The Inside Story: Individual Talent and The Touch of the Soul
SICA INTERVIEWS BY MELINDA WALLIS
Sulfiati Harris Mardiyah Tarantino Aminah Raheem Benedict Herrman Loretta Covert Is this YOU?
As Ibu Rahayu reminds us:
“. . . Now this culture is not limited to dancing, or singing, or art in general. The human soul also touches human thought, so Subud will not hinder someone who studies. In fact this contact can help you pursue your profession. So for example some people become doctors, or architects, and so on. So people in Subud don’t just seek spiritual knowledge. We live as normal people and we pursue our respective professions, and at the same time we seek spiritual understanding.
“This is why Bapak made the decision to set up a Subud wing called the Subud International Cultural Association, or SICA. Bapak hoped that through SICA, Subud members who had a talent in a particular field would create something truly new or different, something that would touch other people, meaning people who are not in Subud, people outside Subud….” — 10 March 2002
sulfiati harris on the art of teaching art
Sulfiati with campers at Camp Badger in California
Melinda Wallis: Will you share your “creative self” and also give us a little bio of yourself?
Sulfiati Harris: The Harris’ lived in San Diego for many years, as our family of three children grew up. For many years, I ran the child care program at national and California regional congresses and met so many Subud families there. I’ve been in Subud for 44 years. I’m currently living in Miramonte, California, 30 miles east of Fresno, up in the mountains at 4000 ft. I live with my husband Sharif. Living with us right now is our daughter and family of six! We’re with the Subud San Joaquin Valley group.
If you had to choose an “art hat,” what would it be called? Art Educator?
I consider myself a Youth Activities Director. Yes, an Art Educator.
Did you do art as a child?
My Mom was an art major, and she raised us doing art projects — clay, mosaics, painting, you name it. So for me, it’s a lifelong habit to do art
What type of art are you doing now?
I feel that right now I am an art educator. Later, in another phase of my life, I will do my own art, when I have space, physically and psychologically.
It seems to me that being an art educator is an art in itself. You can bring the creativity out in people, yes?
Yes! I run the after school program at a local elementary school: kindergarten through 8th grade. There are about 123 kids a day in the program, from 3-4:30 pm.
What is the effect on the kids when you do art with them?
I can see kids come alive when they do art. I plan activities so that there is an excitement to it, so that there is a “hook” in the beginning to get the kids to buy into the experience. At our After School Program, they have a choice every three weeks of what they would like to do – what “club” to join. This is one of the few times they have a choice during their school day. These clubs include such fun as video making, chess, cooking and sewing, and a variety of sports. We also have clubs in the various arts, including beading, theater games and productions, going on field trips to see plays, fabric dyeing, drawing, artist trading cards, etc.
I feel very lucky that I am able to run a program like this in a beautiful public school facility, with nine staff members and a good budget for training and materials. All paid for by the State of California. Amazing!
I also run a summer camp, Camp Badger, with many of the same staff. This is a further development of that philosophy. The camp is an exciting adventure for the kids and full of absorbing art experiences (clay sculpture, drama production, dyeing, candle-making, etc). It is a Susila Dharma USA project and through their help and through other fundraising we are able to offer the camp experience at a price that is half to a third of what other local camps charge. It is held at Seven Circles Retreat, a Subud project.
The camp is an exciting adventure for the kids, and full of really interesting art experiences. And FUN is an important part of all this.
What do you feel is special about the camp?
One great thing is that the teachers at the camp are experts in their fields. One of the drama teachers is a working actress. The ceramics teacher is a professional. I am a professional at tie-dye.
Speaking of tie-dye, let’s go back in time. Please tell us about your tie-dye business! I think you did that several decades ago!
Yes, I wanted to sell something that was an open-ended kind of art activity that would give people a unique and successful art experience. The content was an easy-to-use technique that anyone could do. It was important to me that people could create something that could be part of daily life. A deeper meaning is that wearing your own art is a daily reminder of “who you are as a person” — a creative person!
Rainbow Rock was the name of the tie-dye kit business. I had it for ten years, started out in my garage. The business sold in 1999. It’s called TULIP now and it’s still helping spread art!
On the subject of art education. People talk about the “instrumental” value of art education — higher tests scores, things like that. But what do you think is the deeper value?
For instance, there’s a kid, call him Jimmy. His parents are not home much, he has a nanny, and he’s in 4th grade. He looks lost most of the time, kind of uncared for. He started coming to the tie-dye class and got so excited. He came alive. Then he came to a water color class and came alive again! He doesn’t know where he belongs, generally, but doing art gives him a feeling of who he is because he is experiencing something that makes him happy. It opens a window. If he can come to Camp Badger, that could be developed further.
Clearly you thoroughly enjoy teaching art! Has that always been the case?
