Halimah Polk Interviews Ibu Rahayu
Introduction of Interviews with Ibu Rahayu by Halimah Polk (doc)
These interviews represent meaningful conversations I was lucky enough to have with Ibu Rahayu from 1974 -1994. It wasn’t too hard to meet with Ibu during the time I lived in the Wisma Subud community from 74-77 and two of the interviews are from that time. I was living at the compound and working at the nearby International School. The second two interviews were held after I had left Indonesia and returned to California where I settled. In both of these cases I flew back to Indonesia to recover from slings and arrows that had befallen me — to recover some of lightness and happiness and closeness to my soul I felt while living at Wisma Subud. Ibu Rahayu was kind enough to meet with me on these two occasions as well. What prompted me to write up these interviews was not so much my story, but the feeling that I should share the invaluable guidance that I received from Ibu in hopes that it might as helpful to my sisters and brothers as it was for me. As I write these stories I am humbled by a sense of gratitude. In all cases these moments were incredibly beneficent.
First Interview with Ibu Rahayu 1974: Dream, Death and Destiny
A memorable dream
This story begins during the World Congress in Indonesia at Wisma Subud in 1971. During that amazing event, I spent my days basking in the latihan, Bapak’s talks and testing sessions, rehearsing with the Subud Symphony Orchestra led by Dean Dixon, shopping for batiks at the Subud stalls that had been set up all around the compound, schmoozing with old and new friends from around the world at the different tropical bistros and of course searching for a Subud husband (no luck at that time). I did, however, fall madly in love with Wisma Subud and Indonesia as did so many of us. During one of the final days of the Congress, I forcefully extracted myself from this blissful cocoon to visit the Joint Embassy School (now called Jakarta International School — JIS) where several Subud brothers and sisters living at Wisma Subud taught. At the time, I was a credentialed school teacher in the USA so it was reasonable to hope for a position at JES so I could stay on in Indonesia. When I arrived, I was sorely disappointed to find the school was closed down completely for holidays. I remember taking a lovely betjak ride through the lush, green rice paddies that surrounded the school as I returned to the Wisma Subud and the Congress. At that point, I put the entire notion of teaching in Indonesia out of my head.
After the Congress ended I returned home to Carmel Valley, but with no place to stay— To save money I had given up my apartment before leaving for Indonesia. Luckily, Roger and Laurice Grafstein, invited me to live with them temporarily. Just outside their house, they had a tiny white trailer charmingly nestled near their chicken coop and vegetable garden (Laurice’s pride and joy). It was mid August so the days were warm and the nights just a little bit cooler–perfect weather for sleeping in a trailer outside. Those weeks after the World Congress were almost as blissful as the Congress itself. I spent many hours at the Carmel Valley Subud house, more hours sharing with Laurice and Roger mementos of the Congress, hanging out with their young three year old daughter Ellen, and then in the evening I would snuggle into my wee trailer home, read a bit and fall asleep. It was there in that trailer, so relaxed and blissed out, that I had a luminous Bapak dream. In the dream, Bapak came to me and said (you’re going to laugh) you should come live in Cilandak and teach school there. And in the dream I remember protesting to Bapak, “But, Bapak, I was just there!” I was inwardly gnashing my teeth. Literally I was just two weeks out from being right there in Indonesia and riding the betjak over to the Joint Embassy School looking for work. Even so, I knew this dream was the real deal. It was 4AM and inwardly and outwardly, I was as quiet and clear as a serene mountain lake.
Being young and very sincere in Subud, I made humongous efforts to follow the guidance in this dream right away. Of course, my last cent had been spent going over to Indonesia and attending the World Congress and I was due to start back teaching in a few weeks time. Nonetheless, I trotted off to my bank to request a loan to “follow my guidance” but they were not about to give me a penny; in fact, no one was. So after a few months of floundering around, I settled into my teaching which was sorely demanding and proceeded to COMPLETELY forget about this dream and the guidance I had received.
An untimely death
That is, until three years later. In 1974, I was finishing up my third year of teaching with the Pacific Grove School District and had just been offered tenure. I was still living in Carmel Valley and was part of a very dynamic Subud group with a beautiful Subud house. In May of that year one of our young members, Leonard Roberts, who had come to us from Indonesia where he had been raised, was killed in a car accident. We were all devastated…this was the first time many of us had dealt with such a tragic death and we were beside ourselves with guilt and concern for Leonard. His mother, Aisha Roberts, flew in from Indonesia to take care of funeral arrangements and to participate in the selamatans we organized on Leonard’s behalf at the Subud House. Her surrender and quiet in the face of the loss of her son was a lesson to all of us. I remember her relating to us all one night what Sudarto, one of Bapak’s spiritual assistants, had told her before she had left Cilandak. That Leonard’s soul had completed its work on this earth so he was free to return to his true home and in fact this special soul had been the energy behind her coming to Subud long before he was even born. It was the first time many of us had encountered a spiritual perspective on death. Her quiet acceptance of her own son’s death catapulted us all into a deeper surrender.
