Diagnosed HIV+ in 1990 when aged 25, and Long Term Survivor of AIDS, I have lived most of my life with a deadly virus in my body. I have thought long and hard about what a virus is on a metaphysical level, why it affects some people and not others, why it has different effects on people. Inspired by the likelihood of death looming over me in the 1990s I dived into spiritual study and practice in order to get a better, deeper understanding of life and soon came to respect the HIV virus as being a profound catalyst for my personal evolution.
There are many voices in the world today telling their tales of awakening, healing and growth through health crises. I am one of those people with such a tale to tell. HIV pushed me to drop my materialistic, atheistic beliefs about existence and explore mystical teachings. As I came closer to death (with a CD4 count of 3 at the lowest point in ’97) I surrendered my thoughts, my beliefs, my pain to the conscious universe and began a conversation with it that has never stopped since. I believe a combination of human and spiritual love alongside a positive mindset kept me alive until effective medication arrived to help, and I emerged from AIDS as a healer, a man with a sense of purpose and a trust in the divine plan at work in the universe.
HIV affected certain groups in society more than others, and of course not everybody who lived with AIDS experienced the apotheosis I am speaking of. Those of us who did find a state of transcendence over the darkness of our condition achieved it because we came to understand that we are all always creating our own experience of life in every moment, through our beliefs, thoughts and desires. We accepted we had brought ourselves to this point of challenge and transformation, not blaming others for it and dropping any sense of being the ‘victim’.
COVID-19 is a virus that affects every sector of society, nobody is excluded this time. Despite the upheavals and inconveniences we are all experiencing now the mystic in me is excited to see the opportunity being offered to the whole world to break through the veils of illusion that keep us believing we are separate beings in a principally material universe.
I dropped the belief in separation and allowed my own soul to reveal to me the unity and interdependence of all existence. It is only the human mind that keeps us firmly locked into the experience, the illusion, of individuality. It is designed to do that, so that consciousness – spirit – can explore itself through each of us. Humans love to use alcohol, drugs and sacred medicines because they all alter this sense of separation, they give us a taste of the deeper connected state, but only shifting the way we think can enable us to always be aware of and in tune with it
When we cease to identify with the stories and fears that our ego develops in order to maintain its apparent integrity, and shift instead to seeing the world with the eyes of the soul, life becomes a sacred dance, in which the fear of death changes into celebration of eternal life lived in the here and now, and disease becomes a teacher, a message from the soul, that we are in some way out of balance.
If we come to see existence as a unity, then we can no longer regard a virus as something separate to us. If all Creation is a dance of and within the Divine Mind then the virus, which exists somewhere in the liminal state between life and death (for it has no independent reality at all, it depends on living entities for its own existence), is a parcel of divine consciousness with its own part to the play in the bigger picture of the evolution of life on this planet. A virus brings different life lessons to different people, it can be seen as a messenger with both personal and collective insights to share. HIV brought some deep lessons to the LGBT community and to the other groups deeply affected. COVID-19 has come at a time when climate change threatens our entire global civilisation, and has important lessons to teach.
There are plenty of articles and lots of speculation online about the collective material and spiritual lessons humanity might gain from this pandemic, but I have found very little commentary about the metaphysical level of the nature of the virus itself or about why it has widely different effects on those it infects. This from Misa Hopkins resonates with my insights into why HIV hit me, and hit the gay male population, so hard. On a smaller scale, this is what I see happening every time somebody has the flu or a cold.
“Viruses grab hold when we abandon the self. In other words, they come in and hang out when we are not attending to our bodies’ health or our emotional and mental well-being. We check-out, so-to-speak, by not attending to ourselves, and the viruses check in.
“Viruses are able to gain entry when you are depleting yourself through stress, poor diet, and not enough oxygenation of your cells. You could think of it as creating an internal environment better suited to the viruses than to your health.
“The question you might want to ask yourself to access the metaphysical meaning behind a viral illness is, “What causes you to abandon yourself?”