It took me about four years to get comfortable teaching art. The junior high kids are still a challenge! For one thing they are taller than me! Now I also enjoy teaching beading, cake decorating, origami, of course tie-dye and all kinds of other dye techniques, sewing, decorative painting, candle-making, and so on.
After you joined Subud, did you experience a change in your relationship to art and teaching?
I joined Subud at age 23. At that time I was teaching high school English. The latihan was so strong, I went into crisis, andI couldn’t go on teaching at that point. I was a true space cadet! Also I was doing a kind of teaching that wasn’t appropriate for who I was at the time.
Later, after having three kids — and observing the fast of Ramadan many times, which was always a nudge — I started teaching drawing in people’s homes to small groups. This felt good. After that I started Rainbow Rock.
When you are teaching, does something new emerge? Is there that “aha!” moment?
I get that that “aha!” moment when I see kids light up. Something is really happening in them. So my teaching experience over time lets it work smoothly.
Do you have any advice you would like to give to budding artists?
Be patient. Love yourself. It’s hard work to do art. You have to put yourself out on the line. It takes courage to go for it. An artist has to expose his/her inner self in the art work and put it right out there for the world to see.
What would you say to someone who wants to teach art?
Start in a do-able way. Start small. Start with small groups. Notice what works and what doesn’t work, what shuts kids down or not. Be brave in your teaching methods. See what works!
Bottom line, why do you like your work?
Because this is FUN. It feels light inner-directed.This comes from the latihan!
You are doing good, deep and meaningful work! Thanks for sharing yourself with us.
MARDIYAH TARANTINO: WRITER
“…before Subud there were just the words, after being in Subud, the words had content.”
Mardiyah earned her master’s degree from the University of Hawaii. Her essays, stories and poems have been published in newspapers, reviews and anthologies. She currently lives in Cathedral City, California, where she is a member of the Palm Springs Writer’s Guild and the National League of American Pen Women.
Melinda Wallis: Can you start with a little bio of yourself.
Mardiyah Tarantino: I was born in Providence, Rhode Island, of a French mother and a father from old New England stock. At one point when my parents went to Europe, I was left at a French Convent for a year. Otherwise I was brought up in New England. Then we moved to Ohio when I was 14, and from there we went to California where my father taught at Stanford University. I’ve lived in France twice, in Indonesia at Wisma Subud, and in Hawaii for 20 years. I taught at the University of Hawaii — it was a big chunk of my life, getting that Masters degree at age 55 and then teaching at the University of Hawaii.
I’ve traveled to Spain, Morocco, and Uzbekistan. I have six children, fifteen grandchildren and three great grandchildren.
Whew! I know you are a painter as well as a writer — and a published author at that. But let’s just focus on you as a writer. Do you remember when you started writing?
I’ve written for as long as I can remember. For any little occasion, I’d write a poem. When I was seven, I wrote a true account about crossing the Atlantic and seeing an iceberg. French was my first language, but I was bilingual from childhood and later would write in French and English.
But I could always write. It was a natural thing to do. I noticed that even when I was sick, I could write. I would forget that I was sick if I started writing something — poems, birthday poems, little speeches for special occasions.
Was there a moment when you started to think of yourself as a writer?
No, because I was always doing other things as well, such as painting. I never said ”I’m a writer.” It was something I always did. I just wanted to express myself, or entertain others. I like to entertain people! And I do like to write with humor and lightness, which is true to my nature.
Well I think it’s good that you wanted to make people happy. Was there a particular form of writing you like best?
Prose. I’ve written poems, but I think only one good poem.
Have you ever had “writer’s block”?
I’ve never had writer’s block. But I HAVE written a lot of trash that had to be rewritten! I’d just let it flow out. I don’t get blocked by my thoughts. I’m not a constipated writer. But I’ve learned to be careful with the finished piece. I wasn’t always.
By nature, I’m a sloppy person, but here’s a story about a lesson I got from Bapak:
At one point I was working in The Secretariat in Cilandak, working with translations of Bapak’s talks. Once when I took him some completed translations, he taught me an important lesson. He sat me down and went over every little error I had made in the Indonesian and chastised me, making the point strongly that I needed to be more careful! I felt like I was being slapped by an angel! So — It was a good lesson.
Ibu Rahayu said ‘the human soul also touches human thought.” She also said that “Bapak hoped that through SICA, Subud members who had a talent in a particular field would create something truly new or different, something that would touch other people, meaning people who are not in Subud, people outside Subud.” So after you joined Subud, did you experience a change in your writing?
I have felt a widening in what I put on paper. I’m required to be more responsible for what I put on paper. The change comes in the way I use words. I learned from Bapak that words are powerful. There’s a difference in words that come from the head, from the heart , and from the inner. It’s our job to write words that are guided by the inner so that we can have a positive influence on others.
