positive stance

An excerpt from The After-Death Room: Journey into Spiritual Activism

photo by will lew, www.willlew.com

I had come to South Africa to attend the International AIDS Conference upon the suggestion of my doctor and a fellow yoga teacher who’d led workshops for years for people living with HIV. Both had witnessed how important my practice had been in my struggles to embrace the truths of my body and life, as a bisexual man living with depression and now with HIV. But I was a reluctant AIDS advocate and yoga teacher. I wore no ribbons, rode no bikes, walked no walks. I taught yoga because it made me take my practice more seriously. And I wanted desperately to believe in that passage from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras that I recited in the back of my mind every day: “Whether young or old, man or woman, sick or healthy, all who practise can find freedom.”

I traveled around South Africa before arriving in Durban and the conference. Everywhere I went I met activists: working with orphans, with women in the townships, developing education programs with young people, with gay and bisexual men, and with the sick and dying. Though I had never seen myself as an activist, they kept insisting that I was: “Why don’t you stay and teach your yoga? We need all the help we can get.” I was honoured but terrified …

Michael McColly teaches creative writing at Northwestern University and Columbia College in Chicago. His book, The After-Death Room: Journey into Spiritual Activism has just been published by Softskull Press. His work has appeared here in ascent, The Sun, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and elsewhere. He continues to teach yoga and speak about the needs to bridge spirituality and activism as a response to global issues such as AIDS, public health and human rights.


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