BAPAK’S LAST VISIT TO IRELAND…Ilaina Lennard recalls a dramatic incident

Ilaine Lennard recalls a “traumatic occasion”…

At the time of Bapak’s last visit to Ireland – it was in the Seventies – Subud Belfast was small and not very strong, and to re-charge our batteries, very often we would drive down to stay with our friends the Conners.

The event I am about to describe is my own personal memory of what took place during Bapak’s last visit to Ireland. This was a very traumatic occasion, and as much of it concerns Oriana Conner – who was a very special  friend of ours. I should stress that she might tell it from a very different angle. This she has now done, and has asked that my account of that time should be included alongside hers.  (Oriana’s account of these events will be published in the next issue of Subud Voice.)

At that time, the Conner’s house had become the unofficial ‘centre’ for Subud in Ireland. As such, in addition to the small number of Dublin members, members from Belfast or Cork would frequently arrive unannounced on its doorstep and they were welcomed without question and always given most generous hospitality. So when it was announced that Bapak would make a three day visit to Dublin, we were all delighted when they offered their house as somewhere for Bapak and his party to stay.

Oriana’s mother, Stella Campbell, had made the lower part of the house into a flat for herself, and it was there that Oriana had decided Bapak and Ibu should stay – with other members of their party distributed in the bedrooms above. Everything was freshly painted and meticulously cleaned in preparation for their arrival.

However, a few weeks beforehand, Oriana – who to us had always epitomised the very essence of Ireland and who we all most dearly loved, went into crisis. The form it took with her, was that although she seemed perfectly normal, her former conviction about Subud suddenly and completely disappeared, leaving her with only antagonism towards Bapak and Subud. She couldn’t even feel the latihan anymore.

There was nothing anyone could do to help her. It was an extraordinary situation – she who was to play hostess to Bapak, had lost any warmth of feeling with which to welcome him.

I offered to help in the house, and drove down from Belfast with a Subud member who had recently joined the group – Professor John Blacking, a  musicologist who had newly arrived from Johannesburg and was now working at Queen’s University. It was August, but although it was high summer, to our dismay as we drove down, we soon became enveloped in a thick icy fog and could hardly see the road.

Such weather during August was unheard of. The same fog apparently affected Shannon Airport where Bapak’s plane was going to land – and in fact it delayed him several hours. It felt as if  malevolent entities were all around, trying  to prevent Bapak’s visit from going well.

When we arrived in Dublin, Oriana’s state had not improved – all the rest of us could do was help in a practical way, by putting finishing touches to her house. One of my jobs – it felt like quite a privilege – was to polish the chair where Bapak would sit to give his talks. We didn’t worry much about Oriana – we all naively believed that because Bapak was who he was, when he arrived her state would soon come right.

But it was not to be. Oriana’s  ‘dark night of the soul’ remained with her throughout the visit and continued for many years afterwards. Only very gradually did she regain any Subud certainties. I believe now that we had to understand from this that even Bapak could not ‘do’ things, he could only surrender Oriana’s state to God. This was demonstrated by him in several other ways during that extraordinary visit.

Bapak Arrives

At last Bapak arrived. I remember him walking up the steps to the Conner’s front door where I was standing, and he shook my hand. I was struck by his ordinariness.

Be that as it may, his presence did coincide with two unusual experiences that I had during that visit. Both were after I had gone to bed, and on each occasion I began to feel my head expand and expand, until it became enormous. It wasn’t frightening. Just strange. I don’t know what it meant.

Another curious thing occurred just after Bapak and Ibu left, when I went into their bedroom to clear up. The room still smelt of cloves – it was their kretek cigarettes. I noticed some little snippets of black hair scattered on the dressing table, and thinking they would make a wonderful souvenir, I put them in an envelope in my handbag. But when I searched for it later, the envelope and its contents had disappeared.

The story that now follows is really Oriana’s and she might wish to tell it differently. But this is how I remember it..

It had been arranged that on each of the two evenings of Bapak’s visit the latihan would be held in a nearby hall, and Subud members gathered there from all over Ireland. After the latihans, Bapak gave two talks and then did some testing, and this was when things started to happen. While the women were testing, Oriana abruptly left the room. The testing continued but only when it was over did Oriana come back.

By now we were all sitting in a semi circle, making a kind of arena in front of Bapak, and into the middle of this walked our beautiful  Oriana, in her long blue dress and with her hair caught up in a pony tail. It was very theatrical. Bapak asked why she did not want to do any testing? She walked slowly and with great dignity towards Bapak – and then she knelt down. She explained to him that it was as if a dark cloud had enveloped her and it made her unable to feel the latihan. She was sorry, but it was as if all her faith had been taken away.

Bapak appeared to be indifferent, even when her husband Raymond confirmed what she said. And then Bapak said a terrible thing, something none of us will ever forget: he said he did not wish to stay in a house where he was not welcome – he would prefer to stay in a hotel. Some people gasped and others began to weep.

Then he called for the men to test, and all the Irish men came forward. Amongst them was my husband Lawrence, and Lexie Mitchell from Londonderry.

