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Max MacArthur - My Non-Opening

Look outside of Subud to learn about Subud. From Andrew Hall, May 14, 2009. Time 2:42

Hi Max,

I was touched by your request for information from people who felt nothing at the beginning. I'm not sure how helpful my own story is to you but you be the judge.

I was in my early 40s when I was opened. I had done other spiritual practices before, prayer and types of meditation, some for a number of years.

The most powerful method that I had came across was a twice-daily mantra meditation. It really opened the gates to my subconscious.

I had also stumbled on the technique of dissociation when I was a teenager and troubled by stress at a new high school. I ran home from school every afternoon, lay down in my bedroom and did deep breathing for about 10 minutes, then found I could cast my mind adrift, letting whatever thoughts, images or feelings arise that came to me. If I had been in a different family, one where the adults talked about feelings and difficulties in life, then I probably would have preferred that. Stumbling on dissociation was a survival strategy at the time. It helped me cope with my anxiety.

During my opening in Subud, I remember that I was aware of people moving around the room and vocalizing and I was waiting. At the end of the latihan, I had the faint impression of something liquid touching the back of my neck - just a few seconds. When I focused on it, it went away.

It was like that for pretty well the first two years - standing and waiting during the latihan and then experiencing something at the end. Sometimes this was a strong feeling, sometimes not.

It wasn't until I started testing, that I found it easier to enter the latihan state and would find myself doing things that I was unaware of (my own test for whether I am in latihan).

Some of the techniques that Hassanah Briedis mentions, like qi-gong, may well be helpful to you. You can learn a lot about yourself and the world, from outside of Subud.

I'm not sure who your helpers are. I assume they are sincere people but my impression is that many helpers joined Subud at an early age and are remarkably ignorant of the world. I do have mixed feelings about all the extras (the name changing, fasting, the mythology about forces, etc.) that goes with Subud.

Good luck with your journey. As one of the teachers I learned from used to say - the guru is within you.

Andrew Hall
Ottawa, Canada

From Max MacArthur, May 14, 2009. Time 23:17

Dear Andrew

Thank you for your interest in my article and for responding. You said that the most powerful method you have come across is your twice daily mantra meditation. Do I interpret from that, that it is "superior" to the latihan? Or are they "horses for courses"?

One of my most traumatic encounters was when I was 17 when I switched to a new school. I felt ostracised. After 2 days, I couldn't take it any longer. I went home and cried. My crying wa another traumatic experience. I felt very embarrassed about it when I dried up. My family didn't understand and asked me to pull my socks up. I was born with an outgoing and friendly personality, and at 17, I couldn't understand why no one came up to me to befriend a stranger. In my old school, I always made friends with newcomers and tried my best to make them at home. I just want to let you know that I had a similar experience and understand what you are talking about. But while typing out this experience, it reminds me of my helpers, and the vestiges of my bad experience when I was 17. I find it quite remarkable how crass some people are. None of my helpers - and there are quite a few of them - took the trouble to ask for my phone number or email address to speak to me; none of my helpers in attendance warmed to me; none of my helpers, kind as they were, actually did anything to make me feel welcome. I can think of only one person who actually came up to me to shake my hand and engage me in conversation and was genuinely interested in me. I don't know why all the rest kept their distance. [I shower and change my clothes before I turn up]. Yet they lament that their organisation is shrinking. You don't need to be a rocket scientist to know why. That is why I said I find it remarkable how crass some people are. No wonder they told me over 90% drop out very, very shortly after they have been opened.

Some kind people have suggested that my helpers do a latihan expecially for me. I must confess I'm not in the least confident that it'll change anything and therefore am not inclined to that at all.

You mentioned qigong. I am not a qigong and taiji practitioner. But I've been very privileged to know a couple of genuine sifus from China, on different occasions, who brought me to their inner sanctum to impart some secret moves to me [which I've not only forgotten, but never retained in the first place]. I told them it was like water off a duck's back because I wouldn't know what to do with those secrets. But what I saw with my own eyes was quite amazing, to say the least. I don't tell people now what happened because no one believes me. They don't think I'm lying, they all think I had been duped. Talking about it again now, makes me wonder again why they showed their skills to me in the first place. Why did they pull me away from a crowd of people to show me? I wasn't a reporter, nor a publicity agent. What use was I to them, if they were trying to impress me?

Again I digress. Thank you for your very, very interesting feedback. Yes, perhaps the guru is within me. The search continues. But thank you!


From Andrew Hall, May 21, 2009. Time 11:3

Hi Max,

I am sorry if I gave the impression that one method might be superior to another. My point is that there are other practices or methods than the latihan, and what I think is really important is to find a practice and a community where it works for you. It may be the latihan and Subud. It may be something else. I guess the short answer is horses for courses.

