MY LIFE (IS) IN SUBUD…from Melinda Wallis

My Life (Is) In Subud

Melinda Wallis



By the age of 23, I had rebelled from my family, was seriously drinking, had had an “illegitimate baby” who I had put up for adoption. I was in deep pain, and desperate.

“There HAS to be a God  out there somewhere!” was my only hope. I was scared to death.  There was a big black hole inside me where there should have been …what? My inner self? All I know is, it was black and empty inside me, and I had no self-esteem at all. The only thing that had kept me from committing suicide was that I couldn’t figure out how to do it without it being painful. (In that case, my ever-present fear paid off!)

I was a sheltered upper middle class East Coast girl, in spite of my rebellious activities, and the Episcopal church was my total previous religious experience. I DID have a real spiritual experience when I was 13, and my Episcopal minister  was condescending to me when I told him about it. That was the beginning of the end of traditional religion for me. Another earlier “memorable moment” toward my spiritual “awakening” was writing a paper in high school comparing the major religions – the reality then struck me that everyone was referring to the SAME “One God Almighty”.

So, within a few months of arriving in San Francisco in 1964, I had been told about Subud, (by Howard (Leonard ) Dixon)  and it was the weirdest thing I had ever been exposed to, but I was indeed desperate.

Subud San Francisco was big, loud, drug ridden, feisty, amazing. Sitting on the floor of a coat closet outside a big loud Latihan was like being on another planet. When a naked lady walked down the hallway one day, visiting both the men and women applicants’ rooms, I was paranoid enough to say to myself: “This is a test!” Someone else had the presence of mind to throw a coat around her.

The lady helpers would come out of Latihan, glowing, and sit down and talk with us, the “great unwashed”. What patience. We thought they were soooo spiritual…yes, they laughed later, and we’ve been in Subud all of three years!

And they said, sit quietly outside the Latihan for three months? Wow. One time we made so much noise talking and laughing that a helper had to pop out and tell us to shush!  I remember trying to read “All and Everything” while sitting outside Latihan. I read the same sentence over and over and over, and finally gave up.

Was anything happening to me? I have no idea. I certainly was worried about what would happen NEXT. Did we have to undress to go into Latihan? Was someone in there conducting? Certainly you could hear a lot of people laugh all at once, and then stop laughing all at once…

Once I was opened and  inside the mysterious room, I mostly peeped at everyone a lot, and then started to cry. I cried for months.  Stopped wearing eye make-up; why bother. All  I did was cry anyway!

Meanwhile, in the outer world, I had a job – it seemed I was the only one around me who did. My desperate drinking and sexual flings went on, but gradually I got told inwardly to cut it out. (These activities began to feel dirty, unclean, not so pleasurable).

I was just trying to survive. I was selling books door-to-door, and the discipline required for that was useful.

However, I will say that at the time, being part of a large group of interesting people in their 20’s gave me, and all of us a social context, an anchor. Many of us are still in Subud, and still friends. That alone is so valuable.



In my first year of Subud, I was working for a door-to-door kids encyclopedia business. Werner Erhardt, who eventually started EST, was the manager of the office. He was trying to answer big questions, too. “Mind over matter,” Self improvement. Self hypnosis. I’d see that yes, you could achieve quite a bit, though you were still the same person with the same faults. BUT I saw that doing the Latihan  put you into the process of purification, which, over time, changed you inside, and that way some real progress was achieved.



The  helpers told me when I was an applicant that we’d go through this purification, and see our faults and they’d be cleansed. OH, how terrifying! All I ever saw were my faults, I had NO self-esteem,  was desperate for love and attention, and  knew I couldn’t stand to get the load off myself all at once. But then someone said, ”God will not give you more than you can bear.” Well, many of us laugh at that, because we know how close to the edge of the cliff we have been many times!

So, the way I would see a fault, was that a certain behavior would start to make me feel ashamed or dirty when I did it. Gossip is my favorite example. In fact, to try to curb the gossip, one Ramadan, a Subud sister and I were working in the national office, and decide to stop talking to each other altogether, to curb the gossip. It was like saying “Don’t think of pink elephants”, and it worked for about ten minutes! So through the years, mostly through interactions with others I  “get” to see my behaviors, because if I accept them, I also have to accept the shortcomings of others.

