Subud Vision - Discussion

Max MacArthur - My Non-Opening

I had a slow start too. From Marius Kahan, May 3, 2009. Time 19:2

Hi Max,

This is totally off-the-cuff and not particularly well thought through, but I wanted to respond speedily rather than necessarily with the best constructed and coherent comments.

In my view, one big difference between Subud today and Subud when I was opened over 30 years ago (not trying to sound like an ‘old hand’ or establish any credentials here, just telling it as I see it) is that there was an unspoken pressure to conform - not conspiratorially you understand, but just as a result of a general acceptance of the way things were, probably informed by so many generations of religious belief. This made it much harder to ask the questions you are asking. I sorely wish that I had.

I waited 5 years for anything significant to occur, and there were a couple of occasions when I sat in the corner of the Latihan hall and wept quiet tears of frustration (and probably envy). I knew one stalwart member who was a source of support at the time who had not moved or uttered a sound until 8 years after his opening. He seemed to me the very embodiment of what I hoped the Latihan might one day do for me.

All the talk of patience and surrender was of little practical help to me, and if I were able to put my finger on any one thing that might have held me back, it would be that I had a certain expectation of the Latihan - inevitably, because I had been ‘sold’ it by people who were clearly experiencing something that was, for them, life-enhancing. My expectations were as far out of line with my first ‘real’ Latihan as they could possibly be.

I would be lying if I said that I felt absolutely nothing, but my early experiences in Latihan were few and far between, and entirely ‘in my head’ as against my body. They weren’t all that dissimilar from a meditation experience I’d had before joining Subud, so one could speculate that I felt these things simply by dint of being quiet inside (insofar as I could manage that - which was not much, to be honest). A quiet mind does help with receiving, as does the realisation that we don’t ‘do’ Latihan, it is ‘done’ to us - but again there is a chicken and egg situation here, in that if one has never felt these things, they’re kinda’ tricky to induce out of thin air. Anyway, in the interests of transparency I’ll tell you what kicked it off for me.

I grew up a confirmed, card-carrying atheist, and I came to Subud following a quest triggered by a blissful experience on acid. Everything else on the spiritual menu (I checked out just about everything) looked overblown and laden with mythology and / or demands for money, while Subud seemed ‘clean’. After five years I decided that enough was enough and resolved to quit Subud. I went back to my original source of inspiration in the form of psychedelic consciousness enhancement in the form of a handful of psilocybin mushrooms. I played the same Santana album that had been the soundtrack to my first experience but I felt nothing, save that Santana didn’t seem any longer to be the musical and spiritual giant I had previously held him to be. So I went downstairs and sat with my wife while she watched some TV (Fawlty Towers as I recall) - even that didn’t make me laugh.

In the midst of this confusion and depression, my arms suddenly flew into the air unbidden and I received - really received - that I should go back up to the study and do Latihan. As I closed the study door behind me… well, words can’t do justice, but that was my first ‘real’ Latihan, and it was authentically mind-blowing. Thankfully it has continued to this day, sometimes super-powerful like that night (not often though) sometimes like a gentle breeze or a fresh stream - but always, well, tangible, if one can say that about something spiritual.

Now I’m not advocating using psychedelics, I’m just saying that there really are no set rules or formulae - where and why it starts for people is a mystery but some of us have to wait, it seems, until we find the right door. Subud is a bit of an anomaly because it doesn’t offer an official mythology - and if you’ve visited Subud Vision, you’ll notice that a lot of people are concerned that this lack of a belief system is causing something to rise up in its place.

In conclusion, all I can say is that the Latihan is not logical - it’s about ‘God’ whatever you perceive that to be, and as such it’s beyond the scope of human reason. What it does, when it does it, and why it does it when it does are, I fear, questions with no answers. I can heartily recommend sticking with it - most people who do ultimately seem to find fulfilment of one sort or another - but with no expectations either in or out of the Latihan hall.

Hope that helps,


From Max MacArthur, May 10, 2009. Time 0:29

Dear Marius

First of all thank you for your encouraging feedback. Well, it was at once encouraging and discouraging; encouraging because you took 5 years to be opened, and discouraging because you took 5 years to be opened!

I was very moved by your feedback and although I cannot relate to drug taking because I've never done it, I was especially touched by the detail you provided about your circumstances. For example, I can identify with you about the re-playing of your Santana album and feeling nothing. I have revisited some such landmarks in my life, only to find that the "fire" was no longer there. I was left wondering what the magic was all about in the first place!
I had changed.

After reading your very kind feedback, what mystifies me still is why you persevered for 5 years when nothing or very little happened in your latihans. Were there other compelling attractions that made you come back week after week, month after month, for 5 years in doing the group latihan? Did they serve such fantastic coffee?

