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Hassanah Briedis - The Latihan of Subud, Dissociation and the Neurology of Spiritual Experience

The difference between latihaning and dissociating. From Mike Higgins, August 6, 2007. Time 4:52

It's really not that difficult to tell whether you are actually doing the latihan or disassociating. If you are engaging in disassociation, your latihan will be unproductive. You will gain little or no psychological insights or value from the latihan, but will simply be spinning your wheels. If your local helpers cannot distinguish between disassociation and the latihan, they really shouldn't be helpers as they are hindering rather than assisting people to grow spiritually and psychologically.

Furthermore, the latihan is not a form of mental therapy and should not substitute for it. However, my experience is that, if you are actually doing the latihan rather than going into a trance-like or disassociative state, it can lead to greater mental and psychological integration and one's neuroses can simply drop away. Psychoses are another matter entirely and this is why Bapak advised us not to open people who suffer from more severe forms of mental illness. Admittedly, it is not always easy to recognize such people initially, but their dis-ease should become apparent before too long. Perhaps we should just remove the word "crisis" from our Subud lexicon as most helpers would not recognise a genuine spiritual crisis (versus a mental breakdown) if it called them by name. -{ :?o)

From Merin Nielsen, September 14, 2007. Time 9:49

G'day, Mike,

There's a semantic difference between what I mean by dissociation and what you apparently mean by the word. In your response to David Week on 'The Benefits and Risks of Dissociation', you refer to "going into a dissociated unconscious trance state rather than doing the latihan". This possibly occurs among Subud members -- I can't really say. But in my experience, the kind of dissociation taking place in the latihan need not be (and typically is not, as far as I can tell) unconscious or trance-like.

I consider my latihan to naturally and beneficially incorporate dissociation (without 'being' dissociation) such that it is very productive in terms of psychological insights and value generally. This is contrary to your opinion of dissociation as expressed above. Moreover, I don't regard this as mental therapy of any kind, although mental benefits certainly accrue, including "greater mental and psychological integration", along with 'guidance' (constructed, projected, received or whatever). I don't see any intrinsic link between dissociation (in or out of the latihan) and psychoses. Rather, I view dissociation as a healthy, normal activity in which human beings often engage in various ways, without necessarily recognising it as such, which also has pathological connotations for many people in a wide range of circumstances -- such is life.

Thus it seems we are not referring to the same thing, which is always a big danger in discussing psychological and/or spiritual matters. I think that lots of everyday human activities involve forms of dissociation at different levels. So what exactly do I mean by the word? It basically refers to detaching oneself from the immediate environment, which may well include one's own physical, emotional and mental states. It is about stepping outside of one's perspective as determined by particular 'holders' of attention. This happens frequently during dreams, but it happens consciously during the latihan. Indeed, it's central to my latihan. It can also happen during various types of activity; occasionally, for example, when I'm engaged in heavy physical labour, or when I'm dancing, or even love-making. For me, luckily, it entails no problems. But I would stress that dissociation is not limited to the context of someone’s physical presence -- it applies to a myriad of depths and facets pertaining to one’s inner life of feelings, thoughts, intuitions and other states.

Anyway, that’s roughly my take on the phenomenon.



From Mike Higgins, September 14, 2007. Time 22:39

"There's a semantic difference between what I mean by dissociation and what you apparently mean by the word."

Well, I was responding to the author of this article's definition of "dissociation," which may or may not match your own. She defined it in such clinical terms as the following: "In the field of psychiatry and psychology, the term "dissociation" is used in connection with trauma and its consequences," and, "A dissociated person compartmentalizes a given experience, keeping thought and feeling separate."

You're right that I shouldn't draw conclusions about the character or meaning of anyone's latihan except my own. For me, the latihan is not a trance state. (I have studied hypnosis and therefore am familiar with trance states.) I am aware of my thoughts, emotions and feelings while doing the latihan. For me, the latihan is an expanded state of awareness and in fact just the opposite of the dissociated state the author of this article described - my awareness is enhanced rather than suppressed in any way. So the bottom line is, nothing in this article matches my experience of the latihan. Thank you - Mike

From Merin Nielsen, September 16, 2007. Time 13:5

Yes, I agree wholeheartedly that the latihan involves an expansion of awareness, not always, but certainly for me when I'm receiving truly. And accordingly, the phenomenon to which I refer is definitely not suppression. It's more like giving free rein.

