysis. To be present at the moment when we feel, see and act is not something that we do naturally, or if we do, we soon learn to forget it. This immediacy of experience is closer to what Gurdjeiff taught about self-remembering: “it is to know you are angry when you are angry.” G. also described the practice with an admonition: “You do not remember yourselves. You do not feel yourselves, you are not conscious of yourselves. You do not feel: I observe, I feel, I see.’”
During this period, I was also learning to meditate in formal posture, breath-centered forms of concentration, and the difficulty in learning to sit for long periods, just as taking the time required for the work of taking personal inventory, was offset by my recognition of my own pain. In mindfulness practice, at least as we know it from the Theravaden tradition, there was, I thought, the promise of clearing of the senses and mind as you simply experience your body and breath. But “self-remembering” is different from my understanding of mindfulness: just paying attention, no promise of it disappearing.
The first thing I noticed about Bob was the bright glean in his eyes and his animated voice. He was a very engaging teacher who loved to laugh. I was sitting on the floor of a large open room in one of the buildings at JSTB when Bob said, with chuckle, that the origin of the teaching might have been the esoteric school that trained Jesus. Bob was not certainly not given to blind faith or superstition, but this assertion is as unsupported as the claim that during Jesus’s lost years, the time between when he stood up and amazed the synagogue elder’s and his baptism by John, he was initiated and trained by an Indian guru. Yet not one person in the room challenged it, myself included. Bob repeated the Tibetan oracle that "when the iron bird flys,” the Dharma will come to the West. This was only 14 years after His Holiness the Dalai Lama fled Lhasa in disguise as the People’s Liberation Army marched towards the Potala Palace.
But laying aside the otherworldly language and extravagant claims of New Age spirituality, most of us who were drawn to a spiritual practice that demands something more than sitting in a church pew and forking over some cash came from a place of experiencing personal pain—sometimes excruciating and seemingly inexplicable. I didn’t feel any magic in the New Age hype, and I am still no fan of Nostradamus style pronouncements, but I was seeking a remedy, and if I had to learn a new language, I was willing to try.
In fact Christians do not have a big issue with using pain in spiritual work, but it is seen as the result of sin. To ease the Enneagram into a Catholic/Christian context, Bob began with a kind of rift on the Nine Deadly Sins—traditionally the list contains only seven: Pride, Sloth, Gluttony, Envy, Lust and Greed. Stretching the definition of Envy to include Melancholy, and then adding Lying and Fear, we have the nine points of the Enneagram. But here’s where it gets dicey. None of the Enneagram “sins'' actually describe deeds.
In 1998, the US Cathoic bishops warned about using the Enneagram said, "sin is indeed unhealthy behavior and can be combated by an improved understanding, but it is at its root a moral problem, so that repentance before God and one’s neighbor must be the fundamental response. Enneagram teaching thus obscures the Christian understanding of sin." Human nature is basically sinful. Acts in violation of the expressed will of the Deity require repentance. To save yourself, follow the rules; this leads to redemption which in turn leads to salvation. This is the catechism that I learned as an Irish Catholic boy.
“Sin is unhealthy behavior”—get the memo out to the Garden before Eve falls under the serpent’s spell and all hell breaks loose. The work of the Enneagram sees liberation as a struggle against ignorance, blindness, greed, cowardice and laziness which in themselves are not sinful.
At the JSTB Bob taught that the fixations are a hindrance rather than a reflection of fallen human nature. He said many times that ideas themselves when coupled with a solid inner practice could change a person’s attitude and actions. And this conviction was, I feel, the intersection where the inspiration of Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, particularly the identification of what Ignatius called the “chief fault” matched the work with the Enneagram.
He opened the investigation with a question: Is the way we distort the world the root of all of our negative behaviors? Each of the 9 points was the point of entry for an extended meditation on the nature of ego fixation. In the Spiritual Exercises the first meditation is what Ignatius calls I will quote one sentence from what Ignatius calls “The Principle and Foundation:” . . . it follows that we are to use the things of this world only to the extent that they help us to this end (the praise reverence and service of God), and we ought to rid ourselves of the things of this world to the extent that they get in the way of this end. Before we examined our own Ego-Fixation, we were encouraged to look at the nature of spiritual hindrances central to the Enneagram in detail, weeks long meditations on points 9, 3, and 6. We explored how the major anchors of all nine fixations, sloth, lying and fear, were present in all our actions.