“Now consider that abandonment occurs when you feel defeated in some way or are pushing yourself because you don’t feel worthy. You’ve abandoned your ability to create a balanced, happy life, because somewhere deep inside, you don’t believe that is possible.”
As well as underlying spiritual causes of this viral pandemic, this is an opportunity to address the spiritual effects of it and the way we each spiritually respond:
Deepak Chopra has written (at https://www.cnbc.com/2020/04/03/deepak-chopra-the-coronavirus-and-need-for-spiritual-wellness.html):
“There are three levels of response to theCOVID-19 outbreak: how it affects us physically, mentally and spiritually. The physical response came first, and by now everyone knows about self-isolation, social distancing and testing. The second effect, on our psyches, is being experienced personally but with only fitful answers and advice. The best advice in the mental area is meditation and yoga, relaxation techniques and paying attention every day to finding not just relaxation but joy and comfort in your life.
“But it is the third area, the spiritual effect of the outbreak, that is being neglected, even though the presence of death, whether we want it to or not, evokes concern about the state of our souls. Spiritual well-being is alien to many people’s daily lives, and with the decline of organized religion, millions of people experience a sick soul, however you want to define it — weariness of heart, existential dread, a sinking feeling that nothing really matters — without finding a way out.
“Don’t spend more than a few minutes diagnosing these feelings; everyone is experiencing them.”
Having a sense of meaning and purpose.
Loving and being loved.
Self-esteem, a sense of your own worth.
Tapping into inner peace and joy.
Being of service to others.
Generosity of spirit. “We don’t need to apply the words “religious” or “spiritual” to these modes of healing. They are based on long traditions, both East and West, that have examined and understood the human condition. More to the point, they are practical. They give you a sense of control over your life. By bringing you closer to your soul, spirit, higher awareness or deeper self (choose any term you prefer), these things reverse the most damaging spiritual trend in modern society: the desperate urge to flee from ourselves. “Your soul is the most intimate part of you, and it isn’t found by running away. Write down how you can perform an act of kindness today, show appreciation to someone, offer help to those in need, or bring comfort to someone feeling lonely and anxious — the simple human gestures we tend to overlook. In a time of crisis, the impulse is to go into emergency mode, fear, concern and panic. Giving in to those impulses will engender an epidemic of soul sickness. “I particularly want to underscore the issue of finding inner peace and joy, which can seem like a remote possibility just now and in the coming months. In the world’s wisdom traditions, it has been taught in every culture that inner peace and joy are available only through looking inward. The Old Testament says, “Be still and know that I am God.” The New Testament says that the Kingdom of Heaven is within. The Indian Vedic tradition says that Ananda, or bliss, lies at the heart of creation.”
My journey with HIV/AIDS brought me visions of the enlightenment, healing and spiritual evolution of the human species. It felt to me at the time that the personal spiritual transformation I was undergoing would soon be coming to many more people around the world. A quarter of a century later this process is underway. This is a time of making choices – to seek for deeper understanding, love and healing over succumbing to fear or denial. This is a time of opportunity to spend more time with ourselves, while social activities are curtailed, a time for spiritual practice and for self-healing. For those already on that path this becomes a time of holding steady, of being the presence of love, faith and stability while most of the world reels around us, of continuing with our own path of self-realisation and sharing the light we have in our souls.
I wrote some years ago…..
HIV IS A CALLING TO KNOW OUR SOULS
TO FACE MORTALITY
AND BREAK THROUGH THE ILLUSIONS, CONFUSION AND LIES OF OUR TIME.
HIV IS A CALL TO TURN INWARDS
TO FACE THE SELF
FIND ITS MOTIVATIONS, BLISS, DEEPEST DESIRES AND BRING THEM FORTH.
HIV IS A WAKE UP CALL
TO SEE WE NEED NOURISHING IN SOUL
AS WELL AS BODY.
