Rohana recalls some illuminating experiences…
I did enjoy reading Harris Smart’s How Was Your Month of the Ancestors? It reminded me of various latihan experiences I’ve had relating to ancestors over the years. When Harris suggested I might like to share some of these with other Subud Voice readers I was happy to do so in the hope they may be of interest to others, especially new members.
I was opened when I was eighteen almost fifty years ago, the only person in my family at that time to become a Subud member. My family was rather dysfunctional due to religious schisms which led to painful estrangements down the generations. I was so glad to receive the latihan which enables people of all religions to come together in worship without having to engage in theological quarrels.
Soon after being opened I began to have experiences of seeing people I knew were dead and this has proved to be an abiding theme of my spiritual journey. But as I was so young I became frightened I might be losing my mind and had begun to suffer from hallucinations. One such experience I had happened after I had just become engaged to my husband Mashud, also a Subud member.
I was staying in my future in-laws’ home for the first time, and had retired for the night in their guest room and went to sleep. Some hours later I was awoken by a group of people wearing old-fashioned clothes who had gathered around my bed in the dark and were trying to attract my attention. They said they had come to welcome me into the family and pushed forward a gentleman as their spokesman who said he had a message for me. I was so scared I switched the light on and they vanished.
Afterwards I wished I had listened to them to find out what their message was, but at that time I was unable to understand my receiving if I tested anything. The helpers I discussed the experience with were also inexperienced in their receiving and suggested I write to the experienced Indonesion helper Sudarto Martohudojo for an explanation.
Sudarto replied to my letter saying the experience was genuine and told me that the people I had seen were Mashud’s ancestors and their message was to advise him never to give up doing the latihan as they were hoping for the spiritual help it would give them. When I told this to Mashud he was annoyed as he has been a devoted Subud member since he was eighteen and had no intention of giving up the latihan. However, his elder and only brother who had introduced him to Subud did leave the association and has never returned. It seems their ancestors were hoping Mashud would not follow in his footsteps.
Experiences withMy Mother
As I continued in Subud I had various other experiences to do with ancestors and I realised these were all part of my spiritual education and were not hallucinations. For example, after I had been in Subud for sixteen years I had to face the horrible event of my mother committing suicide and I had some remarkable experiences following this.
My mother had had many tragedies in her life and these finally took their toll in the form of Parkinson’s disease and mental illness. But in her mid-life, before she developed these later-stage illnesses she suffered from depression although she refused to admit this to her doctor or to have any medication as she was ashamed of the stigma of appearing weak.
I told her about Subud and that it might help her but she did not want to have anything to do with that either. As a child she had been orphaned and due to schisms between her Austrian Catholic father and her English mother’s Protestant family she had been brought up from the age of ten by kindly Spiritualists – not her blood relatives – whose activities of table-turning and séances had terrified her and she was convinced the latihan would be like this, despite my assurances it was a different spiritual path.
One day Mashud and I went to a Subud Congress in Derbyshire and during this gathering I received the most powerful group latihan I had hitherto experienced. On the way home we called in to see how my mother was and she told me something extraordinary had happened to her the night I had been given the powerful latihan.
She said three Indonesian ladies in sarongs had visited her in her bedroom and had told her that they had come to open her so she could experience the latihan for herself and not to be afraid. My mother had spent many years in the Far East and was familiar with the culture of Indonesia and was sure the experience was not a dream. She said she had seen me floating in the air above her bed encouraging her not to be afraid but just to surrender to God. She said then everything in the room burst into brilliant colour and she began to experience powerful vibrations.
These had continued without stopping and she asked me to turn them off as she didn’t like them! I spoke to the helpers in her nearest Subud group and they advised her to attend group latihan with them but she refused to do so. I even wrote to Sudarto again and he also advised her to attend group latihan but she never did. Eventually the vibrations stopped on their own and my mother continued with her life as usual.
