In a few days we will observe the forty day salamatan for our brother Sebastian who has passed away. The strange thing is I do not even know his surname, even though I have known him for a long time. In the Subud world community, there can be few stranger stories of how someone came to Subud.
Sebastian was hired as a caretaker for our Subud House. He was a retired estate worker, and well suited to the job. Many foreign brothers and sisters who visited our group will remember him well as a person who always remained in the background, never out of place. Even with all of us in the group it was the same. This all changed one day, and even Sebastian did not fully understand its significance at the time it happened.
One day, one of the helpers observed that Sebastian was actually receiving the latihan while the group was doing the exercise. It so happened that the International Helpers were visiting the group shortly thereafter and it was brought to their notice, with the result that after testing it was decided to open Sebastian. There was one minor problem in that he came from a minority ethnic group and did not read or write English. Nevertheless, there were enough members from this community who could speak his language. Problem solved! Sebastian was opened and he became our brother in Subud. As time passed I noticed that he received the latihan well, even better than those who had been doing the latihan for decades. When it came to testing one of the brothers translated first. All went well except that without English Sebastian had no access to Subud talks at all. And yet I was always amazed at how well Sebastian could receive the latihan.
As a helper I observed one little flaw, that Sebastian never looked upon the rest of members as his brothers and sisters. This would have violated his position and belief system. One day I turned up for Latihan quite early and after a while I decided that I had been presented with an opportunity to explain the true situation. I had the added advantage that I could speak his native language to a fair degree. What I told him surprised even me.
‘Sebastian,’ I said, ‘There is only one God and we are all his children. so all of us are your brothers and sisters.’ His eyes lighted up as if he saw something amazing! ‘You must always remember this when you do the latihan,’ I continued, and without thinking I sort of raised my hand and pointed my forefinger up and asked, ‘Do you understand?’ ‘Yes,’ he said with a wide smile.
Often thereafter when I came to the Subud house, I would greet him by raising my hand and pointing my finger up and he would acknowledge with a beaming smile. It was our way of communicating: We are brothers.
The various sophisticated tools we acquire as we live in this world can sometimes be a burden on the spiritual journey, but Sebastian was not very educated and had a simple approach to life. Often as a senior helper I would ask a test question and most of the time Sebastian was able to receive well, whereas many would complain that they could not feel anything. The last time the International Helpers visited our group there was an oversight: we were more concerned about our own receiving in the testing and sometimes forgot to translate, but for Sebastian this was no problem. Question: Where are your hands? - up went his hands. Where are your feet? - and his feet would thump the floor. The proof of the latihan comes in strange ways! Farewell, gentle soul.
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Having been fortunate enough to have received this gift of the latihan when I was quite young, I was in Bapak's presence at a few congresses and visits. At the 1971 Congress in Indonesia, I happened to be in on a small meeting when Bapak entered the room. We were all seated around a large low round table, and Bapak sat down next to me on my right. As was customary, we waited until Tuti brewed some tea for Bapak. It was difficult to get around behind us in this small room, so when it was ready she reached over and placed Bapak's cup of tea on the table in front of me. I waited a moment, and when Bapak did not reach for it, I moved it over in front of him. Instantly Tuti snatched it away, and replaced it with another. Of course I felt awful, thinking I was not even worthy to touch Bapak's cup of tea.
Over the years, I was troubled by Bapak's seeming remoteness and inaccessibility. On the one hand, he was, by his own words, a normal person just like us, who had a family and dressed in impeccable but normal clothes. But on the other hand it was obvious that he was much more than that: a soul who had ascended to God and who had many extraordinary experiences. He always seemed to be beyond my ability to relate to, and to feel comfortable with.