OPEN TO THE POSSIBILITY THAT THERE IS NO DEATH
ONLY A SHIFT IN PERSPECTIVE
OVERCOME FEAR AND FACE THE SHADOW
EMBRACE THE LIGHT AND GROW
HEALING IS VITAL
This applies as much to COVID-19 as it does to HIV, Cancer or any healing crisis.
Historically, plagues have often been turning points in human development and also catalysts for spiritual and mystical exploration. Here are a few examples from the last millennium:
Mystics who were alive during the Black Death of the mid 14th century included:
John Ruusbroec (1293-1381), Flemish priest believed in embodied union with God and wrote radical, influential works. To him,
“the development of the soul has three stages: Active, Interior, Superessential. The Active life is that which men are most accustomed to: the life of the material world. The Interior life is the life of the spirit that is touched by religious contemplation. And the superessential life is that which lies beyond description and is man’s existence in enlightenment” (quoted from goodreads.com)
Julian of Norwich (1342-c1416), anchoress and wise woman, whose mystical work followed from visions she had aged 30 when a mystery illness seriously threatened her life. In ‘Revelations of Divine Love’ she wrote of the maternal nature of God,
“You would know our Lord’s meaning in this thing? Know it well. Love was His meaning. Who showed it to you? Love. What did He show you? Love. Why did He show it? For love. Hold on to this and you will know and understand love more and more”.
Famously she found an optimism and confidence that was unshakeable:
“All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
“Greatly ought we to rejoice that God dwells in our soul; and more greatly ought we to rejoice that our soul dwells in God. Our soul is created to be God’s dwelling place, and the dwelling of our souls is God, who is uncreated. It is a great understanding to see and know inwardly that God, who is our Creator, dwells in our soul, and it is a far greater understanding to see and know inwardly that our soul, which is created, dwells in God in substance, of which substance, though God, we are what we are.”
“As truly as God is our Father, so truly God is our Mother.”
The Cloud of Unknowing, written c 1375, author unknown, is hailed as one of the most important medieval works on contemplative practice. The book proposes the way to know God is not by analysing his activities and attributes, but by surrendering the mind, the ego, to the state of ‘unknowing’, so that the true nature of God might reveal itself.
” We can not think our way to God. He can be loved but not thought.”
1665-6 saw England hit by a major outbreak of plague.
George Fox, founder of the Quaker movement lived at this time. He believed in equality, non-violence and that it was possible to have a direct relationship with Christ, without the intercession of the Church’s priests, as had the heretical and ‘Free Spirit’ movements that had been destroyed by the Catholic Church. Quakerism looked threatened with the same fate, with Parliament enacting laws against dissent, but in 1689 persecution was ended by the Act of Toleration. The ‘Society of Friends’ spread widely in England and Wales and was soon active in north America, where William Penn established the state of Pennsylvania, running it on Quaker principles.
Thomas Traherne (1636-1674), poet, clergyman and author of ‘Centuries of Meditation” celebrated the glory of his own personal relationship with God, and divine presence in the form of Nature. He called the bliss of knowing God’ will and love ‘felicity’
“You are as prone to love, as the sun is to shine.”
“You never enjoy the world aright, till the Sea itself floweth in your veins, till you are clothed with the heavens, and crowned with the stars: and perceive yourself to be the sole heir of the whole world, and more than so, because men are in it who are every one sole heirs as well as you. Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God, as misers do in gold, and Kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.”
“To think the world therefore a general Bedlam, or place of madmen, and oneself a physician, is the most necessary point of present wisdom: an important imagination, and the way to Happiness.”
“Therefore of necessity they must at first believe that Felicity is a glorious though an unknown thing. And certainly it was the infinite wisdom of God that did implant by instinct so strong a desire of Felicity in the Soul, that we might be excited to labour after it, though we know it not, the very force wherewith we covet it supplying the place of understanding.”
“It is a good thing to be happy alone. It is better to be happy in company, but good to be happy alone. Men owe me the advantage of their society, but if they deny me that just debt, I will not be unjust to myself, and side with them in bereaving me. I will not be discouraged, lest I be miserable for company. More company increases happiness, but does not lighten or diminish misery.”
