NOTES ON HOW TO DO THE LATIHAN
for Newer Members (and older)
by Halimah Polk (USA)
I have to begin, of course, with about a thousand disclaimers. The idea for writing this came – as many of my most brilliant ideas come – while putting on my make-up one morning. I have no illusions that I know best how to do latihan. It has been a continuing learning process and all theideas I want to share I picked up during my Subud lifetime from older more experienced helpers and members. I lived in Cilandak for three years and it was a time when Bapak was especially energetic with scheduled talks once a month.
I also visited several times before and after Bapak’s death and on all these occasions have been given little stories that seemed to have helped my latihan. I was also lucky enough to travel with Bapak on several occasions in the role of spiritual junky and groupie and just hung out a lot withmore experienced Subud members listening to their stories.
Also I think it might be beneficial to talk about the latihan in the way people talked to me about it when I was young in Subud. I notice that there’s not much opportunity for ‘latihan’ talk now; many of us older members avoid talking ‘spiritual talk’ because we are desperately trying to integrate the latihan into our outer lives and because it seemed for a while that’s all we were doing – just talking and not taking the kindof action that Bapak was urging us to do.
But I notice the younger members really seem to crave it as I craved it in my early years of doing latihan, and there are times when it seems so nourishing. (Even when I went to Cilandak last fall, I really couldn’t get enough of it.) When I think back, the talk itself often inspired me as much as the latihan itself — since it helped put these strange sounds and movements I was making into some context; helped me to see where this spiritual path was taking me. Reading Bapak’s talks and listening to Bapak on tape and in person also helped me tremendously as I had absolutely no spiritual education before my opening. So in this spirit I would just like to share some anecdotes and insights I was given with my ‘younger’ sisters and brothers, (although I have no idea if this relates to the men’s latihan.
Preparing for Latihan
The best advice I ever heard about preparing for latihan was given by Ibu Hardiyati, Bapak’s daughter, not to me, but to a group of helpers in Cilandak, one of whom told me the story. She compared preparing for latihan to getting your house ready for very special guests. You cleaned yourself up beforehand to show respect for your guests and then during the quiet period got your house as clean as possible by gradually letting go of every bit of detritus from your outer life — thoughts and worries, problems, successes, family and relationship concerns — everything was to be let go of during a long quiet period.
Bapak talked at length about this preparation as well in a two hour talk he gave us during Ramadhan in 1976. The essential message of that talk was to RELAX. You relaxed your body, your heart, your mind, your desire for anything of this world, your desire for a good latihan, your desire for happiness, your desire even to come close to God until this state of relaxation became just this emptiness waiting to be filled. In my own experience it seems analogous to that state just before you doze off to sleep. Or sometimes I liken it to this tempestuous pool of water inside me which becomesincreasingly calm until suddenly it’s absolutely still — not a ripple.
I also heard Bapak distinguish between getting quiet, and stilling your mind and feelings with your will like saying a mantra or the like. You allow yourself to sit quietly until all of a sudden you are quiet, but you don’t aid and abet the process — it just happens. For me this part is a bit mysterious because I’m a very active type in my outer life with a strong heart and mind, but I’m always surprised at how if I hang in there the chaos of strong emotions and wild thoughts suddenly subsides and boom I’m quiet. (How did that happen?) I’ve also heard folks (and recently Ibu Rahayu) say that it helps to say some kind of prayer that you can surrender to your full capacity before latihan begins. I’ve tried it when I remembered and I think it does help.
After this long and leisurely preparation you are ready to begin the latihan. You stand quietly in this more or less empty state (God knows you did the best you could), the helper says begin and you simply wait till the latihan or vibration begins in you before you move. Bapak explained that if you were really attentive, the first movement you would feel was the Power of God moving your own breathing.
Ibu Hardiyati again in her little talk to the women helpers explained that the latihan itself was like the arrival of these special guests and each guest brought a gift. Your job is simply to receive each gift as it was given with no thinking or judging or trying to understand it — just accepting or receiving
each gift as it came to you.
Apparently, body movement is important, although not to be forced, (no forcing ever) particularly with younger members. Bapak has said that the progress in the latihan starts with the physical body and that impurities are thrown off as we move.
Many of us fondly remember spinning a lot during our early latihans and coming quite close to puking. I remember in my early latihans banging my head on the concrete floor. One of the most revered helpers in Cilandak tells the story of crawling on all fours on the latihan floor barking viciously and snapping at the exposed ankle of the helper who had opened her. I remember a young Western woman in Cilandak who got opened and promptly starting vomiting regularly in her early latihans. She would run out to the bathroom and try to sneak home, but the Cilandak helpers would run after her and bring her back to continue her latihan. We’ve all of course experienced the latihan ‘runner’ who whirls by us at 90 miles an hour. These movements are the early manifestations of the very gifts lbu Hardiyati refers to; they contain the purification our bodies and souls need.