I hope the latihan is the outward manifestation of an inner change in a person. If it isn't, it wouldn't sustain my interest even if it were full of spectacular miracles. As a newcomer I keep my eyes and ears very open to watch and learn.

Are you able to put in words what your latihans do for you? In other words, why do you continue with it, if you do? Or is this question against Subud protocol?

I am deeply grateful to your posting, as I am with the others, because of the trouble you ahve taken to reach out to me.


From Marius Kahan, May 11, 2009. Time 10:9

Hello again Max,

Thanks for your reply to my post.

I’d like to clarify that my experimentation with hallucinogenics was but a brief period when I was very young and lasted about six months, although in one way it relates directly to what kept me going for the first five years. I had always been a seeker and I took my drug-taking ‘seriously’ – I wanted to learn about the meaning of existence, not just have a bit of a laugh like most of my friends.

That key moment when listening to Santana was when I saw that he had attained his apparently lofty spiritual status as a result of giving up the very substance (LSD) which I hoped would bring me self-knowledge – and I somehow instinctively knew that he had only got to where he was as a result of serious commitment – so I guess that this informed my approach to Subud, once I found it.

At the time I think it also helped that the helpers emphasised that progress could be rapid or slow, but that slow was more usual and that perseverance paid dividends. Luckily I was young enough to accept that unquestioningly.

However, I recently find myself speculating that I may have been ‘opened’ when whatever it was that came to me through Santana’s music gave me the impetus to change from someone ‘quite interested’ in the spiritual side to someone driven, on a quest for truth. And Subud, which I encountered through the most extraordinarily coincidental set of circumstances just a few weeks later, was the only thing which seemed to offer the freedom to grow from within, rather than adopting someone else’s beliefs and / or parting with money, goods and my sense of self.

>>> [Moderators / editors – please feel free to cut out this next part if you feel it should be – this is just a thing that’s been bothering me that was written by another poster] <<<

Incidentally, re another post on the topic, these are the sort of criteria identified by most ‘cult-watch’ organisations as the key indicators of a cult, which I agree Subud isn’t – even if some people say that it looks like one to an outsider. The other key factor is mind control, which Subud certainly doesn’t intentionally engage in (although I’ve met people who’ve done a fine job of that all by themselves). Deprogrammers may have developed a more comprehensive checklist, but deprogramming itself is a lucrative business that has a reputation for wide-boy tactics, even being hired by families of Jehovah’s Witnesses and other relatively benign, if peculiar movements.

>>> [ END OF RANT ] <<<

In fact pretty much all the postings on this topic demonstrate a fundamental truth about Subud as it ought to be – that everybody’s experiences are unique to them, and as a result everybody’s got a quite different take on it. At it’s best, the Latihan seems to be ‘spiritual plasticine’ and manifests differently in everybody.

After my first Latihan, something did feel different (I’d forgotten this at the time of my last posting) – I went straight to the pub to see my friends, but found them drab and uninteresting. I felt that I now inhabited a brighter and more vivid world, and I wanted to get away as soon as possible before that feeling subsided. Back home, I put some music on and immediately heard a new dimension that had never been there before – not even when high, not when simply quiet and clear-headed – it was like hearing ‘in colour’ for the first time. So although the Latihan itself seemed pretty tame, there was evidence from day one that it made a difference in my life.

Apart from very occasional – and pleasant enough – moments similar to meditation, very little happened in Latihan during those five years, except in so far as my appreciation of music continued to develop further the longer I was in Subud, not in terms of the artistry, skill, orchestration etc, but in terms of the feelings behind it.

But what kept me going?

Well, I think the fact that the helpers confirmed for me that spiritual progress can be slow helped, along with my fervent wish to become ‘enlightened’ (which I now think is a bit of a red herring), the fact that I was hearing a difference in the music I was writing and the way I was playing, and interestingly enough it helped that the handful of friends who joined Subud had moved more or less from the outset – these were probably the sort of things that helped me to keep my eye on the goal.

Once I started to have really strong experiences in Latihan (directly following my unorthodox approach to kicking the process off) it became very different – there was always some movement, quite involuntary, and sometimes talking or singing. But the feeling of being cleansed was what I benefited from most profoundly, and that had been there previously.

By the way, this idea of our needing purification can seem to imply that we are somehow ‘not worthy’ – but for me, that’s not how it is. Rather, the way I look at it is that life in the world bombards us with a variety of things both good and bad, and for me a Latihan could be likened to having a shower after a day out in a grimy city.