In Bob’s teaching the One point was very present—methodical, meticulous and exacting. He took us through the types and subtypes in an orderly way, using the material that Claudio had given the first SAT groups, and, in an exploratory way, tried to “type” each of us. Although we tried to type ourselves, he, like Claudio, did not hesitate to point to where we should begin our examination. [Bob typed me as “Plan,” the 7th fixation, Gluttony. I worked with this for years until in the late 90’s I met with Claudio a number of times over an extended period. He re-typed me as a 9! I have written about the experience in How I moved from Point 7 to 9.]
He asked us questions. He might say, “Ah that sounds like something a 6 might say. Why don’t you look and see if fear might be the motivator? Just explore it. Trace it back. Look for other places in your life where fear might be operative.” It was colloquial. It was friendly. As each of us began to understand the system and see similarities in our own behaviors with various points, Bob would ask us to “say a little more.” He was always gentle and good humored, never harsh or demeaning. I remember when he asked a meticulous nun not to comb her hair for a week and report back on how she felt. Although it drove her nuts, she loved the laughs as she shared in an entirely authentic and revealing way.
In the seminary setting, there was no intense interactive “ego-grinding” as there was in SAT. Rather Bob asked us time and again to focus attention on those places where we know we hurt but are blind to the source of our pain. Those are very fertile places in our psyche to explore our connection to the vast mystery of the universe. He was committed to helping ease suffering, but highlighted the practices of meditation, particularly the examen, and meditation on humility, tools Saint Ignatius outlined for contemplatives in action.*
The hallmark of what I’m calling the Jesuit Enneagram was that rigorous self-examination and analysis coupled with daily attention to our thoughts, impulses, actions and motivations could bring about real changes and an experience of unconditioned freedom. Good ideas could change people. Solid ideas would have a lasting effect.
*For those who are unfamiliar with Ignatian spirituality and would like to learn more, I have written a brief summary, along with some practice guides, The Spiritual Exercises and the Examen, in my blog “Koan Conversations.”
Towards the End
In the Spring of 1974 Claudio decided to introduce the Enneagram to a wider audience outside SAT. He asked Kathy Speeth to organize a series of presentations about the Enneagram aimed at psychologists and mental health professionals. He told me that he wanted to design a presentation for people who already had ability and training in self-observation. Bob asked me to represent Point 7 in the panels where SAT members described the fixed way of being, inclinations and behaviors of each of the nine points. Claudio acted as moderator, and, when the need arose, interrogator, always keeping us true to our lived experience.
This series of panels was the source of another line in the dissemination of the teaching, and the results are beyond dispute. Helen Palmer attended these sessions, and the panels may be the origin of what she calls the Oral Tradition. She also had access to some of our private notes about Claudio’s presentation of the Enneagram as well as extensive notes from Oscar’s talks in Chile from another source. She was never in a SAT group or Bob’s Enneagram courses, but she did psychic readings with almost every member of the early SAT group, often multiple sessions. It was in a large part through these readings that she became aware of the Enneagram, and got a taste of the system’s power. When I did a reading with her, one of her first questions was the number of my fixation on the Enneagram.
Whenever Bob was unclear about a particular course of action, he consulted the psychic Ann Armstrong as well as Helen Palmer who was offering clairvoyant readings. He would often start a conversation with some prediction about the future that he thought entirely implausible. Although he himself knew his role in introducing the Enneagram to Christians, I don’t think he could have ever imagined how large an audience he’d reach. And he was not at all confident that he could measure up to what he imagined people would ask of him. He was not afraid to confront his insecurities, and while he tried to project a confidence in everyone’s innate abilities despite failings and missteps, he didn’t experience that certainty himself. This responsibility would be a daunting prospect for anyone, but especially for a One. It haunted him. Perhaps his reliance on psychics was an antidote.
