May 15th 1970, Age 18
It was dusk when I arrived at the Conner’s house and rang the bell. Oriana led me into the living room and told me Raymond and two other men were in the basement preparing for the opening. She offered me a Subud leaflet; I tried to read but the words slipped away. I struggled to relax and clear my brain as it wavered between fear and hope: Is this be the real deal or just a brainwashing cult as Freda warned?
After what seemed like an age, Raymond took me down the outside steps into a carpeted dimly lit basement room. It smelled faintly damp. The two other men greeted me with their names, which I immediately forgot. Raymond asked me to take off my shoes, empty my pockets and stand in the middle of the room. The three men surrounded me in a loose circle.
Standing there in the center, I felt an inexplicable inner trembling. My mind raced: What’s happening? Am I afraid? I can leave anytime—no ones going to stop me. Will I feel anything? What if it’s all nonsense and nothing happens?
Raymond asked me to repeat after him: “I believe in Almighty God and wish to worship only God.” I said the words though I hadn’t a clue what they meant. Reading Subud literature, I’d got used to the word God; it no longer set my teeth on edge. Almighty God as described by Bapak was not at all like my childhood Catholic deity: not a distant demanding father figure up in heaven—more an inscrutable, mysterious presence far beyond ordinary understanding. I could kind of accept that.
Raymond took a sheet of paper out of his pocket and read the opening words. I caught the gist of it: they were helpers in Subud witnessing my wish to worship God. He asked that I didn’t use my will or concentrate my thoughts, but open my feelings and surrender. He told me to close my eyes, relax and not pay attention to other people around me. If movements arose in my body, I shouldn’t resist—just follow whatever happened.
He paused for a moment and said, “Relax… Begin.”
One of the men started to sing a wordless wandering melody; it kept repeating. Eyes closed, I could sense the men moving about the room. Then someone chanted in what sounded like a garbled ancient language. I did my best to ignore the sounds and motion but it was distracting, even a little bothering. I was standing there like a dummy while they were experiencing something else. My mind wouldn’t let go of its curiosity and uncertainty. What are they experiencing that I can’t? What am I meant to do? Are they judging me?
After a long while, I got bored with my thinking and started noticing what was going on inside me. Gradually, imperceptibly, I felt a subtle sense of quiet. Opening my eyes, I checked to see if there were signs of hypnosis or odd influences—nothing except three ordinary guys making weird noises and walking around. But something was happening.
My arms started to lift, not from any outside force but from a kind of inner intention that was not my will, yet I knew I could stop it at any time. It felt natural, as if my arms simply wanted to move. They spread wide, just above shoulder height, seeming to express a gesture of gratitude and worship.
Then Raymond said, “Finish”, and the half-hour latihan was done. Following the example of the others, I sat down in a chair at the edge of the room. After a few minutes, the men came up and congratulated me—I was officially opened in Subud. They ushered me out of the basement and I went upstairs to have a cup of tea and biscuits with Oriana.
The next few days were spent in intense rumination. The latihan—what to make of it? I was both intrigued and disappointed. Yes, my arms had moved by themselves and I’d felt peaceful—but that was it. No mystical insights; no ecstatic rushes. There didn’t seem to be hidden sources of control or unhealthy influences; it was all a bit ordinary. Oriana and Raymond were very nice and they were expecting me at latihan next Tuesday. Should I go or not?
After a week of inner questioning, I woke on Tuesday morning with a feeling of calm clarity. A decision had been made: Subud was OK and it was good for me to continue.
The weeks passed. Every Tuesday and Thursday, I spent half an hour in the Conner’s basement room, standing still, occasionally moving, struggling to let go of my whirling thoughts, too self-conscious to make a sound, but with an increasing sense of trust and acceptance. After latihan one evening, I came home filled with a new sensation, a gentle vibration of energy focused in my chest.
That night, I lay awake. Across the hostel room, four boys lay submerged in untroubled slumber. A misty moon shone through one high window, outlining each bed in shades of gray. Despite the inner vibration, I felt calm and began to wonder about my sleeping companions, boys I hardly knew.
My chest grew warm and a feeling-sense expanded outward from my body, touching the sleeping forms, caring for them, wishing them well. The feeling swelled wider, filling the room, growing and intensifying. Images of my family slipped into my mind: brothers and sisters—Toody, John, Dilly, Jeffie and Veronica, Dad and even Mother. The feeling wrapped around each family member in a tender embrace. Expanding outward, it seemed to encompass everyone and everything; soft tears gathered at the corners of my eyes.
