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The Burning Bowl

An Rx for the Spiritual Health of the AIDS Advocacy Movement

March/April 2007

Jim Pickett
On the day of New Year's Eve, I was blessed to connect with Unity in Chicago, part of the Association of Unity Churches (see A spiritual movement free of discrimination on the basis of race, gender, age, creed, religion, national origin, ethnicity, physical disability, or sexual orientation, Unity follows these five basic tenets:

  • There is only one Presence and one Power, God.

  • God is present in all people as divine essence, our Christ nature.


  • We create reality through thoughts held in mind. This is the spiritual law of mind action.

  • Through prayer and meditation, we align our heart-mind in God.

  • We commit to the practical application of these principles in our daily lives.

It is a fantastic, loving movement dedicated to peace, love and understanding without dogma, drama or fundamentalism.

The love of my life brought me to Unity on that day, after years of my being relatively adrift in my spiritual quest. I have always believed in the immense power and infinite wisdom of the universe and the truths inherent in all the world's religions. I have reaped the rewards of the universe while synchronous with its guidance, and experienced the pain indicative of being in its shadow. Much of my struggle came from attachment to negative thoughts and energy.

The Burning Bowl ceremony, which took place that day, so simple and so beautiful, continues to resonate with me. The service consisted of writing down the things/issues/thoughts/feelings/hurts that no longer serve your purpose, and hold you back from the wisdom and the compassionate love that is part of every one of us. The list could be as short or long as needed. As the paper touched the flames, and all those words became ashes, you began to release this ponderous baggage from your life.

I wept like a baby. The healing I experienced through this meditative exercise set my course for the year and, I pray, for the rest of my life. I felt 20 pounds lighter.

It occurs to me that there are at least three things we, as a national AIDS advocacy movement, could and should release into the fire.

  1. Ego. Sadly, so much of our work becomes defined by unbridled ego, self-aggrandizement, drama, and by turf, not defined by the real needs of people living with and at risk for HIV/AIDS. When AIDS advocacy is about personalities, AIDS advocacy has lost its way. We are serving no one but ourselves, and untold numbers are hurt in the process. And our credibility is threaded through those ruins. Burn, ego, burn.

  2. Division. Time and again we fall into traps that seek to divide us, people living with and at risk for HIV/AIDS, by geography, by gender, race, age, sexual behavior and identity, by mode of transmission, by the "good" and the "bad", by those who "deserve" assistance and those who somehow, do not. Why must we bash one group to advocate for another? Why does fighting for one area of the country mean we stridently declare another area should get less? Why must every equation have winners and losers, when it comes to the PEOPLE we are fighting for? Divided, we forget this basic truth. Division to the flames.

  3. Fear. Fear keeps us from speaking truth to power when it really matters, and leaves us, people living with and at risk for HIV/AIDS in the lurch; fear keeps us at the margins, tinkering with the not-so-significant policy minutiae while actively not seeing the big picture and defining in clear terms what is really needed. Fear allows us to dismiss the other, whoever that other may be, and fear keeps us ignorant and reactive, instead of open, wise, and visionary. Fear says its okay to not talk about sex and drugs, fear gives an excuse to dismiss gay men and injection drug users and sex workers. Fear says we can't say "anal intercourse" or "transsexual" or "needle exchange" or "comprehensive sex education." Fear accepts abstinence-only money. Fear deposits us on a desert island with no fresh running water, fences us in, and shuts us down. Fear relies on simplistic fixes to complex problems -- like the idea of testing everybody and their little sister as THE answer to HIV prevention. Fear removes people's human rights, and fear impedes access to the knowledge that is critical for survival in these difficult and challenging times. Fear is fundamentalist and dogmatic. Fear to ashes.

None of this will come easy. Nothing of any consequence is. In this country, there are over a million people counting on us, and countless millions more across the globe, who also know it ain't easy.

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This article was provided by Positively Aware. It is a part of the publication Positively Aware. Visit Positively Aware's website to find out more about the publication.
See Also
10 Things You Can Do to Enhance Your Emotional Well-Being
More on Getting Support From Religion / Spirituality


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