Among prominent 20th century mystics who lived through the Flu pandemic of 1918-20 were
Evelyn Underhill (1875-1941), author of ‘Mysticism: A Study of the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness’ believed mysticism was for everybody, not just monastics, she saw it as the inevitable future of the human race:
“…speak no more of Father, Son and Holy Spirit nor of any creature; but only of one Being, which is the very substance of the Divine Persons. There were we all one before our creation; for this is our superessence… . There the Godhead is, in simple essence, without activity; Eternal Rest, Unconditioned Dark, the Nameless Being, the Superessence of all created things.”
“When love has carried us above all things into the Divine Dark, there we are transformed by the Eternal Word Who is the image of the Father; and as the air is penetrated by the sun, thus we receive in peace the Incomprehensible Light, enfolding us, and penetrating us.”
“We are all the kindred of the mystics. ..Strange and far away from us though they seem, they are not cut off from us by some impassable abyss. They belong to us; the giants, the heroes of our race. As the achievement of genius belongs not to itself only but also to the society that brought it forth;…the supernal accomplishment of the mystics is ours also. ..our guarantee of the end to which immanent love, the hidden steersman. ..is moving. ..us on the path toward the Real. They come back to us from an encounter with life’s most august secret. ..filled with amazing tidings which they can hardly tell… According to their strength and passion, these lovers of the Absolute. ..have not shrunk from the suffering. ..Beauty and agony have called. ..have awakened a heroic response. For them the winter is over. ..Life new, unquenchable and lovely comes to meet them with the dawn.”
Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (1881-1955), scientist, philosopher and Jesuit priest, served in the First World War and later wrote that
“…the war was a meeting … with the Absolute.”
He has been called the first scientist to realise the universe and the human are inseparable and “perhaps the man most responsible for the spiritualization of evolution in a global and cosmic context” (1996 Encyclopedia of New Age Beliefs.)
He wrote, –
“Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.”
“We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience.”
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God.
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.”
“We are one, after all, you and I, together we suffer, together exist, and forever will recreate each other.”
“In the final analysis, the questions of why bad things happen to good people transmutes itself into some very different questions, no longer asking why something happened, but asking how we will respond, what we intend to do now that it happened.”
A virus is defined on medicine.net as
“A microorganism that is smaller than a bacterium that cannot grow or reproduce apart from a living cell. A virus invades living cells and uses their chemical machinery to keep itself alive and to replicate itself.”
Philosopher Matthieu Donner writes in ‘Thinking like a Virus: Contagion, Postmodernist Epistemology, and the Ethics of Belief’:
“…like beliefs, viruses also prey, and ultimately rely for their existence, on the host cell(s) they come to parasitize, and only conceptually exist outside of it.
“If the virus exists within the liminal space between life and death, in an in-between which is neither/nor yet always already both, contagion similarly operates as a dissolving force, a process which defies fantasies of control, corrodes internal integrity, and ignores the borders that define and defend identity… As the virus problematizes the possibility of distinction between host and non-host, between life and non-life, contagion more largely exposes the inadequacy of our cultural desire for boundaries. Residing between, in the fluid indistinction characteristic of the point of contact where terms blur into each other, contagion uncovers the operations of culture and reveals the illusionary dimension of any and all distinctions. It loudly exposes the fact that, outside man and the boundaries man has erected for himself in order to make sense of the world, the division between organisms, between life and death, but also between concepts such as truth, knowledge, and belief is one whose ontological foundations is inherently void.”
One way or another the Cosmic Intelligence will eventually uplift the whole of humanity into a sense of connection with its true nature. For many this will be an almighty shock. For those of us on the path to self-knowledge already it will be a much anticipated and welcome moment. For all of us the pandemic of 2020 is an opportunity to up our game, retrain our minds and prepare ourselves for the many shifts coming our way in the years ahead.