Who can do Ramadan?
When Ramadan came around each year I used to feel a bit left out, even irritated, as many people in my Subud group observed the fast. Then one of the older members said to me ‘You don’t have to be Moslem to do the fast’. Really? My interest was stirred. ‘What is the benefit of Ramadan?” I asked. He said it worked at many levels and I would find out for myself what it meant for me. But he promised it was very well worth doing. It was the feeling he communicated to me of the sacred nature of Ramadan, rather than any explanations he gave, which convinced me to try it.
First there were many practical issues I had to ask him about. “I work full-time in a demanding job. My employer expects me to be alert. Also it’s summer and I couldn’t go without water all our long hot days”. He replied, “Just work out what you can do, set an intention, and God will understand your situation”.
So, I set an intention to get up before dawn to eat my breakfast. Then I would read Bapak's talks. I would drink no water before 10.00am, but after that would drink water as required. I would break fast after the sun set and have no alcohol at all in the month. So that was what my first Ramadan consisted of. Sounds really easy doesn’t it - definitely a light version of Ramadan. But the rewards I reaped were astonishing.
On the first day of my first Ramadan, I went to work to write my promotion application. I was an academic in a university and promotion was a complex process. It often took months to write an application, and the chance of success was not high. I had to write a convincing case as to why my application was worthy of success when ranked against my peers. I had tried writing this application once before, but had got feedback that it was nowhere near good enough to proceed. So I sat down at the computer feeling very depressed.
Then I just started writing. Something unusual began to happen. The words flowed effortlessly through my fingers. They came so fast it was almost hard to keep up. Page after page of high quality explanation and justification seemed to write itself onto my screen. It was accompanied by a light feeling of joy. I had finished the whole application by early afternoon. In spite of working at a very rapid pace, I still felt full of energy. I felt very surprised.
My application was successful. I had received an amazing gift on the very first day of my first Ramadan fast. The promotion meant more pay immediately, but also raised the level of my superannuation, so it fed my income stream for the rest of my life.
I come from a culture which teaches that you only get things by working very hard for a long time. Only then, goes the thinking, do you deserve a reward. So I was taken aback by the generosity of this Power that gave me such a great reward with minimal work involved on my part. I had not yet put any effort yet into Ramadan, after all it was Day 1, nor had it felt like I had done any hard work writing the application.
I received one more miraculous gift that Ramadan, this time towards the very end. A quiet voice inside me said “Have faith in God’. Again I was very surprised. I did not believe in God at that time. However, this inner voice started a process in me that eventually led, some years later, to a firm realisation of the presence and reality of God. Of the two gifts, this was the greater.
So, in my first Ramadan I received one gift for my outer life, and one gift for my inner life. If you are not a Moslem, don’t let that fact stop you from experiencing the depth and beauty of the Ramadan fast. Who knows what will come from it? Of course, your experience will be unique, just as mine was. Whatever comes of it, the deep worship of God that is present in the fast is a grace in itself.
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Near Death Experience
I have been a Subud member for almost 50 years. 24 years ago, I was driving from Boston to Philadelphia to pick-up my son from college. As I was driving through New York City, I began experiencing a heart attack which worsened by the moment. Not finding a policeman I pulled to the curb, staggered into a shop on 8th Avenue and sought help. I returned to the car and in one or two minutes the entire (so it seemed ) NYC emergency brigades arrived to rescue me and rush me to the nearest hospital, an old small hospital in a rough section of the west end.
There I was administered to, all the while feeling worse by the minute.
Suddenly it was complete blackness and a feeling of hurtling through space at extreme speed and a sound like a thousand waterfalls. I was disconnected from my thinking mind and all I could sense was a feeling of frustrated anxiety, no great fear.
And then a voice, as clear as any, rang out: “You Can Not Intervene!” Instantly, the anxiety and frustration disappeared and I was totally relaxed.
The next thing I knew, I was awake and heard voices in the ER celebrating my return.
The chief doctor, looking me right in the eye, asks “How do you feel?” to which I reply, “I feel GREAT“, and in truth I was completely pain free and felt truly exuberant!
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“There Are No Secrets in Subud"
About four years before the following experience took place, my latihan was characterized by what sounded to me like I was telling stories in languages I didn't understand. These phrases, sentences and chapters were uttered in my normal voice, although at times with great inner strength and definition but always calm; never hurried. Just definite.
The words that came out of my mouth always had a distinct rhythm with a pattern anywhere from a sentence, to a paragraph in length or what, to me, sounded like a story of several pages. My voice would be different according to what I was saying. Being only a speaker of English, I had no idea what I was speaking about but, as I found out later I was being given knowledge that would help me in my everyday life.
This 'talking' was usually accompanied by my body being turned, my right arm extended in front of me as my index finger pointed around the room. (Throughout my Subud life, I always did and to this day, 'do' latihan with my eyes closed; so I had absolutely no idea where my finger was pointing.) I just let it happen. After all, this was my latihan. (Censoring what is received in latihan defeats the whole purpose of the spiritual exercise.)
We had gathered in Los Angeles that weekend from all over California and many hadn't seen their fellow helpers in some time. When we finished the latihan, old friends greeted one other by saying, "Hello" and exchanged a few words with each other before any scheduled testing began.
A woman I had known for years approached me as I was talking with another friend. She politely waited for the conversation to finish, then with utter surprise in her voice said, "Raphaela, I received what you were saying in latihan." My initial reaction was a joyful surprise. My second impulse on hearing this was almost shock. Yet, I wasn't the least bit surprised to hear her news. I had always felt that there are "No secrets in the Subud latihan" as Bapak advised us all; but never had proof nor was I "looking" for proof. This was the proof. I felt blessed.
