Stories: Talent and the Touch of the Soul#MF

". . . Now this culture is not limited to dancing, or singing, or art in general. The human soul also touches human thought. . . .So for example some people become doctors, or architects, and so on. . ."

"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.”      —— Ibu Rahayu, 10 March 2002

A few stories of how some people have experienced the truth of these words. Follow the stories of Hermina Ruetz; Maxwell Fraval; Erica Sapir; Isaac Goff.




MY "YUMMY" LIFE by Hermina ruetz

It could hardly have been further away from my thoughts as well as my life style till the timeI came to live on the “Paradise” island of Bali, East of Java. At the age of almost 50 and after eight years of demanding and exciting office working life in the modern business world of the city of Jakarta, my (then) husband and I set out for a “new” life in Bali. We felt strongly that we needed to create an open space away from the restraints of life in the big city and the comfort of — as well as the strings attached to — company employment in this big city in order to create a situation which would enable us to stand on our own feet again. Bali was our choice as the island had become quite familiar to us by then through previous holiday visits and several former working engagements of my husband.

It was after Bapak’s 40-day selamatan that we packed our household and drove East, accompanied by Hayden’s “Four Seasons” and cold blasting air conditioning all the way through beautiful Java to lovely Bali.

It took us one year of test and trial in various fields during which our savings gradually reached a rather critical level when one day I decided to bake a cheesecake and found that there was no cheese nor was there any fresh milk available in the whole of Bali. Well, “if you can’t find it, make it” was our conclusion.

With this rather determined yet seemingly paradoxical decision, my “Yummy” life started. Reconstituted dry milk was naturally thickened and my first cheesecake was a surprise success — especially among our expatriate friends. In 1988 caviar or oysters would not have created a surprise as a fresh lemon cheesecake in an environment totally starved of dairy products! Encouraged by the enthusiastic response from our friends, I gathered all my courage and finally offered some kilos of fresh white cheese to the American Executive Chef and his Austrian Pastry Chef of the five star “Grand Hyatt” Hotel in Sanur. To my surprise I was given my first order then and there, and many more would follow from then on!

Little did I know what adventure I had set in motion! And good I did not know, because, for sure, I would never have started! But, thankfully, it all just happened one thing at a time, yet pretty steadily gaining in speed as we went along.

Nearby busy Denpasar’s endless rows of small stores and traditional market stalls offered cotton sarongs for “cheese cloths." different sized plastic bowls, buckets, and containers, sieves and wooden spoons and the supermarket offered cans of dry milk for Bali’s gorgeous babies. Not exactly a state-of-the-art range of equipment for setting up a commercial dairy production! We quickly realised that whatever was lacking had to be replaced or complemented by imaginative creativity, technical skill, and diligence, in other words hard work and trust in our inner guidance.

Looking back I can only remember one occasion in which we tested in regard to business decisions. And the receiving was clear and turned out a real blessing. Most of daily business was carried out without hesitation while feeling accompanied by the latihan inside. I often became aware that the business pulled me forward further and further, “it” knew which way to turn when I myself would not know. I often became aware that although it was our business, our doing, the business never felt that we were “owning” it. It felt much more as if we were acting on a kind of stage – most actively involved and yet very detatched - the “master” was someone else but seemed to accompany us closely

Guidance came in very practical ways, like meeting the right people at the right time, who gave good advice, who worked with us, who carried bags of freeze dried cultures, bottles of rennet and other ingredients, books on cheese making and even pieces of equipment in their holiday suitcases from Europe. Unfortunately there was never any information on how to make cheese in the tropics! So we had to create our own experience and learn from it. Test and trial but also amazing success stories became well known friends on the way. The number of customers kept growing: hotels, restaurants, bakeries individuals galore all over Bali – word spread quickly and our efforts paid off.

We quickly added new products: Next to Cream Cheese, came Feta Cheese, fresh creamy cheeses with either black or green pepper corn, garlic, chilli, vanilla — Bali’s own range of spices from the surrounding volcanoes — Ricotta Cheese, Mascarpone, Sour Cream etc. Much later goat cheeses and different kinds of yoghurts were added. We did not have to worry about our limited cold storage space. Deliveries had already left the house before the next production run began!

