Saved by the Light!
I was opened in 1966 and in 1970 I embraced Islam. Because I seem to have a savant-like ability with languages, I had no trouble learning the prayers and later teaching them to others.
Thirty years later, while travelling in Iran, I was pleased to be offered a trip to Qum which is the capital of all Shia Muslim activity in the world. I’m not a Shia myself, but I wanted to experience this face of Islam and the Islamic architecture of the 12th century. I knew that in the past, Qum was so hardline Islam, that mullahs would roam the streets with little whips reprimanding folk about correct dress, etc. There were, and still are, lightly armed religious police, although these days the mullahs’ whips have been replaced by feather dusters.
I went into the main mosque to pay my respects and immediately a policeman asked my friend from Tehran, “Who’s he?” “He’s a Westerner,” my friend
replied, “but he’s a good Muslim.” Just then, the call to prayer sounded and I walked forward, watched from behind.
Fortunately, I had learned some of the Shia rituals, which helps if one is in Iran. So in this atmosphere of being watched, I went forward into the congregation to initiate my prayers and found that I was sitting next to a very, very old mullah. He was telling his beads very fast in a perfunctory way with the zhikr: “Allahu Akbar.”
I had just stood up to do my own prayers before the communal prayers began, when I froze. I went totally blank! The prayers just did not come. Me who usually teaches other converts their prayers! Oh no. I was aware of being watched by the mosque police who were standing with my friend and I knew that one wrong move would be dangerous for both of us. I stood there, still. Then the latihan enveloped me. I stood at the base of a blindingly shining column of light, which I could only hope that nobody else could see. A deep, silent worship was taking place and after a short while, though I was still quite blank, exactly the right movements came, without words, so that those watching me from behind would have seen nothing unusual.
But something was clearly happening to the old mullah sitting beside me. It became clear to me that he was being opened! His head leaned towards me and his zhikr slowed right, right down. I was also aware that he did not associate what he was feeling with me, but thought of it as his own experience.
If anybody had suggested to me that one day I could go to Qum and do latihan in that place, I would certainly never have considered such a potentially suicidal experience. Yet there I was, without any intention of the kind, not just doing latihan in the main mosque in Qum – which is punishable by death – but also opening a mullah!
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A Protective Bubble
I had been opened for about three months. I liked going to latihan but I hadn't really felt much and I had only just started to make movements. One day I was riding my bike through town when I realised that I felt completely different than normal. I felt as if I had this protective bubble around me which felt so comfortable. Someone or something was protecting me. 'The world' seemed to be outside me, whereas before it seemed to have come into me with all its coldness and loneliness.
Also, as long as I could remember I had been living with an underlying fear that something would happen to me, that I would have an accident or that someone would attack me. This was gone too: no fear anymore, no cold, lonely world, just this comfortable feeling of being inside myself with this protection around me, riding on my bike through town. I related this experience to the latihan and I felt very grateful, it was as if I had been given a big present.
This feeling has never left me but it has become so normal that I am not aware of it most of the time and I can't imagine life without it anymore. Occasionally, when I happen to be in a big heavy place like London or Paris, particularly at the end of the day when people go home from work, I can feel a glimpse of how it must be for many people who don't have this caring protection around them to shelter them from the world, who are still, presumably, how I was before I was opened, and I feel compassion for them.
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Encounter with a Viper
For a while I worked at an Aviation Dept. radio receiving station miles from anywhere in Sri Lanka, and on this particular day I planned to sleep overnight at an old fashioned house at the station which had a verandah in front with a half wall. The top part of the door into the verandah was formed of trellis woodwork in the traditional diamond shape. Being a lefty I held the door key in my left hand and, having no flashlight, made do with the light from the distant station to feel and insert the key. But a strange thing happened: it was as if my hand refused to take the command from the brain. I tried again with
the same result, and, a bit alarmed, I told myself to relax. By now I could feel
the latihan. My hand moved a third time, but away from the door!
Now fully alarmed, I returned to the station and borrowed a flashlight, which enabled me to see a snake – a spotted viper - wrapped around the trellis, about a foot above the keyhole. I ran back to the station and informed the security person. Armed with a shotgun we returned to the scene . . . but no viper. We searched for some time before giving up. I decided to go home and as I started my motor bike I looked up and thanked the Almighty.
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A Rattlesnake at the Door
We lived for a while in New Mexico, and I recall one particular incident concerning a rattlesnake, which are not uncommon in those parts. One
morning, a newly opened Subud sister was about to leave her house as usual but felt strangely reluctant to open the front door. Instead, guided from within,
she went out the back door instead and made her way around to the front of the
house. To her horror, curled up on the front step was a large rattlesnake. If
she had left home in the normal way by way of the front door she would almost certainly have been bitten.
