On WORLD AIDS DAY 2012 in the UK we heard that the rate of infection amongst gay men is at an all time high.
Bars around the country bizarrely offered WAD ‘celebrations’ and it was even possible to pop down to the GAY bar in Soho to get an on the spot test. So I guess if the result is positive there was plenty of booze on hand to help drown the sorrows and deplete your immune system further. (I hear there were 2 positive results on the day, and - shockingly - no counselling or support advice on hand.)
The message of World AIDS Day was that HIV is not going away, but will we wait until December 1, 2013 before we talk about it again? The gay community is not discussing the reasons so many are exposing themselves through risky sex.
To treat HIV as a minor problem that can be managed by medications is missing the point entirely. HIV changes lives and challenges on every level possible, it affects us mentally and emotionally as well as physically – perhaps it will not go away until we understand what it is trying to teach us, and what it is telling us about ourselves.
HIV is telling us that is Healing is Vital - healing of the legacy of guilt, shame, low self-worth, etc. that are still the normal baggage that gay men carry. Plus healing of the human condition of fear and separation that leads to all the misery and conflct in the world.
AIDS = Accelerated Individual Discovery of Self
I remember finding this interpretation of the dreaded acronym about 15 years ago, but cannot find it again now, or remember who came up with it. I know it was an American writer, but the phrase made so little impact on the mass consciousness that even typing it into Google produces no helpful result.
This definition of AIDS is exactly what I found the disease to be. Actually ‘disease’ feels like the wrong word – AIDS was so much more. It was a complete breakdown of normal function on every level possible. It was more than a physical ailment, it was also a mental, emotional and spiritual wipe out. AIDS was, it seems to me now, a soul condition – that could be regarded as an utter tragedy, or as a bizarre kind of ‘grace’ that blew away all the preconceptions about life that our society propagates and opened the door to revelation and understandings about life and death on an utterly profound level.
Before the onset of AIDS-related symptoms, which started for me around 1995, I had never been inclined to seek answers to the big questions of life. I had rejected religion as a teenager and was content to accept the scientific view that life was a chance evolution, one that I considered should be enjoyed as much as possible while it lasted. A couple of years after my diagnosis I sat down and considered my lot, coming to the conclusion that since I had no feelings about my lack of awareness before birth, it was not going to be a bother to me that I would cease to be after death. It simply would not matter, to me or to the greater scheme of things, so why be upset about it? If my time was up my time was up.
A year or two later I had to face a feeling that had arisen in me. The feeling was that this existentialist viewpoint was simply not enough. It felt like an opt-out. Something inside me wanted to know more. I reflected that humanity had been asking questions about life and death for thousands of years – cultures, religions, philosophies, magical paths and mystery schools had emerged from the search for answers. There was so much here to explore, a vast area of knowledge and experience I knew nothing about, and which it seemed both irrational and unhelpful to dismiss just because mainstream science, the new kid on the existential block, seemed to do so.
I felt that I was changing on every level. I was experiencing emotions I had never felt before, mostly highly enjoyable ones though occasionally darker forms; my mind seemed to be running in pathways that I did not recognise, except perhaps from lsd trips. I started to experience that I had a spirit that could expand and fill with energy, or contract and take me on inner visionary journeys. It suddenly hit me that my assumption that I was a lump of meat with the ability to think was completely wrong, I began to know myself as an energy being with unexplored powers and a desire for knowledge that I had hardly tapped into, connected somehow to life itself in ways I had not imagined.
I wondered if I was undergoing a rapid evolution of the human condition, brought on by the imminent threat of death, my mind expanding and revealing new levels of awareness, my spirit coming to life. Psychic abilities, inspired creative surges, euphoric periods of intense excitement were suddenly part of my life. I felt I was becoming conscious of energy flows and how to direct them, feeling healing energy pouring through my hands, through others and from nature. I started to sense that on some deep level our souls were pushing us into life experiences that were going to wake us all up to a higher dimension of reality, where we would see the profound connections going on between all things as it became clear that life is an intricate dance, which normally our overactive thought processes and self-obsessive attitudes prevent us from detecting.
Getting out of the mind and into other forms of perception seemed to be the goal. I communicated with beings who had no physical form, I entertained the notion that consciousness can not be destroyed – our bodies might fail, but the sense of self, the ability to be aware, did not depend on the body. I stopped being afraid of death.
Around me my friends were dropping fast. Everybody I knew who took the only drug on offer to treat AIDS, the dreaded AZT, left the planet. Those of us who were struggling with symptomatic conditions quickly learnt that the best way to keep going was to be POSITIVE in mind as well as body. I refused the drug and tried to hold back the advance of physical deterioration with herbal treatments, chinese medicine, spiritual healing, and - literally - by filling my life with positive thoughts and love. As my body got weaker and I succumbed to pneumonia, Karposi’s Sarcoma and sank down to a weight of 45 kg, I continued my spiritual quest. My inner eye had been opened to a much bigger reality than my senses had previously revealed to me. If I was about to leave my body I wanted to be ready to consciously merge my individual soul with the great spirit of creation, which I was now convinced was real. I saw all religions as attempts by humans to explain and relate to the great mystery that we are part of. Each faith limited in its view, but pointing to an aspect of the ultimate truth. The mystical voices from every path however all attested to the possibility of direct communication with source consciousness, and seemed always to point to an underlying unity of creation, held together and manifesting through the power of love.
