This article originally appeared in the August 2014 issue of Maui Vision Magazine.
For thousands of years, masters of wisdom have been unraveling the ego and charting a path to enlightenment. The “path” involves techniques for stilling the mind, becoming present, and freeing the self from the tyranny of the ego.
Among the more interesting tools for understanding how we get trapped by our conditioning, and uncovering how we can become free from it, is the enneagram. Used by the Sufis for centuries, it was introduced to the West by the enigmatic and stern taskmaster, G. I. Gurdjieff. One technique that came from that work was ‘self-remembering’ – maintaining a state of witness even while engaged in daily life.
In the 1960s, Americans returned from travels to Japan and India touting the benefits of zen meditation, martial arts, and surrendering the ego to achieve states of bliss as exemplified by Hindu saints. These Eastern approaches were then merging with Western explorations in consciousness as innovators sought synthesis.
In 1969, Claudio Naranjo, resident teacher at Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, heard about the work of Oscar Ichazo in Chile. This psychologist claimed to have experienced LSD states of clarity from doing a new kind of work. A small advance team promptly set off to check out this phenomenon. They came back assuring their friends at Big Sur that Oscar was the real deal – that he could, in fact, induce amazing states of clarity that he claimed could be permanent if one did enough work in the right order.
The hook was sunk. Oscar agreed to accept students, but the terms were daunting: ten months of intensive work to test and prove his system. Soon, an eager group (mostly from California) had formed and waited for word from ‘the master.’ Confirmation came in a cryptic telegram: “There is a fool, full of love, in the desert, waiting.” They started packing their bags.
In the summer of 1970, fifty seekers arrived in Arica, Chile to start a demanding routine involving martial arts, mountain climbing, desert isolation, group clearings, Sufi meditations, and dozens of group and individual exercises drawn from many traditions.
One of those students was the LSD and dolphin researcher, John Lilly, who left the group after four months to share his experience of Oscar and his teachings. When The Center of the Cyclone came out in January 1971, it was snatched up by people who had been tantalized by the early reports. I was one of them. Within two months I was in the first three-month training in San Francisco. It was a far cry from the academic life I had prepared for.
This was a turning point in my life. No description of the exercises we did could explain the transformation that took place in me. It was a profound and permanent upgrade to my sense of self, my vitality, and my view of the world and my role in it. And I saw equally amazing changes in the 63 others who completed that training.
Not long after that, I left a dream job in higher education research at U.C. Berkeley to join the Arica Hawaii teaching team. Our first 40-day training was held at Seabury Hall in 1973. The ‘before and after’ photos of our 15 brave trainees reflected the deep inner changes that took place in each of them.
How did the system effect such transformations? At the core of the trainings was a process of recalling and releasing the past, which involved not only remembering traumatic incidents, but also exploring what you were taught about love, sex, power, money, authority and religion. Many exercises shaved some of the edges off the ego while other techniques connected trainees to the current of love that flows through humanity. It was amazing and wonderful work that lit up the students and teachers.
The Arica system can be explained by understanding key enneagrams, or nine-pointed graphs that deal with key elements of the structure of our psyche. A fuller description will be given in a future article.
In the last issue of Maui Vision Magazine, due to editing errors, my article mistakenly understated Oscar’s role as a “contributor to theories on the enneagram.” In fact, he developed the entire knowledge base of the enneagram more than 40 years ago. Since then, many writers have contributed to the body of knowledge that has transformed psychology and the human development terrain.
Mark Sheehan owns an organic farm in Haiku. He is a real estate broker, environmental activist and health advocate. Contact him at 808.283.2158.