Inside the Bubble of Grace
I well remember the Asian zonal helpers conference held at St Johns College, Sydney, in January 1987. As it happens, I was in the same group as Imron and also recall sitting in the dining area with him. Throughout the whole experience, we - all of us - were enclosed in a huge bubble of Grace - a bubble of Grace so palpable that to go elsewhere, to step outside the bubble, was a mistake. I found this out the hard way by going to the nearby Subud hall for some reason. And then rushing back to St Johns and the presence of that bubble.
I felt transformed by the St John's Experience so was pleased to read Imron's account, which articulated it all so well.
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Within the Bubble
I was struck by he "bubble" story shared by Siti Maryam. I once waited at a large, noisy railway station in London for Bapak's party. He and two others seemingly floated the length of the platform after leaving their train. I lurked behind a pillar and when they had passed me I hopped on behind their group. The moment I was within Bapak's proximity (a bubble-like zone surrounding him) the hectic noise and clamour of the railway station faded away (no shouts or whistles and all of the rest that make up the noisy experience of a London railway station). We were, indeed, in a bubble. Like a fool I could not resist dropping back to see what happened. Of course, the clamour returned.
The "message" was obvious: I needed to experience something I could not explain. Many of my Subud doubts fell away. The experience was not to be denied. Here was a reality that I had previously not anticipated. Years later Sharif Horthy mentioned something about being "protected" when travelling with Bapak.
I feel truly grateful for knowing that there really are such things between heaven and earth. The peace that passeth all understanding (with the accent on understanding). Or being in the world but (literally) not of it.
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The First Time I Saw Bapak
Well before I got to know about Subud I lived in Paris for many months in an International Artist House, composing music, drawing and painting. During this time I experienced a period of ‘seeing’ what I thought might be earlier lives. It was intense, and I was drawing what I ‘saw.’
One day I sat down on the floor and suddenly a succession of ‘films’ flashed by, very fast. I am certain only minutes passed by. I saw them only inside of course, with closed eyes, but they were so clear.
First I saw myself a few centimetres above the earth, my feet not touching the ground. On my right side was Christ, pure light, strong and gentle at the same time. He was tall stood behind me and yet also beside me. On my other side was an Asian man. I drew him later with a non-European kind of dress and a hat like a kepi. He had a strong grip on my left arm and the other hand around my back. Light came from above through him and went to my feet linking them to the Earth. This vision made me feel happy, and I kept the drawing because I knew it meant something important.
Seven years later, back in Copenhagen, Vivianna - the Swedish Silversmith - talked to me for the first time about Subud. When she saw the drawing on my wall she said, “Oh, so you have already met Bapak!”
I was to meet him again in Kalimantan, a wholly different story – one in which he saved me.
Aisha Inger Holm
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In December 2000 I travelled to Indonesia to attend the World Congress. I had been opened in May 2000 in a country other than my own since there wasn’t a normal Subud group here - just dispersed people here and there. Full of hope and optimism, I was deeply committed to a child and youth program at the time, even though I was travelling in the opposite direction to what I had received in Paris in 1993 – namely, Latin America. But then, needless to say, nothing went as I had anticipated!
I considered myself a world traveller, since I had worked with children and music in several countries abroad, and I was thrilled to be in Subud and grateful for the latihan. I had the feeling I had met a group of people similar to me: world travellers and internationalists, all religions, all social stratas, no high or low, all wanting to make the world a better place to be in and all wanting to develop into their truer selves, always helping and supporting each other and always helping other people.
After some time in Bali I went by boat across a stormy South China Sea to Kalimantan, together with a young English Subud guy, who was volunteering for Congress. We were accompanied by an Austrian, living in Bali, a good friend and just as new to Subud as I was. Very early on, there was a feeling of something not being right, and the boat seemed to linger for long hours in the storm as if reluctant to reach the shore.
Maxwell and I continued by riverboat up the river to Palangka Raya, while Patrizius remained in South Kalimantan. Although I loved to be on this marvellous river aboard the beautiful riverboat, I began to feel sick and by the time we reached Palangka Raya in Central Kalimantan I was feverish. We did not yet know what was happening in Kalimantan.
Imron Comey came to pick us up. I still remember exactly what he looked like, wearing spectacles with one lens broken and taped together. He was very kind to us, and in a few words explained what was happening in Kalimantan, including the shocking news that the Dayaks, a small group, had returned to the custom of taking the heads of their enemies, something that had not been done foralmost one hundred years.
