Before the onset of AIDS-related symptoms, which started for me in 1995, I had not been inclined to ponder 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. In ’92, 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.
Oval, London 1995
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.
In January 95 my t-cell count had dropped to 77, and although I still felt quite ok I now qualified as a Person With Aids. I quit work and felt all the numbers and spreadsheets of my time in finance escape rapidly from my mind. I could see them going, was shocked at how full of figures was my inner mind space, and sensed it becoming emptier. Into this space I fed the contents of books on witchcraft, buddhism and the tao. I read Kahlil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’, and, unlike the first time I had opened it some years earlier, felt deep truths pouring out of it. I also revisited a book about spiritual healing by Nick Bamforth called ‘AIDS and the Healer Within’ – this too made sense to me now, I was suddenly open to hear its message that I had rejected a few years earlier when the book had been given to me.
“On a global scale, AIDS is symbolic of the changes, the birth pangs that the Earth is going through. AIDS is a disease, a consciousness which is primarily rooted in the third chakra, the centre of power and strength. To rise out of it, we must leave power behind and open our hearts to love in its broadest sense.” Nick Bamforth
The idea of the Tao – that there is a ‘Way’, a force running through the universe that we are able to attune ourselves to, excited me. This and the Buddhist texts I read opened up spirituality for me because there was no moralising father god figure set at the centre of things. Instead I was learning about energy, and how it flows. The things I learnt about western magical practices opened me to a largely hidden alchemical culture, and although during the following years I would become very moved and inspired by eastern mystical faiths and philosophies, I came back always to the fact that the wisdom I was discovering also existed in western form, though largely lost or hidden from view. I found eastern teachings put a lot of emphasis on transcending desires, but this did not feel like the full story to me. I felt desire to be a crucial part of discovering ourselves. Paganism showed me that desire, pleasure, substance use etc could be treated as positive parts of our spiritual journey here on the Earth. I came to see our Celtic European spirituality as rooted in the fire (passion, desire, spirit) element, while the eastern faiths came from an air (mind) base. This made them suspicious of the fire of desire, but it seemed to me that in European history desire was at the root of cultural and technological expansion, and therefore deserving of spiritual exploration, not eradication.
Eventually I met queer pagans from whom I discovered the crucial need to be as rooted in the earth, engaged in physical reality, alongside being open to the higher dimensions of consciousness, or spirit. At this early stage of the journey in 1995 it felt like a doorway had opened and I was seeing the world anew. I discovered I had senses that saw beyond the physicality of situations and picked up energy flows, saw the intensity of colours and shapes, and inside me arose an excitement about being alive that I had never known before.
I felt that I was changing on every level. I was experiencing new emotions, mostly highly enjoyable ones though there were some major dips too; 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 a meaningless ability to think and feel 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 to the energies of 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 the veils gradually lifted to reveal that life is an intricate dance of many dimensions, which normally our overactive thought processes and self-obsessive attitudes prevent us from detecting. I resonated with the message of Shakti Gawain in ‘Living in the Light’, –
“… on the deepest level of consciousness, a radical spiritual transformation is taking place … The new world is being built as we open to the higher power of the universe within us and consciously allow that creative energy to move through us.”
I eagerly read David Fontana’s descriptions of the many forms of active and passive meditation, in ‘The Meditator’s Handbook’, taking on board the aim to be,-
“…more open to environment, more aware of the beauties and colours of nature, of the joys and sorrows of others.”
Getting out of the analytical mind and into other forms of perception became my goal. I started to create rituals from my imagination, communicate 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 decided I could live without fear, that death was not real, so why be afraid of anything in life? I started going to healing circles at the Landmark in Brixton, a community centre for the HIV+. A group of us met weekly to explore vibrational healing through visualisations and meditations. I believe the proximity of death opened us to feel and channel light energy powerfully. We knew we were connecting worlds, and were getting used to the idea that non-physical realms exist. But when I tried, enthusiastically, to share my discoveries with people who were not on that edge, I was met with resistance, negativity and fear.
