The Enneagram Institute posted a lovely tribute to Don; here are a few extracts:
Don Richard Riso, 66, author, counselor, leading authority on the Enneagram personality system, and an influential figure in the human potential movement, died peacefully at his home in Stone Ridge, New York, in the early morning hours of August 30, 2012.
In 1973, while studying theology at Regis College in Toronto, he encountered some very general and sketchy notes on a theory of personality types called the Enneagram which fascinated him immensely. These notes did not describe (let alone explain) much about human behavior, yet there was something compelling about them since they seemed to be pointing toward an objective truth about human beings. After contemplating the original notes for over a year, and then, for an additional two years, writing down his observations on human behavior, Don decided to focus his attention full time on developing the descriptions and rationale of the personality types of the Enneagram.
In 1986, he created The Enneagram Institute as a vehicle to present trainings and seminars on his work, and in 2002, moved the Institute to its beautiful and special grounds in Stone Ridge which provided the inspiration for his later work and private writings.
In 1987, he published his first book, Personality Types, which has gone on to become a classic, and has been translated into over twenty languages.
In 1995 he was a founding member of the International Enneagram Association.
Don taught thousands of students around the world, and was known and greatly loved for his wise and gentle manner.
As Don himself wrote: “The Enneagram is an invaluable tool for the growth of consciousness in human beings. When the personality types (and the system as a whole) are rightly understood, they help illuminate what is so often unconscious—and therefore hidden—in us.
Don is survived by his partner of over 41 years, Brian L. Taylor, also of Stone Ridge, an attorney with the Los Angeles-based law firm of O’Melveny & Meyers LLP. Don and Brian were married in Lenox, Massachusetts on September 12, 2008.
Lynda Roberts and Michael Naylor are members of the Enneagram Institute and have this to say about their beloved mentor:
Thank you, Don, for the rich and solid foundation of Enneagram theory that serves as the basis for so much of the work that we are all doing with the Enneagram today. Your brilliance and dedication are truly remarkable and your contributions extraordinary. Thank you for being my teacher and my friend. I’m grateful for all that I learned from you including the true meaning of equanimity, which you taught in your final days through your Being rather than through your words. Your Presence remains with us, along with your teachings.
Humbly and gratefully,
I met Don in 1996 via his book, Personality Types. It was then that I received a tremendous shock. Reading the Type Four I realized and saw for the first time the structure of my personality type, and that Envy and Fantasizing and being over-identified with my moods and feelings was the core of my repetitious suffering. This was a breathtaking revelation because these personality mechanisms stopped me from moving towards what I loved and cared for while giving me the impression that I was walking in the right direction. A door of real freedom began to creak open. It wasn’t until 2006 that I met Don in person and had the pleasure of being in many trainings with him, and shortly thereafter was invited to become a part of the Faculty Training program at the Enneagram Institute, and eventually a faculty member.
The gifts of Don’s teachings and the precise and clear manner in which he articulated the psychic structure of each type allowed me to feel from the inside out what the other types felt like, and to get profound glimpses of the world that they inhabited. All of it lent itself to a massive expansion in my sense of compassion for myself and others, and the initiation of a slow but steady miracle: I began to feel comfortable in my own skin, to inhabit my body, to feel a satisfied, full heart, to take actions that broke the spell of my personality habits. Over time this turned even more miraculous: my life as a suffering Type Four began to dissolve. Joy was savored as much as sadness. Aliveness was savored more than emotional turmoil. My need to look like someone unique and special began to fade. I could just be here, under much less influence from the robotic patterns of my personality running me. What a relief! I could see the amazing beauty of those around me and witness their wonderful gifts without dropping into the barbed-wire of envy and self-hatred. I could hang out with people and enjoy them, savor them, rejoice in them, be with them, talk with them, without the horrid virus of shame creeping into my life-stream and inhabiting the river of my thoughts and feelings. Somehow, through this process of studying the types Riso-Hudson style, and doing the particular spiritual practices related to my type’s habits, and making friends with my body, my thoughts, and my feelings, that a monumental shift began to occur. Who I had identified myself as, was melting, dissolving, and the jagged edges of my suffering softening.
Out of the cocoon of these personality habits something deeper and truer began to emerge. I could simply feel the spaciousness of my heart without a big story attached to it. I became graceful in my own skin, letting go of years of terrible self-consciousness. I no longer needed your approval, at least not nearly as much. Something quieted in me that had been haunting me my entire life. I relaxed. All of this was a direct correlation between my work with Don, my training as a teacher by him, and his influence on my spiritual practices. Someone moved the heavy stone from the cave to my heart. And dear Don, my fellow Four, had pointed me there, right there, to this apparent immovable stone and suggested a way around or through it. Presence, becoming present, developing radical compassion for what I observed in myself, this were the tools.
I am forever grateful to Don.
Enneagram elder statesman, David Daniels, was moved to write:
When I heard about Don’s passing in a note to me from Russ Hudson on August 30, my heart welled up with grief over this loss for all of us in the Enneagram world that have benefited from his work and spirit. I met Don and Russ at the time of the first International Enneagram Conference here at Stanford in the summer of 1994. It has been a great enjoyment observing his evolution and personal development over the years. To me he represents our core theme of development which is at the heart of our Enneagram work. He has made many contributions to the Enneagram in his teachings, trainings, and writings ranging from the levels of development work to the process of personal development including his own. Personal and universal development is what inspires me about Don and about our work in general. It is all about how we can become more whole human beings with more compassion, care, and contribution to the well-being of self and others. Don worked tirelessly to bring this theme of development to the world and did his best to “walk-the-talk” himself. The many thousands who he inspired and contributed to will always have him in their hearts. I know that I will. Thanks, Don, for all you did, all you became, and all you are.