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Frozen in Time
The California Subud Congress of 1974 was held in the High Sierra's at a campsite by a lake among the redwoods. I drove up with my family in an old bug and camped out among the trees, a new experience for us. My two young boys, one aged 3 + years and the other fifteen months, were having the time of their lives running around in the wonderful high altitude.
On the second day after breakfast my wife had the younger boy who was playing with another child about the same age on a small balcony that jutted out from the first floor of the main building. I and the older boy were with some Subud members among the redwoods about 30 yards from the building. For no apparent reason, I looked towards the balcony where the two children were running around chasing each other when suddenly my son shot through the railing head first.
I heard my wife scream and in the time it took me to say, “Allah,” he hit the ground. It must have been 12 feet or more to the ground and there was something that I believe no one witnessed except me: it was as if a hand reached out and flipped my boy over so that he landed on all fours like a
cat! He was angry and crying, although seemingly unhurt.
Fortunately, there was a doctor in the house, a Subud brother. He checked my son from his little toes to his curly hair, finding not even a scratch. There are times you do not ask questions. My vision of that fall is frozen in time.
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A Perfect Landing
The front door of our house opened on to a little platform about one metre above a concrete path at the edge of the garden. Since the house was not completely finished we had not yet erected a fence around the platform, so it would have been possible for someone to have a bad fall.
At the time, we had visitors who were packing their car and my wife was inside the house while I waited on the platform. In a moment of carelessness I completely forgot about the missing fence and stepped into the empty space. Later, thinking about it, I couldn’t understand why I didn’t at least break a leg, if not my neck. To my surprise, however, my body made a 180 degree turn in mid-air so that I made a perfect landing on my right shoulder. To my further surprise, all I experienced was a stiff feeling in my shoulder, which soon disappeared.
I continued to marvel at this, and tried to share the experience with my wife and visitors. But they were not really interested; I was still alive and well, so in
their eyes it could not have been that serious. I understood, and concluded that perhaps it wasn’t necessary to tell others, I should also mention that I was 72 at the time and never do any exercise, so my amazement is still there, a sign that I was protected.
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I am English and was once a helper travelling in South East Asia. During this period I made three visits to a village on the outskirts of a town in a very remote part of West Java. I travelled with a Regional Helper who was able to translate my Indonesian into Sundanese, so that I could tell the men of the village about the latihan. This lovely unspoiled place, in jungle through which tigers had roamed only fifty years earlier, was so remote and out of the way that they had never seen a Westerner before.
This was a Sufi community of the Naqshbandi Order, who had worshipped in that way for three hundred years. They’d chosen this isolated place to practice their lifestyle and be alone with God. They were a community of great dedication, and before I went there I was a bit overawed by them. On the
first visit we’d held a village meeting inviting every person, and out of those
who attended about thirty men came forward to be opened.
But the experience I’m writing about, happened on our second visit, which
had as its express purpose the intention to exercise with the fifteen men who
hadn’t yet experienced anything in the latihan. It was for this reason that I asked that they might receive a strong latihan in order to prove that it was real.
Among them I spotted an old man whom I remembered from the previous visit and who I was sure had in fact experienced the latihan properly the first time. I said, “Begin,” and we started, whereupon the room went crazy. It seemed so alarming that the Indonesian helper looked at me questioningly as if to say, “Is this ok?” We spent the whole time catching people, some of whom were flying backwards through the air. Not noisy, just very, very active.
When it was over and everybody had sat down, I noticed that the old man whose presence I’d questioned to myself was still lying on the floor. I went over and knelt down beside him, only to find that there were no obvious signs of life. I followed my receiving and stayed kneeling beside him chanting, “Allahu Akbar.” Then all the men sitting around the walls joined in.
After we’d done this for about five minutes he stirred and came back to us. As he lay there, he said aloud, “I’ve just had a Miraj” (an Ascension). As he sat up, we all thanked God as one voice: “Alhamdulillah!”
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I was once tested by Bapak at Anughraha, together with a small group of helpers. We stood just a few yards away from Bapak, and the receiving was very powerful. I still remember some of the questions: ‘How do we deal with
problems in our life?' and 'How should this be?'
