Adapted from a talk given by Roz Bound at the Glastonbury Goddess Conference, 30th July 2019
Joanne posted on Facebook last week a quote by Rumi – “Wherever you are, whatever you do, be in love.” When Rumi spoke of love he wasn’t talking about one person, he spoke of the Divine. That is my message, “Be in love.” I could end there, but I won’t.
I’m a year and a half away from eighty, and I am here to tell you that after a lifetime of musings, I know that Love is all there is. The Love in here, the Love out there, the Love in the gaps between.
I am an Elder, a mother, a grandmother, the grandmother of a child who’s transitioning and who relates to me on a deep level, I’m a priestess, teacher, a poet, a friend, a confidant, a community builder, meditation leader, a ritual maker, a student, a lover but really - all those roles blend into one: Lover. How can you play any roles in your life without loving? without being in love with what you’re doing, or being, or loving your efforts? Try adding banker, or salesperson, or bus driver, those roles can be so much richer by playing them in love.
Once upon a time, there was a only child, who grew up in a home where love was conditional, smothering, restrictive, so very critical - all in the name of love. I remember as a tiny child thinking ‘Is this what love is? I can’t play outside, I can’t be myself, I can’t make a mistake without being punished with that big bad voice in the name of love? What is love? This can’t be it.’
I created imaginary friends - twelve of them - and we had many adventures in a mind that never stopped opening to other worlds - looking back, my childhood was one of witnessing and puzzling, of silent confusion and wonder, magical solitude and sad loneliness, never showing anger - or joy - for fear of criticism, being named the blame for everything, even rain on a picnic day, my father’s asthma, getting the measles so I couldn’t wear the first pretty dress I’d ever had. Measles was my fault for being vain.
I must have questioned love in the cradle, even in the womb, because my body was never a child’s free dancing-in-the-rain body, it was always tight and tense, in fear. In fact I even have a bony protrusion in my upper mouth that I was told was created when the soft bones that harden after birth - formed that way because of tension. How I loved that little baby when I heard that.
The magic moments I remember are those of an incredible feeling of unity with something else - of being part of something bigger, of being watched over, held - one single day when I lost myself in the smells and the sounds of a new spring and had to be shaken back to sensibility; when I was twelve, I had my first kind of vision in a High Anglican church and fainted. My father would never let me go back there again because I embarrassed him so - but I vaguely remember a body shape emerging from the clouds of incense being rattled out of the censor. And in the summers, always the sea, when the waves covered up all the voices. Just moments.
My marriage was much the same - as any psychologist will tell you - but I finally discovered what love is, that I could love, with the birth of my first baby. Oh how I loved feeding him in the middle of the night when everyone was asleep. I loved being pregnant so much I had three babies in three years. Now, I birthed in tropical countries, so the actual births were not textbook, and I had to learn a total responsibility for my babies’ health, learning medical terms in other languages. But they did dance in the rain, and have temper tantrums and sing in the car and nobody ever stopped them. And those countries had sunshine and seashores and dancing and opportunities for looking for love, as they say, in all the wrong places. Love to me then, besides the overwhelming feelings I had for my children and for the sea, was being seen, touched, desired, secret kisses under a tropical moon. My body was starved for affection. For what I imagined was love.
Forty years old and I’d already played many roles but never really grew up. Then I raised my children alone, in Canada, cold and frosty in so many ways. The transition from international corporate wife to struggling single parent life was very difficult, but in the next twenty-five more or less celibate years, I learned to like myself and trust myself, oh so very slowly, but, looking back, I did finally grow myself up. I just never thought I could be loved. I remember certain people who told me loving things but I never could accept their words, wouldn’t believe them, turned my back on them, ran away.
I was 55 when I came to the first Goddess Conference in 1996 - and I fell in love with the Goddess, with Kathy and everything she stood for - with skipping down High Street at 3 am to sit vigil with Carolyn’s first set of glorious women, going up to the Tor at midnight with Rose. I walked in love that week and took it home.
The sacred resonance in this room has been built up over 24 summers of goddesses, priestesses, colour, singing - the veils are thin right now... I used to stay with Koko, our dear ancestor priestess, she’s here right now, with Pia, and Sheila, Lydia, Monica, Evy - they’re all here. Koko had a book by Osho and one day years ago I copied out this little piece and carried it with me ever since, used it as my defence when challenged by well-meaning people during my celibate years, when they couldn’t understand why I didn’t need a man in my life: “When your love spreads all over the place, when it knows no boundary, when nothing confines it, when it is unlimited, when it is not focussed on any object but is just a state of being, then love is prayer, love is meditation, and then love liberates.”
In our world today we so need a liberating love. It’s simple. All we have to do is be love, be aware that every thought, word, and deed has a response - for we do create our own reality, and why not a reality of love?