I don’t think there’s a protocol regarding talking about what the Latihan does for one – other than the protocol of resisting the temptation to bore the pants off people with one’s personal experiences. Luckily, I’m immune to such sensitivities, but I’m not sure I’d want to share my experiences on a relatively public forum – if you’d like to continue our conversation ‘offline’ I’d be happy for the editors to give you my personal email address.


From Iljas Baker, May 14, 2009. Time 16:10

Dear Max,

Your experience is quite common. Personally I'd say it is worth persevering.

I don't know the size of your group and how many helpers there are but to prevent or reduce the 'beached whale' feeling you might ask for special latihans to be arranged from time to time with just you and some helpers.

All the best,


From Max MacArthur, May 14, 2009. Time 22:19

Dear Marius

Thank you for your second feedback of 11 May and answering my questions with such helpful detail.

I had a "bad" experience with a helper last night and made up my mind that was the last time I would show up. Perhaps this is not the forum for me to air my grievances! If you, [or anyone else], wish to talk to me in private, I've set up an email address just for the purpose:

Again, thank you for taking the trouble to post your experiences. I would, however, continue to engage latihan practitioners [I use this term to include non-Subud folks who still do the latihan in private] to understand and find out more why the latihan is compelling. Last night, someone asked me why I go to the subud meetings, and I was unable to give a convincing answer. If I were convinced I was opened, maybe I could have, but not having been opened in a "tangible" way, unlike all the others who attend, I cannot in all honesty see or feel any benefit accruing to me.


From Philip Quackenbush, May 22, 2009. Time 8:27

Hi, Max,

I think that your decision to not go to the group again may be a wise one. After all, it takes time for the "latihan" to "work" on even "seasoned" members, (perhaps even longer: there's the old saw in the cult that the first "opened" are those most in need of the "latihan". I've certainly seen plenty of evidence for that cult cliché during my decades of bopping away in various venues), so there's no reason to expect the entrenched group members to change radically any time soon. I once had an experience where there was a member so hostile to the cult at the time that I felt I had to do "latihan" outside in the parking lot to avoid his "anti-latihan". I don't think that would be likely now, because I seem to be "stronger" in that regard and no longer bothered by such nonsense.

However, I'd like to point out that, IMO, the "latihan" IS a form of qigong, it's just a "surrendered", spontaneous form, rather than most of the hysterically-handed-down forms seen in China and elsewhere, and because it "adapts" itself to the practitioner, it will be seen by each practitioner in a different perspective. The "secrets" you mentioned in one of your posts are what the yogis call "siddhis", or powers, and are incidental to the possible "true purpose" of the "latihan", which seems to be "spiritual development" (for want of a better term), or "returning to" or "becoming one with" "God" (whatever or whoever you conceive that to be: I guarantee it ain't a guy sitting on a cloud stroking his white beard in contemplation). That's the Western, or Abrahamic view. The Eastern view might be closer to removing the veils to understanding that you have erected that prevent you from seeing what you already know, because you already are "one with the Source". The important thing is not what you think it is, or may be, but what its "fruits" are, as "Jesus" might have advised. It takes "time" (although quantum mechanics shows that "time" doesn't exist in its usually-perceived form) for any plant to produce fruit, so you WILL eventually find what you're seeking, whether in Subud or not. Remember that you always have the option of solo practice, but to avoid getting stuck in a "fugue" where you "can't" stop the "latihan", since it's (again, IMO, but supported by much research) a form of self-hypnosis, give yourself the suggestion (command to your subconscious) before you start that you will stop after a set period has elapsed. Your subconscious has to follow your conscious direction; that's what it does all the time, whether you're conscious of it or not. One possible way to "feeling" the "latihan", then, would be to give yourself the suggestion before starting that you will feel something "this time." (This is the same as going somewhere, forgetting your travel alarm, and telling yourself you'll wake up in time, and you do).

The reason I'm not writing to you personally is because I feel that this info may be of use to others as well as yourself. If I don't see a response to it from you, then I might write to you to refer to it, assuming that you've unsubscribed to this forum. That would be a pity, because this is the only (unofficial, necessarily) "organ" (perhaps the brain, since so many members seem to have tossed it aside as of little worth) of Subud I know of that offers anything approaching truly free speech, and we can learn from others more easily if they're allowed to express themselves freely.

Peace, Philip

From Walter Segall, May 25, 2009. Time 13:28

As a person who practices (or practiced) various styles of Eight Pieces of Brocade Qigong and practiced the Eternal Spring Qigong I strongly disagree with Philip about The Latihan Kejiwaan of Subud being a form of Qigong. I regard my practice of Qigong as being something I do for my arthritis and not as a spiritual practice while I also regard the Latihan as being my worship of the One All-Mighty G-d. Regarding the Latihan as a Qigong exercise is perhaps not the best idea since then one may bring one's own desires for certain favored movements rather than surrendering to the All-Powerful.

