Changes in the New Year

Hello,

Happy New Year! Like all years, 2015 saw lots of growth and change. I received my Master’s in English and Creative Writing, I moved, I became and atheist and a vegan, and lots more. 

2016, baby!

2016, baby!

As I plan to focus even more on my writing this year, I have decided to consolidate my blogs into one. I will still be writing about the same things, but all on one site.

If you would, please visit http://ravenburnes.wordpress.com for all my latest musings. Feel free to drop me a line and let me know who you are as well.

Here’s to love and growth and passion in 2016!

Peace and love,

Raven Burnes

Mental Illness and Spirituality

I did a short paper this past semester on Sylvia Plath and her presumed mental illness. People usually focus on her suicide and some of her more depressing poems when they speak about her work. However, I focused on some of her other great poems, such as Face Lift, which discusses the aging process and its emotional effects on women, and Strumpet Song which is a deeply empathic poem about a prostitute. In my paper I focused on her skill as a poet which, in my opinion, stemmed from her deep ability to empathize with the human condition. Was this deep level of compassion related to both her mental illness and her writing skills? Or was it gender-based, since, statistically, more women than men suffer from clinical depression – and because women’s health issues were routinely ignored or patronized in those days?

Because less was known about mental illness in Plath’s day, it isn’t clear what exactly she suffered from – whether it was depression or bipolar disorder. But, it got me to thinking about how we respond to mental illness as a society – and, specifically, how the spiritual community responds to mental illness.

In the old days, people assumed that the mentally ill were possessed with demons. Sadly, there are still many people who believe this and try to “pray away” mental health issues. There is still much we don’t know about the brain – which is a physical structure that interacts with but is separate from our souls and spirits. So, in light of my own ignorance but strong desire to be compassionate, I have come up with the following rules for myself when dealing with people I suspect are suffering from some sort of undiagnosed mental illness:

1) Know and believe that the person is made in the image and likeness of the Divine, regardless of whatever electronic misfiring might be going on in the brain’s circuitry.

2) Understand that my definition of “normal” is subject to my own interpretation and the influence of the cultural norms in which I was raised. (That which we call madness could make perfect sense in a different dimension of reality).

3) Realize that what might seem like mental illness could be the Ego’s dysfunctional reaction to pain – run amuck. People often make much more sense if and when we fully understand what they’ve been through.

4) Pray and hold the space for them to receive the help they need while practicing self-care. Compassion and kindness do not require us to be doormats. Place the oxygen mask on yourself first…

Anyway, this is a deep issue that requires much more contemplation. All I do know is that Love is the starting point for solving any and all societal problems!

In Peace and Love,

Raven

The Real Counterculture

Ever since the 1960’s the word counterculture has been thrown around.  It seemed fairly clear back then. The counterculture was fighting against the Vietnam war, racial discrimination, sexism, and patriarchy in all American institutions, including the family.  Yes, different groups had different solutions.  Some believed in working through the system to transform it; others believed the current system was without hope.  They felt that the only solution was to form a parallel America completely separate from the mainstream.

These days I have heard the word counterculture used to describe everything from neo-conservatives and tea-partiers to the Occupy movement to organic farmers to alternative healers.  Does the term counterculture still have any meaning when everyone, at least in the United States, has access to any belief system under the sun at the click of a mouse?  Is there a common culture to be Counter to?

To me, the counterculture is real, but it is not a group or a movement.  It can only be described as an attitude.  To form a counterculture “group” is, in my opinion, an oxymoron.  Avoiding group-think is a mindset – one that must be constantly updated, guarded, and protected.  It is all too easy to accept certain beliefs as gospel when, actually, the conditions we experience were created by us, and accepted by us.  When we cease to accept them, they disappear – like public lynchings of black people and women being treated as the property of their husbands.

While these are extreme examples, the Counterculture Mindset is practical and can apply to everything in our daily lives.  On a personal level, limiting beliefs and group-think are what keep us from creating professional lives that really bring out our best.  Monday morning is still the most likely time for a person to suffer a heart attack. We drag ourselves to soul-crushing jobs that do nothing to maximize our infinite potential.  And when we are no longer viewed as profitable, we are discarded without pity.  We then hope we are used by the next taker before bill collectors and landlords descend upon us like flies on shit.