I am convinced that this purification is a bottomless pit, and will go on forever – God is always coming up with yet another surprise! Some day I may look back and be embarrassed by how I was today. And laugh and laugh!



I understand why Bapak encouraged us to “do enterprise”.  It was in my enterprise when I first became aware of the working of the Latihan in my brain (off and on.)  In my business, I get hired by Fairs (schools, libraries, etc) to do art with kids. There’s a very large Fair in Seattle, called Bumbershoot, and I wanted badly to get hired by them.

When it was time, I tested about what would be the right project to propose to them. In the receiving, I felt and saw a globe, the earth, and held my arms up, holding this big globe.

OK, I got it that the project should be having kids make planets. Then came the process of having to translate this receiving into a practical reality. It wasn’t easy, but it kept on going until I had it, and made the proposal.

I was accepted, and it was very unique and successful.

I got hired by libraries to do kids programs  My favorite one was my Chicken program, in which I took one of my live chickens into the kids’ library. The kids – most of whom had never touched a chicken – would feed and touch the chicken. And I’d tell chicken stories, and they’d make a chicken and a nest out of clay and straw. Very simple, but satisfying and with real content.

I’d know a program was really successful, when there was silence all of a sudden. I’d take a deep breath and look around. All the kids would be so absorbed in their art work that they didn’t even talk!



Yup, fear is my constant, life-long companion. I was afraid for decades, and I still am.

But! My relationship to the fear is changed. The fear is not ME. It’s not running the show. I have so often acted in spite of it, ignored it, done Latihan in its face. Sometimes it has been a great motivating force. Like when I’m afraid of running out of money, I work to make money. When I’m afraid of falling, I walk carefully. Very useful.

Here’s my best receiving about dealing with fear. One morning I woke up full of fear, and just stood up right by the bed and tested, “What’s the right way for me to deal with the fear?” I received very strongly and clearly to turn away from it, ignore it, get on with things. It worked. I turn my heart and head to more useful things, and there I am, off and moving forward.



Family is undeniable. Our family, good or bad, help to shape who we are, in more ways than genetics. I was the one who left the family, went West, broke away from our family style of life. I had felt unloved, and was quite critical of them.

But of course, years of Latihan, and having children of my own teaches us so much. Now I know that my parents did their best. Whether we like what our family did, or not, the family is a BASE of our lives. It’s something to react to and against. To be angry about, or grateful for.

Once I tested, ”why did I choose to come into this family?” I received “because I need to learn to worship God on my own”. Wow! What useful information!

Now I want to tell you my best, and most recent experience about a family member.

I wasn’t very close to my Father. There was something special about him though.

After years of doing Latihan, my husband and I had a bad car accident. Levi was in emergency, a serious head injury. It was Christmas Eve. My parents came to the hospital, traveling all the way from Pennsylvania to the hospital in Maryland. My father went to Levi’s bedside, looked down at him and spoke something. I saw a beam of golden light go from my father’s mouth down to the unconscious Levi. My Father was known for always visiting sick friends in the hospital, and now I knew why.

Some years later, in the middle of a big family Thanksgiving dinner, I said, across the table, to my Father, in the middle of the noise, “I saw that beam of light.”

That was that.

My Father died, in his 90’s, some years ago. OK, now the recent experience.

I was sitting outside a store in the rain, in my car. A man came out of the store, and his size and stance was similar to my father’s as I looked through the blurred wet windshield. And as he moved past my car, this little altering of reality happened and it was my father, it seemed. And I cried out. “Pop, where have you been all these years?” He replied, ”I’ve been right here all along.” I was very touched, and still cry when I relate it.

The other way to speak of “Family” is the family of mankind, and I can only say that the longer I do the Latihan, the more I feel the interconnectedness of us all, and know that we are all connected by the Inner Oneness with all of Life. It allows me to not miss friends who I haven’t seen physically for years, as we are all together all the time.