Lawrence had tried to speak privately with Bapak beforehand about this testing, but his interpreter – Muhammad Usman – said this was not possible – instead could he help? Lawrence told him that at least two of the Irish members – he meant himself and Lexie – couldn’t receive in testing. Usman said, “Don’t worry, Bapak sometimes comes amongst the members during the latihan, and if they aren’t receiving properly he may thump them on the chest.” – The assumption presumably, was that this would help them to be more open and able to receive.

Both Lawrence and Lexie had decided that they would only respond in the testing if they truly felt moved from within. If they didn’t respond, then Bapak would surely be able to see that something was wrong, and they hoped he would then do what Usman had described. But Bapak did nothing. They stood in front of him as rigid as two posts, and still Bapak did nothing.

Then Bapak called for the English to do the same tests.  These people seemed far more able to receive than the Irish members. Bapak then compared their receiving with that of the Irish members, saying as far as I remember, that it was clear from this that the Irish members should be much more diligent.

The Irish are very sensitive about their relationship with the English, and to be compared in this way made all the Irish men very angry, both at Bapak’s apparent indifference to their beloved Oriana, and also at the way he had been towards their own inadequacies. It was all extremely disturbing.

Why Did Bapak Act Like This?

Sometimes I still wonder, why did Bapak act like this? In a rather naïve way, I had assumed that Bapak was always right, there must always be a spiritual reason for what he did, even if I didn’t understand about it, but from then on I  ‘grew up’ a little in the way I saw Bapak. To me after that he was still an extraordinary, profoundly loveable human being, but nevertheless he was also a man who could make mistakes, as he himself always insisted.

Whatever we felt at the time, eventually the wounds healed. Perhaps, we thought, he was tired, ‘off form’, acting human like anyone else. But at a deeper level, there were things about which I still speculate. For instance, there had been that malevolent fog which had cloaked his arrived. And then there had been the extreme fury the Irish men had felt at his treatment of Oriana

Had it been necessary through what happened, for Bapak to unleash something archetypal seething inside them at that time? We’ll never know. But what was most apparent, was his indifference towards Oriana, Lawrence and Lexie.  He showed that he himself had no special powers to help them. It was up to the Almighty.

Nevertheless, I do remember Bapak saying during his talk that evening, that despite what had happened, he loved us, and would return one day if ever he were invited. But in fact circumstances prevented him, and this was to be his last visit to Ireland.

On the final day many members went to the airport to say goodbye to  Bapak and his party and I remember how the dense fog cleared at last – to be replaced by brilliant sunshine.

The Birth of Subud Ireland

Not long after, Subud Ireland was ‘born’; for until then it had just been Region 7 of Subud Britain. But now it had its own identity, becoming a country in its own right.  And although the birth of its nationhood had been painful, I don’t think many of the men who had been so angry with Bapak at the time actually left Subud as a result of that visit.

However, it was during that visit that my Lawrence – along with Oriana’s husband, began to have serious doubts about Subud and these led up to  both of them eventually deciding to leave Subud. For many years before that however, Lawrence had continued the latihan just for my sake and I always hoped that eventually he would receive his own proof. But he never did, and in fact he became an atheist.

Nevertheless, Bapak told us that even when people left Subud, the latihan would always be with them, even after they died. At the end of his life Lawrence’s mind was still in denial, and when he left Subud, he said he felt a profound sense of relief. But on June 16th 2006 when he died in his sleep after a massive heart attack, he looked totally surrendered, totally at peace with himself.

A Sequel

A small but significant sequel to Bapak’s visit to Dublin came many years later, in 1986, when Esme Lillis sent me an account of a visit that she and her husband Brian made to Bapak on his last visit to England. By then he was very frail. He asked them how everything was going in Ireland and was interested in all that they told him.

They arrived too late to attend his talks and testing, so instead they were allowed a private visit to him at his English home, Villa Rahayu. They were accompanied by Luqman McKingley, Adrienne Bridges, and my husband Lawrence, who drove the car.

Esme later told me how worried she was at the time, because Brian had holes in his socks, and she was concerned that when he took off his shoes, his feet might smell!  But she doesn’t mention that in what she wrote afterwards. Here’s a little of it:

“How frail I felt Bapak was! And unsteady on his feet. Bapak did not seem worried that he was physically slowing down. His spirit and mind were so well. What we witnessed of his physical body should not be important. The spirit and life within him is what he wanted to put across.

“…I felt he understood everything that was happening in the world. ..We asked Bapak’s blessing and on behalf of all our Subud Ireland. We had told him thirty-five in Ireland had earlier sent their best wishes and love. We thanked him for the privilege and it was a gift we could bring back to Ireland.

“…Muti gently helped him from the couch. She felt he had spent enough time with us. ..Bapak had treated us like children visiting a granddad, a lovely Sunday, to be remembered always.”

Oriana Conner’s account of these events will be published in the next issue of Subud Voice.

To read about the Irish diaspora in Australia read “May the Curse of Ireland Fly over your Head” in the Editor’s Blog.