World AIDS Day approaching… time for me to reflect on 21 years diagnosed HIV+ and summarise my ‘radical’ views on HIV.
When I last wrote about HIV a few months ago I received a comment email directing me to read papers arguing that no virus identifiable as HIV has ever been isolated. I remember this argument well from the 1990s, but I thought the science had moved on, with pictures of (what we are told is) the HIV virus easy to find on the net.
When somebody tells me “You were sold a lie that HIV causes any illness, let alone AIDS” I actually am glad to agree. Although my journey was a classic scenario I also reject the classic medical view of HIV – diagnosed in 1990 I was told I had seven years to live (so early in the epidemic how could they know that?), my health deteriorated gradually and by 1997 I was in hospital with a cd4 count of 3, suffering from PCP and KS among others things. The reason for my rejection of the straightforward medical model of infection-illness-death is that the study and spiritual practice that this encounter with mortality led me to has convinced me that we humans are more than simple mechanical physical entities. Our health and well being is a result of the interplay of mental, emotional, spiritual and physical parts of ourselves. To see as HIV as a virus that is passed through sex and then causes physical disease does not explain why some get some sick and others do not, nor why some never become infected despite risks taken. A broader model looking at the interplay of energies in the whole energetic system of the human will tell us more.
American writer (of ‘Return to Love’ and many other works) Marianne Williamson, said “AIDS introduced a situation where, at that time, Western medicine played its cards and came up empty…. That didn’t make people say, ‘I’ll go home and die’; it made people see other models.”
The 1980s and 90s are often remembered as a time of strong community spirit in response to the ravages of the ‘plague’ years – they were also times of heady spiritual transcendence and dramatic personal transformations. Many of those who died entered into states of grace and light before they departed, and my own experience was that coming close to death’s border brought me to a place of serenity, acceptance and love.
For those who need it, I will explain more of the holistic model of the human as i see it:
- Mental body – it is a fundamental principle of spiritual understanding that energy follows thought. Thought is creative. This is not generally recognised by society yet, but is a profound truth that can be directly tested within oneself. In the mid 90s, while medical science still offered no hope to those of us sick with aids related symptoms, we started to get the point of this. POSITIVE thinking became the mantra, as it was recognised that this was the best hope we had. Books with titles such as ‘You cannot afford the luxury of a negative thought’ came out. Understanding that poor self esteem, negative self image and negative attitudes to the world around us, lead to poor health is more generally appreciated now, but the real power of our mental faculties is still generally underestimated.
- Emotional body – we all accumulate emotional wounds as we go through life. Gay children often start collecting them at an early age. Repressed, denied, unexpressed emotions become stuck somewhere within us, affecting how we think and feel, creating dis-ease. Louise Hay put a very controversial idea on the HIV table … that the illness amongst gay men was the manifestation of the collective shame and guilt that we felt around our sexuality. While in the 70s and 80s many men were celebrating sexuality like never before, the darkness around sex from our upbringing, plus inheritance of guilt and shame accumulated by our kind over centuries due to the pressures from religion and society, was largely ignored rather than healed. Nowadays there is more recognition that as gay children we are likely to receive certain woundings that can detrimentally affect us throughout our lives, leading to dysfunctional relationships, depression, sex addictions, drug problems etc. The Velvet Rage is a book, and now series of workshops addressing ‘the pain of growing up gay in a straight man’s world’, and is part of the emerging acknowledgement that we all carry deep woundings that affect us in detrimental ways.
- Spiritual self – without a grounding in spiritual principles we are essentially blind in our relationship with the world around us. Despite the move away from religion in our society certain moral values are still seen as important, and most of us can see the benefit of approaching life through love and positivity as opposed to greed, selfishness, fear etc. But our modern world is very confused about spirituality, and as gay men we often reject all sense of god or morality due to the blatantly ‘evil’ lies that religions have promoted about us. A deeper search into spiritual philosophy and practice, however, pays dividends. Beyond the platitudes and observances of external religion there lies an inner search for illumination and insight that humans have always pursued. Our modern world has become obsessed with the external – eg scientific research is held up as superior to inner spiritual discovery, and we all know how physical beauty and sexual prowess are treated as the highest goals in gay culture. To embrace the idea that we are spirits engaging in a material adventure is to open up crucial new possibilities about our existence. Certain spiritual paths, especially paganism and buddhism, make a big deal of the contemplation of death in order to reduce our attachment to the physical form and the pleasures and pains it brings us, plus to bring us into closer communion with a divine reality that gives rise to all things, including us. Quantum physics is saying something similar now about a vibrational field that underlies all creation. The mystical seers in all times and across the world realised that we are that vibrational essence, the nature of which is consciousness itself, and the expression of which is love.
- Physical body – we are not flesh and blood alone. The physical body is a manifestation of all the energies – mental, emotional, spiritual – that make up who we are. We can see this when our imbalances on these levels have a result on our physical well being. The way we think and feel is etched on our faces and bodies, they have a big effect our aging process. Medical science approaches a physical manifestation of illness, calls it AIDS, blames a virus which it calls HIV, which it sees as a physical entity passed from person to person, and takes an entirely physical approach towards managing the disease, attacking the virus with chemicals, accepting the sometimes highly toxic side effects they cause as unavoidable. Are the limitations of this approach not bleedingly obvious?
My own experience: is that there could well be truth in the connection Louise Hay makes between sexual guilt and HIV. I repressed my homosexual urges from the age of 12 until I was 21. When I came out I did not experience a healing of these dark feelings, I simply dived into excessive sexual indulgence, taking risks that exposed me to sexually related diseases. I can see that I did not have self-respect and self-love in place. Those things have come to me later in life, and as a direct result of the ravages of HIV forcing me to face up to questions about myself, and about life itself, which I had neither wanted, nor been encouraged, to consider while growing up.
I wish to share another possibility too. As a young man I bought into scientific notions about life as an accidental chaotic random event resulting from the collisions of atoms causing certain chemical reactions. I enjoyed the pleasures my body offered and I stimulated my mind through education. But I never thought about my soul. I enjoyed walking in nature, dancing to great music and I was always driven by a desire to be in love – all of which I see as soulful indeed – but I had no concept of soul … no belief in it and certainly no sense that perhaps I was born with a ‘soul purpose’. Tired of the routine of learning and gaining qualifications, and uninspired by any work ethic to accumulate wealth and status, I simply focussed my energies on seeking pleasure through sex, alcohol and drugs. I feel that the toxic overload of this was too much for me on both body and soul levels. My soul simply could not remain on this planet in this body because it was not getting the opportunity to express its creative nature. I now know that creative part of myself and make efforts to explore and expand it. I am much happier and healthier as a result.
I also have learnt to look at life from the perspective of the soul, embracing my connection to a bigger picture, a great spirit that gives us this life experience… and accepting that this life is manifesting through all other beings, that all are deserving of love and respect, that we are in fact all ONE. This changes everything, and leads me to conclude that HIV changes everything – but not in the negative, fearful way we are expected to buy into. HIV challenges us to face up to who we are, how we are living, and what the bigger purpose of life is. We can turn to others for the answers but to be really certain we have to find the answers in ourselves. Of course we can now take medications and avoid these questions, continue to fit into the normal procedures of society and be good servants of the ever hungry capitalist machine. Yet something may drive us deeper and deeper into self-destructive behaviours – hello drug addiction, hello hepatitis c – as life itself finds other ways to make us stop and think.
We are all carriers of a fundamental dis-ease: the human condition of separation, fear and ignorance. The message, not just of HIV but of the crisis-ridden transformational times we are living through, is that Healing Is Vital, not just on a physical level, but of the whole being that we are.