I think one of the hardest things for me as a younger member was not to judge my own latihan or try to make it ‘spiritual’. In my group in Palo Alto there were a few fairly elevated souls who were standing and singing. (I remember thinking they had made the ascension!) and it became tempting to parrot their high spiritual movements or to feel bad when I was crawling around doing something vulgar on the floor.
Luckily, we had some wise helpers in the group who periodically asked us to test, how our latihan was (I would dance and sing like Holly-Go-Lovely) and how God would have it be (here I would double over, grunt and cry, etc).
This is an on-going problem even for us old-timers, because sometimes what comes to the surface from deep inside is not pretty; in fact, it can be powerfully disturbing, but it must ‘out’. There’s many a story of members who have stopped latihan just at the moment when something difficult or hard is surfacing, or members who have swallowed that disturbance and gone on with the pretty, but fake, latihan.
I suggest you grab your local helpers and make them test that with you on a regular basis to keep your latihan authentic. Or if you feel brave, just test for yourself in latihan when you feel a bit stuck. Bapak at the end of his life talked about how important courage was in the latihan, the courage to follow whatever you are receiving — coarse or fine.
Am I receiving?
I’ve heard that question a lot from younger members.
We’ve all wrestled with that one, and there are just no foolproof indicators. Bapak has said you will feel the vibration of the latihan, but I know that early on I don’t think I did. Bapak has said something about a cool feeling in your body, and I certainly didn’t feel that either. I did experience, however, if I waited, at the beginning of the latihan, movement start up on its own quite independent of my thinking or wishing.
And then you just have to trust – you’re opened, you have a sincere wish to worship God, you’ve gotten quiet as best you could – that this little skipping or waving your hand or song that has suddenly started up without your thinking about it, well that’s it! That is your latihan!
Help, I can’t stop thinking
Right, you can’t force your mind into quiet. That’s meditation — using the will. So you just have to allow that thinking and it’s perfectly Ok, but what you might notice in latihan is that after a while, you’re thinking but watching yourself thinking as you move around, etc. and the trick is to pay attention to the movements rather than the thinking.
Try not to get hooked in. I’ve wasted many a good latihan fantasizing about work, my marriage, stewing over a fight, etc. One helper said it’s important to feel the soles of your feet touching the floor. I think that sort of grounds you and helps you stay out of your head or imagination and pay attention to your body. Ibu Rahayu said that as you do the latihan, pay attention to the different vibrations you are feeling in each part of the body and the feeling that accompanies that vibration.
Remember that Bapak has said that our understanding is the last part of us to be purified so our thinking in latihan may not be very productive early on. Mine wasn’t.
Is my latihan over?
I used to think that after all the movement had stopped my latihan had ended and I would sit down. Many of the older helpers, however, talked about the second latihan, that part of the latihan that arises after the flurry of purification movements has quieted. Bapak referred to this in a talk when he advised a woman whose latihan seemed unfruitful, to ask at the end of her latihan, ‘Is there anything more that God would have me receive in my latihan?’ It seems that in this second part of the latihan indications or receivings arise.
Those indications/gifts might sometimes be about your life or about an unknown talent, a deep insight about your true self, and rarely some kind of knowing about the next world, or moments of ineffable peace and praise. And sometimes there’s nothing. It’s not up to us. That’s not to say that you can’t receive good clear indications in the first part of the latihan. I’ve seen women really quiet and serene in the first part of latihan and then run around like screaming mimi’s the second half. Go figure.
Finishing the latihan
After the latihan, it’s a good idea to sit quietly for awhile just as you did in the beginning. For one thing it’s important to ‘come down’ and to really finish off the latihan and become normal. Recently, I’ve noticed how powerful the state of latihan is – even when it’s quiet. I’ll sit down and my body is still vibrating like a jet plane. It’s not a good idea to run out to drink coffee with your buddies until that vibration calms down. Until you feel normal. But more importantly, Ibu Hardiyati has explained that in this after-the-latihan quiet we ‘see’ or unwrap the gifts we have been given in the latihan itself. This seems to be a time of heightened clarity. We are quiet and peaceful and often clear messages come. Do this. Do that. Write to your grandmother. Change your job, your name. Be careful driving home, etc. One of the Cilandak helpers that I most admire told me that she receives very clear guidance for her life at the end of her latihan when she’s lying on the floor. Of course, there are no guarantees, but this can be a treasure-time, a time of receiving guidance for your daily life.
I know that there are stores of greater wisdom about the latihan out there in our rich and diverse Subud community.
Perhaps we can share more of it. My hope is that this morsel of ‘latihan’ talk provides some of the same nourishment that I was so kindly given in my early days in Subud.