The Positive Side

Spring 2003 

Transcending Barriers

Letting go of the things that hold us back

By Kimberley Johnson

I DROVE TO WORK this morning through a poverty-stricken neighbourhood with a high volume of criminal activity, crack addiction, prostitution, fighting…the risk of HIV running rampant. For many years I participated in these activities in this very neighbourhood. Back then, I’d pray for the sun to go down; all I could handle was darkness. But I’m no longer blocked from that light. Today the sun was shining and I had a smile stretched from ear to ear. In fact, most days I drive through this neighborhood, gratitude consumes me. I’m 32 years old now with a 3-year-old son, and it’s been more than four years since those cold and miserable days. I’ve transcended the darkness.

TRANSCENDENCE: “To go beyond the ordinary range of perception.”

Transcendence is the path to living life from a place where anything is possible. It’s the concept of letting go of all the things in us that block us from really living, so we can make room for enjoyment and peacefulness within ourselves. It’s the lifting of our spirits, the uncovering of our hearts to see the truth in all life has to offer. Living every day with a virus that wants to consume me and end my time here on earth makes transcendence especially important to me.

Transcendence comes at a cost, though. It costs much of what we’ve become conditioned to. And it costs many of our past ideas about things — such as whom we may blame for our demise, what resentments we may carry about our past, and any low opinions we may have of ourselves. I’ve worked with many women (including myself) with very low self-esteem. I lived most of my life believing things about myself that caused me to stay stuck in a place which afforded me very little room to achieve anything. I believed I was ugly, unintelligent, unworthy of being loved. I believed deep down that I was a failure.

These are all lies! I’m none of those things. I had to be willing to let go of these views in order to transcend them… and be free. Many of us want to be freed — from low opinions of ourselves, unhealthy relationships, harsh judgments of others and ourselves, stress, past wrongs (either done to or by us) and, of course, the big one: HIV.

BARRIER: “A structure built to bar passage”; “a boundary or limit”; “something that separates us and holds us apart.”

Most of us tend to get caught up in the barriers in our lives that are outside of ourselves. I spent a long time feeling bitter about who gave me HIV (barrier) and guilty about whom I may have given it to (barrier). I’ve spent many hours mulling over resentments about why I got it, why I was addicted to crack, why no one seemed to understand, why all my relationships seemed to fail, why I can’t do this and who kept me from doing that (barriers, barriers, barriers…), never really coming up with an answer. The truth is, we may never find out the who, what, where, when or why outside of ourselves. And even if we could accuse someone, what do you suppose they could do about it? No matter who you name as the creator of your despair, there’s only one who can transcend it — you! No matter how tragic a situation seems, there is a way to transcend it and make it valuable.

Easier said than done? Try this: Begin by loving yourself. Tell yourself every day how incredibly deserving you are of a life filled with joy and opportunity. Encourage your children, friends, family, even perfect strangers, to do the same. No matter how corny it sounds, just do it. Do it until you believe it. Do you know how beautiful you are? Tell yourself every day until you believe it. Leave yourself voice messages, write yourself little notes, get a friend to remind you, yell it from a mountaintop. Do it now before you lose the nerve. Do it every day until you know it!

DESIRE: “To wish or long for; want.”

Desire is the one thing required to begin any form of transcendence from any place. You must be willing to leave behind the barriers that are keeping you stuck in order to move on. This requires only the smallest amount of willingness, which will spring from your desire to be free of something. Then you keep putting one foot in front of the other in the direction of the very thing you seek — a better relationship, peace of mind, a job, improved health… the choice is yours. Though what you let go of may not necessarily go away, transcendence will leave you with the truth about it. My own past lives with me now as a reference, a reminder, something to be grateful for… nothing more, nothing less.

Last fall, I attended the Voices of Positive Women / AIDS Committee of Toronto annual women’s retreat. I met women from all over Ontario, some newly diagnosed and some who’ve been around for years.We ranged in age from early 20s to late 60s.We were a mix of gay, straight and bisexual.We came from various ethnic backgrounds — African, Jamaican, Asian, Canadian, American, Indian — and ate different foods from each other’s cultures.We enjoyed each other’s company immensely. Besides living with HIV, the common denominator among us was the desire for transcendence. Not a single one of us was without the determination to turn a seemingly tragic situation into a triumph.

My journey with HIV has included addiction, but despair and tragedy can come in any shape or size, some far more subtle yet still equally despairing and difficult to get through.

There is nothing, nothing, nothing, we cannot do.We need only be willing to let go of the past and create the future by being in the moment. This moment! And when you give away the inspiration you receive, the world just goes ’round and ’round.

Kimberley Johnson is a provincial peer network coordinator at Voices of Positive Women. She’s also the founder of Lifting Spirits, an organization that offers programs and workshops around making quality life decisions with youth. For more info about Lifting Spirits, call 416.816.0214.

Photo: Jake Peters

An exercise in transcendence

Transcendence means letting go of where you are in order to reach the place you want to be. I’ve found that identifying my goals is a great way to map out the path that will lead me there. Often, however, setting the goal isn’t enough. We must examine the steps to reaching this goal and what is required to get there. For me, the art of writing things down is a ritualistic part of letting them go. So here’s something to try. It’s an exercise in transcendence, which happens by taking steps toward your desires:

Get a piece of paper and a pen or pencil (not a computer!). Draw two lines down the page creating three separate columns.

Column 1: Write down your ultimate goal. Don’t confuse “ultimate” goal with “step” goals. (For example, my ultimate goal was to be healthy.)

Column 2: Write down the step goals you need to set in order to reach your ultimate goal. Step goals are the action you take to meet your ultimate goal. (Mine included eating better, quitting smoking and so on.)

Column 3: Write down all the steps you need to take to reach each step goal. Steps are the action you take to reach your step goals. So, using the same example:

Better health. 1) eat better see below
2) quit smoking  


1) eat better — find out what foods are good for me, go shopping, ask for support around what I eat from the people I live with

2) quit smoking — get the patch or quit cold turkey, join a support group, stay away from smoking areas and/or restaurants (where, of course, I’m ordering healthy food!)

In Column 3, each step is where you begin to take action. All too often we burn ourselves out trying to climb the mountain when the first step is right in front of us. If we commit to sticking together through our journeys with HIV, we never, ever have to take that first step alone. For that I continue to be forever grateful.