After about one and half years we decided to move back to Jakarta which would allow the business access to fresh milk and an even bigger market. From Jakarta we kept providing the Bali market via regular airlifted supplies to a distributor there. (Over the years the trade with Bali has developed into weekly truck loads of tons of our products.) 

Now it was time to conquer the Jakarta market. We successfully approached the big international hotels and restaurants as well as all the huge international supermarket chains. Our Jakarta debut happened just at the right time, when people’s food awareness had begun to turn its attention to Western food and society was transforming its rather traditional way of life into a modern and open minded metropolitan life style. And we — PT YUMMY FOOD UTAMA , by now a registered limited liability company — were the first company in this vast and fifth most populated country in the world to produce dairy products! A dairy laboratory was established, daily supplies of several thousand liters of fresh milk arrived, a pasteurizer was put in place, the workforce grew and had to be trained on hygiene and detailed and precise production procedures etc. etc.

In those days the so called “big players” in the world of dairy production only exported their goods to the supermarket shelves in Indonesia but “YUMMY” had all the advantages in those days of being the only local producer. We were truly lucky. Meanwhile, several years later, some of the “big players” eventually opened production facilities in the country. Yet “YUMMY” went on from strength to strength. In order to be able to recover their high investment cost for their humongous facilities these big companies from abroad could only survive by catering mainly for the low-income mass market whereas PT YUMMY FOOD UTAMA continued to cater with its higher quality products for the higher end of the market. So everybody could live.

After the initial years in Jakarta “YUMMY” products found their way into many of the big cities on the main islands. Since recently also the Hypermarket in Palangkaraya offers the whole range of around 30 different YUMMY products, and the people living in Central Kalimantan don’t have to carry the YUMMY yoghurts and cheeses anymore in their cool boxes on to the plane from Jakarta!.

I built up and managed the business till 2007 when I moved back to Germany for family reasons. But the business, now belonging to an Indonesian family, continued to grow, and I am happy when during my annual visits to Indonesia I see all the colourfully packaged yummy goodies on the supermarket shelves.

The lessons I learned during these hard working and creative years were countless. Perhaps the main one was that I found the reality of the saving grace only after I had left the so called safe ground of well paid employment.

So in the end “the proof was in the cheese”!


Post Script from the YUMMY website:  "YUMMY was founded by a strong business woman with a dream. . . . Today, YUMMY employs more than 300 qualified men and women, who maintain the high standards and homemade taste that, were the hallmark of Hermina’s first cheeses all those year ago."

Editor's Note:  Our dear sister, Hermina Ruetz, passed away April 29, 2013, shortly after she had written and sent her "Yummy story" on to me. She was buried in Suka Mulia in Indonesia. An old friend and colleague of hers, Leonard Regnier, wrote a lovely memorial tribute to her that was published in Subud World News. You can download that here. LT





Many Subud members have experienced the truth of what Bapak and Ibu have said about the nature of culture — how it is something that awakens within each of us by itself, a skill or talent that is uniquely ours — and how if we are able to develop that skill or talent, our work makes us happy. And often, our work benefits others as well.

Here are the accounts of three different Subud members who each experienced an awakening of their talents via their practice of the latihan. They are are from three different parts of the world. They each developed very different and distinct talents. And they were able to put their talents into practice: They became themselves: True culture.


Maxwell Fraval, D.O: Finding my Talent — One Subud Member’s Journey

Maxwell Fraval was born and raised in the UK. He now lives and practices in Australia. He also serves as the World Subud Association CEO.

In 1972 Bapak visited the U.K. as part of the process of progressing the Sinar Kentjana Mulia (S.K.M.) Bank. He was in London first, and I followed Bapak when he went to Edinburgh. It was at one of his talks there that I was very forcefully struck by Bapak’s advice that we should be able to feel the action of the latihan in our work; that this latihan was a latihan of life and that all our actions should be moved and educated by the ‘life within our life”. At that time I was in the final stages of completing my training as a lawyer and I knew with absolute certainty that I would never be able to follow Bapak’s advice if I continued to work as a lawyer.