I do, yes I love Bapak. It’s just that simple. I am a “Bapak’s Man”. So is Peter, Lester, Latifah, Mardijah,  and a number of others. Peter called him “the boss”, and that’s right. That’s who I work for, as Secretary at Subud USA- Bapak.

I have a theory about Bapak, which is that he went to lengths to make sure we knew he was “an ordinary man” (ha-ha). I believe that he REALLY did not want to be set up as the next Jesus Christ. I mean, some of his enterprises failed. He had diabetes. He had heart attacks. He went and died before we thought he would! And we worried ”Would the latihan continue after he died?” Well, YES!  I think all this was to help make sure that we got it, that this great gift he passed on to us was indeed all about our own individual relationship directly with the One Almighty God.

Bapak in Paris in 1964

God knows what is right and what is wrong with each one of you. Therefore do not claim or consider that you are more right than other people. For in fact such an opinion indicates the contrary. People – here Bapak is talking in general, brothers and sisters – who are always bragging about their intellect and claim to be clever, are in fact the stupid ones. So it is clear that if you blame other people, you are the one who is wrong. If you were not wrong, you would not blame others; instead you would give them guidance. And what enables you to give someone guidance is, of course, that first you are able to understand the feelings of the person you are going to guide. That way, you will not be criticised afterwards, and the people you have advised will not be angry or disappointed with you.

And if you are fond of blaming other members, or like to maintain that your opinion is right, your behaviour is in fact motivated by the desires or passions in your heart and thinking; and these desires are the tools always used by the low forces that are below the level of your soul as a perfect human being. Whereas if you do not do that, but are patient and do not blame others or yourself, it means that you are protecting your inner feeling against the influence of the desires that are manipulated by the low forces.”

You know what I like best about that?

Bapak said to not blame others OR YOURSELF!

Wow. Don’t even blame yourself.

ENTERPRISE, MINUTE BY MINUTE: our work in the world.

Bapak says it so much better than I can. A year or so ago I GOT IT – all over again, that the Latihan manifests in our bodies, in our cells, in our daily work. Now I have something happening to me that forces me to pay attention.. My knees are now weak. So to stand up from the bench in the shower at the pool after a swim workout, I ask to be able to use my muscles and my attitudes in the right way, to stand up safely and well. When I step off a curb, I pay attention. And if I am upset, I don’t want to go on with my day feeling that way. I want to feel centered before going on.



One day I was looking for a retreat center to hold a small Subud event …that’s part of my job at Subud USA. I was looking at a small place, run by an order of Nuns, part of a group of churches. This was one of those marvelous free flowing conversations you have now and then, when you and the other person are on the same page.

The nun told me about their projects, providing low cost housing for the poor. They started an employment agency for the poor. I talked about Susila Dharma projects. Then I was talking to her freely about Subud, that there were people from all religions, and people with no specific religion, who did this spiritual exercise together. And I said, “We are just normal people, we argue about everything all the time, BUT I’VE NEVER SEEN US PUT DOWN SOMEONE ABOUT WHAT RELIGION THEY HAVE CHOSEN.”

I realized, as I said it, that it was true! She was very impressed, said how much the world needs this.

I know, in the 60’s, we went through the cult phase.  We look back with embarrassment at wearing Indonesian batiks, cooking Indonesian food, and so on. Bapak did what he could to stop this nonsense.  The women in Bapak’s family showing up in California wearing bright colored polyester trouser suits did wonders!  Bapak even told the guys to cut their long hair short: “be normal”.  And over and over: “don’t imitate others”.

SO, Subud has gone through various phases, but I think it is now morphing into something different. What is this 21st century Subud like? I don’t know. It’s happening all around us though.



Back in the old days, I was trying hard to “be spiritual”, as were so many. But seeing how Bapak’s family acted – so light! – gave me the clue that getting happy was really the way to go. Not an easy task – a life-long assignment! And now I feel that, without a sense of humor, there is no hope. But with a sense of humor – well, who knows? Even though we are just a funny old barrel of monkeys!