This is what my friend said.
"You were pointing to specific people around the room while saying this person has this quality and that person has that quality." I distinctly had the feeling she didn't know who I was speaking about, nor did I know and, fortunately, neither of us was even curious. This was God's business, not mine. To both of us it was a jaw dropping experience that another person had received in latihan what someone else's latihan was all about. She was truly amazed at the awareness she had been given and I was nothing short of flabbergasted!
Given my general lack of awareness about people throughout my life, her receiving made absolute perfect sense to me. By God's grace, I was being taught through the latihan how to be with those in my circle I had frequent contact with. Only now, some 35 years later, do I clearly remember that I had asked God for help in this area. And, wow, did I need help!!
To satisfy my thinking mind, I began putting together the links regarding my personal lifelong quest to understand other people better than I did. Taking into account my progress in this area during the past several years (before 1985), my friend's receiving made absolute and perfect sense to me. Indeed, I had developed a much deeper understanding of people over the past few years. I was grateful, oh, so grateful.
This increase to my everyday insight had nothing to do with me. In fact, study as I might, I could not have accomplished this on my own. In the latihan, we DO get what each of us needs for our lives.
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Happy All The Time
Before I go to sleep, whatever else I have been doing, or however late it is, I like to read from ‘The Tests of Bapak’ (compiled by Sampson Rheams) – it is quite my favourite book. I do not have to read long, for invariably there is a passage that gets my attention. A few nights ago I was on page 194 No10, where Bapak tested Mr A: “How is God’s guidance for you in your daily life?”
This set me thinking. How is God’s guidance for me in my daily life? And as I thought about this I suddenly realised how I was receiving guidance in the most trivial of things, as well as important things. To Mr A. Bapak said, ‘You are as if blind to God’s guidance in daily life’.
Eileen and I are moving house, or at least we hope we are. We have sold our property - rather well actually - and we have bought in Devon a delightful bungalow perched high up with some 18 steps up to the front door. Inside it was immaculate, owned by an old couple that had lived there for almost 50 years. It was only the third property we looked at and within an hour we had made an offer, which was accepted two days later. So we have bought and sold, yet nothing happens until contracts are signed, and the old couple has found an apartment to move into.
It is difficult to describe in detail how everything happened, how our daughter Lisa insisted on picking us up from home and later delivering us back again. Indeed in our new house Lisa and her husband will be less than 10 minutes away.
A little later, when they stayed with us in Farnborough, Jerry attacked the garage that was full of clutter from some 43 years we have lived here. Never before had we seen the garage half empty, with the rest of the stuff neatly stacked. Now you could say ‘Is this God’s guidance?’ or simply family helping out? But there is a taste to it – there is a sort of wonder that things have worked out that way.
Now our attic was also full of all sorts and I am no longer able to climb the ladder and negotiate the rafters. Happens I see the little team of workers who have been digging up our road and laying a huge pipeline for water. I have filmed them at their work and they have come to our door for water and occasionally I made them drinks. They are real West Country, hailing from near Chippenham, two hours drive away. They always come to shake my hand, indeed the older man Steve once made to embrace me – really funny. Well, seeing them working on a Bank Holiday Sunday I invited all four of them into our garden for drinks and Cornish pasties. I then asked George and Joe if they would help me with the attic. No problem! Old bedsteads, old gramophones and all sorts were handed down. When I got out some tenners for the young fellers, the older man said, ‘Put your money away’. In the event Eileen pressed them, but they would have done the lot for nothing.
Before I go to sleep I maybe test something. I have got to tell you that I am no good at testing and though I do get some reactions I have no idea what they mean. But I don’t care as I usually sleep well afterwards. So I could not resist testing about God’s guidance. I don’t now about that except I felt happy.
Now this letter is for the real oldies, who perhaps cannot get to a group any more, since night driving has become a problem – in fact all driving has become a wee bit more hazardous. So in the morning when I wake up and go to the loo I most often already feel the latihan while sitting on the throne! Truly. I go downstairs and put the dishwasher on and the kettle and go to my garage to do my latihan. I am very lucky as it is sort of secluded as we are next to a brook and I can sing or chant or move around to my heart’s delight.
Now some of my good friends like Dr Rachman and even Mardiyah Tarantino in faraway California, were a bit concerned about my doing latihan all on my own most every day. But I don’t do half an hour – I do as much or as long as it happens. Again, I sometimes start by saying ‘God is Great’, but on the other hand I sometimes go straight in without any ‘quiet’ and the latihan flies off by itself. It depends a bit upon the night before and how I feel the exercise at once when I wake up.
Another thing intrigued me, how Bapak tested on himself how it was to walk with his jiwa and to sit down with his jiwa and get up with his jiwa – apparently he went on for a long time seeming to enjoy himself and said it was like a good massage. Of course, Yours Truly had to try this, particularly as my walking is awful. When I park my car and walk to the Supermarket just in the car park I will try ‘Can I walk with my jiwa?’ Of course I fail. When I am watching TV I often feel the latihan quite spontaneously. At other times when I am really caught up watching a great tennis match, I will also try to see if I can receive.
Believe me, I am not one who has seen lights or passed through walls or left my body or anything supernatural like that. I am just an ordinary Subud member, who keeps in touch with a few of my old friends. Oh yes, I do try to receive and I do get some sort of results that I do not understand, but there is one thing that I do understand, even if I am worried sick over some lifetime problem, this other me seems to be happy all the time.
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