But what was my real work? Off I went to the helpers group and several sessions of testing later (about every conceivable spin-off from a legal qualification) I was no closer to what my talent was. At this point I decided that if Bapak said we should be able to feel what our true talent was that he certainly meant it. So I decided to fast on Mondays and Thursdays as a prayer that I would be able to receive guidance about my talent: how to recognise it and then to develop it.

After nine months of fasting I felt that I had done enough and that “what will be will be”. Two months later, the senior partner whom I was assisting at Lovell White & King (a big law firm in the Strand, London) became ill, so that I had to take over a matter which involved obtaining advice from a Queen’s Counsel for the Register of Osteopaths in the U.K. I remember meeting with Cmdr. Morris (a real character) who was the Register’s Secretary at the time, and off we went to counsel’s chambers. We sat there in chambers discussing a fairly arcane aspect of the law and Cmdr. Morris really waded in, allowing me to be the observer. As I sat there, suddenly I felt the latihan so powerfully that my thinking completely stopped – very unusual!! As the latihan continued, from within I was told “Osteopathy is the right work for you: follow it”. It seemed like the latihan went on for a long time but it probably didn’t last more than a minute.

As my ability to think returned I got back into the legal business that I was supposed to be focussed on. Later on after leaving Cmdr. Morris, I started to reflect on the experience back there in chambers — was this some osteopath...there must be some mistake!!!! I dismissed the whole thing as a momentary aberration. To my amazement the next group latihan the whole crazy notion returned. Thereafter for several months I kept getting indications that this really was the right thing to do; from within I was told “your wife will respect you (I was not married then, but it turned out that my wife Asmaniah has needed regular osteopathic treatments and was very appreciative of having an osteopath for a husband!!!); you will be involved in teaching; you will be able to find new ways of working as an osteopath” and so on.

Still I hesitated; was this guidance really from God or was it just my imagination. I remember the moment of decision came when there was a regional latihan down in the west country. I knew that Pak Haryono was going to be there. I thought “If Bapak’s son is there in the latihan then surely if this crazy notion is an illusion then it will be made clear during the latihan”. Well during the latihan I received “If you do not follow this guidance then you might as well not continue to follow this latihan”(!!!) At that moment I felt very weak and, from within, as I accepted the guidance, I felt “I will follow this, but I cannot do it on my own; please God help me each and every step along the way”.

So I started upon this wonderful adventure called Osteopathy in 1973.

I went back to school and did a bridging course to bring my basic sciences up to speed. I married Asmaniah in March 1974 and started my Osteopathic training in September of that year. I had applied to the County Council for an educational grant but was turned down the first and second times. I went in person to the County Council offices and talked to staff there to try to find out if there was any other avenue of appeal. They told me that it was possible to appeal in person to the education committee of the County Council. I did this and some months later found myself facing a formidable group of grey haired worthies who were all very skeptical about the sincerity of my commitment. I was delighted when they said that they would fund me for the last one and a half years of my 4 year course.

We lived off savings for the first year during which I applied to the Osteopathic Education Foundation (OEF) for a grant to help in the 2nd and 3rd years. The OEF turned me down because they had decided 7 years before (after funding several students all of whom failed to complete their training) that they would only fund capital works for the Osteopathic educational institutions.

I reapplied to the OEF at the beginning of the 2nd and they agreed to review my application. The trustees did not meet until after the start of the second year and so I had to begin the 2nd year without knowing if any money would be available from the OEF. As it happened, the Trustees of the OEF met on the 21st night of Ramadhan of that year (!) and agreed to reverse their decision of seven years before and give me a scholarship until the County Council grant started.

As an additional way of making ends meet, I did property conveyancing compressed in between my busy study schedule. Asmaniah did all the secretarial work in addition to looking after the home (with first one and then two babies whilst I was still at Osteopathic school). Subud members seemed to move for our own benefit rather than theirs (!) and through the whole time of my studies we had a reguler stream of conveyancing jobs — I became known as the ‘coin-box solicitor’ as most of my calls made in business hours were from a pay phone at the British School of Osteopathy!