We all have different ideas on this.


From Philip Quackenbush, May 25, 2009. Time 18:52

Hi, Max, Walter, et al,

I hesitate to repeat myself, because I thought I made it clear that the "form" of qigong that I have experienced as the same as the "latihan", less the theological overlay found in the Subud culture, is called "original", or Ziran, qigong, apparently because it is the original formless "form" from which all other forms (there must be thousands of them by now, since the "original" probably dates back hundreds, if not thousands, of years) are derived and "set in stone," which the "original", if practiced properly, cannot be, becuase it's entirely spontaneous.

There's no harm in regarding the "latihan" as prayer (I once attended a meeting with a "mystical" rabbi, who, in a sense, might be considered to have been "competing" with Subud locally for adherents [since there were then, and still are, plenty of "woo-woo" practices floating around that one can get sucked in by], in which I was introduced to the davening movements of Judaism, which I immediately recognized as being a restricted form of "latihan" [as can be taiji], when spontaneous, which it probably isn't in many cases]), but to do so exclusively is as restrictive of the potentials from the action of the "latihan" as "setting in stone" any of the movements or manifestations one "receives" as being "right" or "what one should do", and (usually) attaching a name to the practice).

IMO and experience, the only "way" in which the "latihan" can be of full benefit to the practitioner is when there is no preconceived idea of what may or may not happen and, preferably, all thinking and emotional responses are allowed to come and go without attachment to them (including any "spiritual" experiences that one may have), because everything that happens to one, in "latihan" or out, is part of the general illusory nature of this form of existence (i.e, a separate consciousness), and a "latihan" free of any form of thinking or emotional response can then help lead one "beyond" this restricted existence to less restricted ones through the "opening" of that lack of thinking and emotional attachment.

Peace, Philip

P.S. to Walter- While your practice of qigong may help with your arthritis, I'd suggest also checking your heavy metals status. Mercury amalgam dental work is particularly pernicious in that regard. Removing it and adding cracked-cell chlorella to your diet may also help. I found it to be so in my own case, most arthritic manifestations having disappeared from my life (though there's an occasional stiffness waking up in the morning and some "sciatic" twinges when I wear a belt too tight or sit in the same position too long).

From Philip Quackenbush, May 25, 2009. Time 20:4

Hi, Max,

One thing that I forgot to mention in my story about the "breakaway" group I did "latihan" which fits in with something you said about the tobacco-smelling helper is that the reason it broke away from the official group is because the "chief helper" was a chain smoker who only stopped smoking during the "latihan" (there wasn't even a "quiet period", apparently because he couldn't be without smoking for that long (which I just now realized after a couple of decades).

I also forgot to mention before that there have been several members who "haven't experienced anything" in the "latihan" who have later experienced something "outside" of it. I'm reminded of the woman I knew who told me she ceased being a prostitute after being "opened" telling the story of her friend who couldn't understand why her husband, who had been "opened" by "Bapak" in the kitchen of the restaurant before cooking his food and not felt anything was waking up in the middle of the night shouting "Allah, Allah, Allah!" I doubt if he ever came to the group "latihan", since he would have been instantly recognizable as an Indonesian, and there were none in the group at that time that I ever saw.

And then there are the numerous instances of people being spontaneously "opened", often from ongoing everyday contact with Subud members. I knew one of those well; it wasn't until years later that he joined the cult, later leaving it after losing a lot of money in so-called Subud enterprises after being one of its staunchest supporters for a couple of decades.

Peace, Philip

From Max MacArthur, May 25, 2009. Time 23:9

Philip, Walter and everyone:

Thank you again for your feedback. I am always informed by the editors whenever there is a feedback to the article I wrote, and I read all of them. I really have nothing to respond to when people like you take so much trouble in offering ideas and suggestions because I find myself on the outside. An analogy is as if I come from an impoverished country wanting to emigrate to America to experience the American dream, but having had my visa application rejected, am still on the outside. You people - “Americans” - kindly write to me to encourage me to try again, each suggesting various approaches that you have found successful. I am grateful to you all who came to my aid.

To use another analogy, it’s like me, a layman, watching professional artists discuss their brushwork,
colours, etc. and I can only sit and listen in awe because I don’t have your weight of experience to contribute. So please pardon me when I don’t have anything meaningful to contribute to your feedback.

In the place where I live the Subud people are very civilized, compared to some other places that I’ve read about. I think I’m very fortunate. Thank you for your assurance that I will eventually find what I’m seeking, Subud or no Subud. I hope I do.


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