Ever notice how the more you focus on something, the more real it becomes?
At the height of the gay plague, my boyfriend contracted the HIV virus. We were both stunned, horrified, terrified. Six months later, he landed in the intensive care unit with his first bought of Pneumocystis, an accelerated and often very deadly form of pneumonia. His war with death had begun. Often in that time, death stared out from his wasted face and chilled my soul. As he fought for every breath, I could read the terror he was wrestling with in his pained expression, feel his failing resources in an ongoing battle with the Grim Reaper. It was the worst time of my life, the second-worst time of his. Born in Konigsberg, Germany in 1936, he was old enough when the war ended to experience first hand the atrocities and ravages of retribution as the Russians killed, raped, and buried the city of his birth in soot and ash. What he must have witnessed and experienced, I have no doubt, would’ve killed me ten times over.
Surviving the atrocities of a lost war lends an inner strength that is able to sail through the mightiest storms.
Two years later, after an equally terrifying bought with the virus, a new treatment appeared that saved those remaining few from dying, and we were able to close this frightful chapter of our lives.
His battles won, he awakened to an entirely new level of consciousness. He was totally bereft of superficiality and false pretense, a level of being few of our brothers in the 1980s were able to achieve. Through my husband and my friend, I have come to see that this virus was necessary to bring about the opening of a new way of being in this world of form. Releasing the physical body leads to death, at best, to suffering and change at worst, he was able to move into a consciousness that embraced the eternal in him, the eternal self, the Truth.
Since that time, in periods of extreme anxiety, I’ve asked him why he doesn’t seem particularly concerned about what was going on around us. His reply, “Eric, having been to Hell and back 3 or 4 times in my life, which has taught me not to allow myself the luxury of a negative thought. The results would be too devastating.”
In January I went through a very dark time both physically and mentally. With corona virus-like symptoms, I fell sick and confined myself to the apartment for three weeks. Not because I thought I’d contracted the coronavirus as that virus was still in China and I had no idea what it was at that time. My ‘sick time’ became a period of intense and forced introspection, a self-encounter that brought up all my deepest fears and darkest imaginings, that left me fearing for my sanity. Relief came when I finally realized how important it was to monitor my thoughts, do as little mind-fucking as possible. Meditation helped, but was more a respite as an answer in itself. The all too excessive amount of negativity running around my head made it impossible to even consider doing yoga.
At the apex of my dark night, the words of my husband came to mind, his way of dealing with his own demons’ and the AIDS virus way back then. Namely, to remain awake to the inappropriate thoughts running uncontrolled through the mind. To watch the madness in my mind, but at the same time remember: I am not the misery come of these thoughts, I am not the fear that surfaces when I think of possible consequences, but the observer of that misery, that aspect of self that is capable of witnessing the darkness, not the darkness itself. That realization brought me slowly back to the truth of who and what I am; namely, the silent observer of what goes on in the mind, not the mind itself. I am the vast space of knowingness that arises when the thoughts are still, and also the consciousness that is present during those thoughts, not the madness that I think is happening.
Thoughts were telling me this is a dangerous world, filled with unfathomable misery and torment. When the thoughts were still, as if by magic, the anxiety was also gone. What a revelation. Something I had intellectually embraced years ago, but had not experienced on a deeper level until the darkness and anxiety-filled doubt gave enough contrast to actually experience it. Instead of trying to free myself from the negative thoughts and unimaginable outcomes of projection, I was learning to simply watch them and see them for what they are: nothing but thoughts, thoughts so real they had me believing I was something other than the profound peace that comes when I am silent and experience the peace that passes all understanding. And the best way to silence my thoughts is to simply watch them without becoming them.
How often I have preached this in my yoga class, for what is Hatha yoga other than the ability to achieve pure freedom by awakening to the inner witness, that aspect of self that observes the body without identifying itself with it; watching the sensations asana produces and observing the breath with the detachment of a scientist watching an experiment knowing he is not the experiment, not the observer
Oddly enough, when the physical illness passed, and the mental anguish dissipated, I found myself, missing those feelings of anxiety that constantly urged me to go within and dwell on thoughts God would have me have, and not those born of the fear itself. My bouts of anxiety had worked like policemen, warning me constantly not to go in that direction. Then, as the Light in me became stronger, the police force disbanded and I was left to my own devices, which were still pretty weak.
With the onslaught of The coronavirus, the police force is back in action. As I look out into the work, I am reminded, minute for minute how necessary it is not to drop into fear, but affirm that which I know to be true. If I don’t, if I allow my fear thoughts to win out, salvation is impossible.
These are scary times, but only if you give in to the temptation to believe you are only a body, born of fear in a world that supports the idea of death, separation, and loss.
Keep telling yourself, over and over again, that you are a thought of God, not a thought of your ego. And do that with the focus of someone in a handstand on the edge of the Grand Canyon.