Towards the end of my studies I was invited to meet an osteopath who had been in practice in Amersham (Buckinghamshire) for 25 years. Margaret Cockbain D.O. had established a practice with an exceptional reputation and had been looking for someone to take over her practice for 3 years. The long and the short of our discussions over several months was that Margaret agreed to sell me her practice (and the clinic where she had established it) and to lend me the money to buy it, interest free! This was a real blessing for us after years of barely making ends meet.




Erica Sapir, Puppeteer: One Story About Talent Testing

Erica, born and raised in Florence, was living in Israel when her story began. She now calls France home — when she’s not traveling with her puppets on behalf of Puppeteers Without Borders, which she founded. Erica also serves on SICA’s Board of Directors.

25 years ago, in my early forties, a respected and dutiful mother of five semi-adult children, I decided, carried away by the Subud fashion of those times, to test my true talent. In my CV there was a brief, youthful stint in journalism, an interest in Art, a passable ability to draw, and a brilliant career in motherhood.

The test showed, to my utter surprise, that my talent was in Theatre.

Now, theatre was something I was never even interested in. True, when I was a little girl and had assisted with a very primitive puppet show (with paper figurines attached to sticks) made by some neighbors, I was overwhelmed by the magic of it, and when I had small children of my own I made puppets for them and encouraged them — with great success indeed —  to make small shows for family and friends.

So, testing showed that Theatre — with a big T — was my talent. And it didn't help when, at an international meeting in England, I tested again, with experienced helpers, without telling them of my previous receiving. (I was driven by desperation to such deceits.) They received ever more clearly that even the timing was right for me to work in theatre!

I was sure that everyone in the profession, my family, and everyone who cared would make fun of me.

The safest way to start was with puppetry. I took books home. I went to see a lot of puppet shows — and I found out that there was, within theatre, a whole area that actually left me spellbound. That is the area which is called "Visual Theatre," which includes the art of performance, puppetry for adults, as well as for children, video art ,mime, installations, working with masks, and different combinations of all those. "By chance" I discovered that a new school for visual theatre was just opening in Jerusalem, (some 100km from where I lived), and at the last minute, I applied for enrollment, thinking that if I were accepted, it would be a "sign" and everything else would fall into place.

And so it did. Out of some 100 applicants, 15 were chosen and I among them. An elderly Subud sister living in Jerusalem happened to need someone to sleep in, so as not to be alone at night. My two teenage girls who still lived at home were very brave and encouraging, and the puzzle pieces did fall into place. That's how a totally new life began for me.

The studies (three years) were very intensive, interesting, eclectic — and although I was, at 43, the oldest student, I soon started to feel completely in my element. I would be back home at weekends, cleaning and cooking as much as I could, but feeling a renewed energy and happiness. I can't remember having ever felt tired or discouraged.

As the final project, I chose to do an adaptation of an amazing novel which I had found, again “by chance," in a secondhand bookshop. The Dwarf, by Nobel Prize winner, Par Lagerkwist. Virtually unknown in Israel and very foreign to the local culture, the novel is about a dwarf in the service of a prince of the Italian Renaissance. Being born and raised in Florence, I found the story impossible to resist.

In the adaptation I made, I acted the dwarf with a kind of body puppet attached to my neck, while the other characters were small puppets which I manipulated from various parts of a table on which the dwarf puppet was sitting.

Teachers, fellow students, and families at the end-of-the-year performance received the piece very well. Among the teachers who expressed a positive reaction was my acting teacher, Yehuda Almagor, a young and very good actor himself. He encouraged me to "do something" with the short fifteen-minute piece, and after consultations, my own hesitation, and discussions, we decided to work together on the same idea, and develop it into a full show for adults with him as the actor, and me doing . . . all the rest.

It was an exhilarating time. We worked for some six months, enlarging the adaptation, directing together, and me building new puppets (this time, life size), and props.

The debut was at a new festival in Tel Aviv called Theatre Netto — quite prestigious — and we received second prize.