Some years later, however, I happened to be the chairman of a group that Bapak visited on one of his world tours. We were meeting in the evening in a large hall and Bapak asked if the chairman wanted to say a greeting. A bit unusual, I thought, but I stood up to greet him. Just then Sharif looked at me and swung Bapak's microphone around toward me. A bit more unusual! I walked to the microphone and spoke my greeting to Bapak and his party. As I turned away to go back to my seat, I suddenly felt this incredible love for Bapak. It seemed to fill my whole chest with light. Instantly, all my previous doubts and concerns about who Bapak might be and my relationship with him fled away. All that mattered was that I could feel this great love for him; most importantly, at that moment, I knew that Bapak also truly loved us all.
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An Ancestor’s Visit to Heaven
Bapak used to say that the blessing of finding our way to the latihan was an indication of a connection to a deserving ancestor, so you can probably imagine my delight when, researching my family tree, I once came across the following story concerning my forebear John H. Beals (III), 1717-1796.
Recovering from a fit of sickness, a weak John Beals – a Quaker - desired that his family retire for the evening sooner than was usual. The door to his room suddenly opened and a person, clothed in white raiment, approached his bedside and bade him arise and follow him. They went out of the room together and ascended up through the air. John was brought to heaven by his guide and was placed before a great being who was seated on a bright throne of glory.
The divine being looked upon him and asked how he came to be there. He replied that a person in white raiment had come to him and brought him to this glorious place. The divine being told the guide to take John and show him the glory of the saints. What John saw caused his heart to be so overcome with joy that he desired to remain there forever. He was informed that he must go back again to the world and remain for two and a half more days. If he spent his time in faithfulness, he would return and have his inheritance among the saints forever.
John then asked the guide to take him where he might have a fragrant smell. He was taken to a place where a door opened and released the most delightful odor he had ever experienced. He was soon filled with the odor and then was brought back by his guide to his chamber and the bed where he lay. The fragrant smell remained in his nostrils for many days.
Heavenly time is clearly not our own, because my ancestor recovered very quickly from his sickness, although believed that what he had seen would soon be fulfilled. Margaret Beals, his wife, died on the farm on April 11, 1796. John died there the following week on April 17, 1796 at the age of 80.
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A Tiger in the Living Room
I guess one animal story triggers another.
While I was living in Wisma Subud, Indonesia, someone sent Bapak an enormous, real tiger that had been stuffed and made to stand as
though it were walking.
None of us knew the tiger was there in Bapak's living room, taking up most of the center floor, so when we started arriving to visit Bapak (I have forgotten the occasion), we were all somewhat taken aback by the tiger; it still very much had the tiger's spirit in and around it. Needless to say, no one approached it!
Then a member came in with her little four year old granddaughter. The little girl took one look at the huge tiger and walked steadily towards it saying, "Oh my, oh my." in great sympathy. She had to reach up to put her arm around the tiger's neck.
Just then Bapak came into the room. He stopped, looked at the child and said, "She has great courage".
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The Most Loving Energy
My latihans have recently changed. It is as if God is always around and becomes "visible," "palpable" during latihan, and we have conversations. Jesus is often there, His energy being the grandest, most loving I have ever felt.
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Over the years I've experienced that there are different types of latihan. Sometimes we need latihans in which we throw off things and which are purifying. At other times we can have latihans that go very deep and which take us into the realm of the very fine and subtle inner feelings where one can experience something new which is beneficial for our growth.
Many of us have found that our latihan is better and deeper after a day of fasting. A Subud brother asked Haryono, Bapak's son, about this once and he said that the reason for this was that when we fast it's like we're praying to God all the time. I have learned that, above all, the latihan is a ‘sincerity game’. The more sincere you are, the more chance you have to grow. At the same time, of course, the latihan is a slow and subtle process so that it is certainly a ‘patience game’ as well.
Many years ago my latihan had become boring and repetitive. One day I was with a small group of men and we decided to test about each other's latihan. When my turn came we received that my latihan was too 'spiritual'. How it should be was quite different. I made coarse movements and sounds, marching around the latihan hall like a total bumpkin, making me feel embarrassed. I then realised that I recognised this and that the inner prompting to have such a latihan had arisen in me several times but that I had subconsciously suppressed it out of embarrassment. I accepted that this was my necessary latihan at that time and had a laugh about it, as did some of my brothers! This 'bumpkin latihan' lasted for several months and seemed to get rid of something in me.
