Monday, 3 August 2015

I Grew Up In A Cult

I grew up in a cult, a harmless cult but a cult nonetheless. My parents were and still are members of an Indonesian spiritual group called Subud. I say harmless because I really think it is. People of all and no faiths are in it and it forbids it's members from recruiting people. If someone asks you about it you can talk about it but you are not allowed to actively promote it. The theory is that if someone is supposed to find Subud - they will. Well, it's been going for nearly 100 years and has roughly 10,000 members worldwide. That's a little bit more than Luton Town's average attendance. My suggestion would be that either not many folk are meant to find it or Subud might want to look into finding some flexibility on that rule.

So what is it? The main thing that Subud members do is something called 'latihan' which translates as 'spiritual exercise'.  What does that mean? The idea is that, for half an hour or so, you submit yourself to God (or whatever you believe in) entirely. Does it work? Fuck knows.

From the age of 17 I did it regularly for about two years. Some experiment with drugs in their teens, others their sexuality. Me? Twice a week, I went to a small hall in Suffolk and pretended to be moved by God with my dad and his fifty something year old mates.

Since I was very young I had been in rooms next door to latihans, so I knew what they sounded like. Familiarity meant that, to me, there was nothing unusual about it. You might feel differently. People tend to sing nonsense or speak in tongues. Once I started attending latihans I was unsurprised to learn that they move about and dance too. Each person does their own thing. At no stage does a group ever find itself synchronising into an old show tune.

So there I was in a hall on a Tuesday in Sudbury about to receive God for the very first time. The men around me (latihans are split by gender) began to do their thing. Had I not grown up around it, it might have frightened me. I was just waiting for my spiritual earthquake though. Hit me Lord. Hit me with the answer. Nothing came. Should I sing anyway? No mate. It's your first one. Don't get ahead of yourself.

I should say that my parents never suggested I join. It was my own idea. Ludicrously, I think I thought that saying I was in an Indonesian spiritual group might be an effective chat up line. I also did it to feel like an adult. In Britain, once you're seventeen, you can drive. Well, I didn't have the money to take the test and, more importantly, have never trusted myself with heavy machinery. But for me, my seventeenth birthday came with another potential right of passage - Subud. All of my parents friends were in it and all of my parents friends were nice. Fuck it, I thought. I wouldn't mind a bit of God's love pouring down on me. There's nothing good on telly on Tuesdays anyway.

But God's love did not pour down on me. Perhaps I always stood in the wrong part of the room. The idea of God is a pretty big thing though and once you've decided to let the fucker into your heart you might as well give him a chance to find you. So I kept going back and He kept on missing me. After a while though I became aware of the fact I was the only one in the room not doing anything. As an A level Theatre Studies student I hated the idea of not putting on some kind of performance. So I started to sing. I started to move about. I even started to churn out some gobbledygook. There was only one occasion in which I convinced myself that I had actually felt a Divine presence. On reflection though, I think it was a draft. Gradually my attendance dropped off and about a year after going to University, I stopped going altogether. I was doing a drama degree. I had enough nonsensical moving about in my life.

I have nothing bad to say about Subud. I call it a cult in the nicest possible sense of the world. It has a 'cult' following in that its membership is small and geeky. Growing up around it gave me, from the get go, an openness to unusual things. But then my fruitless experience of practicing it may have contributed to a cynicism towards them to. When the time came and I opened up my receptors to let the spirits in - I didn't feel a fucking thing.