Aisha stayed with me during her visit and many evenings we talked late into the night…conversing with her was like eating spiritual manna—she had so much spiritual wisdom to share. She had been in Subud since the beginning and had lived in Bapak’s home in Cilandak for 20 years. After a week or so had passed, I remember Aisha looking over at me and saying very emphatically, “Why aren’t you living in Cilandak?” I just looked her stunned because at that moment I suddenly remembered, Oh my God, my Bapak dream from three years ago.
“How did you know?” I asked. Aisha just laughed.
Two weeks after our conversation, I was on my way to Cilandak, Indonesia for a visit. The money fell in place; a small group of Subud members was headed there and included me in their travel plans. I basically had done nothing. Looking back, what now seems destined just came to pass in the twinkling of an eye and in 1974 I was returning to Indonesia.
But it gets better. I was scheduled for a month’s visit to Indonesia and settled into Wisma Subud life like a duck to water. I began to hang out with the residents rather than the guests and just loving everything Indonesian, from batiks to bamboo to gambang. It felt like home.
A big nudge…
Around the second week of my visit, I managed to secure an interview with Ibu Rahayu. We met in a room in Bapak’s old house on the compound. Of course I was terribly nervous. I told her that I had some questions about living in Indonesia and about my teaching… I wasn’t sure if teaching was such good work for me…it had been so stressful teaching in California. She sat across from me, listened very attentively and then she said.
Well, Halimah, have you tested about this by yourself?
At the time I was just shy of five years in Subud and not that confident about the quality of my own receiving, but Ibu was having none of that.
You should test this yourself, she said. Yes, why don’t you test these questions right now. You don’t have to ask me. You can just test it yourself.
So that’s what happened. Ibu sat in her chair, got really quiet and I stood up in a state of latihan and asked the questions for myself. What you have to remember is that when Ibu gets quiet, you get quieter than you can even imagine. So the first question she wanted me to ask was “how was it for me to live in California? I received it was full of agitation. I was still standing but not very peacefully; then she asked me to receive how it was for me to live in Cilandak. That was very quiet and peaceful. I told her Cilandak was clearly better for me than California Then, she asked me to receive about my work as a teacher. How was it for me to work as a teacher? That was really amazing, so powerful and so much growth and worship. She asked me how was that and I told her I was surprised that teaching was so good for me. She said yes, it would be good for you to stay in Cilandak but ONLY if you can get good work. And then she proceeded to nudge me.
Have you been to the Joint Embassy School school to look for work? Maybe you should go over there and see if they have work for you.
I nodded and thanked Ibu Rahayu profusely for her help. What I didn’t say to her was that the last thing I wanted to do was to run over to the school and interview for a teaching position. Testing was one thing, the follow-up job search was another.
I’ve often marveled at how Ibu Rahayu treated me in that interview. How respectful she was towards me. I was very young in Subud; I would have followed her directives like a cipher, but that’s not what she wanted for me. As a model helper, she gave me my self-respect by insisting that I could test these questions for myself that I had within me my own guidance. I remember talking with an older helper right after my interview marveling at how Ibu Rahayu had let me test by myself. Yes, she said, that’s the way of a truly gifted helper-never to give advice when the person is capable of receiving her own guidance…always showing respect.
About three days later, I was shopping in the small boutique on the compound when Ibu Rahayu came in to get a gift for someone. We greeted each other warmly and she said,
Oh, Halimah, have you been to the school?
Not yet, Ibu Rahayu. I’m going to go very soon, I white-lied.
About a week after our interview, I saw Ibu Rahayu again as I was strolling around the compound with some Subud sisters. We all stopped to greet each other and Ibu looked at me and said.
“O, Halimah, have you been to the school to find out about work?”
“Ibu, forgive me I’ve so busy, but I will go. I’m just a little tired having just finished teaching in the States”
“You should go over to the school. You mustn’t be lazy.”
There may have been a third reminder from Ibu, but I’m too embarrassed to admit it. In terror of having to face her again without following through on her suggestion, I dragged myself over the school. Well, you may have guessed the ending. I had the shortest interview of my work life history (which has been extensive). I was hired on the spot and arrangements were made to fly me back to the States, pack up my things and get my visa in Singapore on the way back. As easy as apple pie this time. It seems that my destiny was to live in Wisma Subud and to teach school for three years in Indonesia—just as Ibu Rahayu had perhaps received during our interview and just as Bapak’s guidance in that luminous early morning dream had foretold.