Rosalind Priestley was one of the smartest and kindest persons that I know and I am proud to have had her as a friend. I first got to know Rosalind 20 years ago, when I was a Subud regional chair in eastern Canada and Rosalind was editor of the Subud Canada national newsletter. She later invited me to become an editor for the Subud Vision project in 2007.
Like many women, Rosalind grew up in a society and time when women were expected to defer to men, and Subud was part of this (remember when women had to get their husbandís permission to join Subud and were told not to wear pants!). I always imagine Rosalind had to contend, like many women, with the contrary expectations of asserting yourself while not coming across as aggressive.
Despite her misgivings about Subud, Rosalind contributed to the Subud community for many years, as a local helper of Subud Toronto and as the national newsletter editor. When Rosalind encountered groupthink, what she often saw as deference to whatever Bapak quote gets recited last, this drove her up the wall and eventually pushed her away from Subud. She definitely thought the helper system was not working.
While I didn't always agree, I found Rosalind so perceptive and dispassionate. She wrote in a clear, cogent and very fluid writing style that I found a pleasure to read. She was thoughtful and spoke her truth well.
I am one of the few Subud Vision editors who knew Rosalind outside Subud Vision so I want to add some comments about that. My enduring memories of Rosalind are of her kindness and generosity. I fondly remember leaving her place after our visits, with Rosalind and Leonard her husband standing in the doorway and waving good-by as we drove off. I thought this was so neat. Nobody else I knew ever did that.
Rosalind and Leonard were such a wonderful example, one of those rare couples where the two people really seem so well matched with each other. They weren't perfect, but I never saw them say something mean to each other (I sure wish I was more like them). Spending time with the Priestleys was delightful, afterwards I felt ennobled, raised up to a higher human level Ė more respected, more listened to. It was like receiving a gift.
My heart and condolences are with Rosalind's husband Leonard and his family, and all those who hold Rosalind in their heart.
I will miss her.
I met Rosalind through our mutual interest in renewing and developing Subud. We both joined the small team of editors of Subud Vision, and a lively and frank exchange arose between us all which continued for over a decade. I found Rosalindís comments especially helpful. As well as ideas and strategies, she often shared personal experiences and observations, and these came from a respectful and nonjudgemental perspective. After years of such exchanges I considered Rosalind a good and trusted friend. This was affirmed when I finally had a chance to meet up with her and Leonard in Toronto, walking and talking together and finding a great deal of common feeling.
In a Subud context, Rosalind advocated a broadminded and inclusive approach. She was thoughtful and independent in her views and saw that Subud could reach (and keep) many people if we could demonstrate a genuine respect and support for all beliefs, including agnosticism: "ĎIf we deliberately attach a belief system to the latihan, the latihan may lose its capacity to be something radically new, open-ended, and revolutionary in our lives. How can we be open to new receiving and new development when we see everything in a closely circumscribed context? What if, for example, for some members, the way they need to develop is away from religion and belief systems? Then they would have a conflict between where the latihan is leading them and what the belief system around it allows. To make boundaries and set limits on the latihan feels like a betrayal of its essence."
My perspectives have broadened and my life has been greatly enriched through knowing Rosalind.
I remember Rosalind in these ways:
She was always respectful of others
And thus, she both earned and received respect
She was a pleasure to work with
She was fun to work with
She was professional
She honoured learning and knowledge
She sought truth
She often channeled knowledge about Buddhism from her learned husband, Leonard
She knew the craft of language
She was amazingly even-tempered, among a crew of hotheads
All round, a great person, and working with her was a highlight in an important chapter of my life.
When the Subud Vision project started in 2007, we needed a team of editors. Rosalind's name was among the first suggested. Although to some extent the rest of us were learning on the job, it was immediately clear that Rosalind was supremely qualified, not only because of her impressive academic CV, but also because of her understanding of the use of the English language. In this she was a true editor, always able to suggest a way of rephrasing an awkward passage, transforming it into something simple yet effective. In fact, I would go as far as to say that without Rosalind's influence and constant diligence the quality of the writing on the Subud Vision web site would have been very much the poorer.
A list of Rosalind's writings for Subud Vision is included at the foot of this page. They are a testament to her quality as a person. Some articles need to be placed in the context of the time they were written, eleven years ago, still a time of optimism regarding Subud's potential. Others, with the benefit of hindsight, seem much more relevant to today's state of affairs. In her article about Subud and cults, Rosalind says: "Non-Subud people are well aware these days of what it means to be a cult member, and they give anything that smells cultish a wide berth. They donít want someone else doing their thinking for them, determining their priorities, influencing their attitudes, stifling their normal responses, making them feel more helpless, less adult, unworthy. Who needs that? In Subud we still havenít recognized and admitted the degree to which we are a cult, so we donít understand why the world stands aloof from us."
Although several of us wrote about Subud's similarity to a cult, I don't believe we realised the extent to which Subud had already become fossillised as such, that official Subud had not the slightest intent of yielding one jot to any attempt at change. Does that mean we were wasting our time? I think not. The web site was a wakeup call. At least if it couldn't change Subud, I am sure our efforts contributed to a lot of people moving on and making better use of the remainder of their lives. As David Week said to me in a recent email "Life is short, death is long, and it's [our] responsibility to put energy into only those things that seem worthwhile."
I'd always hoped to get to meet Rosalind in person, but that wasn't to be. I'm grateful we did once talk face-to-face on Skype, and we had much correspondence on email about the possibility of forming a new latihan organisation, an alternative to Subud. She also generously took the trouble to read and critique my first attempts at writing stage plays and novels. Credit due to what I learnt from her and other experts that my first novel got shortlisted for an international literary award recently. Pity there's no email to the next life. I will miss talking with her.
Never had the pleasure of meeting Rosalind face to face, but was very involved with her via email during the exciting, trail-blazing days of Subud Vision.
She was a quite brilliant editor. Firm but kind; open to counter-argument, but steely in resolve - particularly when she knew she was right. And she most often was, bringing dour article passages to life with knowing re-write suggestions laced with factual and grammatical corrections. Her own articles are a great read and a valuable contribution to the future sanity of Subud.
With no face, no masks, no side, she came across as a seeker and champion of truth; a fun person, too, with a rich family life in the background. In short, she was a truly WYSIWYG and fulfilled human being.
Robert Burns hits the perfect note, reflecting Rosalind's open-minded philosophical neutrality and exemplary life:
If there's another world, she lives in bliss;
If there is none, she made the very best of this.
Farewell, Rosalind. It was such a pleasure working with you.