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

Dissociation. From Merin Nielsen, July 8, 2007. Time 7:24

I love Hassanah’s article. I’ve always loved dissociation in the latihan, because it shows me who and what I’m not. That is to say, anything from which I can dissociate is clearly not ‘me’. Any aspect of my humanity which I can ‘submit’ or ‘surrender’ is not me, since I am the one who is (hopefully) doing the submitting. Whatever is left, that could be me – for now – unless and until I am able to dissociate from it.

As a speculation, therefore, practising the latihan might be gradually ‘progressive’, if by chance it enables me to dissociate from progressively ‘more’ of whatever I happen to be. This echoes the notion about ‘levels’ of reality, whether in terms of Javanese cosmology, the medieval Great Chain of Being, Neo-Platonism, Teilhard de Chardin or even Abraham Maslow, by describing reality in terms of some kind of ‘spectrum’.

Being able to dissociate from one’s physical environment seems easy enough, most of the time. Then with the latihan, developing the capacity to dissociate from my own bodily motion and more basic ‘drives’ – for me that followed smoothly enough. Next, along came dissociation from my cognitive / social / emotional states. This remains a very messy process indeed, but it occurs now and then during my latihan. And once in a while I experience dissociation from my ‘perspective’ on reality, which is cool!

Mostly, for most people, dissociation connected with the latihan is not too disturbing or disorienting, although as Hassanah points out, it is crucial for Subud members to be aware of the part that dissociation plays in their lives. But throughout all of the above, I am most grateful for having been allowed to recognise who I am not. Not my body or its drives, not my emotions or cognitions, not my worldview – which sounds rather Buddhist, doesn’t it? Meanwhile, if there actually is some tangible ‘me’ then it must be somebody who consists of none of these things.

Does the latihan show me anything on the positive side regarding who I am? Well, the issue seems to involve personal identity, and I suspect that my sense of identity has probably changed thanks to the latihan. But the meaning of ‘identity’ should be clarified. In this context, I interpret it as the sum of whatever matters to an individual, whatever is most important to him or her – that’s where a person’s identity resides. Accordingly, I see somebody’s identity changing as their values change, as they exchange their personal priorities.

Maybe, therefore, the development of a person’s identity goes hand-in-hand with progressive dissociation, or maybe not. These psychological / spiritual concerns are extremely subtle and slippery to grasp, and dreadfully prone to over-simplification. However, I think that apart from recognising who I am not, the latihan has blessed (or burdened) me with seemingly different values than I ever previously encountered, making me a slightly different creature as a result.

Am I happy about this? Not especially, because while it is somewhat exciting, there is nothing good or bad about ‘being’ whoever one happens to be in the first place. Good and bad are relevant only with respect to whether one’s priorities get fulfilled – which is what we’re all working on anyway, whoever we are.

I’m sure there is ultimately much more going on in the latihan, but dissociation is an essential part of my ‘receiving’ – when I am out of the way, such that the ‘not me’ components of my humanity can practise being their own natural selves. And rather than considering dissociative states as arising incidentally from one’s experience of the latihan, I agree with Hassanah’s preferred conjecture that the latihan itself, as a ‘spiritual’ phenomenon, intrinsically comprises some form of dissociation.

From Philip Quackenbush, November 28, 2011. Time 11:58

Hi, Merin,

Interesting your positive view of dissociation, which had never occurred to me, but on reflection, has been an ongoing "function" of my "laithan" for years, though remaining below the surface of my awareness. In ongoing discussions at a non-duality discussion group that I attend on Thursdays in actual preference to Thursday "latihans" (horrors! could it actually be "superior" to the "latihan"? I remember early on in my downward slide into the big 5-0 of bopping away at "latihan" asking "God" to direct me something better than the "latihan", if it existed; well, maybe not "better", as it turns out, but perhaps of equivalent value to me in one way or another), I often remark that it isn't possible to see yourself, because, as Shakespeare pointed out long ago, "the eye sees not itself except by reflection", i.e., what's looking (the self, or Self, if you prefer) can only see what it is not, unless it becomes One with Everything That Is, in which case, the "self" no longer exists (it never did anyway, being a "creation" of the imagination of "God"), but it's fun to imagine that it does. A bit of "scientific" philosophy, as seen from the "self's" perspective. Enjoy.

Peace, Philip

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