Before Subud there was just the words, after being in Subud, the words had content.
An example: After Ibu Siti Sumari died, Bapak had us read the Holy Qur’an all the way through. (In Indonesia, it’s customary to read the Qur’an out loud after someone dies.) The Indonesians would chant it in Indonesian, then the English speakers would read the translation in English. I felt very moved and felt the content of it so deeply as I read. I experienced the power of the meaning behind words.
Was the change in your “depth of writing” gradual? Or does something new emerge all of a sudden? That “aha!” moment…
I do feel that! It’s like a series of ahas! I’m aware of when that’s not happening.
I know you also interview people and write about Susila Dharma USA projects. Do you feel that you are getting inner guidance when doing that? Or that you are guided TO do it?
I feel that this is something that I CAN do for SD. I can’t do finances for them, God knows, but I CAN write for SD. It’s important for SD projects to have witnesses. When I interview someone, I have a feeling that I can put myself in their shoes, I feel empathy for that person.
Tell us about your three books and what you went through to write them.
1. Life At the Café Berlitz: A Memoir of Paris
This book is self published. I wrote it in 2004. A part of the description from Amazon.com reads: ”Life at the Café Berlitz is about the ‘other’ ex-patriates who lived in Paris in the 50s. These quirky and colorful characters … were the author’s ‘bodyguards’ during a decisive period of her life. They lived against the backdrop of post WWII France, when the Algerian war and existentialism were at their peak, and shared the Paris atmosphere with prominent personalities of the time — some of whom the author knew personally. This entertaining book is written with humor, pathos and a touch of the spiritual.”
I was writing about the period of my life right before finding Subud. It was a time when I went through a major transformation. The last sentence in the book says: “I did finally join this latihan experience, as Subud people call it, and what happened after that, was like the swing of a compass needle back to true north.”
2. Marvelous Stories from the life of Muhammad
This book was like a gift from my deceased daughter, Harlinah, who died when she was three months old, on Idul Fitri.
I was pregnant with her when I was travelling with Bapak and Ibu — six months pregnant.
I learned the Islamic prayers while she was alive during those three months. It was as if her spirit obliged me to learn the prayers. I wrote the book when I came back from Indonesia after thoroughly research the life of Muhammad, but it was a gift from her. It was published by the Islamic Foundation. Harlinah was my 6th child.
This was a major transforming event in my life, my journey with Harlinah.
Being a child in the 40s had a strong impact on my life. I was inspired by the unity and solidarity which swept over the land during World War II. We children willingly joined in the sacrifices made by our parents at the home front for the soldiers at the war front. So that was my inspiration.
Alice is on Amazon on paper and Kindle. It’s been advertised in the New York Review Of Books and is in a collection housed in the World War II museum in Louisiana. It’s also going to be in the Los Angeles Book Fest. It’s doing well.
“In Providence, Rhode Island, at the height of World War II, feisty and intrepid eleven-year-old Alice, whose father and uncle are fighting in the war, is determined to make her own contribution to the war effort. Despite her mother’s disapproval, Alice dreams of gaining recognition as an airplane spotter.” — Google e-book summary
“A strong-willed, patriotic young girl growing up during WWII dreams of being a war heroine in Tarantino’s heartwarming tale. . .a story for children and adults, full of historical details and humorous anecdotes.” — Kirkus Review
Do you have any advice to give to budding writers?
Write as much as you can. Listen to what people say about your writing, and don’t be offended by it. You may not agree with them, but listen. Younger people: write about anything, write all the time, get words on paper. My advice is to join a critique group that may be attached to the Writer Guild of your locale. It is so useful.
Getting to Know Aminah Raheem
Aminah Raheem, PhD, is a transpersonal psychologist, diplomat of process work, and originator of Soul Lightening International, a non-profit organization dedicated to soul realization and wholistic health of the individual, family, and society. She is the author of Soul Lightning and Soul Return.
Melinda Wallis: Rich as your life has been, can you give us a little summary of your journey on Planet Earth?
Aminah Raheem: I was born in 1933 in Phoenix, AZ, and was raised in my early life in the Arizona desert. My offspring and when they were born: Paulina in 1949, Philip in 1957, Rosalind in 1958, and William Henry in1962. Paulina was born when I was 15. I also have seven grandchildren and six great grandchildren. I’ve lived in California since about 1957.
When I was 19, I completed University with a BA in Literature and a Minor in Psychology. I studied for a year in Denmark at the International People’s College. It was organized after WWI to promote peace in the world. It’s purpose for me was this: there was an avowed Communist at the school. In the USA at that time, we were terrified of Communism. But he and I got along fine. This demonstrated to me that politics should not inform relationships!
