Subud Vision Workshops at World Congress 2010
Report of workshop leader: Andrew Hall
The first Subudvision workshop at the World Congress, on the limits of testing. About 16 people show up - 10 are senior members from the US, Germany and the UK, the others are fairly new members - from 4 to 9 years in Subid (4 are Russians, 1 from the Ukraine and 1 from Lithuania).
I begin by suggesting it's important to acknowledge that testing not only means receiving but interpreting the receiving, and that the process can sometimes go wrong. To make it concrete, I tell them the story of one member's talent testing in the early 1980s, when Bapak had been emphasizing talent testing. The member was in his early 30's and worked as a writer, teaching part-time at a community college. He went to the helpers in his group to test, and they told him during the talent testing that his true talent was to be a medical doctor. This was surprising but the member went ahead, went into debt and enrolled in University to take pre-med courses - chemistry, biology, etc. the sort of things the member had never felt was his strong suit. He found it a struggle and by the end of the school year he was thoroughly miserable. So much so that he wrote to Bapak telling of his plight. Bapak wrote back that his true talent was indeed to be a writer. What are the lessons we can take from this, I asked?
We go round the group, finding out what people think. The responses are varied. One of the newer members asks how we can tell if the receiving is truly from God? No one offers an answer. An American member feels you should not test unless you are prepared to follow the receiving. One of the UK members talks about her experience in two different groups - one group seems to test all the time, the 2nd group rarely tests but is happy to talk about any questions. She feels the first group is heavily influenced by a helper with a very strong personality.
One of the Russians says he wants to know what the theoretical model is. He feels you need to know the model before you discuss examples, so you know what to measure the various experiences against. I reply that I favour the approach of first examining the examples and letting a model or set of guidelines emerge organically.
The group sits quietly. Wanting to get people talking, I offer my own experience that I have sometimes found worthwhile testing my attitude and then testing what it could be. When this works, I can sense the difference in the two receivings and this often frees me up in some way, giving me some perspective.
An experienced helper from Germany says she thinks helpers should be less ready to interpret what their receiving is, and should just demonstrate the movement or describe the experience. The interpretation, she thinks, should be left to the member. They will feel what the correct interpretation is.
The Russians begin to ask questions, and the session becomes an exchange of information between the veteran Western helpers and these newer helpers. Finally, the Russian theorist says he now understands that testing is useful to explore your attitude around an issue but it is less useful to get explicit yes-or-no answers.
When a lull comes, I suggest we move to looking at ways that testing can be useful in developing group community and team building. I recount my experience in Canada when our regional team - helpers and committee - spent an afternoon putting each person in the centre of a group and testing two questions - what strengths the member brought to the team, and how could each person best support the member, each sharing their receiving afterwards. I said I felt it was enormously beneficial, helping develop an inner feeling for each other that gave another dimension to our relationship. I also felt it was important ot take the time to share each person's receiving, so the entire group could hear what others received.
That prompts a very experienced UK member to recount how the members in his Subud enterprise have used this approach repeatedly over the past 40 years to get a better sense of each other, not to make decisions but to feel closer and to better understand each other. A number of questions follow.
Lunchtime arrives and I end the session. After a number of expressions of appreciation, I feel relieved - the discussion brought up a number of issues and served a useful purpose in sharing the experience of veteran helpers with the Russians. It was worth the effort.
After lunch, the 2nd Subudvision workshop at the World Congress, on whether and how change is possible in Subud. The posters that Subudvision editor Marcus Bolt made up seem to have worked, maybe too well - we get about 40 people crowding into the upper hallway at the back of the Conference Centre auditorium. Going around the circle and hearing who people are and what questions or concerns the poster raises for each takes almost an hour.
Quite a diversity of views, from someone who feels that finally the issues that bothers her are being raised and its OK to ask questions, to someone who feels that there is too much change happening and some groups are allowing too much mixing. An older American member says he feels Subud is always changing and he remembers Bapak was always introducing changes and trying new things. I wonder what changes Bapak might make if he arrived back in her midst today - maybe he would abolish the helper system?
One person says he feels the large group means only a few people will get to speak, so we split the group into three - one group wants to talk about the prohibition against publicizing Subud, what does it mean today. Many felt they had internalized this and felt it enormously difficult to talk about Subud with non-members.
A second group wants to talk about changes dealing with helpers. I stay with a smaller 3rd group and we talk mostly about frustrations with the Congress schedule. One person wants more opportunities to do cultural activities with other members, which he feels we don't do enough of in Subud. Another member is a Kedjiwaan councillor and complains about the five days she has spent in plenary sessions, working group sessions, zonal meetings and national group meetings. She feels starved for more energy. Most of the time, I simply try to reflect what the others are saying and give them empathy.
The time runs out and people scatter to the next round of workshops. I'm not sure but people seem satisfied with the opportunity to talk. I wonder if the group needed a tighter focus to focus discussion.
The next morning, the 3rd Subudvision workshop gets underway - is the latihan a worship of God or not, and what does that mean. Marcus' poster has really worked with its comprehensive list of questions. About 30 people are sitting in the circle. I begin by reading the poster, and ask people if they feel prompted to respond to any of the questions.
An Australian member, a 2nd-generation member in his 30s, talks about how grateful he is to feel it is now OK to ask these questions. An Austrian member who grew up in a large Catholic family and was pressured to become a priest says he is an athiest. This prompts an Indonesian member to tell him that he just needs to keep doing the latihan and he will eventually believe in God. I ask her to rephrase, saying this is her feeling and avoid language that tells the other member what he will feel of should feel.
Aside from this, I really don't say much. I offer the observation that the question of whether we believe in God or not in the West has only become possible in the last few hundred years. At one time, it would have made no sense but in our pluralistic, secular culture, I feel belief has become problematic for many people.
I also say I find Ibu Rahayu's and Bapak's insistence on using the words "Almighty God" to be a barrier to me. I want to make it acceptable to say these sorts of things in Subud, contradicting the kedjiwaan authority and feel content that I can say it at this workshop.
An Australian member who works as a therapist says she finds her Subud clients often seem to passively accept their problems, illnesses and misfortunes as due to the "Will of God." She challenges them about whether this is true - imagine if your problem is not the Will of God - and says this can result in a healing as they take back their own power. I make a note to suggest she write an article on this for Subudvision.
The discussion proceeds very well. We have one Subud youth present and I ask her about how she explains Subud to her non-Subud friends. She replies that she rarely uses the 'worship' or 'God' words unless she knows the people are comfortable with them. Their meaning is vague and usually result in misunderstanding, she says.
I feel so elated. At last we are having a fairly adult discussion about a spiritual issue.
I have to give Iby Rahayu her due. The old lady meets with Subud youth and plainly tells them that finding their talent is up to them. Don't ask me, you will find out what your talent is, she says. If you don't know yet, then keep going to school and exploring life and it will eventually be plain to you.
I feel so relieved. At last, sanity in Subud at the top. Empower the youth and don't tell them to ask the helpers.