I find it painful to hear you describe how you were treated by the helpers after you were opened. I wish your comments were shared with all members, not just helpers. If it's any consolation, not every Subud group is as you described.

Would a special latihan help? I don't think it makes up for the rudeness that you describe, but it doesn't hurt to try. The latihan field can sometimes have some surprising results.

As for qigong or taiji, that depends on what you want. You were shown some amazing things. Shop around and see what's available in your area.

All the best.

From Max MacArthur, May 24, 2009. Time 23:20

No apologies needed Andrew!

I must have overdone it in my description of my helpers for you to find my experience painful, and my helpers rude. They were not rude at all actually. My experience was not painful to me. It was disappointing, yes, but not painful. Only one came close to being rude, and even then, that was my perception and I could be totally wrong about it. If anything, I would say they were unskilful with people. It was not because I felt outnumbered by them. 5 or 6 people "interviewing" an applicant can put some people off, but it didn't me. The meetings were never confrontational. They were the exact opposite. As much as the helpers wanted to know more about me, I wanted to know as many of the helpers as possible. I wanted to know their strengths and weaknesses, their characters, their likes and dislikes, in short I wanted to know as much about them as possible. What they didn't realise was that I was "interviewing" them just as they were interviewing me. I could find out about them simply by listening to them talk. I reckoned that if I “knew” them, I would have a good idea about what the latihan can and cannot do. If any helper came in reeking with tobacco [as one did] then I knew straightaway that the latihan could not break addictive habits. At the same time, I wanted to be as open as possible, so they could read me like a book. I would answer all their questions, and even volunteer information about myself. If I had restrained myself from telling too much, it was because I didn’t want to bore them with irrelevance. But if they asked me any question about myself at all, my past, my origins, I would freely tell them. For instance, they asked where I was born. So I answered their question by telling them where I grew up, because I think that was the purpose of their question. Where I was born would be irrelevant because my family emigrated within months of my birth. I noted that on some days only two helpers turned up. It could be that the rest were busy. They also told me they took turns. But I didn’t exclude the possibility that some of them lacked enthusiasm, or didn’t have enough of an enquiring mindset. However, as the weeks progressed, the turn-out for my “interviews” increased. The person whom I felt was the ad hoc leader [also my favourite, actually] told me they found it very interesting talking to me. I was flattered, but I knew why he found it interesting - because I was a good listener! And I listened intently, to all of them, interjecting only to clarify a point they were making. I hardly spoke, except to answer their questions. Given only an hour per session, I had no interest in touting my own beliefs or credos. I wanted to know more about the latihan and Subud.

Allow me to digress a little about the “leader”. Despite his “strange” beliefs and his Bapakisms, I found him perhaps the most highly developed of the helpers. He behaved in a kindly way and was never insistent on his point of view. There were one or two others who were insistent without showing it outwardly. You could tell that this “leader” was generally at peace with himself and the world, to the point where I was prepared to overlook his mystical beliefs [what I cheekily but privately call peccadillos] to get to know him better. Curiously, he’s the only helper who phones me and keeps in touch with me, yet is never intrusive and unfailingly polite. Why am I singing his praises although I’m digressing? Because, in the big picture, I feel this is what mainstream Subud lacks – people persons. Subud may need entrepreneurs, bankers, scientists, teachers, artisans, linguists, etc. But if it does not have people who are good with people, its spread will be slowed down.

Would a special latihan help? I don’t know if it would, but I have my doubts. But I am presently not inclined to a special latihan. This, by the way, reminds me of something I would like to say, but I’ve not found the correct place to say it. But what the heck, I’ll say it here anyway. If I have a “complaint” about the helpers in all the pre-opening sessions that I attended, it is this: I cannot recall anyone telling me that “nothing” could happen in my opening. They all knew I read extensively about the spectacular openings, but no one told me that in many cases, “nothing” would happen. If anyone did, I think it was glossed over very quickly. Still, I don’t think it was mentioned; otherwise I would have picked it up straightaway. In fact, I think it ought to be not only told, but stressed to all applicants, that “nothing” could happen. It was only after I insisted that I didn’t feel a thing in my opening that I was told by one other person that it took him 6 months to feel something. One is constantly told of the movements and sounds one goes through in a latihan. The inquirer thinks to himself that this sounds good, because it is a real, tangible spiritual experience even if one could not later describe it in words. I would like to receive this too. But you have to wait for your opening after 3 months. Right. I will wait, if it’s that good, he thinks to himself. I will not even press for an earlier opening. I’ll wait patiently. Then nothing happens. You tell them nothing has happened. They insist you have been opened because they all felt a strong latihan. Good for them. Then they bring up a helper who was never present in my previous “interviews” and he tells me it took him 6 months to actually feel a movement. Oh.


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