The art world should be an exception to this – an oasis of sorts – because art is, inherently, spiritual in nature.  However, precisely because art is spiritual and not a bankable, economic widget, it is often disdained by our consumerist society, except as an investment vehicle for the ultra-rich.  These people are told what to buy by “experts” and make their decisions based upon expected resale value, not their emotional or spiritual connection to the work.  It is 180 degrees from what art is intended to be, but that is the Culture.

The Counterculture Mindset, however, rejects this ideology. Net worth and true worth are NOT the same things.  Each one of us can make a small impact on his or her own community.  People are not to be evaluated by their commercial value.  Art is not better because it was sold for seven figures.  People are not better because they are younger, more attractive, male, white, wealthy, or any other silly, money-based ranking system.

The purpose of life, in my opinion, is to know The Goddess and to make her known.  You can only do that by being You to the fullest.  You cannot get there by following the Culture and its dictates.  The Culture is a seductress that will lead you with her siren’s call to the rocks of mediocrity.  Don’t fall for it.  Meditate, go within, and develop the Counterculture Mindset.  It takes courage and constant vigilance.  It is neither an easy nor a crowded path.  You may have to stand alone against people that are selling the Culture and its brand of group-think.  However, adopting the Counterculture Mindset may, in the end, be humanity’s best hope and the only way to be truly free.

Have a rebelliously wonderful week and follow your bliss!

Learning To Accept What Is

People are always making random comparisons of things to art: cooking is an art; driving is an art; being a lawyer is an art.  While some of these comparisons are a stretch, I do agree with people who say that life is an art.

When people say that something is an art, what they are really saying is that it taps into our deep spiritual nature.  In other words, it is not something that you can just make up a list of rules, follow them, and everything will turn out fine.  You have to use your intuition, your emotions, your connection to the divine nature within you in order to be successful.  That is what art is.  And that is what life is.

However, much of our time is spent fighting this.  We resist normal life activities and situations because we don’t feel like dealing with them.  We complain endlessly about Mondays, traffic, the weather, the people around us, our bodies and, sometimes life itself.

However, none of these things prevent us from living life.  These things ARE life, or at least a part of it.  As long as we have breath, we will have lists of things that we don’t want to do.  And we will have countless things that don’t turn out the way we think they are supposed to.  However, the more we focus on what we DON’T want, the more difficult and painful we cause life to be.

Life is about graciously moving through the things we don’t want with class, calmness, and a good attitude.  These things develop capacities deep within us that would not be developed otherwise.  Being fired frees us up for the things we were truly meant to do.  Being around negative people teaches us to BE the Light instead of relying on others to do it.  Dreading Mondays tells us that we need to make plans to move out of the situation – while still doing a good job in the meantime.

It’s kind of like labor.  Anyone who has ever given birth knows that it is the closest most of us will ever feel to death until the real thing comes.  And the same principle applies.  The more you fight and resist the horrible pain, the longer it takes.  Only when you accept that there is no way out of this except to go through it do you begin to make progress.  Yes, meds help.  However, I’ve done it once with meds and once without, and, believe me, you don’t know who you are until you’ve given birth without meds.

So, the question remains, how do we learn to embrace what is instead of fighting it?  I certainly don’t have all the answers but here’s what I do:

1)      Remember that “this too shall pass”.  Even when it seems like it will never end, our suffering does, eventually, lessen or end, especially once we learn to accept it with grace.

2)      Visualize in great detail life on the other side of the problem.  The more you can imagine relief in the future, the more you will be able to accept the current difficulty.

3)      Share your burdens with others.  Although we often tend to get caught up in self-image and don’t want to admit the things we are struggling with, it is a relief to share things with people and have them encourage us.  It can be risky because some people are poor confidantes, but don’t give up.  Keep trying until you find someone who will listen without judgment.

4)      Take the opportunity to go deeper into your spiritual practice.  Add a second meditation to your schedule, dust off your journal and start writing, go on more long walks.  This will not only give you peace of mind but also deep insight into what you can learn from these circumstances.

5)      Indulge!  Take good care of yourself – draw a bubble bath, buy something affordable but totally frivolous, watch a lot of  comedies, get a manicure – whatever it takes to make yourself feel cared for.

The most important thing is to be in the process of living a life that you are proud of.  Every day we should be moving steadily closer to the life we want – and leaving behind everything that holds us back.  It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen if we persist.  So, let’s do ourselves a favor this week and follow our bliss!

The following are some things I worked on this week.  I am taking way too many classes and not sleeping nearly enough, but that’s my style.  Taking classes is even more fun when you don’t have an agenda.  So I’m having a ball.  Once this semester is over, my next goal is to leave the city I’ve grown up in and seek my fortunes elsewhere.