After this, Bapak wanted us to laugh from inside. It felt great at first: we laughed and laughed – what joy! After a while the laughter started to peter out, however, whereupon Bapak said, "Don't stop, keep on going!” That's when it started to hurt. The laughter became really painful and I felt as if my chest was being ripped apart. It just kept on going in what felt like a deep cleansing of the feelings. Afterwards my chest and feelings felt clean and wide open.
Bapak asked some more questions which I've forgotten, but halfway through these questions I opened my eyes and I looked straight into Bapak's eyes. He was sitting on the edge of his chair looking at me. A shock went through me and I felt a deep fear. I knew what this fear was. Looking into Bapak's eyes felt like being as close to God as I could get, and it was very frightening. It felt like standing in front of God after I'd died. It reminded me of something I've read about the Prophet Muhammad and his close companions. It was said that they would often, physically tremble, out of fear of God.
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The Inner Voice
Not long after we were married, my wife and I were staying at my wife's parents. For some reason that I can't remember I decided to take my wedding ring off. Just when I was about to put it on top of the antique dresser in our bedroom, I heard a voice inside me say clearly: 'If you put it there, you will never find it again.' I decided not to take it seriously and put the ring on top of the dresser. About two hours or so later I came back and wanted to put my ring on again. To my surprise it was gone. My wife and I looked everywhere. No-one else appeared to have been in the room. Mysteriously, the ring was gone, just as I was told would happen. Later, my in-laws kept looking for it but didn't find it either. Now, 22 years later, it still hasn't turned up.
Since then, like so many other Subud members, I've had several other messages from my inner voice and through the years I've learned to trust this
and listen to it.
Another example occurred a couple of years ago when I found myself saying, 'motor kaputt' in latihan. I know a little German, enough to know that it meant 'motor broken.' The next latihan I said it again, to be repeated in latihan for the next two weeks. Then, one night, when I was about to go home after latihan, my car wouldn't start. I had to ring the AA, who arrived some time later. The mechanic did some checks on my car and then said to me, 'Your starter motor is broken.' No idea why that message came in German.
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Stranger on a Train
I was a simple music student at the time, obliged to live on a low budget. Since my teenage years I had been on a spiritual search, as life just seemed
meaningless to me without the experience of something beyond daily reality. I didn’t care about a career and had given up on my studies at university. I felt becoming a musician was the only way for me to survive in this world, until one day I would find other resources to nourish my restless soul.
I had just heard about Subud and was quite determined to be opened. However, the helpers had told me it wasn’t possible to organize my opening before the end of the summer. First I was annoyed at having to be that patient, but soon I felt that something in my perception had already changed, as if a veil between me and the rest of the world had disappeared. So I stopped reading newspapers and books in general or watching any movies, because doing so would interfere roughly with the finer energies that I had started to
absorb. This was still before being opened.
That same summer I was on my way to Spain by train, to attend a music course. An orthodox Jew was sitting just a few seats away from me. My cello case was beside me and somehow the Jewish man had turned around and started talking to me. I don’t remember exactly what the conversation was about, but before getting out of the train in Belgium where he lived, he asked for my telephone number. It was not my habit to give that kind of information to a total stranger, but somehow I felt that I might have met him for some
Since childhood I had felt a strong inner connection with Jewish culture and historical heritage. This man, probably in his late sixties, was dressed in the traditional orthodox way, all in black with a long grey beard and a black hat on top of his ‘yarmulke’, and long curls besides his ears on both sides of his gentle face. (By the way, both Subud names I was later given are Jewish in origin.) So I gave him my number and a month later, not long after my return home, he phoned me. He was in my city and would like to come over to my
house for tea and to write a letter. It turned out that he wanted me to write
letters in English, as he had a hard time to write anything other than Hebrew.
It took less than an hour to write the letter and in return he left me a considerable fee. He asked if it would be okay to come back another time, and we established a rather remarkable sort of friendship and working
Every now and then he would unexpectedly call to say he was in town, and the procedure was always the same: we would have tea in my house and he would dictate two or three letters in English. After finishing he would ask me how much money I needed and he would give what I asked for, or usually a bit
more, and leave. At one point I needed a better suitcase for my cello, as I was to travel to a master class abroad and my old case was getting really worn out. This was a rather big expense but he didn’t hesitate to help me. The man never told me much about himself. I also didn’t know his real name (he asked me to call him ‘Charles’) or where he lived exactly.
Our friendship lasted maybe two years. He also brought me little booklets with parts of the Old Testament in Hebrew. Sometimes I wouldn’t see him for a couple of months until suddenly he would pop up again. Many times I have
thought with wonder and gratitude of this generous person, who disappeared out of my life as unexpectedly as he came into it, and without ever saying goodbye.
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