"The Dwarf" has been performed hundreds of times in Israel and in Europe in many international festivals. (We translated it into German and English.) We received a special prize in Germany. Since then, I have worked on many other shows, mainly as designer and puppet builder. Work has been steadily flowing without having to look for it.

After a few years of this, maybe as a delayed reaction to death in the family, I felt I needed an interlude, and again, encouraged by positive testing, I traveled to India with the idea of working as a volunteer at Mother Theresa's Home for the Dying. I lived in Calcutta for 8 months, during which time I also worked with children who live at the huge railway station, doing with them "art lessons," and of course, a puppet show. I also did a workshop for teachers at a school for the handicapped. These activities put some seed for what was to come later. . .

After one year, I was back in Israel with renewed enthusiasm.

I worked on another puppet show for adults with the same actor, and we were invited to participate in the prestigious Jim Henson Puppet Festival in New York; and for another show for children, I won a first prize at an International Festival in Israel.

In 2001 I moved from Israel to France, and settled in a small village, far from Festivals and Theater groups. I therefore started to cultivate the seeds I had kept from my visit to India: to see ways in which puppetry could help humanitarian causes. I created with friends, formers colleagues from Israel, an organization which we called “Puppeteers Without Borders”, through which we offer our know-how in puppetry as a way to pass on messages on hygiene, human rights, violence, AIDS awareness, sex education.

We are invited to all corners of the globe, where we teach educators, health workers, and social workers to make their own puppets and to use them in their work.

It has been an interesting, exciting journey, which, I am sure, would have never taken place without those fatal testings about ”my true talent”.

Now at the age of almost 70, sometimes I would like to rest, but it seems that “the Higher” thinks differently.

There is a joke going around: “How do you make God laugh?” The answer: “You tell him/her about your plans!”




Isaac Goff, Founder, Dharma Trading Company

(reprinted from Subud Voice. Minor updates March 2015) 
Textile craftspersons and businesses who visit Dharma Trading Company's website, or its retail store in San Rafael, California, like its laid-back atmosphere, excellent service and low prices, but they might be surprised to learn that this 46-year-old company is a multimillion-dollar business, shipping thousands of pounds of fabric dyes & paints, silk fabrics and cotton clothing each month to USA, Canada, Australia and Europe. Isaac Goff, the company's founder tells its story....

It all began with an acid trip!
That's LSD for those who didn't grow up in the 60's. My own acid experiences allowed me to see that there were planes of existence beyond the one on which I normally spent my days and that drugs could only offer a glimpse into, but could not open those worlds to me permanently. Drugs were like an elevator - they took me up, let me look around, then brought me back down. I realized I needed a spiritual path — a staircase that would allow me to climb steadily up and into those levels.Understand that this is not about advocating the use of drugs, just the telling of the story of my own life experiences.

After some years of poking about and false starts, I discovered Subud. Here was a spiritual path that fit my personality and could lead to an inner guided life. Now, it's more than 46 years later and I have to say, it's worked for me, more or less.

But I mention the above only because it led to an epiphany that gave birth to Dharma Trading Co.

The Big Picture
It was in Los Angeles in 1968 during a visit by Bapak, the spiritual leader of Subud. In a moment of revelation, I came to see that each of us is born with certain talents - strengths given to us by God. They come to us through no effort of our own - gifts. In my case, it was a feel for business and a knack for organization. I understood that these gifts came with an obligation to use them, and to use them for the betterment of my own life as well as that of mankind. In that moment, I saw visually that if I used these talents, my life would work - it would be like the "iron filings" demonstration we all saw in school where the magnet causes the iron filings to align themselves in one direction. I saw that in the same way, using my God-given talents correctly would cause all aspects of my life to align themselves and allow the power of God to flow through and guide my life. I already heard Bapak say that starting an enterprise, working with other Subud members, and eventually donating a portion of the profits to social projects was Subud's big picture.

So I gave up the idea of turning on, tuning in and dropping out. It was clear that business was my future and so, returning to Berkeley, I immediately began helping a Subud lady with her business. It was Dharma Pillow Works - she made zafu and zabatan meditation cushions for Zen meditators. Mostly I stuffed pillows with kapok. She was also a weaver and had contacted a Peace Corps project in Ecuador and imported some hand-spun yarns. After a few months she sold the business to some folks from the San Francisco Zen Center. By agreement, I took the correspondence files on the yarn.