- “I have a thought about something. Then I give myself a thought about thinking about something. Then I choose to think a thought about a thought about thinking about something. A feeling of colour and sound burst through my head. My whole body shakes, I am having an orgasm in my brain. Explosions and eruptions flood through my body. I see this feeling, I hear this feeling, I smell this feeling. All my senses are heightened and joined together to produce a new sense. A new sense of seeing, hearing, touching, smelling and tasting, all working together in a new harmony, rising above my expectations of how these senses work. I am shown a new existence, a layer of reality that is usually invisible to us. We get glimpses of it, we call it fate, god, love in order to rationalise it. But it cannot be rationalised, explained and analysed. At least not in any terms that have been invented so far. This experience calls for a new vocabulary. A vocabulary where there are no words, that exists in seeing and hearing, in knowing you are sharing with other people when they show that they are sharing it with you.” (Spring 1995)
I began to write down key life guidance that was coming from my higher mind/spirit, such as
- “To find the meaning of the Universe, go along the road to Self, a place where you understand and are honest with yourself, about your feelings and actions, then take a turning along one of the many side roads to love. When you hit trouble, learn from the experience and put it behind you. When you’ve got to love, allow you feelings to go further. I promise you good health, good friends and multiple orgasms.”
- “Live life, learn from it, take out of it what is good, what is worthwhile, leave behind the bad influences, create your own existence.”
As my internal view changed the outside world also offered experiences to push me along the way. One thing that troubled me was the idea of ‘God’, a concept I had deleted from my teenage life but which now seemed to need my consideration. On the day of a solar eclipse I went on a coach journey to Bristol, feeling moved and emotional, seeing visions in the sky. When the bus arrived I felt drawn to visit the cathedral, to go somewhere that the thoughts about god and spirit that were whirling in my mind might find a home. As I neared a beggar with wide and slightly wild eyes seemed to jump at me, asking for cash but also asking me if I thought I knew God. This was not the sort of question I was used to, but of course it was in complete resonance with my current streams of thought. When i stared silently at him more questions of the same kind followed and suddenly out of my mouth came the words “I seek to know God in the form in which he chooses to reveal himself to me.” At this the beggar seemed to forget that we were even conversing and was gone. I remember walking all the way round the great building, looking for a way in, even banging on some doors and shouting, but the cathedral was locked. The God was not at home, or at least, not receiving visitors. I went to my friend’s house instead, via a stop at Cabot Tower where the tranquility, views and fresh air recharged me, left me feeling god is found in Nature – and in friends: I spent the evening curled up under a duvet with them and feeling god really can be found in love, and buildings were nothing to do with it.
One evening I decided to go visit a gay pub in Islington called the Fallen Angel. I just felt I had to be there, though it was not a usual haunt for me. Unusually also, I chose to travel by taxi there from the Oval – as I jumped into the cab I heard the loud peal of a bell ringing through the air, but coming from ‘nowhere’. I turned around and came eye to eye with a young guy who looked shocked, he pointed at me and said ‘did you do that?’. I had no idea what did that! On the way across the city I could hear a voice chatting to me, saying ‘I am coming up behind you’. Looking out of the window I could see a cyclist coming close and about to undertake the slow moving taxi. ‘I’m in the helmet’ said the voice as the bike sped by. In the pub I soon got into some bizarre mystical chat with a young guy, who suddenly took offence and started to threaten me. With no premeditation I reached out and touched him. To our great surprise in a kind of psychic flash his chair fell over backwards and he hit the ground. The hostile spirit in him had vanished. I kind of got the feeling I had just vanquished a demon.
My strange night was not over. I walked to Kings Cross, feeling that the world around me was feeding me messages and signs, started hanging out in a bus stop and was approached by two young women who insisted I go with them. I went along to a small guesthouse where I was smuggled in quickly before the owner would see us. I recall feeling very confused and saying ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here’ to which one replied ‘that’s ok, we do’. I simply sat in the room for a long time while they injected themselves with smack. At some point one of the girls and I left to wander the streets, realising the night had already passed, dawn was coming. As the light increased and a clear blue sky appeared I felt a sense of elation come over me. The girl at one point suddenly said ‘your boyfriend is waking up soon’ (I hadn’t mentioned him to her) and I jumped on an underground train to get home.
