Taking the Lid Off

by Rosalind Priestley

In the summer of 1992 my husband and I attended a Zonal Gathering at a college near Montreal. It proved to be a defining moment in my Subud life. I was at that stage very disenchanted with Subud: I won’t go into all the reasons and indeed I can’t remember now exactly which issues burned hottest for me fifteen years ago. But perhaps the main thing was that it was five years since Bapak's death and I was feeling deeply disappointed that since then we had not followed his advice and learned to stand on our own feet. We were becoming more, not less, like a religion, with Bapak our prophet. I went to latihan regularly but felt more and more like an outsider. I was asking myself whether I really belonged in this organization at all.

Varindra, in failing health but still amusing and articulate, was at the Gathering and gave a talk. Sharif and Tuti were there too, reminiscing about Bapak and his supernatural 'pets'. But for me these were minor events compared to something else that happened. This is how I remember it.

On the morning of the first full day, all the attendees were divided into six or seven circle groups, each with an assigned facilitator, to talk about what kind of workshops they wanted to have during the Gathering. In almost all of them, it turned out, people wanted a meeting where they could freely discuss Subud's problems, the kind of things that usually get swept under the carpet. I heard later that when the facilitators relayed this request to the people in charge of the Gathering, they were against holding such a meeting, but the facilitators insisted, because so many of us had asked for it.



The ‘Taking the Lid Off’ meeting, as it was called, took place a couple of days later and attracted about half the people at the Gathering. We were immediately arbitrarily divided into about eight groups, which were each assigned a topic for discussion. There were four different topics: helpers, mixing, rules in Subud and acronyms. Helpers—because so many groups have to deal with overbearing helpers who drive members away. Mixing—because for years Bapak's 'mixing' prohibition was widely interpreted to apply to just about anything and many members were affected. Rules—because Subud isn't supposed to have any rules but obviously does. Acronyms—WSA, WSC, SD, etc., what they all mean. (The latter was really a topic for new members and didn't fit the general theme.)

Each group was given a leader and a secretary. The group my husband and I were placed in was assigned the topic of 'rules' but we almost immediately abandoned that and proceeded to talk about what really concerned us: questions of authority and freedom in Subud, and whether we were allowed to change the status quo, and how much Subud is like a religion. I remember saying that if Subud isn't a religion, then why can’t we change things that aren’t working? If we make a mistake, it's just a mistake, not a sin. One member of our group said something very interesting I will always remember. He said: In the Catholic Church there are two ways you can go. You can try to effect change by working upward through the levels of authority. Or you can just go ahead and do what you want to do, but
don’t tell Rome. It was a good conversation and new people were joining us and enjoying the vibes. But I noticed that our secretary wasn't taking notes.

When the meeting ended, we reassembled in one large group and the group leaders gave brief reports on all the group discussions—except ours. Our group leader made no report at all. Neither was our group included in the print-out of discussion notes later distributed. There was supposed to be follow-up and feedback— a continuation of the whole process. But that didn’t happen.

I resented the fact that the powers-that-be tried to suppress the meeting we asked for, that they then tried to control and channel it, and that it was a dead-end in terms of accomplishing anything meaningful in the long-term.

It made me realize that change in Subud will likely only come from the grass roots. It made me realize too that in Subud there is a lot of interest in bringing problems out into the open and addressing them. I also realized that in Subud we expend a lot of psychic energy Keeping the Lid On and suppressing our shadow side. When we take it off, yes, there may be some heavy feelings to deal with but there’s also tremendous relief and a surge of new energy and hope.

When people talked about that meeting afterwards, some said it was very dark, full of nafsu, a thoroughly bad idea. That was not my experience. My latihan became stronger. I no longer felt alone and I had hope.

One of the main reasons I am happy to be part of the Subud Vision initiative is that for me it will be a continuation of the impulse that meeting represented.

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