People were fleeing from further north and many had come to Palangka Raya. Imron’s own business, a school for teaching English, had been damaged, and amidst all this, the Subud people were in hiding in Rungan Sari. The local Dayaks were Christian or Muslim and they were just as shocked as everybody else.
Imron took us to a small hotel on the main street and helped us book rooms there, telling us he would come by regularly to see how we were doing. It was scary. I thank God that Imron was there for us despite his own difficulties. I shall never forget that.
Still with a high fever, I went out in a nearby supermarket to buy us some food, and it was there that the first miracle happened. A man came to me. “What are you doing here?” he said. “Where do you come from? You should not be here!” I explained that there was to be a Subud World Congress here. “Well, you met the right person,” he continued. “I am a doctor and you have a high fever, I will come by and pick you up to-morrow and take you to my place. You need penicillin, Stay inside, don’t go out in the streets.”
The next morning he picked me up and we drove to his place - he was visiting family at the time - where he gave me penicillin before taking me back to the hotel. He told me that at the moment there was no way out of Kalimantan, no boats, no planes, no riverboats, so we had to stay and wait it out. He also told us that there were no police in the streets and that the army people were in hiding since it was believed that if anyone were to fire at a Dayak warrior the bullet would come right back and kill the one who had fired the shot! The same with arrows! Everybody was scared, including the local Dayaks who were horrified at what was happening.
I was still very ill when early in the evening that same day we heard noises outside in the street The receptionist opened the door slightly and. to my profound horror, I saw a procession of people coming up the street, some clad like warriors, carrying knives and long spears, bodies and faces painted, almost naked – and with three actual heads on sticks.
I almost fainted. The receptionist quickly shut the door and bolted it firmly Everybody was shocked, and I was given a hot cup of tea and went to bed with horrible nightmares and a feeling of being in some kind of prehistoric time warp.
We all did our best, each in their our way. I started learning Dayak - two different languages from two different rivers. I also started drawing the people working there, and everybody wanted to have their portrait drawn. They were so sweet and took good care of us and of everybody. We discovered that there were already refugees there, people who had left their homes or their homes had been burnt down. More were on the way to Palangka Raya, the provincial capital.
Imron, in shock himself, came by again. it was so kind of him. He was the only Subud person we saw during those dramatic weeks, except for Paloma de la Vina, from Spain, bless her, who was staying at another hotel. She was also deeply shocked, but came by later to see how we were faring, I still went out and bought us some food at the nearest supermarket, going quickly to and fro without looking around. After a short while, we settled into some kind of routine. Everybody there was in the same boat, and soon the hotel was full of refugees. People were sharing their personal stories of burning homes and beheadings.
Since I knew Congress was scheduled to take place in Kalimantan, before leaving for Indonesia I had learnt some of the language and also read a lot and prepared plans for the youth and child program I was hired by ISC to help with. I devoured Subud Voice, and particularly and the articles about Kalimantan by Muchtar (now Aron) Martins. I knew he had been in Colombia and also in Kalimantan. He described in one article how Bapak had first pointed his finger at the middle of the Earth where Rungan Sari was to be built. He also described how the djinns would bow to Bapak.
Then a few days later in the middle of the afternoon something happened that I will never forget - just as everything that happened at the time and everything that happened during the three years that I lived and worked in Indonesia stands crystal-clear in my memory.
A few days after we had seen the bizarre procession passing by on the main street of Palangka Raya, something else happened that caused my eyes to stay wide open physically for over a year afterwards. In fact, for many years to come I could never separate the word “headhunting” (for jobs) from the sight of severed heads on long sticks. It happened around noon on a day like any other during that strange time.
The hotel was full by now, and in the two rooms that constituted the lounge people were sitting quietly, drinking copi susu, talking, relating latest news from relatives. I was sitting on a doorstep between the two rooms, playing the guitar and singing all the songs I could remember by heart to cheer us all up – myself included! I am a musician and music is my weapon against difficulties. By now the penicillin was working and I was feeling a bit better.
All of a sudden the backdoor to the hotel opened and three Dayaks entered. They were more than half naked, their faces and bodies painted. They had long spears and machetes. Everyone stiffened and no-one uttered a word.