For a moment I was puzzled: I’d never experienced anything like this before. Then I realized, this feeling had to be love.
The Inner Journey
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air…
We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
Thank you for accompanying me on this journey. Hopefully it resonates and prompts you to explore your own adolescent self. Teenage years are crucial, a life-phase in which we gain self-awareness and self-will and begin to recognize glimmers of our true nature. To understand the person we’ve become, we have to know where we’ve come from: adolescence is the key.
Looking back over that four-year period, it’s not the happenings, the turbulence or inner torment that stand out. With hindsight, I see a deeper pattern, an underlying structure that is purposeful and progressive. Life is a vast and complex tree of interwoven branches, stems and twigs. At every fork on the tree is a decision-event that splits the world of possible futures. Once we step onto a particular branch, we’ll never know where the others led—and we can never repeat that particular step. Fortunately, new offshoots are infinite, so we always have unlimited choices.
Some powerful experiences and the options we choose, create major divergence in the web; they are clefts in our life-tree, determining the direction of a lifetime. This story describes the important decision-events of my adolescence. It seeks to unravel their underlying complexity, the forces—inner and outer—that pushed me one way or another, and my growing ability to consciously decide which path to take.
Decision-events are cumulative. They shape, constrain and even compel our subsequent choices. Deciding to stay in Ireland with my mother wiped Wales, school and family off the map. Poverty made me look for work at the Ormond Hotel; choosing to steal drinks and getting sacked pushed me toward Cork and the Boys Home. I can never not have gone to Ireland; I can never live a life as if I’d stayed in Wales.
Every decision-event, each experience, sustains our journey toward wholeness—or causes us to stumble. Trauma and ordeals crack a branch, disrupt the continuity of our selfness and shift our lives onto a different track. Even as it hurts and harms, suffering opens unforeseen inconceivable parallel pathways. Whether we thrive and bloom or falter and fail hangs on the intent and awareness we bring to the situation and the meaning we weave around it.
Now, as I revisit my adolescence, I appreciate the painful, perplexing situations and the many twists and turns of the journey. It all resides within me, enriching who I’ve become—nothing is irrelevant or insignificant.
In particular, two harrowing events transformed my life: near-death in the Bristol Channel and near-suicide in the caravan. With each, my life-path turned a sharp corner and fixed my sight on a more transcendent vision.
The near-death at age 14 planted a spiritual seed deep in the soil of my soul. I glimpsed a different way of being, an all-encompassing serenity so different from normal life. The agony in the caravan provoked a strong desire to escape this world. Anguish germinated the soul-seed and, like every seedling, it grew towards the light, seeking an otherworldly luminosity.
My life has been a search for a heavenly other place that exists deep within us and also beyond this life. I sense it as a constant tidal pull just below the surface. In comparison, this world is thin and transitory—a fascinating but wearying trip abroad. A subtle longing for my true home led me to Subud and a process of active surrender—the bedrock of my spiritual practice.
How did I get there? I trace the winding road back to the decision made from the depths of confusion after I’d decided not to kill myself: live as if life has meaning. That life-binding decision created a feedback loop, a self-fulfilling prophecy that magnified self-awareness and helped guide my choices. When we live with intention, the world is a different place: synchronicities become commonplace, formerly unnoticed opportunities shimmer bright and clear. We see and feel aliveness.
Victor Frankl tells us that meaning and purpose helped Jewish death camp inmates survive in the most horrific and inhuman conditions. Just so, living each moment with intention and purpose keeps us firmly embedded in this world while growing towards transcendence. If we’re not inhabiting—or at least seeking—purpose in life, what’s the point? Emptiness, futility and hopelessness push us inexorably towards the void.
Ultimately, our purpose is to live a life fulfilled and translucent. We’ve burnished our ego enough that love and our soul-light shines through. Then we are ready to transmute: hard brittle ice to flowing water, cleansing water to ethereal mist. Then even the mist dissolves into stillness.
Deep within the stillness is an insistent thread connecting us to something Greater. As shorthand, I call that something God or Heaven because it feels warm, welcoming and generous. Once we sense that thread, we never forget; it beckons to us, letting us know that when the time comes, we will find our way home.
If we have done our work in this world—engaged with life, struggled with our selfishness, learned to love without restriction—then we can look forward to death with the deep satisfaction of a life well lived.
 Frankl, V. E. (1992). Man’s Search for Meaning (4th ed.). Beacon Press.