In the Berkeley of the 70’s, reading past lives, psychic healing, consulting astrologers, I Ching and Tarot readers were as common as brushing your teeth. My SAT group was the first to experience what was then known as Fisher-Hoffman Process of Psychic Therapy. Bob Hoffman was a gruff, uneducated tailor from Oakland who claimed to have received the key to the underpinnings of our relationship with our mothers and fathers from a respected Viennese psychiatrist who had been dead five years. I was skeptical, but, following Claudio recommendation I worked with Hoffman, entrusted my psychological well-being to him, and worked with the Process for many years. I experienced some freedom but also some very painful personal consequences, including a sexually abusive relationship with Hoffman, which I’ve written about in several blog posts.
Bob and I both began to separate ourselves from ordinary Jesuit life. He followed me to the faculty residence of the American Baptist Seminary of the West, a small rudimentary building on Hillegass Avenue across from Peoples’ Park, where I’d found two small rooms. I remember how much he thanked me—finally he was able to have the kind of privacy that is not possible in a close knit religious community. Both Bob and I both had many non-Jesuit friends, mostly members of the SAT group, and although we could of course have invited them to visit us at the Jesuit residences, every move would have been scrutinized, questioned and, sadly, become fuel for gossip.
And it was not just friendships with SAT members which might have raised suspicion. I had filed a meticulous expense report to a crusty Irish priest for review. I remember a call from Boston asking me about money that I spent on Shiatsu massage in San Francisco. I blamed it on Bob, explaining that the kinds of meditation we were learning required us to become aware of our physical bodies. Joe Scerbo, the Franciscan who was also a member of SAT, gave message workshops. This was way outside the normal course of studies for a Jesuit seminarian.
Soon after I left the Jesuits, Bob ended his active career in the theology faculty, and retreated to the seclusion of a small basement apartment in a quiet suburb north of Berkeley. He became terribly concerned about his lack of energy. A homeopathic practitioner diagnosed allergies and mineral deficiencies, and he adhered to severe dietary restrictions with a healthy regime of supplements. Among other things, he was entirely gluten free before it became a fad. We could only eat at certain restaurants.
I recall a vivid conversation at a Peruvian restaurant he liked on Mission Street in San Francisco. He told me about corresponding with Idries Shah, claiming that letter writing was a revered form of spiritual instruction among Sufis. After Shah died in 1996, Bob tried to initiate a correspondence with Shah’s son, because Bob was certain Tahir had been designated as his father’s spiritual heir. When Tahir replied that he was just a writer, not a Sufi teacher, that his father had not designated him to teach, that actually he was not interested in the job, Bob said to me, “He’s supposed to say that. It’s his job to put me off.”
He became infatuated with the work of Doris Lessing. “Infatuated'' is not too strong a word. Idries Shah had introduced Lessing to Sufi teachings, and she was also apparently interested in the Gurdjeiff school although I have no clear knowledge that she actually worked with any of Gurdjeiff’s longtime English students. But she was very conversant with what is known as “the Work” and its alleged connections to the long spiritual tradition of the Sufi orders. The link here is twofold: Bob was as obsessed with discovering Enneagram’s esoteric roots as he was frustrated in his attempts to create what he considered an adequate language to describe the teaching.
By this time Bob’s relationship with Claudio ended, Enneagram studies had become big business. He was amazed at the deluge of Enneagram books, and although he never talked pejoratively about the career path of teachers who wrote books to build a client base, he did criticise their books. He felt that as the person in many ways responsible for the widespread of Enneagram work outside SAT, he had an obligation to speak, but he could not, at least not in the larger public forum where he might have had some impact. He spoke about his frustration—What shape would the writing take? Would there be illustrations to point to the chief characteristic of the nine points? Could he use public figures as examples? What would Claudio think? He also told me that his superiors were pushing him to write, that he’d explained withdrawal from the Jesuit community as a writing retreat. However I have no real knowledge about Bob’s relationship with his Jesuit superiors.
