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Discovering the Pattern of the World in a Pile of Junk       


In the forward of her book, Pattern of the World, Salamah Pope tells how this all came to her in a flash while sorting a pile of junk in a classroom at Goddard College.   She was in her mid-forties and still living in Indonesia, when she went off to Goddard in Vermont one summer to finish a degree. There were ten possible courses she could take. The one course she decided she did not want to take was a course titled "The Developmental Paradigm in Child Psychology." She already had four children, so she crossed that off her list.  But perhaps because of the 50 hour flight, lack of food, sleep, and the high of her new surroundings . . . or something else . . . her legs took her to a different classroom from the one she'd picked on the first day of classes.

"When my legs and I stopped walking," she writes,  "I found myself in a large and comfortable sitting room with wall-to-wall wine-coloured carpeting and all the furniture pushed against the walls. There were a few people already in there, sitting around on the floor. All this felt kind of familiar—after all, the Subud spiritual latihan that I’d been practising for years was held in places like this—so I sat down comfortably on the carpet.

‘What’s going on here?’ I asked someone sitting nearby.  ‘It’s Anita Landa’s course on the developmental paradigm in child psychology,’ he said. Damn, I thought, I’ve come to the worst possible class. But for some unknown reason I stayed. It was as though my legs had brought me here, to this lovely, large room I’d never known existed, sat me down on the floor, and—well, they just didn’t seem to want to move on. Perhaps I was meant to stay here—I certainly couldn’t be bothered to go anywhere else. And in spite of my lack of interest in the title of the class, just being there and sitting on the deep red carpet with other people ‘felt right’. Bemused, I sat there at peace with myself and the world, open and waiting, while more people trickled into the room and joined us on the carpet, until the lecturer arrived.

This was Anita Landa, a bright, beautiful, shining, silver-haired American Jewish woman of about 50. ‘Get into groups of five, and sit on the floor in circles,’ she said briskly. I found myself with two men and two other women, one of whom was a wonderfully soft-looking young woman with masses of long brown hair and large soft hands and greeny, organicky-looking clothes. She was a potter, I found out later, and I think her name was Sheilagh.

Anita then brought a big basket of junk over to us and emptied its contents out onto the floor in the middle of our little circle. It was, literally, junk. Bottletops, matchboxes, broken bits of toys, pencil stubs—junk. And there it all was, in a big pile, in front of us as we five sat round it on the thick, wine-red carpet.

‘All right,’ said Anita, ‘I’m not going to discuss things, or answer any questions. You are just to SORT this.’ Now, I’m a slow, careful sort of person. I like structure, procedures. Part of my mind wanted to know how, and what kind of things and categories she wanted us to ‘sort’ things into—I mean, unless she told us what she wanted, how could we... ? Yet, while my mind was ticking over and wondering, the soft and lovely potter beside me started picking out some things from the big pile and putting them down in front of her. They were all wooden things. Aha, thought I, she’s just picking out what she likes: well, I’ll do that too—and I began picking out all the round things from the pile. Pretty soon the other three got the message and we were all ‘sorting’ things, taking them from the pile of junk. After a few minutes, the huge pile of junk had vanished, and there was a space again in front of us in the middle of our circle. But now, around its edges near our knees were a lot of little piles of—yes—sorted things. I felt good. We had done what this beautiful woman, Anita, wanted and I felt relieved, delightfully happy and at peace.

‘Well done,’ said Anita, adding firmly, ‘now: no questions, no instructions, except GO ON.’ And again I was flummoxed. But I went on sitting there, happy and bemused, waiting to see what would happen. I seemed to be in a bubble of silence, and it felt like eternity before anyone moved and then it was Sheilagh again. She leant over and, from the little pile of round things in front of me, plucked an elderly, battered, ping pong ball. This she put down slowly, almost ceremoniously, into the empty centre of our circle. And then carefully she began arranging her wooden things around it.

Soon we were all at it, arranging the things from all the different separate little piles of bits and pieces of junk around the growing construction in the centre. It was like building a sandcastle, or a child’s castle of bricks. I was entranced, both doing it and watching it happening and growing. When we’d finished, Anita said crisply, bursting into my reverie (if that is what it was), ‘Now tell me, what have you done?’ At which point the silent, skinny young man opposite me snorted and laughed and said, ‘From junk we’ve built a castle.’ I looked up at Anita. She was smiling her beautiful, enigmatic smile, and she said, ‘You’ve left out a crucial part of the process. From chaos, through separation, you have constructed a citadel. ‘And this’, said Anita simply, ‘is the pattern of the world.

At this point something happened to me. I have no idea what it was in fact, but what it seemed like was that my head exploded, with an inrush of the subtle energy of the Subud spiritual latihan force. It was as if a fine current of divine electricity was running riot all through my brain. There seemed to be little lights going on and off in there, like those old bagatelle board games with little lamps that light up when little balls touch them: and suddenly I was locked into the life of the universe. There is no other way to describe it. Everything was exactly the same: yet, at the same time, everything was absolutely different. The universe was a living whole, and I was a tiny part of it. It was alive. And everything mattered, everything counted, EVERYTHING. Everything was working together, and alive. And there, ordering and organising this ‘everything’, was Anita’s pattern: ‘from chaos, through separation, to union’. Within that great union I saw that I was an intimate part of everything, and everything was an intimate part of me. There was no separation— boundaries, yes: but no separation. I, along with everyone and everything else, was an integral part of the world’s ongoing process, part of the development of the earth our planet: and everything was gloriously, vitally Alive, growing and developing in that pattern and intensely joyful. I saw the upward trend in things that I had never even suspected existed before. And everything was moving, progressing, developing—as Anita had said— from ‘chaos’, through ‘separation’, to ‘union’... and onward further still. And at the same time it dawned on me, I saw, I suddenly KNEW, that the old guessing game, the categories of the ‘animal, vegetable, mineral’ parlour game, and also Pak Subuh’s four natural forces or energies (the material, plant, animal and human) which make up both us and our planet, all followed this same ‘pattern of the world’.

Visit Salamah's website to download a copy of Salamah's amazingbook, The Pattern of the World, and learn of the discoveries that followed this moment and led to the book.  Copies may also be available on

If you are interested in a rational work-out of Bapak's ideas," writes Salamah in a recent email, "forget the first section, which is all old hat these days, but look at the Contents page, and see where I go into great detail about what it means to be fully human, humane. And how, from the whole corpus of Bapak's ideas (his filsafat (philosophy), as he called it to me, one fine day), it is equally easy to work out what the genuinely Human values are. And also a simple, clear, universally acceptable Ethics, based not on cultural norms but on the testament of Nature.

"If the world is to be changed through education, then I believe these ideas could themselves do a great deal of positive reconstruction."  

Picture: Salamah Pope

Editor's Note: When Salamah returned to Cilandak after her time at Goddard and began to work on Bapak's 'cosmology' of energies and levels, it seemed like many reidents of Wisma Subud were concerned that Salamah was on some sort of head trip, or worse, 'mixing.' So Salamah went to Bapak to ask if what she had seen was right or just her imagination? And was it mixing?  Bapak replied, "What you have seen is betul, [correct.] It is not mixing, it is philosophy, which is harmless. But do not feel disappointed because other people do not see this yet."  LT.  There is a chart of this cosmology on the old SICA website here.



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