The public house next to our flat was called the Hanover Arms. Twice I had ‘otherworldly’ experiences in there. One lunchtime I went in and the pub was unusually packed, mainly with old people. There were books on shelves – one drew me, I pulled it out and it was a treatise on magic. I felt the old people in the pub were witches and magicians drawn to the area because they could sense the rising vibration that I was part of. At this point it felt to me that the area around the Oval was a portal to other dimensions, an energy centre in which new realities were born. Horse racing was being shown on the tv in the pub. I went to the bathroom – an old guy in there told me to be careful of one of the mirrors, as it was ‘tricky’, and then asked me if I was a fan of horse racing. I said not, to which he said I should be as the magic is in it. Another time I went into the pub feeling very high, like I was made of light. I was maybe having a very camp moment, flitting about like a faerie until I saw the Irish landlord and his barman staring at me. The landlord was fuming, red with anger. The barman restrained him physically as the landlord shouted at me to get out. ‘I don’t want your sort in here’ he screamed and I felt he was referring to the faerie creature I was feeling myself to be. I thought we were playing out some ancient archetypal exchange between human and faerie realms.
One day I crossed over the road from the flat into the green churchyard, where a bunch of cider drinking homeless people were sitting together. I went over to them and one seemed to be expecting me. He took my hand and we walked all the way to Vauxhall, receiving some homophobic shouts from cars as we went along hand in hand. All the time the guy was telling me were expected somewhere, but when we reached Vauxhall he became confused and went off alone. I was confused too, but now felt energies pulling me along. As I passed a roman catholic church I discovered it was Ascension Day. I ended up in Vauxhall Gardens feeling I was in contact with some secret weapon – a sword of light perhaps- that was buried under the grass. I walked through the flowers feeling I was carrying this sword, and started to wonder if I was connecting to the court of King Arthur, being led by spirit to a mysterious point of awakening and remembering. Things had become pretty weird by now and I became frightened of dark energies swirling around the busy streets of south London. I started to wonder if I could get out of the altered state I had been drawn into, and was very relieved as I came back to the Oval to feel myself pass through some kind of portal, leaving the magical energy behind and getting home with a sense of safety and ‘normality’.
One night I crossed the road into Kennington Park and had the sensation that there were large bonfires burning throughout the park. I wandered around feeling myself in several worlds at once, and ended up outside the big church across from the underground entrance – the church our living room windows looked out on, and whose spire was a daily reference point of elevation and meditation for me. I was standing transfixed staring at the church when a police car pulled up and a policeman rushed up to me, asking what I was doing. I said that I was looking at the church and he just left me to it. I was certainly contemplating what a huge shift had happened in my life, what greater forces than I were directing it, and wondering what would happen next.
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 to take AZT and tried to hold back the advance of physical deterioration with herbal treatments, chinese medicine, spiritual healing, and 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 all attested to the possibility of direct communication with source consciousness, and seemed always to point to an underlying unity of creation, held together by and manifesting through the power of love.
Mystical writings from every corner of the world, plus my own inner journeys, 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 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.
“Between each life is a Veil of Darkness. The doors will open at last and show us all the chambers through which our feet have wandered from the beginning… Our Kas, our spiritual selves, show themselves to us in various ways. Drawing from the infinite veil of wisdom, hidden in the being of every man, they give us who are instructed glimpses of truth and the power to work miracles…” (Egyptian Papyrus Anana, c 1320 BCE)
“Now we are in a critical stage of our spiritual, moral and technological development as nations. All life is precariously balanced. We must remember that all things on Mother Earth have spirit and are intricately related. The Lakota prophecy of Mending the Sacred Hoop of all nations has begun.” Native American teaching.
“There is a grand awakening, after which we know this has been a grandiose dream. Yet fools think themselves to be awake.” Confucious
Even in the Bible I found references to the sense of awakening i was undergoing. “God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that should not see and ears that they should not hear, even unto this day.” NewTestament, Romans 11:8
AIDS had become for me a doorway to a review my understanding of life and to confront fear of death, plus it became an invitation to experience transcendent awareness, not as a drug induced trip but as part of normal life. Cannabis was my medicine and my teacher plant during this time, assisting me on body, mind and spiritual levels through this long period of sickness and transformation. Accepting death was the gateway to higher states, passing willingly through that gateway – while still in the body – became a way to open and access my spiritual consciousness. I started to accept that my limited understanding of myself until this point in my life was being replaced by a new vision of the multi-dimensional human towards which the species is evolving, and of my nature as a shaman, one who connects the worlds of spirit and matter (of heaven and earth) by virtue of being queer – of containing a balance of masculine and feminine energies, an ability to connect the sexual and spiritual in my own being. Facing death, accepting it, embracing it, was the key to make this possible.