Mystical writings from every corner of the world, plus my own inner journeys and visions and voices, led me to see my individual journey as part of a massive evolutionary surge. With all the world’s religions and magical paths available to be studied as the 21st century approached, I started to feel certain that humanity was on the verge of a leap in consciousness to a greater understanding of who we are and what life is. The negations of the rational scientific outlook were just a phase we had to go through, to free the world of the domineering grip of religious dogma and to make us learn to think for ourselves.
AIDS had become for me a doorway to reviewing my understanding of life and to tackle fear of death, plus it became an invitation to experience transcendent awareness, not as a drug induced trip but as part of normal life. Accepting death was the gateway to higher states, passing willingly through that gateway - while still in the body - is a way to open and access our spiritual consciousness. As i journeyed in a wider sense of being, I felt the truth in the words of the mystics that the SELF I felt myself to be, was a reflection of the one BEING that existed, of BEINGNESS ITSELF. My revelations showed me that there is only SELF in the universe, manifesting through everything, in an infinite variety of ways - the SPIRIT One manifesting through each of us. I felt and accepted that I AM YOU AND YOU ARE ME, that we are all one and always will be. When we fight and kill and destroy our planet, we are destroying ourselves. When we love and nurture and respect each other we are furthering the cause of the evolution of life itself, we are bringing the leap in human consciousness closer. As a sensitive, peace loving gay man these realisations were shocking, but simple to accept - they were the values I had always lived by, quite naturally, without naming them.
I believe that many of my brothers on the journey of AIDS discovered the same thing. Most of them died however, leaving only some who can carry this knowledge forwards. But who wants to listen to us? Gay life soon switched to a hedonistic (perhaps head-in-the-sand) attitude unlike anything previously known on this planet, questions around death and the meaning of life gladly pushed aside as the suffering of the epidemic abated. Medications are given to HIV+ people way before they get to the point where facing serious illness and possible death are on the agenda. This makes it easy to ignore challenging questions and keeps us ‘in the system’: working, consuming and playing. Meanwhile the world rocks as one crisis builds on top of another, until it seems our ‘civilisation’, the eco-system and human life itself is in some sort of AIDS crisis that it has no idea how to solve.
All around me I see people in various states of confusion and denial about what is going on. This seems particularly to be the case amongst many of my queer tribe, and is reflected I believe in the HIV statistics. It is easy to run away from the pressures of life into sexual adventure, but the result so often is the crisis comes right home. A crucial wounding our tribe carries in common stems from the hatred poured onto us in the name of god. This prevents many of us from exploring spirituality in any form. Yet in gay people I see souls who are born to love, who accept and celebrate diversity, who seek peace and harmony with others and do not impose dictates despite the amount of shit that has been laid on us. Many of us seek transcendence on a frequent basis through drugs, dance and sexual adventure. Perhaps we are born this way because we are ready for a new world – we are ready for Oneness – but for most of us the blinkers are still on, we do not see the light we carry, we do not see how much the world needs us to heal ourselves of the wounds society has inflicted on us, so that the powerful love we bear can bring change to this crisis-riddled planet. The collective load we carry, of shame, fear and lack of self-worth, prevents us from seeing the bright light within us. We do not see that the SELF in us is the SELF in all beings, though to be honest, I think we feel it, we chase after sex to get a taste of it, and on a deep level we simply know it.
Therefore, along with the notion that Accelerated Individual Discovery of Self was the potential underlying the suffering of the AIDS years, I offer the notion that HIV has not gone away because we have not yet heard its message – a message I would sum up as HEALING IS VITAL. Healing of the human condition of separation, fear and anxiety, finding wholeness.
When we strip away the layers of fear, shame, guilt, pain and confusion that have been the story of human life, and especially gay life, for so very long, we will get to the core, uncomplicated, eternally young SELF. Harry Hay, one of the originators of the radical faerie culture, believed gay men were naturally attuned to ‘subject-subject consciousness’ – ie we empathise with others as being the same as ourselves, not as ‘objects’ separate from us. It is perhaps hard to find evidence that this is the case – gay life seems to be built on objectification, with gay media and cruise sites reducing us all to little more than beautiful sexual creatures and magnifying our feelings of inadequacy. But the potential is in us to break through such illusions.
Great visionaries of gay spirit such as Walt Whitman and Edward Carpenter saw our potential as warriors of love and peace in the human family. These are the people we should be talking about ALOT, every young gay man ought to know about their ideas.
And they also should be told that gay people have been the spiritual leaders of humanity across the globe since ancient times.Then we might be more inclined to explore our own spirit, whether in religion or through a broader spiritual outlook, instead of denying our souls at the same time as reaching for pills, powders, tina pipe or syringe (which take us into our soul energy, where all the bliss we yearn for resides). The much heralded widespread objectification and cold-heartedness of gay life needs to be revealed as the sham it is. We are a people born to love and to evolve, and we need our queer culture to support us to find out exactly who we are, sexually, socially and spiritually.
Yet gay press sites will not feature a blog like this. None of them would feature the LoveSpirit Festival that took place in London in September. Spirituality is taboo, and totally misunderstood, due to the suspicion we carry about religion. This has to change, because Healing Is Vital, and the pressure of evolution is for us to pursue Accelerated Individual Discovery of Self, although it is about time that discovery became a COLLECTIVE one.