Several years later she was diagnosed with Parkinsons and my father who was caring for her asked Mashud and I not to visit her as she refused to allow anyone to see her in her state of poor health and visitors of any kind made her anxiety worse. She refused to be admitted to a mental health unit of any kind. This was before the days of compulsory Sectioning under the Mental Health Act, and no one, not even her doctor nor my father, suspected the depth of her inner agony. At this stage of my life I was a fashion designer and had no medical training or experience of mental illnesses. Despite my contacting various agencies such as Age Concern to help her she did not relent so all we could do was pray for her.
When I learned that soon afterwards she had committed suicide by a particularly gruesome method I was devastated. I had believed Bapak’s words in Susila Budhi Dharma that the parents of people who did the latihan would be helped by their children’s worship, ‘whether they wanted it to or not’ and was unable to understand why my latihan had not been able to prevent this death. As I was to learn many years later, when I became a professional mental health therapist working with people who had been rescued from failed suicide attempts, the families of suicides often feel they were inadequate or in some way to blame for the death.
However, soon afterwards I was shown by a beautiful experience that Bapak’s words were true, but in a way I had previously not been able to comprehend. As we were driving to her funeral I found myself suddenly leaving my body and saw myself in another place. At first I thought the strain of my mother’s suicide had sent me over the edge but I found I was fully conscious and aware of sitting in the car as we drove along, simultaneously talking with Mashud.
The experience was so vivid and real I was amazed he couldn’t see what was happening in this other place too. In fact it was so overwhelming I asked him to stop the car for a few minutes as I could scarcely cope with it. I could see myself as if from above and saw the back of my head as I walked down the aisle in a church filled with light. I realised my mother, looking terribly ill, was leaning on my arm and that my father was supporting her other arm. I and my father were still alive in this world but my mother was dead, as were all the people witnessing the event who seated on either side of the aisle. They were all wearing white signifying were dead and I was aware they were my mother’s ancestors.
As we walked down the aisle towards the end of the church I became aware of an altar and behind the altar was Jesus. His face was so bright it dazzled me but from his chest love radiated out in great waves. He held out a chalice and indicated that my father and I should bring my mother to it so she could take Holy Communion. After she had drunk from the chalice a door opened and she went through it with Jesus. Suddenly I found myself in another room filled with light and a feeling of heavenly peace and I was told by a disembodied voice that this was my true home and I was asked if I wanted to stay there. I became very worried because at this time I had three small children who needed their mother and said I must come back to look after them. I was given permission to do this, and returned to my other state, fully aware of sitting in the car next to my husband
Since then I’ve seen my mother several times in latihan. One of these occasions was on the Night of Destiny in the Month of the Ancestors, two weeks before the beginning of Ramadan and this was witnessed by one of my daughters who had by then grown up and been opened and was in the group latihan with me. My mother seemed in a good state, looking happy and well and as she looked in photos of her from her younger days.
Experiences with my Father
Sadly, after my mother’s death my father, who had cared for her for the two years of her last illness, went to pieces. He had been a respectable chartered accountant all his life but suddenly he became alcohol dependant and his life became chaotic; he could not cope with her suicide.
Eventually he was arrested for drunken driving and this brought him up with a jolt. Within a year he married a forceful woman he had only known for three weeks. He was her third husband and she had children of her own. My father made it clear he wanted little to do with me or my two brothers after this; we all discussed it and we thought it was because we reminded him of our mother.
I had always had a difficult relationship with my father as he had spent his life moving his young family from one foreign country to another, many of which turned out to be war zones so that we became refugees no less than three times. I saw little of him as I was growing up and when I was thirteen I was sent to a boarding school in England and that was the end of my childhood in a family.
I didn’t see either of my two brothers again until I was seventeen as I was only allowed to visit my parents who lived in Hong Kong once in three years.
I spent school holidays at the boarding school with the eccentric headmistress as I was the only pupil there with nowhere to go as we had no relatives in England I could stay with. Later I was fostered out with a neurotic landlady who tried to drown herself in the sea. I felt like an orphan and after I left school when I was eighteen I went to live in London as I did not want to return to Hong Kong to share my parents’ unstable life there.
Instead I shared a flat with the daughter and sister of Subud members and that’s how I found Subud.
