A yoga instructor and activist, Seane Corn has made it her mission to bring awareness to the HIV/AIDS crisis. She has spent time in India, Asia and Africa teaching yoga, providing support and educating about HIV/AIDS prevention. In the coming weeks, she'll share more of her story with us as she blogs from the Uganda Seva Challenge, a trip that will raise money to fund and build health education programs to improve the quality of life for children in Uganda.
I moved to New York City from New Jersey in 1984. I was 17 years old, reckless, curious and quickly began exploring higher states of consciousness through the misuse of drugs and alcohol. I always liked "getting out of my head" and enjoyed using drugs to experience my consciousness in a way that I could not sober. I had an odd but wonderful job as a bartender in a private nightclub called Heaven. Heaven was an all-male gay sex club in the rectory of what was once an old church. I was the only female allowed in the club.
To some, there is already so much wrong with the above paragraph. I'm an underage female, using drugs, working illegally in a club, which was once a church, where men openly have sex. But it was there, in Heaven, that I received my very first instruction in yoga. It was there that I was provided information that would greatly impact the direction of my future and my commitment to service. I believe now that God shows up in many ways and in different forms. Through different teachings, he illuminates our hearts, provides guidance and reveals truths in ways that only we can realize or take in, depending on where we are at in our lives at various times. At that time, I couldn't have received any insight, awareness or even inspiration in a church or a temple. Those environments were foreign and uncomfortable to me. Instead, God showed up for me in a sex club. He arrived as an angel in the form of a middle-aged, homosexual, African-American man (in red leather pants), who helped guide me on my path and remind me of my divinity. I didn't realize it at the time—I couldn't have—but it was here, in Heaven, where I first came to believe in God.
My angel was named Billy, and he would come into the club most nights cruising for men and sometimes going into the back rooms to have sex. Often he would just sit at the bar and talk with me if I wasn't too busy. He would chide me about using drugs and encouraged me to use my considerable energy in other ways. I thought his concerns were sweet, but since I was 17 and still felt invincible, I considered them unnecessary. I could tell he was very fond of me and seemed protective, often staying until the club closed to walk me to a cab. Sometimes Billy would talk about his life growing up in Ohio, the wife and children he left behind there and how, when he came to terms with his homosexuality, he was ostracized and abandoned by his family, community and church. He was not bitter, just a bit sad and clearly lonely.
Three weeks had passed without Billy coming into the club, which was odd for him, so I was terribly pleased when one evening I spotted his thick frame moving through the dance floor toward me. I was so happy to see him and leaned over the bar to kiss his cheek when I suddenly hesitated, noticing these dark sores on his neck and arm. I reached my hand toward his neck without touching him and asked what had happened. Billy looked drawn and tired and smiled sadly as he told me that the sores were symptomatic of his disease. "What disease?" I asked with concern, quickly drawing back my arm. "AIDS," he said.
At this time in 1984, there were 40 reported cases of HIV/AIDS, whereas today there are 40 million. Although I worked in a gay sex club and considered myself as sophisticated as a 17-year-old could be, I was still ignorant and fearful enough about the disease to have recoiled slightly when he said the word. I remember Billy sighing at my reaction. He looked so exhausted, but then he asked me if I wanted to understand more about what was happening to him. I said yes. He told me how he believed he contracted AIDS and how angry and scared he was when he was first diagnosed. I asked him if I could get it if he kissed me or sweat on me. I asked how it was being treated. I asked if there was a cure. To this, Billy said no. There was no cure then; there is no cure now. So I asked, "What's going to happen to you?" Billy told me he was dying. I felt horribly awkward and inept. I had no experience with sickness or death and didn't quite know what to say. So I asked him if he was scared to die. Billy told me that he was more afraid of the process of dying, being sick, than he was of death itself. "Why?" I asked. He said that because of his belief in God he had great faith, and it was that faith that he relied on each day and would continue to rely on as well in death. "It's all a cycle," he told me. I had no idea what he was talking about. I must have looked at him oddly, because I remember him smiling and then asking me whether I believed in God. I told him I wasn't sure. I told him that God only seemed to show up in my life when I messed up and seemed punishing and judgmental. I was scared of this God because he seemed mean. I told him that at best I was agnostic, but certainly apathetic. Then Billy laughed and said, "Seane, would you like to see God right now?" I glanced curiously around the club. There were men everywhere, many half naked, dancing, kissing, chained to the wall, in all states of "bliss." I remember laughing, and said, "Sure, Billy, show me God here."
So Billy points to Danny the Wonder Pony. This was a man who came into the club each night, always naked except for a cowboy hat, chaps and a saddle on his back. For one dollar you could climb onto Danny's back and he'd trot around the dance floor while you hit him with a switch. Billy nodded toward Danny and said, "God is right there." Then Billy pointed toward a cross-dresser that frequented the club. This person was about 6'6" and would often wear a light blue cotton housecoat, black sensible shoes, a short, gray wig, a small hat and veil and a pocket book. He looked like a large, homely version on my grandmother! Billy, still grinning, said, "God's right there." Then he pointed to two men arguing in a booth over beers. They were wearing suits and looked as "straight" as either of my brothers. "And there," he said, nodding toward the men. "God's right there."
Then, suddenly, Billy took my hand and placed it firmly onto his heart. He took his other hand—I remember it large and dark—and placed it directly onto my chest. He looked me directly in the eyes, and I could feel his heartbeat under my palm. Billy then said to me, "Seane, I want to tell you something very important, and my hope is that you will always remember this..."
I know now that God shows up in remarkable and unusual ways, providing us with guidance and insight into the soul, planting seeds that will move us toward our destiny. I had no idea at the time, but Billy was my angel, one of my soul companions, and his next words would shape the rest of my life.
"Ignore the story and see the soul. And remember to love—you will never regret it."
Billy died shortly after this evening, but those words to me became my very first lesson in what I would understand yoga to be.
I didn't actually start practicing yoga until two years, eight nightclub jobs and countless parties later. I liked yoga at first because of how it made my body feel, but within a few short years, yoga infiltrated every part of my existence. Because of the practice, I quit smoking, drinking, doing drugs and eating animal products. Because of the practice, I meditate, breathe, pray and serve. Yoga created the foundation that allows me to feel connected to spirit, the world and all her inhabitants. The concept of God no longer frightens me, for I learned that God is truth and love and exists in all moments, light and dark, and fully within each being. God is not something to be discovered, simply uncovered, and the journey of self-awakening will be unique for each soul. I believe this is exactly what Billy had wanted me to understand. We each have a "story" and karma that must be worked out. We each struggle, but we'll eventually find our way to love, in God's time. Don't judge. Let God do his/her work, and have faith in the process. What Billy had told me simply, but masterfully, was that God is everywhere. We are all connected. We are all one. So remember to love.
I have traveled all over the world practicing yoga. I have studied with masters, healers, shamans and saints. But still to this day, 24 years later, I have never in all my searching understood the meaning of yoga better than from what I learned from Billy in Heaven.
Seane Corn is an internationally celebrated yoga teacher known for her impassioned activism, unique self-expression and inspirational style of teaching that incorporates both the physical and mystical aspects of the practice of yoga. For more on Seane Corn, visit SeaneCorn.com.
Printed from Oprah.com on Wednesday, March 12, 2014
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