Then came the very public feuds between the various threads of Enneagram teaching. Ichazo sued Palmer in a case that attracted a lot of attention. Oscar tried to argue that the Enneagram was a rational, objective system, and the courts turned a blind eye. Claudio had serious disagreements with Palmer, Hudson, Riso, and Rohr. The names of the fixations, the descriptions of the traits and underlying motivations were modified as more and more people, in Claudio’s view, misdiagnosed themselves and their students.
In the end there was no book, no reconciliation with Claudio, and very little acknowledgement of Bob’s contribution from the huge number of Enneagram enthusiasts who trace their understanding and practice to his courageous immersion in the Enneagram.* And I failed. By the mid 90’s he wasn’t returning my calls promptly, and I stopped calling. I had also started a downward spiral of drug abuse which would last 10 years. Two years ago when I started working with the Enneagram again, I realized how much I owed Bob. After several attempts to reconnect, I discovered that he had died.
The formal notice of his death in the Midwest Jesuit publication didn’t match his contribution. I had to express my love and admiration myself.
The Wild Elephant
Writing about Bob is a daunting task. Mystics have been seeking, talking and arguing about the experience of freedom from time immemorial, or least since they invented language, but they cannot even really define the goal. It is not a fixed destination. There is no objective truth revealed by using the Enneagram system.
I have a Tibetan tanka in my study that represents the Samatha path to Enlightenment. As the elephant trudges up the path towards the highest goal, bit by bit grey smudges sluff off and the animal becomes luminous. I’ve ridden an elephant, a trained one, and even that was difficult.
The Enneagram teaching sprang from a distant source, passed on through Gurdjeiff, Ichazo, Naranjo, Ochs, Palmer and many more, and now it has been handed to us. Some have tried to domesticate the fixations by creating names that were more palatable to a wide psychological audience—a kinder, gentler way of naming our dense barriers to seeing reality. Others tried to calm the elephant’s unruly behavior through a series of carefully formulated descriptions of uncomfortable behaviors. Many taught and wrote tirelessly to explicate the most profitable way for people to use the tool in a careful and rigorous project of self inquiry, but their work is tossed around in the swirl of hundreds of books and seminars from varying perspectives.
The wild elephant has escaped the pen. Along with its monk mahoot, it’s on the Path. They are the Path. The clear, orderly and systematic portrayal from a Tibetan instruction manual reflects the way that many people would like the Enneagram to exist, a fixed point that grounds us in our searching. But the reality is that this Teaching, no matter how pure its origin, despite the most diligent application of the best psychological tools, does not come from the world of immutable truth. Just like ourselves, our teachers, our lovers and friends, it is impermanent. The wild elephant will not play circus tricks. It follows its own more primitive nature. The only thing that we can control, the only consistency possible, is our own rigorous self-inquiry and attempts to see the world as it really is.
I say enjoy the ride. Thank you Bob.
*Some of the Enneagram teachers who are linked to Ochs as the source of their practice include: Father Richard Rohr of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Jerome Wagner at Loyola University in Chicago; Joanna Quintrell at the Journey Center in Santa Rosa, California; Sr. Suzanne Zuercher at the Institute for Spiritual Leadership at Loyola University; Father William Meninger of St. Benedict’s Monastery in Snowmass Colorado; Don Richard Riso, a former Jesuit, (d.2012) and Russ Hudson of the Enneagram Institute, Stone Ridge, New York; Paul Robb, S.J., the founder of the Institute for Spiritual Leadership; Tad Dunne, S.J.; Maria Beesing; Robert Nogosek, C.S.C.; Patrick O'Leary. Father Mitch Pacwa, S.J., a very vocal opponent of the Catholic adoption of the Enneagram, was also Bob’s student in Chicago.
*The first SAT group included Charles Tart, PhD., Hameed Ali and Donovan Bess. Marlys Mayfield, Daniel Shurman, Fr. Joe Scerbo, S.A., and Michael Smith, were also among Claudio’s early students and my friends, all of whom I kept in touch with over many years.
K. L. Ireland, ©Kenneth Ireland, 2020
Here is a list of my other writing about the Enneagram, and a Bibliography.