I believe these events contributed to my mother’s mental illness for she later regretted having agreed to all her children being dispersed in this way to please my father. Without realising it she had unconsciously replicated her own fractured childhood in her children’s lives. It’s not surprising I felt so lucky to be guided to Subud at such a young age and to have married a fellow Subud member who loves and understands me. We’ve been married for forty-three years now.
My father lived for another fifteen years and during this time I was semi-estranged from him.
Eventually he became terminally ill with cancer and had only a short time to live. By this time I was busy with Subud, I had my husband, four children and my work as a fashion designer and writer, and did not often think of my father as doing so was too painful.
One day, however, Mashud I was were about to set off to latihan when there was a knock at our front door and to our surprise a lady we hardly knew stood on the doorstep. She was a helper who had just come to live in our region and she said she didn’t know why she had come but she had felt compelled to visit us. We told her we were off to latihan and she would be welcome to come with us.
The group I attended at this time consisted of several elderly ladies who invariably had a quiet latihan, but on this occasion I was in for a shock. When we began, everyone suddenly burst forth into the most beautiful singing, and then I became aware that my father was dying and that his soul was heavy and burdened down. I felt there was a huge balloon in the room – one of those hot air balloons that can fly very high – and I had to push it up as hard as I could. After a great effort the balloon finally became airborne and left the earth, and I knew it symbolised my father’s soul.
Afterwards we all went home and my sister-in-law phoned to say my father had died at exactly the same time as this experience.
This was not the end of the matter though. The funeral was a horrible desolate affair and afterwards I felt terrible. If I had not been in the habit of regular prayer and latihan I don’t know how I could have survived it. Shortly afterwards my brothers and I learned our father had disinherited us all and had not even left a token bequest for any of his eleven grandchildren, descendants of my mother. It was as if he wanted to cut out everything from his former life that reminded him of our mother. It was not the money, but the feeling of rejection that hurt us. When I heard this news I immediately performed the formal Islamic prayers that I find so comforting and received the words : ‘Pray for those who despitefully use you.’
Later, I tried to put his death out of my thoughts, but soon afterwards my father began to appear in my latihan week after week, looking dejected and begging forgiveness. As Bapak says, when you do your latihan it is as if your heart and mind are paralysed and so in the latihan, despite my sometimes negative feelings for him outside the latihan, all I could feel were love and forgiveness for him.
I was made to keep saying to him: ‘Of course I forgive you,’ but it seems he could not forgive himself and he kept reappearing. Things came to a head when one night I was woken up in the night and found myself transported to the Anugraha building, our Subud hotel enterprise. Again the experience happened so that I was fully conscious and simultaneously aware of being both in my bedroom and also in the hotel reception area. It was not a dream.
Meeting Saint Peter
I saw my father sitting on a sofa there looking utterly morose. When I asked him why he was there he said he had tried to move on spiritually but had met Saint Peter who had told him he could not enter heaven yet. He seemed deeply impressed by having met Saint Peter but in despair at having been found spiritually wanting. It seemed he was drawn to the latihan atmosphere there although he was not in Subud.
When I related this experience to Mashud he said ‘Don’t you remember your father revered Saint Peter? He was of the opinion that the Christian Church should really have been founded upon Saint Peter’s ideas when the Emperor Constantine wanted to settle matters but the followers of Saint Paul took the lead.’ Mashud and my father used to have long theological conversations which I’m afraid didn’t interest me at the time and I had completely forgotten about my father’s fondness for Saint Peter. Later we remembered that Saint Peter is reputed to hold the keys to heaven. We prayed for my father and at least he stopped coming to my latihan every week as he had done before.
After some time Mashud had a dream where he saw my father sitting in the foyer of a church, but he was unable to enter it completely. He was dressed all in black and looked beseechingly at Mashud who kissed him on the forehead and said to him: ‘Don’t worry, I will never leave you.’ We took this experience to mean my father had made some progress and had at least now been allowed to enter a spiritual place (the church) if only to some extent.