Maybe I can describe this by illustration. During the latihan I may have an emotion, perhaps intensely, such that all of the parts of my being, those which are normally involved in generating that emotion, are actively so engaged. For that moment, it effectively is me, and I am it.

God willing, however, I surrender my being -- including that emotional state of being. The particular state may continue to be expressed in full-blown, unrestrained fashion, but then 'I' am not involved in it. My humanity 'unfolds' the emotion, even as I am somehow standing back from it. (Or above it? Below it? Around the side of it? ) It's an issue of identity, of who is really present. While I am not identifying with the state, it is expressed independently of 'me', and may be experienced deeply as never before.

Whether for a state of thought, feeling or emotion, the same process applies, although I'm aware of other processes also going on in my latihan. It is debatable whether the term dissociation should be attached to what I'm describing here, but it makes sense to me.

All the best,


From Mike Higgins, September 16, 2007. Time 22:1

"It is debatable whether the term dissociation should be attached to what I'm describing here"

I would say not. In my view you are describing a shift in the focus of one's attention - to one's thoughts, emotional state, etc. This is different than suppressing one's awareness of them because one does not want to recognize and deal with them. For example, one can acknowledge and accept an emotion, say anger, but choose how or if one wants to express it. However, if one simply suppresses it, pushes it out of one's awareness, one will never understand it's roots and learn to transcend it.

In his book, 'The Supreme Identity' (which I highly recommend), Alan Watts defined spiritual realization as (I paraphrase), "bringing all that is unconscious into consciousness." I would concur with that assessment.

Good talking to you, Merin - Mike

From Hassanah Briedis, September 16, 2007. Time 23:46

There has been some lively discussion arising from my hypothesis about the link between the latihan and ‘dissociation’. It seems one of the difficulties has been the lack of clarity about what dissociation is, and Mike’s and Merin’s different definitions of it.

Because of the complexity of the brain, dissociation can present in a variety of forms, and it’s quite likely, given the variety of mental health states among Subud members, that all those forms are manifested at one time or another. So I think we need to differentiate between the general definition of dissociation and the different forms it can take. In this response I will just focus on the definition of dissociation.

Dissociation is essentially an altered state of consciousness in which the normally integrated functions of identity, memory and consciousness are temporarily uncoupled. Dissociation disconnects the sections of the brain that normally operate all together to create our usual sense of reality. It is an evolutionary strategy for dealing with situations that overwhelm the organism’s capacity to cope. Perhaps long ago in early human history, people discovered that this experience produced some surprising and interesting states of consciousness, and they learnt how to trigger dissociation artificially and began to use it deliberately in ritualistic ways.

David Week, in his feedback response to my article referred to dissociation as ‘the weakening of the glue that holds our parts together’. A nice metaphor. David also puts forward some interesting arguments for the benefits and risks associated with such temporary dis-integrating of mental functioning. I recommend his feedback as supplementary reading for the visitor to this article.

Some of the feedback to my article has focused on the ‘trance state’ and the perception that this is what I am describing. Trance state is an extreme form of dissociation, in which most of the usual forms of awareness are shut down. In my article I did not suggest at any time that the latihan is akin to a trance state.

We are told in Subud to quieten the heart and mind, to stop our thoughts and feelings, become empty, so that all that is left is consciousness. When people stand up after the quiet period, to ‘begin’ latihan, they interpret what happens next as that ‘God’ comes to them either from within or without, and gives them their latihan. What I am suggesting is that they dissociate. Whether the experience is ‘the hand of God’ moving in them or not, is a matter of interpretation. I am merely suggesting that dissociation is the mechanism that allows the experience to take place in their consciousness.

If it is demonstrated one day, through MRI scanning, that this hypothesis is correct, then we would need to take a closer look at the phenomenon of dissociation, and decide how much of it is a healthy amount. As stated in my article, this is a precaution that many older spiritual movements have already put in place.

