Gordon Matchett (Divine Gordie) advocates for shedding light on HIV and AIDS with a personal account of his diagnosis, the healing power of Divine Light, a supportive community, and the privilege of sweet medicine.
World AIDS Day, held on December 1st, is a day to commemorate those who have passed on and to raise awareness about AIDS and the global spread of the HIV virus.
The first World AIDS Day was held in 1988 after health ministers from around the world met in London, England, and agreed to such a day as a way of highlighting the enormity of the AIDS pandemic and the responsibility of all nations to ensure universal treatment, care and support for people living with HIV and AIDS.
According to UNAIDS, two million people worldwide died of AIDS-related illnesses in 2008. By 2009, an estimated 33.4 million people around the world were living with HIV. On a national scale, an estimated 65,000 Canadians are living with HIV and approximately 2,300 to 4,300 new HIV infections occurred in 2008.
The theme for World AIDS Day 2010 is Universal Access and Human Rights. The World AIDS Campaign is using last year’s theme again as a way to underscore the importance of seeing HIV and AIDS from a human rights perspective.
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HIV, the Light, and Me
When I first found out that I’d been infected with HIV (July 4th, 2007), my doctor told me that given my health – a strong immune system and a small amount of virus in my body – it would be years before I would need treatment and, by that time, there would likely be a cure. Right from the beginning I had a really optimistic attitude about how my body could deal with this disease.
Late last year, my health began to decline much faster than my doctor or I had ever expected. Within a few months, HIV was taking over my body, producing odd sores, severe weight loss, loss of appetite and fatigue. My immune system was not effective at fighting off simple germs that most people never notice. All my energy was going into keeping my body functioning, I had very little left to direct toward anything else.
From my journal: I’m coming to face mortality. As much as I am not attached to this body, I have this lingering desire to keep my life going as long as I can. And at the same time, I’d be relieved if I were to die tomorrow. I don’t really know why I’m on this earth. I keep searching for happiness and not finding it. I wonder, why am I here? Why did I incarnate? Who am I? These questions elude me even more than they did a few months ago. As I let go of who and what I think I am, the waters get murkier and murkier.
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I turned to Divine Light and asked for help. I remembered reading in Swami Radha’s Divine Light Invocation book to put the doctors in the light, so that’s what I did. Once my doctor told me the medications I’d be on, I started putting the pills and then the pharmacist, the nurses, the researchers… eventually the entire medical system was going in the Light.
Then I started thinking about the people who’d gone before me: the ones that did not have the benefits of the meds, the ones that died not knowing what had hit them. Then the millions of people around the world that do not have the luxury of access to healthcare began going into this practice.
At the ashram, we often put a symbol of the teachings into the Light. I started to use the meds as a symbol of all this and put them into this vortex of energy. As I worked with the Light, some amazing transformations started to take place within me. I transformed from being a person who could do this on his own to one who asked for and accepted help.
Divine Light transformed my thinking: yes, it does suck to be on meds, but I’m in a pretty fortunate situation. The anger towards the Divine for this lot in life transformed into gratitude. I was mentally ready to begin treatment.
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In the Temple of Divine Light, surrounded by the entire community, I told the story of my journey with HIV and using this ancient practice. I asked for and received their support. Singing Thank-you, thank-you, thank-you, I delivered prasad to each person in the Temple. Then returning the crystal bowl of prasad to the altar, I picked up a plastic bottle of pills. I handed them to Swami Radhananda. She placed my first pill in my hand: “This is your prasad, take your medicine and be well”.
My prasad that night was very different. I deeply understood the meaning of grace, of the sweetness of life. We said the Divine Light Invocation mantra together. Before placing the first pill in my mouth, I asked aloud with the entire community as my witness:
“What am I going to do with the rest of my life in Light of this miracle healing? Because, really, this medication is a miracle healing given to the masses. I don’t know what I’m going to do with the rest of my life, but I do know the Light will always be part – a large part – of it.”
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My healing was remarkably quick. Within eight hours of taking the first pill, the HIV-related rash on my arms and chest had subsided considerably. Within three days I had noticeably more energy. Five pills into treatment, I commented to people that I had not had this much energy in months.
Within a week people were saying that I looked healthier and that my increase in energy was noticeable. Within three months there was so little virus in my body that the machine could no longer detect HIV in my blood tests. The drop in the amount of HIV in my body, while remarkable, was not unexpected. HIV drugs have come a long way in the last 20 years.
What was unexpected, however, was how quickly my immune system rebounded. My CD4 count (the good blood cells) tripled within three months. My doctor and I would have been happy if I had those results in a year. Given the amount of practice I’d been doing – Divine Light Invocations, mantra, reflections, hatha yoga, pranayama, healthy eating, karma yoga, living in an ashram – I’m pretty sure I know why this count tripled, and I am overflowing with gratitude.
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I don’t really want to be melodramatic and say I had a brush with death; I was at least a year or two away from it. But I did have to face it. I did have to choose what path I was going to take – to seek treatment or not. I had lost the will to live. I questioned why I was alive. I wanted to die. I asked: “If my purpose in life has been served, please take me now.”
But I incarnated in a time where HIV treatment is very advanced. If the Divine is in everything, the Divine is in my medication. It would be irresponsible of me not to take it, not to do everything possible to make the most of this human birth.
I made a promise at inception. I don’t know what that promise was, but I do know I am still here and that means I have not yet fulfilled it. And so I place myself in the hands of the Divine and ask, “What promise did I make to you? Please show me the way”.