During his life on earth, my father had rebelled against his own father, an Evangelical preacher and did not go regularly to church, but had privately read the bible all his life and deeply respected Jesus and his disciples. Nevertheless he hated the Roman Catholic Church and when my eldest brother married a Catholic and converted to Catholicism he was furious and refused to attend his grandchildren’s Papist Christenings, as he called them. Despite this, even though my husband Mashud is a Muslim my father always got on well with him. We continue to pray for him and hope this progress will be allowed to continue.
Doing and Daring
Mashud and I are members of the Manchester Subud Group and after our old Subud House started being attacked by arsonists the group realised we needed to find somewhere else to move to. As Chairman, it fell to Mashud to find the new house and handling the whole process of selling the old house and buying the new one was challenging to say the least.
At one stage I felt it was Mission Impossible as it was the height of the property boom and we were daily having to deal with pressures from pushy wheeler dealer property entrepreneurs trying to buy the old house cheaply and aggressive estate agents determined to make us conform to their demands to buy the new one before other buyers beat us to it. As Subud is a charity and we had to work within the restrictions of Charity Law negotiations were often protracted and delayed which infuriated both buyer and seller.
Feeling worn down by all this I went to latihan and after a while the atmosphere changed to one of great refinement, and I felt a discarnate lady in front of me. She seemed very thrilled to be allowed to come to the latihan to deliver a message for me. I had no idea who she was but when I became very quiet I was able to discern why she had come.
She said she was my paternal grandmother and she had come to bring me ‘words of encouragement’. She only stayed a few moments but after her visit I felt uplifted. In my worldly life I scarcely knew this grandmother as I had spent my early years abroad and she died before I came to live in England, but I discovered she was the wife of my paternal grandfather, the Evangelical preacher.
This couple had apparently spent their whole life building a big Evangelical church in Leicester from scratch, together with their fellow Evangelical Christians. The church is built in the shape of a lantern so that it would represent the Light of Christ in the world, and after this experience Mashud and I went on a trip to see it and look in the Church records where my grandparents details’ are recorded. Here we found a book called Doing and Daring which describing how they built their church and reading this helped us to have the same attitude to buying our new Manchester Subud Centre. Nowadays the church is surrounded by mosques and temples but still has a large active Christian congregation.
This experience made me realise that our heritage from our ancestors is not all difficult, their good qualities can be passed on as well as their not so good points! I believe that the efforts of these grandparents during their life of earth have been passed down in some respects to me so that I have had the resilience and faith to help life in our new Subud House to progress as well as God permits.
We did eventually find a suitable building for our Manchester Subud House and this too is surrounded by places of worship of other religions. A Synagogue is next door but one, down the road are the Baptists and the Seventh Day Adventists and nearby is an Anglican church. We rent out our Subud Centre rooms to other non-conformist groups of Christians – Pentecostals, Assembly of God worshippers and Lions of Judah – and this income allows us to pay our way and get involved in our local community. They are delighted to have premises to pray in, and say they pray for Subud and for Mashud, who is now the Lettings Manager! As someone said incredulously the other day: ‘You mean they pay Subud to allow them to pray for us?’
As the result of latihan ancestral experiences I’ve become interested in Family History Research, where I’ve learned that it’s usually the older women in families who become the ‘keepers of the lineages’. I’ve started to build an archive so that my descendants can learn more about their own heritage. It’s been fascinating to discover more about the family from records now available on the internet, and how the heritage of a family’s good points as well as their negative traits can also be passed down the line. For example, I had a lovely career as a fashion and textile designer, and when I began to investigate these records I discovered I have several female ancestors who were professional dressmakers.
Other experiences with ancestors have not been so easy to trace and connect with, though. A few years ago I began to have experiences about the Jewish religion in my latihan. I was taught how to pray for peace with discarnate Jewish women who lived in Jerusalem and at the time thought these experiences were part of my spiritual education to help me to understand all religions in order not to become a religious bigot as so many of my family have been.
