PERSON WITH AIDS
1996 was a year dedicated to mysticism, my body thin, weakening and developing more AIDS related symptoms. I was officially a PWA (Person With AIDS), but my spirit was mostly bright and engaged. The love between Pierre and me was unlimited – we both believed we were in the last relationship of our short lifetimes and we held nothing back. My spiritual revelations of the previous year had opened up a fantastic world of mages, sages, witches and angels, that I was keen to learn more about.
Accepting GOD as a concept and reality was a huge challenge for me. Yet in the heady, speedy months of 1995 the ‘god’ that I felt present with me at times was not the masculine, domineering father that I knew about from Christianity. Instead I felt a powerful, loving, feminine energy around me – soothing me, reassuring me and showing me that she accepted everything about me – my sexuality, my illness, my previous atheism. From 1996 onwards I learnt to focus my heart on the divine, both as feminine and masculine source of life, inspired by teachers from around the world and across the aeons of history. Through mantra, chanting, drawing mandalas and reading holy books I gradually felt closer to the powerful source energy, and could see there was no reason why I, a gay man, should not be welcome in its embrace. I felt the truth of the bible statement that God Is Love, and gradually moved into a place of serenity, which included acceptance that death was coming for me.
From Hindu teachers I learnt of three main paths to the divine – the paths of knowledge (jnana), devotion (bhakti) and service (karma). I felt I been travelling so far along the path of knowledge, had learnt so much so quickly – or was it that I was remembering what my soul already knew? I was not well enough to contemplate practical service in the world. I saw that I had opened my mind to spirituality, now it was time to open my heart and explore the way of devotion.
In the Bhagavad Gita I learnt that God could be worshipped as a divine personality, but alternatively as simply “the Imperishable the Indefinable, the Unmanifested, the Omnipresent, the Unthinkable, the Unchangeable, the Immovable, the Eternal.”
I read about surrender, but the idea of dropping all attachments, fears and aversions might have been a very daunting one had I been seeking spiritual enlightenment while living a regular life, but with my body sickening and death looming that liberation seemed very appealing indeed. I absorbed Krishna’s advice that he is open to any person,-
“who hates no creature, and is friendly and compassionate towards all, who is fee from the feelings of “I and mine”, even-minded in pain and pleasure, forbearing, ever content, steady in meditation, self-controlled and possessed of firm conviction, with mind and intellect fixed one Me.”
While I found it easier to relate intellectually to the idea of an impersonal Divine, I now felt that to open my heart to God/Goddess would only work if I allowed myself to know them also as a personal presence. But which one? Of the many deities I felt attracted to, who was mine?
The book “Hidden Journey” by gay mystic Andrew Harvey came to me at the right time. This book is the story of his encounters with Indian avatar of the Divine, Mother Meera, who lives in Germany and dispenses divine light through darshan ceremonies, where she touches your shoulder and stares into your eyes. She made it clear she was in the world for all who felt the wish to receive the communion she brings, whatever their faith. The book narrates Andrew’s own struggle to come to terms with the urge to devotional practice, so was very helpful for me, also helping me to accept I had embarked on “a journey without end. There are different stages in the journey, but the journey has no end.”
“Everything you think or do, you must dedicate to the world in love. Live in the eternal but waste no time. Everything you do for love of the world, you do for Me. Everything you do for Me you do for your true Self. There is no separation between you and me and the world.” (Hidden Journey)
The otherworldly, mystical experiences that Andrew Harvey relates in Hidden Journey reminded me and helped me make more sense of the magical and bizarre incidents that I had been undergoing. Soon I was reading his follow up work “The Return of the Mother” in which he charts the obfuscated presence of the Divine Mother in all of the world’s major religions. This book also details Andrew’s disagreement with and departure from the orbit of Mother Meera, whose ascetic Hindu background kept her closed to the purpose of sexuality, and especially homosexuality, in Creation. I saw Andrew’s ongoing mission as a sole gay mystic without attachment to any religion or guru as a model for my own path, I figured that as queers we could ultimately only look to our own higher selves for true vision and understanding of our nature.
The Divine Mother became the central focus of my thoughts and practice. I recalled the drive and excitement that had arisen in me in the early months of 1995 – at times it had felt like a female presence was guiding me, but back then I had not known what to call it. In Spring 1996 I wrote that,-
- “Everything that has happened to me has been done by Her. She has been my angel, my guide, my master at every step. I have cried with Her and cried for Her. I have held her hand like a frightened child.”
As exciting as my spiritual unfolding had been so far, it has also been confusing as I learnt so many things about so many different faiths and paths – but now those worries were swept away by the sense that it is to the Mother that I belong, it is her Presence and message of freedom I can bring to the world. I need no religion because the Mother does not require worship, in fact She makes Herself available to all who turn to Her with an open and trusting heart. I felt charged and intoxicated by the energy She was pouring onto the Earth.
