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Ode to Claudio Naranjo

I recently received a postcard from two very dear women from Korea who were in England for Claudio’s program on the 27 Enneagram subtypes. They are a mother-daughter pair (a Seven and Three respectively) who are on their joint and separate journeys. The postcard, showing a very old and beautiful Georgian/Victorian mansion. said this:

“We are in the UK attending Dr. Naranjo’s retreat. We are having beautiful moments to seek ourselves further. As you often told us about Naranjo, we think of you a lot here. Love….”

A simple postcard with a great deal of effort behind it – they had to find my address, get stamps, find the post office – but even more meaning to me. I realized that for the past several years, every time I do any teaching about the Enneagram, I always refer to Claudio, and when I do, I feel as if his presence comes into the room. Even more than my words, he is almost always in the back of my mind. Moved by the postcard’s words and the sentiments behind them, I asked myself this question: Why, when I so rarely say “this person says this” do I so often refer to Claudio Naranjo?

For this first blog, I decided to list the reasons that I admire Claudio so much – not that he is perfect; he would be the first to say this! The next blog will focus on why his teachings (and those of other Enneagram teachers) are especially important right now.

My admiration for Claudio
His Enneagram background has enormous depth
Claudio has been working with the Enneagram for at least 40 years, pretty much non-stop, with many people all over the world. He learns from listening to people, using the Enneagram among other frameworks as a template, but he never seems to impose an ideology or construct on the person. Rather, the framework and the real person interact, so Claudio is always learning. I experienced this aspect of Claudio from the first time I met him in 2003, but my impression has been solidified since that time from other experiences with him.

His psychotherapeutic background is even deeper than his Enneagram knowledge
Claudio was an esteemed psychiatrist and direct disciple of Fritz Perls; in fact, he was a Perls’ protégé. This means that he is well-versed in the various aspect of Western psychology, and he is especially proficient in Gestalt. Having been Gestalt trained myself in the 1970s by a primary and a secondary descent of Perls ­ – extremely able Gestaltists, but not of the stature of Naranjo – Claudio’s Gestalt expertise and the way he has integrated it with the Enneagram awes me. Gestalt focuses on the here and now, making the implicit explicit, noticing patterns of all kinds, and more. To be an excellent Gestaltist, one must be totally tuned into oneself so that the self does not get in the way of paying full attention to the other. This is complex, dynamic, and extremely difficult to do. It also helps both the therapist and the “client” be totally real, without pretense or delusion, and deal with reality as it is, not as we imagine it to be. In my opinion, Claudio is a true Gestalt master.

He is a renaissance man
Claudio knows a lot about a lot of things. Although he was raised in South America, his family background is European in the intellectual tradition. His mother was enamored of music, and Claudio himself is a highly accomplished pianist, though he was more agile in his younger years (weren’t we all in some areas). His knowledge of composers is vast; he is fascinated by philosophy and knows this area well; and he is fluent in more languages than I even know. When I participated in a 7-day Subtype program in Germany, Claudio spoke in English – though he did forget the world “wallflower” only because he no longer speaks English daily – but he also switched easily to German, French, Italian, Spanish, and a few other languages. I believe he also speaks some Hebrew. My guess is that he also knows a lot about many other areas that I have not yet observed in him!

Claudio is actually humble (in my opinion)
Why do I say this? First of all, he really listens to people. Whether it is a question or dialogue with a participant in the context of a very large group or on a one-to-one basis, he really takes in what they person is asking or saying. Then he responds in a respectful way whether he agrees or disagrees with you. He is also highly approachable, although, in group settings, so many people want to have contact with him. But you can actually go up to him, engage in conversation, etc. He does not play the “guru” by arriving late, having himself whisked away by handlers, or acting like he is above the things the rest of us deal with. He shares his own journey and struggles, and it is amazing to hear. Some may find him a bit remote –­ he is a 5 after all – but right underneath is a very open, warm, and loving heart.

Claudio does not presume to know others’ types
Although I have heard from some that Claudio tells people their types, in every experience I have had with him  – three programs and multiple informal conversations – I have experienced just the opposite. He asks questions; if you ask a question, he answers it. If you ask him if he thinks you have your type right, he may or may not tell you what he thinks. But if he does think your type isn’t accurately identified, he tells you why and then you get to think about it.

In my next blog, I’ll cover why Claudio’s perspective on the Enneagram (and those of other teachers) is so important right now.

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