An ancient voice had awoken in me and was guiding me to discover myself – an androgynous, non-binary soul who chose to be in a male body this time round, who’s true nature would be found through a profound near death experience. I learnt that the death of the ego, which is held up by faiths as the pinnacle of the spiritual path, and presented as only attainable through asceticism, was a ‘normal’ state for the life-loving shaman, who willingly surrenders his individuality into the greater whole, dying to himself so that he might be a vehicle for the greater consciousness, but coming back to himself too so that he continue to function in the daily world of the community.
Oval, London 1995
1995 was the most incredible year of my life to date. Instead of preparing to die I was suddenly experiencing much more to life than ever before. Signs and wonders convinced me that we live in a multi-dimensional reality, and I drew my own ‘ladder of consciousness’ with 10 stages to it. After six levels of growth and personal development, the seventh stage was the crucial one, the point of make or break – I called it ‘rainbow or void’ – a point I felt myself to have reached as I negotiated some seriously altered mind states that suggested I might be having a psychotic or schizophrenic episode. This is how the doctors saw things: I was sent by my HIV consultant for a talk with a psychiatrist, who was a Sikh and not entirely unsympathetic to my talk of the evolution of consciousness. His concern was that I was too happy! He wanted to give me pills to calm me down, which I refused, saying that something amazing was happening to me and I did not wish to stop it or numb the experience. I felt I was on a knife edge, treading carefully, not knowing if I would reach the rainbow or drop into the void, but I was not about to let medical professionals tell me what was what. As I discovered energy centres in the body, the chakras, I was appalled that the medical profession gave them no credence. Yet I was experiencing them as real, and gaining much insight and joy through learning about them.
I also felt the entire world was entering into level number 7 of my evolutionary ladder, and prayed that both I and the world would make it to level 8, which I labelled the level of ‘humanity’. I saw level 8 as being a point where old debates about existence of god or meaning of life fell away, opening a level where meaning and divinity were accepted, but not yet fully understood. As I dropped my fears and doubts about life’s nature and purpose I would enter this level, where, through study and spiritual practice, I would be able to find some deeper answers, and deep peace. Stage 9 would then be the stage of ‘brilliance’ as this peace and confidence translated into practical ways to act and serve in the world. An evolutionary leap would follow and stage 10 would then be the start of a new way of life, I called this ‘progression’.
I can remember sitting on a window sill of our lounge, absorbing sunshine and smoking weed, and feeling my mind racing out of control, but discovering I could detach from it, observe it and move into a silent, bright and empty space. After a period of absorbing vast amounts of information and ideas, where life felt as if it were constantly accelerating, by April 95 the idea that more could be learnt through silence and stillness was coming to me. This was helped by a beautiful man named Vassus, whom I met in Substation nightclub in Brixton. He had already been through a transformation similar to mine, but had not handled the doctors so well, ending up sectioned because of manic episodes. He advised me to slow down, go for emptiness instead of the fullness I was chasing.
From David Fontana’s ‘Meditator’s Handbook’ I learnt that meditation ‘is the experience of who you already are, and have always been, and will always be’ and learnt that through concentrating the mind’s energies I could enter a place of tranquility within which exciting insights could arise. From this, plus Barbara Ann Brennan’s ‘Hands of Light’ and Shakti Gawain’s ‘Living in the Light’ I started to formulate tools to handle the new energy I found myself in. I learnt not to stay stuck in negative outlooks but to keep thinking them through until I found a place of light, and although my t-cell count now went down to 45, for a while my body seemed to be stronger, fitter and more vital than ever. I felt I was thriving, and my excitement about the things I was discovering about life did not wane. It was very powerful also to feel that the changes I felt happening in me had happened previously to others – to sense that I was part of an awakening that had been happening since the 1960s at least.
