A Non-Leadership Approach to Subud


Stefan Freedman


The Problem:

Bapak said ‘Subud is you’ and emphasised that roles do not convey power or status. But in practice we’ve fallen into all the obvious traps. Many members feel that our framework of roles is a dinosaur. Rather than energising groups and supporting members it makes demands (time and money) and drains energy away. Office holders are often left feeling frustrated and exhausted. Positions are hard to fill. While members not in office often have the discouraging impression that there’s a hierarchy in which they are at the bottom.


The Solution:

Non-leadership networks are proving very useful for voluntary organisations. These are peer-to-peer, non-hierarchical and anyone can add their energy and skill at any time. Virtual communication and telephone/Skype conferencing enables people to ‘meet’ more easily. There’s a sense of fun, freshness and enthusiasm — a flexible approach with a flexible team. Nobody is left feeling overstretched and unsupported.


The Details:

Subud Swizerland recently decided to try out this approach. Hadrian Michell reports: ‘I have just returned from the Swiss National Congress at St Gallen. It was a most moving and harmonious meeting — a meeting at which all present (none against, 2 abstentions) voted to dissolve the organization of Subud Switzerland. Testing prior to voting showed most present that having no national organization was really liberating for the development of the latihan. The National Helper organization was also dissolved. Without various people wearing hats — communication on a peer-to-peer basis became very harmonious with a willingness amongst all to participate in what was a brave new world of responsibility and unknown possibilities.’


Subud USA’s S.W. region, completely independently, came to a similar decision. Cedar Barstow writes: ‘Prior to the first latihan, it was clear that not many people were feeling called or interested in the chair and vice chair position. Latihan questions were the usual variations on the theme of “what is the meaning of this Congress and how am I called to serve”. Then, in first latihan, at least 6 women received something that was clearly about changing the organizational form to a council of equals rather than the usual hierarchy. After these receivings were reported, there seemed to be a general sense of surprise and agreement, followed by a chill of fear — the men won’t like this.’ But it seems that they did! Ruslan Feldman who chaired the Rocky Mountains congress reports: ‘Basically, rather than relying on the traditional hierarchical committee structure, why not have a kind of horizontal governing structure, with each participant in charge of an area based on his or her talents and interests? After more latihan and testing, those present, who had seemed reluctant to pre-test for Regional offices, volunteered enthusiastically.’


Is there now an appetite for trying a modern and flexible approach to organising ourselves? I hope so. It avoids the tendency for some to get over-identified with their roles, leaving others with a feeling of being powerless. It could revitalise and reinvigorate our Subud association. Press ‘Refresh’ now!