Last weekend I started my year long immersion training with The Interdependence Project in New York City. Entering those doors and climbing the 200 stairs to the loving space of my Sangha I was nervous with the teeming possiblities. What would this training mean to me? How would it change me? What would I learn? Am I smart enough to complete this? Will the others understand me? Will I be a good teacher? Will I be a good student?
As we took our seats, Ethan Nichtern started by giving us some meditation instruction. At the end, he asked us to get in touch with what we feel in our bodies and to start getting comfortable with being on the spot, showing up and staying in the present, no matter how fearful we may be. At that moment, all the questions in my mind vanished. I made a commitment to be available to what the world was teaching me at that moment.
Being completely open to what was arising didn’t mean I wasn’t scared anymore. I don’t think I stopped sweating for the rest of the weekend. We went through a study session and taking turns teaching mindfulness meditation and giving feedback. I was nervous for all of it except when I was actually leading meditation. I stayed with those feelings, I felt them. And what do ya know, I didn’t die. I’m still here to relate this story to you. I always assume whatever hard task is in front of me will kill me but some how I prevail. I should start remembering that from the beginning.
As the weekend progressed, I kept feeling more inspired and grateful for the opportunity to learn from 15 different teachers during the course of this year. People from all walks of life with such vastly different experiences. Each unique in their own way, yet we have so much in common. It’s nice to share a space with so many indivuduals who are interested in learning more about themselves and their own minds.
I’m no longer nervous about being put on the spot. I know it’s exactly what I need to do to learn more about myself, become accepting, and grow. I’m inspired to continue on this journey and learn how to better relate the teachings so that others may benefit.
The experience of being
born gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, or simply queer, on planet
earth is a challenge, a threat and a gift.
We are challenged to be
true to ourselves, to listen to our deepest inner drives and dare to
act on them, despite the threat of condemnation from family, society
and religion, and so uncover the gifts of love, friendship,
creativity and gaiety that our nature bestows on us.
Of course things have
changed enormously in many parts of the world. It is easier and
safer to be gay than it was a few decades ago. We have developed
scenes and communities where we can find each other, support each
other, fall in love and create our own queer families.
places queer people live in fear, under threat of prosecution,
imprisonment – even death. Intolerance is still a mighty demon on
Far from being the
spawn of evil that some see us as, we are mostly a section of
humanity that demonstrate and manifest tolerance. We are wayshowers
for the rest of the human race – bringing radical acceptance of
diversity, putting love and celebration at the centre of human life –
helping the race to overcome centuries of sexual repression, fear of
difference and brutal patriarchal control. Our out and proud
existence challenges the religious to live up to their holy ideals of
love and compassion – and often they fail, revealing instead a sick
underbelly of fear and hatred that pollutes their purpose.
Brought up in a world
still hounded by religiously justified homophobia, many of us grow up
carrying a burden of shame and guilt that we must heal in order to
live and love healthily. We need to overcome our own doubts and see
clearly that we are beings of love, joy and freedom, then demonstrate
this to the world.
Rejected by most mainstream religions, and often
rejecting them back, our lack of spiritual grounding as individuals
and as a community leads to the problems of addiction and disease
that spoil our queertopia. Most queers who dive into the cauldron of
parties, sexuality and drug use have little sense that the drive that
pushes them into that is the passion of their spirit to expand, to
fill with energy, to love without limit, to know itself. Our voyages
into bliss are journeys of the soul, we come back from them changed,
hopefully for the better, though this is a territory not without
The rational, secular, atheistic tendency of our age has
served us well, dismantling faith-based persecution, but it has led so many of us to believe we are nothing more than bits of meat in a random
existence with no purpose. Our ecstasies are seen as chemical
reactions rather than moments of divine communion with spirit. But
perhaps the truth is very different. My experience suggests
we are the very people who can bring enchantment and light to life –
we carry the potential to move beyond the old stories of religious
dogma and conflict, to a unified understanding of life – the
meeting point of the great mystery (consciousness) with physical
matter. When we open our hearts, minds and bodies, magic happens, a
greater story emerges.
Coming out opens a life
of self-discovery, it opens the doors to love and points the way to
transcendence. Our longing for love and ecstasy comes from the
spirit part of us - just as our physical being needs food and water
to survive, our spirits need love and bliss to thrive.
We also need
an intellectual grasp of what is going on – to move into a
twenty-first century vision of what it means to be alive, and what it
means to be queer. Writers Toby Johnson, Mark Thompson, Andrew
Ramer, Christian de la Huerta, David Nimmons, Daniel Helminiak, and Andrew Harvey are amongst the gay male pioneers who are opening up this path
of understanding for us. Queer Spirit workshops and retreats are
spreading, more websites appearing. Gradually our spiritual nature
is moving to the centre of our story, replacing sexuality there. Our
history as shamans and priests is talked about as never before. The
urge to love in us is being honoured as never before as support for
equal marriage spreads.
Prejudice, hatred and
fear of us has not gone away. But we are at a tipping point, where
our love of beauty, pleasure and joy could be revealed as sources of
light, enchantment and tolerance that the world so badly needs. If
there is a gay agenda for this world, it is surely that all beings
should be free to live out their own dreams, without fear of attack
or persecution, that love is what drives all our urges in life, and
that transcendent ecstasies are a crucial part of a balanced, healthy
The story of gay liberation is a story of love – that could ultimately lead to a REVOLUTION in human relationships and society – as freedom to love, freedom from fear and freedom of self expression becomes the right for all people on planet Earth.
For over four decades in the UK, gay relationships have had space and permission to grow and flourish. The first changes in the legal system dealt with sexual activity, and were based on a desire to halt blackmail and corruption as much as any principle of liberty and equality. In the UK, the 1967 Act that decriminalised sexual contact between two men in private was the starting point for an out and proud movement of gay liberation. Gay Pride marches, political campaigns and gradually increasing social acceptance of gay people have led to an improving situation for people of all sexualities, with equal marriage the latest manifestation of this. With the introduction of civil partnerships a few years ago, legislation entered the area of recognition of our love for each other, moving on from laws around our sexual activity, which had remained archaic and unequal for a long time after 1967. The movement spreading through western democracies to allow civil marriage on equal terms to heterosexuals is another stage towards love taking a place at the centre of human life, and is flushing out into the open the remaining prejudice, fear and ignorance around sexuality that exists in our societies.
The place of queer people in society is changing, but it has been a very long time coming. Centuries ago Michelangelo penned this verse:
“And if the vulgar and malignant crowd misunderstand the love with which we’re blessed, its worth is not affected in the least our faith and honest love can still feel proud.”
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.