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Robert Demko

Subud Spiritual Community

Interview Conducted by: Arlo Furst

Robert Demko lives in Crestone and is a member of the Subud spiritual community. He first discovered the San Luis Valley about eight years ago after he learned about an annual musical festival held on the Baca land. Robert was living in New Jersey working as a social worker at the time. Enthralled by the festival, he traveled to Crestone to take part in the gathering. After returning to the bustling nature of city life in New Jersey, he soon experienced multiple health problems and retired from his job. Recalling the majestic landscape and peaceful serenity of Crestone, he packed all his belongings in a truck and made a pilgrimage to the sacred land. It is in Crestone that Robert has been living for the past eight years and it is also here where he discovered the community of Subud.

Robert’s personal spiritual history is rather eclectic. Robert’s early life was dominated by Christianity. He considered himself a Christian until the age of twenty, a time when he transitioned into a period of agnosticism. He then discovered the teachings of Buddhism and continued to live as a Buddhist for two decades of his life. Robert was soon introduced to Yoga and Hinduism and practiced these for about ten years until he found Subud in the Crestone area. He was a former chairperson and representative for Subud in the Crestone Spiritual Alliance. These days Robert attends Subud practices but still considers himself a Buddhist with an approach to the world that is heavily grounded in Buddhist beliefs.

Subud as an organization has a minimum number of rituals as well as a minimum number of requirements. There is a large amount of personal freedom within Subud, which allows members to preserve their religious or spiritual identities, just as Robert has retained his Buddhist worldview. Robert stressed the fact that he doesn’t represent all Subud members. His feelings, notions of the sacred, and concerns over the proposed drillings in Baca are all his own opinions and no one else’s. The approach Subud takes is that the one thing we all have in common is some sort of concept or belief in a God. It is up to the individual to discover what God means and this is can be found inside of oneself. A connection to God is discovered during a ceremony called the latihan, an open forum during which members receive words and revelations from a higher power. The answers to life’s queries and the elements of a higher power can be found within oneself and the essence of Subud is searching for that internal answer.

When asked about Subud’s connection to Crestone, Robert was not shy to point out that the latihan can be practiced practically anywhere in the world and therefore Subud as a practice can exist anywhere in the world. Yet, Robert also stressed the importance of the Baca Wildlife Refuge and the valleys of Crestone to the Subud spiritual community that calls this land home. He hinted that all the Crestone Subud members were in some way attracted by the quiet, the openness, and the power of Baca. He went on to mention that “that power, in its own way, feeds into our connection to God, to the spiritual, and to the mystery of things.” Robert also mentioned that, “Crestone was established with a sense of spirituality at its heart and it focuses people’s attention and their intention to have a pristine place like this to practice.”

Personally, Robert holds a concept of sacred place that he applies directly to Crestone. He recognizes the strength that certain places have and he believes that at these places, one is able to focus their spiritual energy more effectively and more directly. The junk and elements that subsist in areas that have been heavily industrialized and removed from the natural world are places in which this energy is difficult to find. Meanwhile, the sacred places breathe the energy and enable contemplation. For Robert, Crestone is one of these sacred places.

There are many things that attracted Robert to the San Luis Valley and to Crestone in particular. He highlighted the quietude of the area and the pure beauty of the landscape. Hiking in the valleys was an alluring thought. He also pointed to the sheer openness of the place and noted that there is “something incredibly uplifting about the sky here.” He compared it to a huge amphitheatre and described a particular energy he felt upon his initial visit. Robert also stated that the thought of being in a location of an assortment of spiritual communities was intriguing and inviting. The idea of having everyone all together in one large spiritual community sparked particular interest.

When I asked Robert about the potential gas drilling in the Baca Wildlife Refuge, he expressed his fear, anger, and distress over the impacts drilling would have on the Crestone community and the spirit and sacredness of Baca. He mentioned negative environmental, social, cultural, and economical impacts. He also pointed to the fact that if gas is found in the area, “there won’t be a Crestone like we have now, of people that come together to share values and have a small community. It’ll be an industrial area.” Robert’s dread of industrial development makes perfect sense considering he escaped from a “claustrophobic environment” in New Jersey to a safe haven of quietude in Crestone. Robert’s fears of the impacts of drilling are also grounded in the thought that if drilling were to take place, it could essentially “drive the community right out of here.” Subud members might even be among the exodus out of the scavenged and torn land. However, the opposition to the drilling remains strong among. Robert remains confident that the proposed drilling will not continue without resistance from the “very wise, astute people here that have had a lot of experience with opposition.”