With best wishes, Hassanah Briedis

From Mike Higgins, September 17, 2007. Time 5:14

"We are told in Subud to quieten the heart and mind, to stop our thoughts and feelings, become empty, so that all that is left is consciousness."

No one in Subud has ever told me to prepare for the latihan by "stopping my thoughts and feelings." I interpret "quietening the heart and mind" as just relaxing so that I may be receptive to whatever I may perceive in the latihan. That's not going to happen if I (1) suppress my thoughts and feelings or (2) become immersed in them. Therefore I take the middle ground, which is to welcome and observe perceptions without attempting to control or manipulate them. This is my understanding of the meaning of "surrender." Only through such surrender, i.e., a sincere willingness to see and understand oneself as one actually is rather than the person one is pretending or afraid to be, can one become a more integrated individual.

"When people stand up after the quiet period, to ‘begin’ latihan, they interpret what happens next as that ‘God’ comes to them either from within or without, and gives them their latihan. What I am suggesting is that they dissociate."

This is your opinion, and the problem I see here is that you have presented your opinions (both here and in your article) as if they are facts. I do not interpret what occurs in my latihan as the will of God. In fact, I do not believe in a personal God, and this lack of belief has not prevented me from practicing (for lack of a better word) the latihan.

Apparently, based on what you said in your article, you have dissociated in your latihan. That does not mean, however, that everyone who practices the latihan is engaged in dissociation. Your experience of the latihan is just that - your experience. It is not an accurate yardstick by which to measure the nature of the latihan - probably no more accurate than, say, an MRI machine. -{ :? )

I am saddened by the fact that you suffered so much as a result of waiting so long to seek psychological assistance. You obviously got some very bad advice from Subud members. Hopefully your story and others like it will prompt Subud members to think twice (or even once) before giving out psychological advice. Best wishes - Mike

From David Week, September 17, 2007. Time 6:15

Hi Mike. You've said now what you think the latihan is not. It's not dissociation. It's not the will of God, or anything to do with a personal God. I'd like to hear more of what you condider to be. Best, David

BTW, your description of the latihan in your most recent post is exactly a description of Buddhist meditation: not an attempt to suppress thought, nor to be lost in it, but simply to watch it. In the Buddhist metaphor of "mind like sky", by simply watching the clouds, without becoming either positively or negatively fixated on them, one's awareness broadens, and one begins to see the sky, in which all clouds are set.

Befriending The Unknown. From Mike Higgins, September 17, 2007. Time 9:10

Hello David, I don't claim to understand what the latihan is. I'm continually surprised by it. As I mentioned, for me it's a heightened state of awareness that I allow to happen. I can block or stop it if I wish - allow myself to wallow in my thoughts or whatever. Yeah, I think that Buddhist quote you gave describes my preferred attitude towards the latihan pretty well. Heck, maybe I'm practicing Zen and calling it the latihan!

I admit it's not easy to worship a formless God. I have regular doubts as to where the latihan is leading. I have gained insights from practicing it but have I changed as a result of it? Not much it seems, perhaps I've become a little wiser... maybe that's the most I can ask for. These doubts drove me to drop out of Subud for a very long time.

I agree with you that, for the most part, Subud people don't seem to be integrating what if anything they're learning from the latihan into their lives. But isn't that true of all spiritual practices? Many will listen to the sermon, but few will heed it's message and act on it. The difference seems to be that many Subud folk seem to think that the latihan will change their character without any conscious effort on their part. I consider that irrational, if insights aren't applied they become worthless information.

I doubt that the physical movements elicited in latihan have any meaning. I've noticed that I will a movement (subconsciously) an instant before it occurs. I observed this very carefully when I first started doing the latihan because I wanted to understand what was going on. Once I recognized this, I decided not to concern myself with it anymore - move if I felt like moving, or not. I've never felt moved to speak in latihan.

I should mention that an advertisement brought me into Subud. Also, I've practiced various forms of meditation and healing methods so have other models to which to compare the latihan. Still, it's a mystery to me. That's o.k., some things are beyond comprehension and you can learn some amazing things by courting uncertainty. Cheers - Mike

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