- “We are the eternal Spirit living in form, the immortal Truth incarnate. The Universe is our home, it is us. We are here to fulfil the Plan, here to be ourselves. Ignorance will pass, have faith and know. We are here now. Let the celebration of our descent from the seat of consciousness begin. There is no secret, we can be ourselves. Find your sisters, find your brothers, find your teachers, and always find your Self. We are poised at the point we have always dreamed of. We can, we must, become the fully conscious human being, reach totality and wholeness in union with all other seekers, divisions overcome and wounds healed, in union with the Divine Presence, experienced in all that is. Enlightened humanity as God’s realisation, the paths of mankind completing not competing, the light shining on all. Be who you are.” (Summer 95)
By the summer of 1995 I felt the hectic transformation of the past six months was coming to an end. In the last period of it I hardly wrote or read any more, but instead was often lying on the sofa watching clouds drifting in the sky and losing myself in waking dreams. There were powerful images of large groups of people in these visions, dressed colourfully and playing instruments, many drums, and raising energy, celebrating. I felt I had accessed inside me knowledge of what i felt was called the Way, the natural flow of energy on the planet, and hoped to write it down as a book, but realised that living it was more important than trying to teach it to others. I had a powerful sense that it would take five years until I reached the ‘end’ of this education about the Way, presumed this might be the point at which I died or maybe achieved enlightenment! After all the intense energies of these six months my mind was totally shattered. I began to draw patterns and pictures, very simple ones at first, and more complex mandalas in time, as I entered a phase of rebuilding myself after everything that had happened. A much quieter period began, and the friends who had worried about my manic excitement now feared how introspective I seemed. My goal became to be like the Buddhist sage Sariputra, –
“It is not death, it is not life I cherish, I bide my time, a servant waiting for his wage. It is not death, it is not life I cherish, I bide my time in wisdom and mindfulness steeped.”
My rebalancing involved study of kabbalah, tarot and zen, plus a chance for the new, brighter and broader reality I had tuned into to settle. I no longer rushed around trying to convince others to also find the light, but chose to keep my insights to myself. A long holiday in the French Alps visiting my partner Pierre’s family helped a lot. During the latter half of the year and into 1996 I had to face the fact that the period of intense revelations had not solved all my problems. I still faced difficult emotions, found it hard to be at peace in myself, and had to deal with a weakening body. I wrote in my journal,-
- “However much I am bombarded by the turning seasons, the weather and other people I can never forget the security of the knowledge I have gained. I accept that if there are times when the spirit reigns free then there must be times when the cycle is on its dark side.”
At the end of 95 my best friend, Tim Dutton, with whom I had travelled around Europe in 1990, died. I was one of the people looking after him in his last weeks. Tim was not an easy patient, he was stubborn and withdrawn into his inner life, but afterwards I felt he had known what he was doing, that he had remembered inside that he had known body death before and was just keeping quiet to let the process happen, engaging detachment and sometimes furious that people such as family and doctors didn’t want to let him do things his own way. This was such an intense experience, and made me more determined than ever to complete the journey of consciousness I had begun and left me with a sense that everybody has their own innate spiritual knowledge inside themselves which maybe I could help them become aware of. I recorded the much calmer time of reflection on what had opened up for me during this incredible journey in my journal:
- “In my world all things are connected… cloud patterns and shapes reflect the events and mods of my day, insects and animals come to me for mutual blessings, children smile and speak to me and eccentric old timers want to know more. In my world a room is never empty and a landscape never deserted. Nothing happens by accident. Good deeds and thoughts bring tangible rewards, and quickly… psychic patterns reveal themselves to me via people, creatures and objects. Healing spells, enlightening rain of invisible energy, pass by, allowing me to tap into their force for purposes of my own. I spend a lot of time focusing health spells on sick friends, trying to feel the ‘temperature’ of their spirit in the hope of sending a reassurance to the mind of the person concerned. I have tapped into many such waves of descending power, sometimes acting as a channel for their earthly condition, linking up with other channels at home and abroad to strengthen the healing webs……..
- “In my world it is often necessary to be pretty quiet. My spirit is more active than my body can be. I can trace the path my spirit is following. I can hear, see and ‘imagine’ who my spirit is with. I’ve met my grandparents and the occasional historical figure. Religious figures come according to the cycle. Yesterday I felt very close to Krishna, for a few days before that I was aware of the Qabbalah, feeling my spirit on a journey to Kether, the Crown. At other times I have met Apollo….
- “To be conscious… is to have an awareness of the existence of oneself as an eternal spirit, originating from a greater force, called God etc. To understand and be comfortable with the fact of existence in human form. To be aware of the auras and indications emitted by other beings and be respectful of them.” (Summer 1995)
I listened to the words of mystics such as the Indian poet Kabir and set my goal, –
“O friend, hope in Him while thou livest, know Him while thou livest, for in life is thy release… It is but an empty dream that the soul must pass into union with Him because it hath passed from the body. If He is found now, He is found then: If not, we go but to dwell in the city of Death. If thou hast union now, thou shalt have it hereafter.”