15 years ago I stood on this stage and invoked Rhiannon, asking for Love, in a play we did called Yoni Chronicles. I didn’t describe what I wanted, just asked for love - I didn’t know that a woman thousands of miles away was staring at a picture of Rhiannon in a book, wondering who she was, painting her image, writing her story. and then followed that voice inside her to move to a new home, and I didn’t expect to go home and meet her and fall in love with her - I didn’t ask for shape or size or gender - I just asked for love and I was heard. And now she and I see ourselves reflected in each other and help each other to grow even further, to walk in love, age in love. Prepare for dying in love. And I don’t only mean love for one particular person, although I love her deeply, but I mean love as a state of being.
As I get older, I have come to realize that love is letting go - loss of friends, the dearest of friends and those people you are used to seeing and suddenly aren’t there any more; loss of ability to keep up activities; loss of senses, loss of hair - my body says ‘Hey, watch me let you go in the weirdest ways possible!’ loss of things, stuff, downsizing, memories - it’s learning to let everything go with love and honour for the place they played in our lives - realizing I am who I am because of these things, people, activities, loving them for their part in my life, making me who I am now - even that cruel father, all the men I kissed in the shadows, unfriendly neighbours. And now Love for me is letting go of my tasks at the Goddess conference and my favourite job in the whole wide world to a younger energy. It’s time. Love is knowing it’s time. Ego would be hanging on. Love is letting go, with grace.
For love is tying up ends. Living with and loving my partner is like tying up the red thread of Rhiannon. At the first conference, we climbed up the Tor to see the sun rise, we haven’t done it since, but this, my last conference, I see we are doing it again. Tying off ends. Synchronistically coming back full circle to events, people, memories - watch for the signs, they are always there - and metaphorically tying off that red thread that links me to the past - hopefully with forgiveness and acceptance. When I was young, my father wouldn’t let me go to university because “my husband would look after me and it would be a waste.” So I did start my BA at 24, finally graduated at 56 just before he died, got my Masters at 61 and became a Doctor of Ministry in Wisdom Spirituality at 75. Okay, Dad, I tied off that thread.
When I turned 77, I had outlived my mother. She was a shadow, dominated, afraid of life, a role model for my own cowardice and fear. As a child, I could never understand why she didn’t protect me, stand up for me, if she claimed to love me - so I didn’t trust her love. And then I couldn’t trust any love. But as I aged I understood her fears. So, at 77, I decided I would do things and be who my mother could never be, even in life, live for her. I’m still a scaredy-cat to go sky-diving, but I might yet - things my mother’s young spirit would have loved to have done. So the first thing I did was get a tattoo. I have two more on order. Then I became one of twenty women who posed for a calendar girls calendar - all from 75 to 85, we bared our bodies to support a women’s shelter - it took us courage but nothing like their courage to leave abuse. I found that courage once, surely I could take my clothes off and pose for a picture? I remembered the first time I did that in public - going down the Chalice Well in a wonderful Brigid retreat with Kathy. Tying off ends. And there is nothing like sitting naked on a cold wet rock on a Canadian beach in October, wearing nothing but a frame drum!
Love is loving your body. We hear so much negativity about aging bodies. Look young, act young, facelifts, hair-dyes, toxic medications. And some elders do work well at being athletic and taut and flexible, but generally old bodies are soft, saggy, hairy, folded, creased - this old body sags, carried five children, is in pain with auto-immune stuff, it’s scarred, its hair is falling out, and I’ve got many wrinkles - but the Goddess still comes through me in Her beauty and serenity and who am I to deny Her? I love my body for carrying my spirit all these years, being faithful - so I thank my body often. I thank it every time I go to the bathroom, I ask good bits to go to the aid of the hurt bits when needed, I smile at it in the bathroom mirror, I listen to it, feed it what it asks for, and most of all, thank it whenever I can. Gratitude always ties off threads.
So I’ve learned over the years to love myself - and how else do we love the Goddess but through loving ourselves? - even loving myself as I age, when I stumble, or forget a name, or fall asleep at the best part of the movie.
It’s all part of Her seasonal lifespan for us, and I have to remind myself sometimes that I am on the far end of Her learning curve that this life is. And if not now, when? If I love in life, I will love in death and I think often of preparing for dying, dying well.
Walk and talk and think and breathe in a state of being love - peel carrots, change diapers, drive on the highway - in love. It changes your whole thinking. Let the whole be your beloved. Not just the countryside, not just the beautiful landscape, but the grubby city, the underbelly of the world, the needy places, the narcissistic places - let the whole be your beloved. I read somewhere that “Love is the discovery that others are not others.” We can’t only love the beautiful, the quiet, the comfortable; we must love the ugly, the noise, the pain - if love is to liberate.
Mary Oliver writes – “And what do I risk to tell you this, which is all I know? Love yourself. Then forget it. Then love the world.”
And now I’m back to the beginning, tying off another end.
Love is all there is - in here, out there, and in all the gaps between. Be Love.