During 1968 I tried importing the handspun yarns from Ecuador and selling them via mail-order to weavers, but it was a mess - ads ran, yarn didn't arrive on time; wasn't working. So I decided to open a store in Berkeley from which I could sell the yarn while doing the mail-order business. I needed a name and chose Dharma Trading Co. because the word "Dharma" in the Subud context kind of means to me, "Acting in a way that is in accordance with God's Guidance".

A Trip to Mexico
I had $2000 saved from a trip to New York where I taught in Jr. High School as a substitute and drove a taxi at night. I borrowed another $2000 from my Aunt Rose and in early 1969 I went down to Mexico in my van with my dog Baba (named after Meher Baba, a spiritual leader with a following in Berkeley at that time). I looked for yarn ("lana" in Spanish - which also turns out to be slang for "money"). So I was driving around rural Mexico asking people if they knew where I could find money. (That led to some strange interactions!)

I did find sources of hand-spun and natural yarns and with the van full, I returned to Berkeley. In July of 1969, I opened Dharma Trading Co. on University Ave. just down from the U.C. Berkeley campus. I allocated that $4,000 to rent, deposits, shelves, inventory, etc. as shown in the original piece of paper I planned it on. (And saved all these years and now can't find!)

The underlying idea of the business was to put into daily practice what I was learning in my spiritual life, and when the business was profitable, use the profits to provide for my own needs and to fund social projects for those less fortunate. This was reflected in the businesses principles and goals which are still posted on the wall at Dharma and on its website and in the social projects we support.

Guiding Principles and Goals
From the beginning, my goal was to run a successful business without compromising my principles. I didn't want to become what I viewed then as an evil businessman, or a profit-driven kind of guy. I wanted to see if I could get involved in business without sacrificing my ethical values.

Therefore, Dharma Trading Co. was started in on the principle that it's possible to be involved in business while maintaining good ethical values. This is to say that one can be successful in business while acting honestly, truthfully and fairly. Therefore, honest, truthful and fair treatment of customers, suppliers and employees is the most important goal of the company while it tries to make a profit.

Our goals are...

• To be a company that keeps its commitments to its customers, employees and suppliers.
• To "blow our customers' minds" with the excellence of our customer service.
• To make Dharma a great place to work.
• To make a profit.

We have succeeded in keeping to these ideals as evidenced by the exemplary reputation Dharma enjoys for its customer service, honesty and straightforwardness.

Over the Last Forty Six Years
Over the last 46 years a lot has happened - to Dharma and to me. We started as a yarn store and then added fabric dyes for Tie-Dye and then fabric paints, then T-shirts, then clothing to dye and paint, and on and on. I opened a second store in Marin County in 1975, and closed the Berkeley store some years later. While the retail store continues to provide for local artists and craftpersons, 95% of our business comes from our website and annual catalog. We have grown from a single small retail store to a predominately e-commerce business with 70 full & part time employees, 35,000 square feet of office/warehouse/retail space and sales in many millions of dollars.We started mailing a catalog in the early 70's and the mail-order sales quickly overshadowed the store's and became the focus of the business. Later, in the early 90s when the internet was born, I built a rudimentary web site for Dharma which was later, and continues today, to be developed and perfected by talented people who work here at Dharma.

Hundreds of employees have passed through on their way to other lives. Some really great people who have joined in making Dharma an honest, straight talking company!

I've been involved in many other projects and businesses over the years, sometimes for years at a time, sometimes out of the country, but I’ve always kept Dharma Trading going and continued to develop it. I still come to work at Dharma part-time and my sons David and Sampson work here as well. These days, I'm more involved in the several social programs Dharma has initiated and funds for disadvantaged children in Bolivia and elsewhere.

Myself and all the folks who work at Dharma continue to this day trying to keep Dharma a Fair, Honest and Straight Talking company.

It's been a long, strange and rewarding trip!