One of the three men spotted me immediately as I was the only foreigner there. I stood up, guitar in my right hand. My heart shot up into my throat, and everything happened very quickly. The painted Dayak looked me in the eye, and his eyes were crazy – ‘possessed’ - and I remembered Muchtar Martin’s description of Bapak in front of the djinns. Inside I kept repeating: “I am Bapak ́s child, I am Bapak ́s child” as the Dayak held the machete at my throat. At the same time, my left hand shot up, palm towds him, and I said in Indonesian, “Dengan, dengan...” (Take it easy, take it easy). Since then, this movement has stayed with me, and I still use if a car drives out too fast in front of my bike or if a person is abusive in word or deed. At such times, my left hand stretches up, palm forward; I just can’t stop it! :-)
I saw his eyes change as he took the curved knife away from my throat and walked back to the other two. Then they all left through the unbolted garden door, whereupon of the hotel staff ran to the door and bolted it with a solid chain. At once everyone started talking, and someone brought me a cup of hot tea. Maxwell had been in his room while all this was going on; now, hearing the commotion, he came out and gave me some Bach’s Rescue Remedy. Somehow, the fever made things easier, while inside I said, “Thank you, Bapak, thank you.”
The rest of the day went by in something of a haze, and by the early evening we were at the reception desk talking about what we should do. Patrizius called from Bali - thank God he had returned while it was still possible to leave Kalimantan – and he calmed me down. Later, Sharif Horthy called; he had heard rumours that a Subud member had lost his or her head. Someone handed me the phone, and I remember saying, “Tranquilo, take it easy, I still have my head. Bapak saved me.”
To feel safer, Maxwell and I went to sleep in one room, but a few days later Imron reported that other Subud people were ‘talking,’ saying that it was not appropriate for a man and a woman who were not a couple to be staying in the same room. Anyway, we moved again, each into our own room. This was more expensive of course, and none of us had much money. Furthermore, while we were still in the same room, Maxwell received a message from ISC that I was being fired from my work with the World Congress. Things were changing, and doubts had spread among the Congress organizers as to where it should take place. This was a shock for me, raising as it did the questions of how I would survive financially and how I would be able to extend my rapidly expiring visa.
The morning after the visit of the three head-hunters, I went down the street to a hotel where there was an internet connection. There were painted warriors on the street and houses were burning here and there, but somehow I had lost my fear and was in some kind of survivor mood. At that other hotel I e-mailed the Danish Embassy in Jakarta, asking what I should do and letting them know where I was. I got a message back: “There is nothing we can do to get you out of Kalimantan. No planes, no boats. You have to stay where you are till this is over, we don’t know when it will happen.” I then emailed my family in Denmark, telling them that I was okay but saying nothing about the knife at my throat. Walking back, I reflected upon my situation - more worried about my fate at the World Congress (for which I had come to Indonesia) than about the painted people on the streets!
When I returned to our own hotel, a young woman was waiting for me She was the niece of the medical doctor who had given me penicillin some days before. She had been told what had happened and had come to give me a helping hand. These kind people were not in Subud, but they had compassionate hearts. She saw that I was still sick, and took me to see her grandmother who was a healer. She herself was a university student. Off we went on her motorbike to her grandmother’s house on the outskirts of Palangka Raya. We entered a room crammed full of herbs from the jungle. It was impressive! The 80 year old Dayak woman took a good look at me and said, “You need a special kind of herbs to make the fever go down and to make you stronger after what happened to you. Look at me! I am 80 and have ten children who all survived the war, and I was able to breast-feed them all – all thanks to these herbs from the jungle.“ She lifted up her blouse and showed me her breasts! “Look at me! Would you think that
I am 80 years old?” I was very impressed and told her so. She then selected a huge bundle of herbs and gave it to her niece, saying - the niece translating, of course - “You must cook these herbs and drink three litres of the liquid a day, and you will get better and feel stronger very soon.” I thanked her and wanted to pay her, but she refused.
We now went by motorbike to a warung (a little café kind of place) not too far from our hotel. The niece told me that it was run by her aunt, one of her grandmother’s ten children. She asked her aunt to cook the herbs and gave me three litre bottles to take back with me to the hotel. We also had something lovely to eat and drink. There were many children of all ages there, and we soon became friends. I came to feel that I had been given a family in the midst of all the dramatic events and the messy situation I had landed in. I thanked God inwardly for having given me two families: one at the hotel and now another family at the warung. I also asked God to excuse me that I did not say ”I am God ́s child!“ when confronting the man with the knife instead of “I am Bapak ́s child.” I felt God smile and say, “But you know Bapak is from God. Have no fear! All will be well!”