Years later, I again felt stuck in a repetitive latihan, which felt rather empty. So I decided to follow Bapak’s advice and ask for ‘more’. Nothing happened at first. The old familiar routine kept popping up, but I rejected it. 'Better no latihan than wasting my time with this', I thought. So I just stood there like a plank, no movement, nothing. I started to feel miserable, thinking that God had abandoned me.
The next latihan , a few days later, started the same, like a plank, except that by now the urge to slip into the old routine had disappeared, which somehow felt like a relief. I think by then I had accepted the situation, which might have made the difference. Later I thought about Bapak's famous mantra - 'patience, acceptance, surrender and submission' - because after a while, unexpectedly, I started to feel something new, which I had never experienced before. This very subtle feeling, which seemed to come from nowhere, felt so fine and precious, so clean and alive, and after a while my hands and arms started to make very gentle, refined movements. Wow! I'd never experienced anything like it. From then on my latihan developed into a new and unexpected direction, coming from a deeper, finer, and more alive place than before.
Again, after some years, I felt that my latihan was stuck, and again I asked for help. I remembered 'the plank', so I prepared for it, thinking that the same might happen as before. Not quite the same though. This time I did stand like a plank, telling the old routine to go away and leave me alone, feeling nothing but emptiness for a while. But then I suddenly felt this deep pain, sadness and loneliness in me. It was like tapping into a dark part of me. These emotions I recognised as having accompanied me all my life, and they had come up both in my latihan and during daily life. I realised that I had run away from this for quite some time.
These dark feelings felt so painful, they scared me. I realised that this was why my latihan had got stuck. Subconsciously I had refused my real, painful, latihan, which urged me to go through what later appeared to be a heavy ancestral purification. I had chosen to stay in the cosy comfort of a superficial routine latihan. This time a purification had started which lasted for many years and I had to learn to let a lot of pain and sadness go through me. Often I felt like a pipe or a funnel, channeling it all. Luckily, this purification also came with many blessings and rewards. Often I find that when we go through something difficult in life, that this can be an opportunity to become closer to ourselves and to God
I wouldn’t be surprised if sometimes people leave Subud because, subconsciously, they find it too difficult to accept, or find, their real latihan, and then get bored with the superficial latihan they get stuck into.
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Blue Light Revisited
A helper told me that he was at an opening recently, after which the applicant said that when he opened his eyes during the latihan he saw to his surprise that one of the helpers had a blue light around him. This reminded him of the blue light experiences recorded on pages 2 and 3 of the website at www.remindersofreality.weebly.co.uk.
I shared this later with a brother, and it reminded him of when his mother was having a problem returning to consciousness after an operation. She was eventually called back to life by a nurse who, she saw, had a blue light shining out of her forehead.
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Like many people today, before joining Subud I didn’t believe in God. Maybe I accepted there were mysteries I had no answers to – but that was about it. However, around the time of my opening (1968) I experienced many uncomfortable things, including nightmares and insomnia. The worst thing, which lasted a few months, was a frightening sensation sometimes of the whole universe alternately expanding and contracting when closing my eyes to sleep. This wasn’t merely a visual thing but felt as if I was actually part of infinity itself.
Consequently I became very frightened of sleeping and stayed awake as long as I could – or went out walking the streets – until too exhausted to do anything else. I wouldn’t say what I experienced was God, but it opened my mind to His limitlessness and made me more able to accept the latihan.
My biggest problem over the first year or two of Subud was using my mind too much to understand what was happening instead of just going with the flow. This experience, of an infinite universe, helped me come to terms with my questions – not by answering them scientifically (which I’d have liked) but showing me the limits of human understanding. Ultimately, perhaps strangely, that was a comfort.
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