kearns: the war that can’t be won (reprint) (045)


this is the first post at, way back from june 2, 2005. still goes.



the war that can’t be won (001)

here begins the journal of an AIDS shaman.

what is AIDS?

AIDS—HIV disease—is not a blessing, contrary to the sentimental testimonials of many of my brothers and sisters in infection. i cringe every time i hear another HIVer say, “HIV is the best thing that ever happened to me.”

what horseshit.

call it AIDS.

look it in the face.

i have AIDS.

AIDS is an inescapable, ruthless, relentless, brutal, merciless, untiring, unyielding, sly, eager, steely-eyed and always-hungry assassin. no holds barred. no quarter. no breaks.

AIDS is my mortality and it is yours, whether you are infected or not.

i do not confuse my disease with my ability to triumph. neither should you.

what is a shaman?

rather than retreat to the pages of webster’s or the american heritage, let’s touch base with what joseph campbell had to say about shamans during his interviews with bill moyers in the power of myth (part 3: the first storytellers).

moyers : “so shamans functioned in early societies as artists do now. they play a much more important role than simply being . . . priests?”

campbell: “there’s a major difference, as i see it, between a shaman and a priest. a priest is a functionary of a social sort. the society worships a certain deity in a certain way, and the priest becomes ordained as a functionary to carry out the rituals. the deity to whom he is devoted is a deity that was there before he came along. but the shaman’s powers are symbolized in his own familiars, dieties of his own personal experience. his authority [read “author-ity”—rk] comes out of a psychological experience, not a social ordination.”

campbell elaborates later: “the shaman is a person, male or female, who . . . has an overwhelming psychological experience that turns him totally inward. it’s a kind of schozophrenic crack-up. the whole unconscious opens up, and the shaman falls into it. this shaman experience has been described many, many times. it occurrs all the way from siberia right through the americas down to tierra del fuego.”

defining the work of the shaman/artist as the “mythologization” of experience, based on an ability to “hear metaphorically instead of concretely,” campbell says elsewhere during the interviews: “freud and jung both felt that myth is grounded in the unconscious.

“anyone writing a creative work knows that you open, you yield yourself, and the book talks to you and builds itself. to a certain extent, you become the carrier of something that is given to you from what have been called the muses—or, in biblical language, ‘god.’ this is no fancy, it is a fact.”

AIDS has ever sent me spinning inward: in pain, shame, fear, grief, rage, sorrow and isolation, a refugee from lust and love and indifferent injustice.

buried in deaths.

heaped in deaths.

my deaths, too—four of them, the most recent in december of 2003 at a medical bottom when i tried to kill myself.

it wasn’t the journey there that made me a shaman. it was the journey back.

the buddha leads us to freedom. the shaman leads us back to our shackles, back to the cave. you must ponder and decide for yourself to what end.

i am a shaman. i am an artist. i am a creator of culture. i am political. film in later installmants.

why do i think enlightenment is important?

while i am an advocate of survival, let’s face it: even though each battle goes well, the war can’t be won. unlike ulysses or captain kirk, we can’t beat death forever.

the only remaining course of action—as i see it in my own inclusive, non-sectarian, anti-dogmatic way—is to seek enlightenment.

noel, my acupuncturist—who needles me for enlightenment, by the way—offered up a curious response when i told him the story of my attempted suicide two decembers past.

“it was an honorable attempt—i wasn’t screwing around,” i said. “but i got booted back so fast you can still see the tread marks on my butt. i’m fine with the idea of living again. i have a sense that there’s still work for me to seek out in the world.”

noel suggested that my return to my body was actually driven by an unresolved passion for enlightenment.

i like that—my own personal irony. i came back as myself.

i live a stripped-down life. someone else cooks my meals. someone else washes my clothes. someone else cleans my bathroom. this leaves me free to write, teach, listen, meddle, mingle, meditate, fall in love and otherwise foment rebellion. free to survive, free to live a life worth living.

i have found that enlightenment is more than a spiritual event. it’s a cultural event, a political event and a biological event. an event of the heart. film on that another time, too.

what, then, do i suppose the engines of enlightenment might be?

i define an engine of enlightenment as a

• practice,
• discipline,
• behavior,
• attitude,
• inspiration,
• point of view,
• technology,
• action,
• event,
• experience,
• vision,
• found object,
• ingested substance,
• piece of luck,
• meditation or
• story

that drives us—me—to heightened awareness of my spirit, and then, on the return trip, harnesses the virtue i discover for transformation.

this includes my qigong—a discipline sharing roots with t’ai chi chu’an, but informed by the philosophies of traditional chinese medicine (tcm).

it would include yoga, if i could tolerate standing on my head.

it includes anabolic steroids.

biofeedback. hypnosis. acupuncture. reiki. the laying on of hands.

herbs. aromatherapy. medical marijuana. oxygen bars. hyperbaric oxygen chambers. veganism.

crystals and gemsones. singing bowls.

dreams. stories. poems. excerpts from the psalms of captain saint lucifer, my current novel-in-progress. excerpts from other projects.

on-line meditation sites.

brain wave stimulation software.

guided imagery. prayers. affirmations.

tantric practices. epiphanies.

recovered conversations. correspondence.

every breath. every heartbeat. every eyeblink.

why do i care?

because we’re taking the road over the mountain together. mind the loose yellow bricks: the clear path falls into disrepair as we enter the forest.


—richard kearns

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