Mario Sikora, President of the IEA, recounts his first encounter with the Enneagram and Don:
I remember, vividly, reading “Discovering Your Personality Type” while sitting and waiting for a train at the Market East Station in Philadelphia in the early 90s. I was so stunned by how precisely I saw myself in Don’s words that I deliberately missed my train, walked to the nearest bookstore, and bought a copy of “Personality Types” (the earlier edition, with the brown cover) and didn’t put it down until I hit the last page. Those books changed my life. We say that lightly about many things–“it changed my life”–but in this case it is true. It was as if I decided to take a different train that day, rather than just a later train, and my course was never the same. Don’s work had that impact on many people, and I’m sure we all share a sense of profound gratitude.
We wish you godspeed, Don.
It was not just Don’s words that affected people:
One of the profoundest teaching moments I had with Don involved his wise use of silence and not teaching in the usual sense. It was at our Part II Training in the Fall of 2006, and we were debriefing in small groups after an afternoon of Holotropic breath-work.
My breath-work session had felt odd and unsatisfying, in an elusive, hard-to-pin-down kind of way. Initially expansive and exhilarating, the experience had tailed off into a drifting, uneventful, mostly confusing state of being. I listened to other students describe their birth-canal experiences, their exciting dreams and bizarre hallucinations, and all I felt was kind of flat and stale and deflated, with a strange taste in my mouth.
Don asked me to describe as fully as I could my sensations and inner state. What I came up with, in addition to the above, was “I don’t feel like myself – and I find that mostly I just want to feel like myself again.” With a mischievous glint in his eyes, Don slowly raised his fingers to his lips and gave me the universal “I’m buttoning my lips” sign. I gathered that what I had just said was important but that Don did not want, in that moment, to tell me why.
Over the next couple of years, as I completed my training with Don and Russ, I came to appreciate his discretion and discernment in that moment of teaching. He could have said something like, “well, you know, the ego tends to react to unfamiliar states in strange ways, since on some level they threaten the ego’s status-quo,” and I would have probably said, “sure, that makes sense,” but I don’t think the experience would have revealed as much to me as it ultimately did if I hadn’t been left to unpack it for myself – which largely involved waiting until it was ready to be unpacked.
Don could also be an entertaining raconteur, and those who knew him know how much he loved to talk and retail his experiences. I think this is why this memory feels so valuable. In that moment, with a kind of intuitive attunement to my state of mind, he saw how he could more fully serve my growth by so eloquently saying nothing at all.
It seems that Don always had the right words to say:
In the spring of 2011, I completed Part 2 Training at the Enneagram Institute, my last of the 3 parts needed to graduate. After the closing ceremony and after receiving my certificate, I found myself bursting with joy and pride and wanted to share my accomplishment personally with Don. I went up to him and exclaimed that I was now ready to begin the certification process! Sharing my joy, he also surprised me by saying, “There’s no rush. Wait awhile. You are doing the Work and that’s what’s important.” Looking back on that moment, it’s easy for me to see Ego (me) meeting Egoless-ness (Don). He modeled that consistently, in his humble and precious way.
Don’s life also touched people who never met him, as this story from Penny Whillans shows:
Words fail as I remember Don and realize his impact on myself and on so many others.
His own struggles, his work, his research, his sharing of himself has changed my life and re-channeled it.
Last evening at a community Enneagram meeting our young facilitator spoke of Don’s passing and how she had been deeply affected by Don’s living message. I looked around the room, a room that was filled with Enneagram enthusiasts of all ages. With the exception of myself, no one there had met Don yet all of them were responding as if they knew him. They knew and resonated with what impassioned his living. Each one has been deeply affected by his research, his writings, his teachings and his Presence. Because of him, the room was filled with people who were gathered to share themselves and their passions around the Enneagram, their growth and community growth.
My Heart expands with hope and gratitude for this gift of Don’s Life and it also feels the pain and sadness of his loss.
I bow deeply to Don and his Life with tears of sadness and gladness. I honour Don as do those here in the CIES, and we revere his Life and his Living.
No words are adequate to express the Love and gratitude we know for Don. May we carry the earthly torch of his impassioned message of gracious human-ness, struggle, awareness and freedom.
Ginger Lapid-Bogda knew Don well and this has been extracted from her blog:
I am only hopeful that I can do this complex, loving, dynamic, honest, funny, sweet man justice. He was a major Enneagram leader of the 20th and 21st centuries; a profound teacher, author and creator, and his contributions will be missed in a most global way. Many of our conversations ended with Don saying, “The Enneagram is bigger than any of us, so we really don’t have to worry about it.”
For me, Don was all about love: love of the Enneagram, love of what he was doing with his life, love of people in particular, love of new ideas and new pathways to take the Enneagram. He was so utterly human, vulnerable, smart, curious, committed, searching, always growing, and forever I will hold him in my heart.
Don’s influence spread around the world too, as Agustina Burgo can attest:
For me, in addition to the outstanding wisdom that everybody knows about Don Riso via his knowledge and enrichment of the Enneagram system, the more touching qualities I remember about him are his capacity to listen and to appreciate others people’s opinions and ideas. I also remember his kind humbleness, serenity and profound clarity in sharing his wisdom.
My limited English was never an obstacle to him in dedicating his complete attention and making me feel welcomed and valued.
His dedication, hard work and creativity up until his last days left us with an inspiring example of courage, tenacity and Presence.
Surely Don will be remembered for his transcendental work and valuable contribution to humanity. In gratitude for his life of service,