Wish me luck!!

My Letter to Trayvon Martin – a spiritual perspective

Dear Trayvon,

Thank you for your time on this planet.  I celebrate your life even as I mourn your death.  Thoughts of you have had me in tears, off and on, for almost two days.  Although I never knew you on this earth, I have come to identify with you through your death.  You and I share the fact that we incarnated on this planet in brown skin.  Although that means nothing in the Life after Life where you now reside, as you know, it means a lot here on planet earth.  Most people focus on the superficial aspects of life and on the endless ego-based power struggles that dominate the unenlightened experience on earth.  Focusing on these things elevates the significance of color, gender, ethnicity, and sexual orientation – turning these glorious expressions of God’s creativity into justifications for exploitation, discrimination, and, yes, even murder.

Trayvon, your death hurts me because I have two sons – beautiful young men who could be shot dead in the street because someone in the majority culture viewed them as a “threat”.  Your death reminded me of all the times white people have cringed when I walked into a room, clutched their purses to their bodies, locked their car doors as I walked blissfully down the street, denied me opportunities for flimsy reasons, or completely ignored my presence.  Your death reminds me of how brief and sometimes bewildering this life on earth really is.

It also reminds me that justice is something that eludes us in this country at this time.  It reminds me that my real home is in the heavenly realms from which I came and to which I will one day return.  It reminds me of my duty on this planet in the meantime – to do what I can to establish a fair and just society, one that would never tolerate a man gunning down a child in the street like a dog and walking free.  Your death reminds me that I have spiritual and physical work to do in my lifetime.

Your death also caused me to honor our physical ancestors today.  Their everyday life was one of humiliation – where they had to daily swallow their anger and indignation just to stay alive.  As African-Americans we are still burdened with the task of swallowing our anger and rage in order to make money, survive, and get along in this country.  But our ancestors bore the major brunt of this struggle and their strength is a model and inspiration for our own.  They were not broken by their struggle and, likewise, I am not broken.  I will do what I can, from the vantage point of communion with God, from the energy and Spirit of Love and Peace, to continue the quest for justice in this country.

Dear Trayvon, rest in peace, my son.  Thank you for the Light you brought to your family and friends while you were here.  Thank you for unwittingly being a martyr in the struggle for peace and justice on the planet.  I promise not to forget you.

In solidarity,

Raven Burnes

The Search For Love In A Patriarchal Society

There has been a persistent theme in my life over the last few weeks of analyzing romantic relationships and how I feel about them.  I just finished a wonderful book on the subject entitled Communion: The Female Search For Love by bell hooks.  Hooks is a feminist writer whom I had heard of but had never read any of her books.  The book was an excellent analysis of how patriarchy impacts romantic relationships.

Hooks’ basic premise is that enlightened women, especially feminists, who have been largely successful in fighting patriarchy in so many other areas, want romantic relationships that are deeply intimate and fulfilling.  At odds with this goal is the patriarchal tenet that says that real men are unemotional, closed, and unwilling to talk about their feelings.  This is a learned social behavior, not something innate in male babies.  Male babies cry for the same reasons female babies cry.  But, over time we learn our roles within the patriarchy; and these roles provide built-in conflict when it comes to relationships.

Happily, more and more men are embracing feminism, knowing that equality and decency towards one another is not merely a “woman’s issue”.  Every living human being has had a mother at some point, so women’s issues affect everyone.  In addition, the happiness and success of our daughters, sisters, friends, and coworkers affects the society as a whole, not just those individual women.

While hooks’ book title implies that the topic is romantic love, that is only part of it.  Love is love, and it shows up in many different forms.  Strong platonic friendships in addition to healthy family relationships, where they exist, are key to a sense of community and to one’s overall happiness and security.

What I took away from the book for myself is a confirmation of what I see going on in many romantic relationships and a rational explanation for why I have resisted them.  Within patriarchy, women are taught to find their fulfillment within the boundaries of a romantic relationship.  Men are taught that marriage is a trap and a burden that should be postponed for as long as possible.  Women are taught that being loved by a man is the highest form of validation and the key to a happy and successful life.  Men are taught to find their validation through work, that women are an accessory to their lives, and that a wife’s goals and aspirations should be secondary to the man’s career goals and to the happiness of the family.  Men are also taught that they should be superior to all women in all relevant aspects of life and that a woman’s beauty is a reflection upon his worth as a man.  This is why many men, especially those whose financial success makes them feel entitled, leave their marriages in pursuit of younger women once they reach a certain age.  A woman’s worth, under patriarchy, expires once her youthful good looks and innocence give way to wisdom and maturity.

