Dr Claudio Naranjo

Meditation in the context of
personality and the ‘other’

According to Dr. Naranjo meditation at its most basic level can be likened to stepping outside the ego, or personality, understood as a parasite of mind that compels our thoughts unceasingly. If personality is a necessary tool in our day to day life and relationships, sitting alone in meditation we can create the conditions in which thought becomes less urgent, more dispensable, a safe environment in which we can experience being ‘nobody’, or ‘no-thing’. It is in this state of being nobody that we can relinquish ego-control, relinquish personality. This is the first step toward the deeper and subtler experiences of meditation that bring to us an awareness of who, or what, we really are. This awareness takes us beyond the identification with the individual toward an experience of the essence of existence. This lived knowledge of a unity in all things, and its implications and consequences, is the wisdom central to all spiritual teachings.

If Dr. Naranjo is concerned with the mystical goal of meditation, as a psychologist specializing in personality he is all too aware that the obstacles and possibilities for advancing along its path toward the dissolution of the ego are dependent to some extent on who you are. Different personalities or egos have different talents or difficulties. And these are brought to bear in meditation also. Dr. Naranjo identifies 6 different dimensions of meditative practice or experience, organized around three polarities: non-doing/letting go, non-attachment/love, and inner mindfulness/outer mindedness. By superimposing his analysis of meditation on the Enneagram he is able to propose that certain dimensions of meditation are specifically suited to certain types of personalities.

For example, if self-control is a feature of personalities such as the Perfectionist, then we might conclude that they will have a natural flare and affinity for the more austere and concentrated dimensions of meditation. Indeed, a rigourous ascetic of meditation might, in some cases, consolidate the Perfectionist ego with its tendency to control and renunciation of instinct. Similarly, meditation styles that involve letting go, such as trance, whilst representing a particular challenge for the Perfectionist, if practiced and achieved, will be of significant benefit in terms of loosening the grip of ego, perhaps more so than the more austere routes that the Perfectionist may find easier. Through the elaboration of such examples Dr. Naranjo demonstrates meditation is not a one size fits all practice and that attention should be placed on the precise point from which any ego starts.

Meditation, then, can have a ‘therapeutic’ component specific to the nature of the problem. However, in The Way of Silence and the Talking Cure Dr. Naranjo is also keen to draw parallels between meditation and psychotherapy in general. They are, he claims, complementary in their aims and methods, for example in the here and now focus of Gestalt therapy and the here and now of the meditative tradition of vipassana.

Dr. Naranjo has been a pioneer of incorporating meditation into the therapeutic environment, and conversely in incorporating the inter-relational dimension of psychotherapy into meditation. If psychotherapy is, ideally, a meeting of two or more people characterized by transparency, so does meditation become a meeting point within the vision of Dr. Naranjo. His development of inter-personal meditation exercises provide opportunities for practitioners to extend their contact with self and no-self into the relationship with the ‘other’. Within the contrasts established in personal and inter-personal meditation meaningful work can be done around the polarities of inner mindfulness/outer mindedness and non-attachment/love. Meeting the ‘other’ without losing the ‘self’, or finding the ‘self’ in the ‘other’ represent particular and interesting challenges to the ego and can provide the practitioner with a nuanced field for self-insight.