“Give up the battle of fighting and find freedom in the shackles of service.”
Lately I have been practicing Ashtanga Vinyasa yoga in a Mysore-style setting six days a week, working out three times a week and teaching about 10-15 yoga classes a week, some in a heated environment and some not. I love my life and my job, and the joy of being strong and active at this point in my life, HIV+ or otherwise. It’s a real blessing. But it’s physically challenging. Work, love, joys all feel like chores sometimes – a big hassle – so much that it makes me want to rebel against my own great life. But I have found a way to take some of the edge off. And it’s not exactly what you’d think.
A year after I was diagnosed with HIV, I began what was to become my longest living relationship with another living thing - with my dog, Brenton - or more formally – Brenton Cornelius Ulysses Uy.
I have to be honest; I hated that dog for many years. I happened to come by him accidentally through a series of events and now that I had him, I really didn’t want him. I was never a dog person. But here was this dog that needed food, and attention, and walks. This living creature required my assistance daily just to poop.
The reality of my health situation was really starting to set in during this time. I wasn’t really working at my full potential and my thoughts were often of self-destruction. I wanted to get everything over with and move on because life wouldn’t be so grand and most likely painful – but there was this life that needed me. The only thing I could fully commit myself to was keeping this innocent life alive. And so it began.
I put up a picture on the fridge and the back of apartment door with a picture of his face and the caption that read “Do it for him.” I also had one at my desk and in my wallet. I needed the reminders. It was in these darker times of life, that looking back, I had small rays of light. Although I hated and loathed doing it, I trained that dog, kept him fed and well maintained to the best of my ability.
When I had full blown AIDS for the first time, I was living alone at 27yrs old in a bachelor apartment with just him. There are days I would cry and scream and curse myself and him for being in my life. But the mantra “Do it for him” kept me alive. He kept me alive. Even my mother will attest that if it wasn’t for his presence, I probably wouldn’t be here today.
I haven’t thought about this for sometime but was made more aware of it over dinner recently with a good friend in talking about my daily routine. Sure I am healthy and strong and not nearly as maniacal as I used to be, but this same intent exists.
In yoga, there’s a word in Sanskrit we use, sankalpa, which means "will, purpose, or determination." To make a sankalpa is to set an intention—it's akin to a New Year's resolution but deeper. Recently, I posted an article about my sankalpa for this year on letting go. But I have found this to be my daily one – service. A lot of things I struggle through some days like everyone else. I have mentioned my challenges with food and a bit of my daily regimen. It’s not always easy to do. My buddy Elias was pointing out to me recently about a few of my male colleagues and the work they do, and practice etc and reminded me of a very important point about myself - that I can stand alongside them at the same physical intensity despite 15yrs of being HIV+.
I have never been an activist but I do believe I have a message. The actions of my life are a reflection of it. I honestly cannot do this by myself. I find the work and effort daunting and some mornings I feel like I just want to lay in bed all day and sleep for five days. But I get up.
In my morning practice, just after the morning mantra (chant), I whisper softly to myself “Do it for them.” With my eyes closed, I think of my family, friends, students, people I’ve met or talked with. Usually only a few images of people’s faces I’ve recently had connections with will come into the forefront of my mind and I lock them in place. This practice is hard. Facing each day is hard at times. But it’s easier if I do it for others. If I can keep myself in better shape, practice more, eat well and get enough sleep, then I can be at my maximum for when help is needed for others. I’m just like a fireman, except without all the sirens, hoses, and 911 men! LOL!
Does it really work? I don’t know. I’m still here right? Perhaps there is something that has been a struggle to get through. Some job or task or project that is hard to face on your own. Is it possible that by doing it, there may be a benefit to someone else? And isn’t it a really cool feeling when you can help someone else out, be it a stranger, or friend, or dear loved one? Then dedicate the job or work to them. Make that 9-5 grind be about that special loved one, be they human or non-human. Even if you hate the idea of doing it, give it a try, it may surprise you.
Since someone else has said it better then me, I will leave you with his words:
“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others” –Ghandi