Given this sad state of affairs between men and women, many women understandably try to navigate their happiness as best they can without directly challenging the system.  To challenge the system is to risk “being alone” – which is patriarchy’s ultimate punishment for lack of conformity.  Society has always taught women that the worst thing that could happen to them is to end up a “spinster” or “old maid” (notice that there are no male equivalents for these derogatory labels).  So women try to find love anyway, within the system, and often tolerate a lifetime of disrespect, uncertainty, and a lack of love.  Those who are luckier either find loving enlightened men or “benevolent patriarchs” with whom they are able to forge reasonably happy unions.

The whole topic is fascinating to me, but I am happy to be a spectator for now.  My goal is to fill my life with love of all kinds.  I love my children, my friends, my career in art, my God, and myself.  I find a great deal of fulfillment in just Being.  Ironically, self-love is the first step and represents the only real shot any of us has in finding romantic love.  But a general sense of happiness and fulfillment is what’s important and is what we are put on this earth to experience.

May this week be one of deep, profound love and connection with Reality and with each other.  Peace and blessings and, as always, please continue to follow your Bliss…

Why You Shouldn’t Feel Bad If You’re Single

I have been thinking a lot about coupledom lately for a few reasons.  For one, marriage equality has been at the top of the headlines lately.  Another reason is the approach of the 4th of July.  I used to love to go out on that holiday but after having several years of very bad dates on that day, I have come to dread it.  The third reason relationships have been on my mind is the fact that I had an extensive conversation with a friend on the subject of love and relationships, which brought several issues to the forefront.

It made me think about the following questions: a) do I want to be in a relationship? (b) if so, what kind and with what type of person? And (c) what do I think about relationships in general?  These questions will keep me occupied for a while, but in the meantime I began to pay closer attention to the relationships of the people around me.  It is hard to judge the quality of people’s relationships sometimes, especially from Facebook because people tend to only brag about the good stuff.  So, since I’m not in a relationship right now, I started thinking about all the reasons why I am happy to be single:

1)      I can move wherever I want (out of state, out of the country, etc) without anyone’s permission or approval.

2)      Money never “disappears”; if I haven’t spent it, it’s still there in the bank.

3)      When I am tired and not “in the mood”, I just go to sleep.  I don’t have to worry about hurting anyone’s feelings or getting cheated on.   I don’t  have to force myself to go through the motions in order to avoid an argument. (and when I am in the mood, it’s 100% satisfaction every time).

4)      I can wear whatever I want.

5)      I can cut my hair off or leave it long – it’s totally up to me.

6)      When I am in church services I get to pay attention, focus, and absorb the total experience without distraction.

7)      I don’t have to dumb myself down or fake incompetence in order to preserve someone else’s ego.

8)      I don’t have to limit my dreams to accommodate someone else’s expectations of me.

9)      I can flirt just for fun without guilt or repercussions.

10)  I can still entertain silly, romantic notions about “the one” because I haven’t met him yet.

From a man’s perspective:

1) Getting to keep all your money and not waste it on dates that go nowhere.

2) Not feeling like you have to earn a certain amount of money to keep up with someone’s expectations or spending habits.

3) Not having to justify going out with your friends on a weekday or for a long weekend.

4) Being able to leave when you’re ready to go instead of waiting around for someone else.

5) Not having to feel guilty for so much of what you say, do, and think

6) No pressure to outline the future in detail.

7) Sexual variety

8) Focusing on things that are deeply important to you: work, spirituality, school, etc., without being made to feel guilty

9) Watching movies and television without interruption

10) Getting to entertain silly, romantic notions about “the one” because you haven’t met her yet.

This is not to disparage anyone who is in a relationship.  I hope all my readers have happy, fulfilling relationships that bring you many years of joy.  However, with our culture’s emphasis on romantic love, this is a reminder that it’s not always what it’s cracked up to be.

Whether you’re married or single or something in between, ultimately you are a unique expression of the Divine.  Your first allegiance should be to the evolution of your own soul – and being a blessing to everyone around you.  Then you will know true Joy, regardless of your relationship status.

And don’t forget to follow your bliss!  Peace and love.