Then back in the States, I taught high school Literature and Psychology for ten years — the mid 60s to mid 70s, as I was raising the children. After ten years, I went to teach at the Centering School in Marin County, in northern California. This was a Subud school in the 1970s that some of us started. I taught writing, literature, and geography. And I was also the counselor there. Isaac Goff donated $10,000 to pay my salary! It was an experimental school, done with good intentions and good spirit, but not enough knowledge. It lasted one year.
Next I took a job at a middle school for one year as a counselor. I had to be getting inner guidance in order to work with them at all, as it was a chaotic situation!
During these experiences of teaching and counseling kids, I was really trying to help kids deal with their lives. This was the life experience that was the background for the creation of my work. At some point I also worked at two universities promoting their cultural arts programs.
Was that satisfying?
The teaching was satisfying. The promotion work was somewhat satisfying, but was mainly making a living.
In the late 70s, I moved to Santa Cruz, California, where there was a large, strong Subud group. I started working as a counselor with Reynold Bean and Haris Clemes with a business called APOD (Association for Personal and Organizational Development). In that work I could see more of what was needed for people to get healthy and whole. I had learned acupressure already: clearly people needed body work as part of complete therapy.
I started putting together a holistic model of complete human development. Part of this came from Bapak’s description of what it means to be a complete human being. I decided I needed a PhD in Psychology, so I attended The Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Menlo Park, California. During that time I also taught acupressure at the Institute and did my dissertation on the holistic model that I developed.
I had a bug about developing this holistic model. This started way back, after I was first in Subud, because I had experience of my own soul in the latihan. So I knew that the current psychological beliefs and practice about Mind, with a little Feelings added, weren’t adequate.
That was way back. Each year I did latihan I had more experience of the necessity of having awareness of Body-Mind-Emotion — and Soul.
After the PhD, I studied for ten years with Arnold Mendell, the originator of Process work. About 1982 I started teaching what I then called Process Acupressure. And at the same time I was also studying all the time: psychology stuff, taking classes and doing my own personal reading. I was opened at age 25, so together with the studying, I was also doing regular latihan, which helped me create my work later.
My work keeps evolving and growing, with understanding coming to me from inner guidance. A curious thing that happens, is that sometimes when I’m doing my work, the vibration of the latihan becomes so strong that the client is definitely affected. They either experience a healing, or a feeling of expansion and clarity, and a feeling of being loved. It’s what comes through me that they are feeling.
Did the type of work you did earlier in life help to prepare you for your current work?
When I worked with the middle school kids, I kept seeing how they weren’t adequately prepared for an adult life of happiness and health.
In 1992, I married Fritz Smith, founder of Zero Balancing. Of course, I also studied and learned his work. We’ve worked and taught together all these years since then, working from our home base in the Anza Borrego desert.
I’ve always wanted to help people become healthy and whole. As time has gone on, my understanding of what that means has deepened and widened.
After you joined Subud, did you experience a change in your work?
Yes. Before age 25, I was raising children, and worked in an office a bit. As soon as I was opened, people around me noticed a change in me. Everything changed, and was influenced by the latihan.
In 1971, at the World Congress in Indonesia, Bapak gave a talk to teachers. I went.
This statement is etched in my brain. At that moment I said: “Yes, I’m going to do that.” That was the vision I had, starting from that moment.
Was the change gradual, what happened, does it still happen? For example -all of a sudden, does something new emerge? That “aha!” moment…
While I’m working with people I get that inner guidance of what to do next.
Tell us about your books.
My first book, How to Raise Teenagers’ Self Esteem, was written after years of teaching teens.
Soul Lightning is a memoir of a spiritual search.
Soul Return is a description of the holistic model I developed.
I’m writing a new book now that picks up after Soul Return and starts with a chapter on the Universal Unifying Field that suffuses everything.
Chapter 2 is the Psychology of Wholeness which describes what the whole human is — including the Soul.
Do you have any advice for aspiring therapists?
Yes. Cultivate your own Inner Attunement and refer to that for your Guidance. The therapy field is full of arrogance — “this how is how it is,” they say, quoting Freud. But most of this is wrong!
Warm thanks to you, Aminah, for sharing yourself with us.
NB: Aminah Raheem will be giving a workshop on Process Acupressure at Esalin Insitute in late October 2013. Click here for details.
BENEDICT HERRMAN AND LORETTA COVERT INTERVIEWS >>>>>COMING SOON.
Do YOU have a story to share? Contact SICA gal, Melinda Wallis if you wish to be interviewed for INSIDE STORY. Or, if you have written your story already, send it on with some images to: sica at subud-sica.org
Be sure to check out the STORIES section of the site for more stories about people discovering and acting upon their talents. Thank you!