Soon the warung became our living room. Maxwell and I ate there, worked there and also met some young people from Holland whose parents kept phoning, begging them to come home, but of course they were also stuck there.
Days went by. I told Imron that my visa would run out eventually, and he had the same feeling as me, that Congress would and should take place in Kalimantan. He told me, “Let ́s work at the child and youth project for Congress, present it to the responsible Subud people and ask them for help in renewing your visa.” I felt this was a great idea and we started brainstorming and contacting local people with a view to their becoming volunteers at the World Congress-to be! Among others, we talked to Lone, the Danish woman who was leading the Orangutang Centre outside Palangka Raya. I also started looking for work in case I would have visa problems. I met many Dayak people, and others too, and really started to like Kalimantan and the people there.
But the news from around the world showed a lot of fear among many Subud people to even consider coming to a World Congress in Kalimantan. Nevertheless, we trusted, wished and hoped for things to settle down and become peaceful so that the Congress would take place where it had been received by the International Helpers that it should. So Imron and I continued working and eventually went to the responsible Subud people and presented our program. They looked at it, and said: “Well, good work, let’s see what will happen, but we can’t help you with a visa since you are no longer working with the Congress team.” It seemed that the Congress team was now a different one.
About three weeks had passed by, and still no planes or boats were leaving Kalimantan. I had drunk all the tea from the herbs prescribed for me by the old grandmother-healer and felt really healthy, though the shock still stayed inside of me. Imron took us to latihan in Palangka Raya, where we met the local Kalimantan Subud people.
One day a huge procession of black and shiny government cars passed by on the main street. The female Indonesian prime minister was coming to Kalimantan, but no-one was on the streets saluting. The Dayaks felt betrayed and turned their backs on the cortege. It was a sign that soon there would be planes and boats out of Kalimantan, and shortly afterwards the first marooned people started leaving Kalimantan.
I had no money for a ticket and was given free food at the family warung.
Now Maxwell was given a plane ticket and flew to Jakarta. Paloma had also left. I looked for work and believed I would manage to stay till Congress would happen, Of courseit would be taking place in Kalimantan! Imron and I developed the child and youth program proposal even more, but now I was alone at our hotel.
One evening Vivianna , the silversmith, called me from Pamulang in Java. She told me I MUST leave Kalimantan! I said: “I cannot leave. Congress will probably be here, and we are refining the child and youth program!” Vivianna said;” NO, you can ́t stay there, come to Pamulang”. When I told her I had not been paid for a long while, she said she would send money with an Indonesian couple travelling to Kalimantan. I accepted though I did not feel like leaving, and a few days later I was picked up from my hotel by the Indonesian couple. They took me to Rungan Sari and bought me a plane ticket with the money Vivianna had given them for me. They put me on a plane for Jakarta, and when I landed at the airport in Jakarta, there was Vivianna with a big sign welcoming me to Jakarta. It was a great relief to see her and be with her. I loved her and love her still, even though she is no longer with us. But I was longing for Kalimantan.
The first morning at her beautiful house she made me a tiny little earring with a blue piece of glass. She said, ”These are your tears! Now you can stop crying.” But I could not stop crying for a long time. And when we went to latihan at Bapak ́s house in Pamulang, with Ibu Rahayu, Ibu asked me, “What did you think of Rungan Sari?” All I could say in response was, “The birds had come back and started singing again!” For several weeks, no wild birds were seen in Palangka Raya, they had all escaped the violence. The only birds left were the caged ones, and they did not sing during those weeks.
I stayed with Vivianna for three weeks and then moved to Wisma Subud. During the time I lived there, I met an amazing number of wonderful people and slowly began to recover from the shock. Miraculously, I went to the World Congress anyway, albeit in Bali, where I met more people, and got involved in music again, teaching at international schools in Jakarta.
The next year I returned to Kalimantan to play music at a peace conference in Rungan Sari with Hamid Camp. I stayed at the eco village and loved it. I visited the people from the warung to thank them for their huge kindness and was present when Laurencio Young went with many of us to deliver money for a new hospital wing to Rungan Sari. The Governor scolded Subud and said we should have had the World Congress in Kalimantan, and how sad they had all felt when it was moved to Bali.
Now it will finally take place in Kalimantan, after all these years!
Aisha Inger Holm
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