I’ve been assured by my Austrian relatives that there is definitely no Jewish blood in our family. They say they know this because during the Nazi regime everyone living in Vienna had to prove by researching their family records that there was no Jewish blood in their family for at least three generations, or they would be arrested and possibly hauled off to a concentration camp. Yet later in latihan I began to have more experiences about Jewish people, particularly the Hasidic branch of Judaism. As I knew nothing about these Hasidic Jews I had to investigate them via the internet, and discovered that during the 18th – 19th century there was a very large population of Jews living in Vienna, with some Hasidic Jews amongst them, although the majority of Hasidic Jews lived in neighbouring Hungary. My mother told me once that her Austrian father had told her he had distant ancestors way back in time who lived in Hungary when it was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.
Yet during general latihan during Ramadan this year (2011) I became aware of a group of people surrounding me. I went very still and listened as one of them whispered into my ear: ‘Remember the Hasidim? You are of our people.’ I felt they wanted me to acknowledge them which I was made to do and I then inwardly welcomed them to the latihan. In subsequent latihans I was again made to pray for peace in Israel and for the Jewish people. Clearly I don’t understand these experiences fully, but I’m coming to believe that in my ancestry there is possibly some Jewish blood, despite what the more recent records maintain, and that it may be from a secret or illegitimate union, hence their desire to be acknowledged. I cannot see how this could ever be proved though, so just accept the experiences as they come to me.
Other experiences I’ve also had that so far cannot be proved in the records seem to reiterate this.
Once, after attending a very large latihan at a Subud Congress I became aware of a group of discarnate people dressed all in black and sensed they were Puritans, and part of a distant branch of my ancestors. They approached me and said they had been drawn to the spiritual light generated by this large latihan of over a hundred women. Their leader was very suspicious, however. He asked me what this had to do with Jesus. In latihan I was made to welcome them to join the group worship in ‘In the Name of Jesus Christ, Our Redeemer.’ This seemed to be the right thing to say, as after this I felt the whole group surrender to the power in the latihan, or to the Holy Spirit as they perceived it to be. I was also surprised as there were men as well as women in their group although it was a ladies’ latihan but they seemed to be allowed to stay.
On another occasion immediately after returning from this large Congress latihan to my own local group another group of people I felt were ancestors approached me and asked me what the latihan was. I was made to explain we were worshipping God and then I was made to lie down on the carpet. I felt their footsteps walk over my back as if I was a bridge and then they went off to another realm.
All these experiences have shown me that there is a lot more to understanding how the latihan affects our family than is generally understood. Bapak explained that at first our latihan was for ourselves, but later as we progress it could affect our ancestors and even beyond that to our community and wider society. Eventually it may be able to affect ‘All of Mankind.’
At a recent Kedjiwaan session at the 2011 UK Subud Congress I attended the theme was ‘What inner gifts have you that you may need to acknowledge and perhaps manifest more than you are able to at present?’ In this testing session I was shown that I have a gift of working with people who have died and who are not aware they are dead, to help them become aware of their condition, and also with people who are still alive in this world but who are in a coma and cannot be easily reached. This confirmed experiences I’ve been having In recent latihans where I sometimes feel as if I am part of a discarnate medical team and it’s my task to sit in vigil with the patient to try to impress upon them that it is time for them to wake up. From testing it seemed as if I was being asked to develop into some kind of part-time psychopomp!
In my job before I recently retired I often worked as a hospital-based rehabilitation therapist with coma patients. One such case was a woman who had tried to commit suicide but had failed and was now in a deep coma. I felt I should paint murals around all the walls of her room in case she did come round, and meanwhile it encouraged her surviving relatives that hospital staff were doing their best for her. I did the murals of an Italian garden, painting the room as if she was surrounded by flowers and her hospital bed as a sun-bed by a beautiful lakeside with mountains in the distance. I used to play music to her and talk to her as I painted the walls and although she eventually died the room was afterwards used to help cheer up deeply depressed infectious patients who had to be isolated. I feel this part of my job in the world has helped to prepare me for my work with patients who have already departed this world but are not yet fully conscious and I hope in this way my latihan can continue to touch the wider community whether in this world or in the unseen worlds.