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I’d like first to thank Hassanah Briedis for a courageous, well-written, and important article. It should be required reading for every Subud helper.
I’d like also to encourage those who find their way to this article to not give in to the temptation to feel that it is reducing the latihan in any way and to read it all the way through and consider it carefully. As I read it, Hassanah does not intend to explain away the latihan as an unhealthy psychological state or negate its spiritual import or positive effects. Rather, she writes primarily to warn of a possible problem for some people who practice it who, because of prior events in their lives, may be prone to dissociation. All helpers should be aware of this and other possible problems with mental stability that might arise in the course of practicing latihan. At the very least, there should be a central source trained in mental health issues for helpers to turn to when a member shows signs of mental instability.
I am indebted to Hassanah for helping me to better understand the circumstances that led to my exit from Subud. As a child I experienced trauma and then went directly from college into a very difficult marriage (which some have called abusive). I was opened when I was 18 and my husband was also in Subud. With the help of the latihan and my Subud friends, I did manage to leave the marriage after 25 years. But afterwards, when I was finally on my own and in a safe environment, dissociated parts of me began to appear both in and out of latihan. At first it was strange little events like falling in love with the color orange while at the same time knowing full well and insisting that I didn’t even like orange. Or feeling like a forlorn, lost child in latihan, sitting and repeating, “home, home, home...” for long periods of time. Then it escalated to waking up in a panic (which I had also done as a child) and reacting to people in a way that was overblown for the actual situation.
The people I was overreacting to were the same ones in my Subud group who had been so supportive before and had been my friends the entire time I had been married. I had a sense that I was over reacting, and tried to let my feelings go, but couldn’t. I struggled to understand what was going on. I had to leave the group when they would no longer try to help me understand what was happening to me. They prided themselves on the harmony of the group and were unable to go with me into a place where conflict existed between us in order to work through it. They told me that I had a problem and it was mine to work through. They finally stopped responding to my overtures to communication. I felt shunned.
I began to heal when I found an excellent, spiritually oriented therapist. In the course of the therapy, an “inner child” that had 3 parts emerged. This was not the classic dissociative identity disorder Hassanah describes, but a less severe form of it. The 3 parts corresponded to the developmental phases I was in before and after the 2 major traumas of my childhood: the first, a quiet nature-child; the second, a very flirty, but also very compassionate child; the third, a reserved, serious, studious, overly mature child. My adult personality extended from the last phase and the work of therapy was to recover and reintegrate the earlier phases. But the difference between my adult personality and these “inner children” was strong enough that, for a period, I felt as if I had 3 different personalities that would, depending on the situation, speak and act in my body. The sense of having multiple parts was strong enough that, when talking with my therapist, especially when a child was speaking, I sometimes referred to myself as “we.”
The best way I’ve come up with to explain what it was like to be dissociated from these earlier aspects of myself is to say that they were there, but frozen. I was aware of them, but not really well. It’s like a picture in which images are hidden and you don’t see them at first, but then something clicks and you can see them. Another way to say it, which I think is more accurate, is to say that the first two were psychologically in thrall to the manipulations of specific people in my environment, while the 3rd phase of my personality was active in maturing and moving toward greater health. Once those people were no longer a part of my life, I started becoming more aware of the parts of me that had been in thrall to them.
But there’s another aspect to the story that is more specific to Subud and the latihan and helper work. Near the end of my marriage, throughout which these parts of me had been in thrall to my manipulative husband, they transferred from him as an object of thralldom to God. They were in thrall to the notion of following God’s will. I do not mean to suggest that all who are concerned with following God’s will are in thrall to God. I suspect there are healthy ways of framing one’s life as a matter of following God’s will, but I can’t describe them at this point in my journey. I can describe an unhealthy way. All that I wanted was to figure out what God wanted me to do at any one moment and to do it. If I didn’t know what that was, I wanted to test about it. What I wanted wasn’t important, only what God wanted for me. This strong and narrow desire to follow God’s will stemmed from the fact that I was dissociated from my own drives, except the drive to become healthy and whole. In a way, this was a step toward health for me, since temporarily transferring my thralldom from my husband to God helped me leave my husband. But it would not have been healthy for me to stay in that state.
If I were still in Subud doing helper work, I would be concerned about people who have a narrow and strong desire to find and follow God’s specific will for them and seem detached from what they themselves want. While on the surface this may seem to be an admirable state (depending on how you understand spiritual development), it really is not a spiritually or psychologically healthy state. It seeks to avoid the pain, confusion and responsibilities associated with seeking out one’s own path and acting on one’s own desires.
I also think that Hassanah makes an excellent point in talking about how some people may use latihan as a way to dissociate from feelings rather than deal with them. This idea helps me to understand why people who I am certain loved me chose to turn away from me when I needed them to work through conflict rather than helping me as I needed. I had noticed a pattern with some of the central people in the group of what I thought of as “escapist latihan.” Whenever events in the environment triggered a painful or difficult feeling, they immediately did latihan to let go of the feeling. The person who group dynamics centered on (it was a very small group) was known as a “sensitive” person, “without boundaries,” who often “picked up negative vibes” from other people. This person had had a very traumatic childhood and, although s/he seemed mentally stable, his/her siblings all suffered from mental illness. S/he led the group ethos of “harmony.” And s/he led the group in its non-response to me when I was beginning to dis-integrate psychologically.
As I see it now, these central people had a lot of pain stored that, through latihan, they sought to “let go of” rather than to really feel and process. My behavior must have triggered some powerful feelings. I think they turned away from me out of fear of their own inner pain and conflict, not out of lack of concern for me. I have compassion for that. Fear is hard to embrace.
I suspect that what happens in the latihan is dissociative in nature. But I think that you can choose to use the latihan as escape, or you can use it as a way to get back to center and then go back into your life and face (and process and learn from) whatever feelings arise in the course of living.
I am now well and whole, more spiritually and psychologically healthy than I have been since I was a wee child. Occasionally, when under too much stress, I begin to feel dis-integrated again, but I’m learning how to live with that. I occasionally do latihan on my own and have found a different community that supports me well, knows how to use conflict as a path to growth, and gives me opportunities to learn how to put my newly re-connected drives into good effect in the world. It is a much healthier situation for me.
Again, thanks to Hassanah for this wonderful article. I do hope those still in Subud can use its wisdom to good effect.
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