The search for knowledge and philosophical understanding fell away, became irrelevant – how could I be concerned with questions of life after death, about God, when I could feel the limitations of such an approach compared to the broad expansive light of the power and beauty of Her divine presence. It was time to let go of the notions of the intellect and instead trust the Mother absolutely and without fear, just as we did in the womb and as babies – time to trust Her to give me guidance and comfort in the rest of my life, to live in praise of the gifts She gives us humans, caring for the world and its inhabitants because they literally ARE HER, and following Her lead towards the fulfilment of the spirit’s journey in human form.
- “May devotion and purity of mind and body be the only tools I need to find Her. May Her light shine through me and bring hope to all whom it touches.”
I absorbed Andrew Harvey’s view that,-
“The unprecedented spiritual leap that humankind will have to take to save itself and the planet could only be possible if there were a correspondingly vast concentration of divine power here on earth to make that leap possible and to give human beings everywhere every kind of inspiration, encouragement and help. That power, I believe, is the light now active through the grace of the Divine Mother, active everywhere all over the planet, in all who believe and know that the light is there.”
At this time I also became aware of two Hindu mystics – Ramakrishna in the 19th century and Aurobindo in the 20th – who gave many teachings about the Mother, and were both married to women, known as ‘Mother’, who continued their holy work after their deaths. These avatars have continued to be inspirations and guides for me ever since.
I read in Aurobindo’s amazing works, –
“If you want to be a true doer of divine works, your first aim must be to totally free yourself from all desire, and all self-regarding ego. All your life must be an offering and a sacrifice to the Supreme; your only object in action shall be to serve, to receive, to fulfil, to become a manifesting instrument of the Divine Shakti in her works.”
I was excited to share my joy and discoveries, but recognised that it was on my own internal transformation that I needed to focus. I wrote this inner guidance in my journal, acknowledging the urge to ‘spread the word’,-
- “… we do this by example, not by preaching. We can’t tell people things, but we give teaching by our own behaviour, and keeping others informed of what steps we have taken in our own lives to make ourselves happier and healthier. We learn how to deal with each person we might talk to as an individual, not trotting out our facts and formulas as we see them, but finding out what it is in their life at that moment and trying to be ready to provide it. This calls on us to let our rational, logical mind sit back and let intuition do the probing. We can encourage this by keeping our thoughts silent, listening carefully to the real truth in what is being said to us physically, verbally and spiritually. We may well call on our guide, on our mental embodiment of the absolute, to help and aid us.”
1996 was a year of deepening my sense of spirituality and using it to keep my outlook as positive as possible. at the Landmark AIDS Centre in Brixton we knew that a positive mindset was our best hope of coping with the encroaching ailments associated with being HIV+. I went with Pierre to a Buddhist retreat for gay men in Norfolk, where over 7 days in a group of 30 men we devoted ourselves to meditation and mindfulness, an experience that brought me to a much more peaceful internal place, with cravings falling away and more easily living in the moment from that point on. I wrote some articles for the magazine Positive Nation where I tried to share something of how spirituality was helping me. In an article i gave my definition of what i had come to regard as the meaning of spirituality:
- “Being spiritual is simply about being ourselves, freed of the constraints of the ego, the conditioning of society and the fear of mortality. It involves being aware and taking control of every aspect of our lives, down to the minutest thought, experiencing our connectedness with nature, our essential place in the universe. Removing negativity from our lives and replacing it with love for the whole of creation makes us happier and healthier. While alive, we are after all a union of body and consciousness, and if we are able to find balance within and between these aspects we can find the power to live well and live long, HIV no longer a problem and death accepted as natural and not something to be feared. We can put our mental energy into living and into enjoying every moment to the full, with body, mind and spirit.”
I dived into Buddhist studies, finding in them the same sense of devotion that the Hindu mystics were so moved by. ‘The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying’ by Sogyal Rinpoche spoked about devotion, but without any sense of a deity as the focus of it:
“Devotion becomes the purest, quickest and simplest way to realise the nature of our mind and all things.”
As my physical symptoms worsened it was helpful to take in the Buddhist advice that, –
“No suffering, however dreadful, is or can be meaningless if its is dedicated to the alleviation of the suffering of others.”
Buddhist sage Padmasambhava had taught that, –
“Complete devotion brings complete blessing, absence of doubt brings complete success.”
Pierre and I moved in the summer of ’96 into a council flat in Stockwell, a ground floor apartment with a garden. At first I hated the idea of moving, feeling that the flat – so dark and close to the ground after our magical kingdom in the sky in the Oval – would be where I would die. I clearly wasn’t happy about dying, even as I was learning to accept it. But once in the flat we created a lovely home, where I was able to continue my studies and develop my devotional meditations. A daily practice for me was to visualise the rainbow colours in my chakras, seeing them open and receiving light from the universe. This brought me peace and the ability to go beyond the language-loving part of my mind into the place of insight – I learnt to let go of thought and receive images and ideas from somewhere else, which meant, as my body became more sick, that I was feeling more and more connected to somewhere else. I gave up thinking about whether I would die or not, that ceased to be a relevant way of looking at things, as I got closer to death’s door I actually felt myself filling up more and more with love and cosmic light.