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

Reflections on Divine Guidance

During my study time this morning the following two quotes really spoke to me. I’m reading Ernest Holmes’ The Science of Mind:

“If we think we can guide our brother aright, while our own feet still walk in darkness, we are mistaken. We must first clarify our own vision, then we shall become as lights, lighting the way for others. But can we teach a lesson we have not learned? Can we give that which we do not possess? To suppose so is hypocrisy, a thing to be shunned” (p. 435)

“The Voice of Truth speaks to me and through me. / The Voice of Truth guides me and keeps me on the Path of the Perfect Day. / I will listen to the Inner Voice and It will tell me what to do in the hour of need. / I shall be told everything that I ought to know when the time of /need arrives, and I shall not be misled. / The Voice of Truth cannot lie, but always speaks to me from On High. / Nothing enters but This Voice, for it is the Voice of God.” (p. 541).

The first quote speaks to me on a gut level. Many times, when I become frustrated with someone, it is because I want them to change in some way. Or, I will genuinely want to help someone who seems to be struggling with Error. In either case, the Goddess invites me to first look at my own struggles, weaknesses, and shadow selves. Sometimes what bothers me about another is that which I myself struggle with. Or it is an invitation for me to deliver to the world that which I am hoping to receive from another. For example, if my major complaint is that I don’t feel appreciated, my first task is to look at where I am lacking in appreciation for others. What or who am I taking for granted? What blessings am I experiencing that I haven’t been focusing on? Starting with myself allows me to see Truth more clearly and be a true support for those around me.

The second quote reminds me that I should never worry about receiving proper guidance. Often I want to control life and plan my every step. In my head I create various scenarios and envision how I will respond to each one. Prolonging these types of thoughts is wasted energy.  I will be divinely guided in the moment. My connection with Goddess energy is enough to support my every decision. Spirit never leaves anyone hanging. All we have to do is check in with Source and the answers are there!

As far as my art goes, it has taken a backseat to my writing lately as I finish up my Master’s degree (four more months to go!). I have been focusing more on photography in the meantime. The same principles apply to a good painting as a good photograph! The following photos were taken at a local park in Los Angeles.

Training The Mind – The Key To Happiness

One of the biggest keys to happiness, maybe THE biggest, is controlling the mind.  People tend to identify themselves with the random thoughts that dart in and out of their minds on a daily basis.  However, you are not the mind, you are the Observer that sees the mind’s activities.  The real You is pure consciousness that is neither male nor female, black nor white, Jew nor Gentile.

Now, even though the mind is not the real You, it does wield a lot of power.  The thoughts we let dominate our minds influence everything from our health to our economic status to our feelings about other people.  Has anyone ever been mad at you due to a story they had created in their mind about something they THINK you did or said?  Then, when you finally cleared it up, wasn’t it amazing to observe how so much drama could have occurred around absolutely nothing?  That is the power of the mind.

Mediation and Yoga teach us to control our minds so that we are not at the mercy of its whims.  Meditation teaches us to identify with the Observer, the Spirit within, not the mind.  When the mind does what it does during meditation (which is wander to useless things), meditators train their minds to return to their chosen focus.  They do not chastise the mind nor follow it on wild goose chases.  They treat it like a child, or a beloved pet, that needs to be properly trained in order to enjoy civilized company.

Similarly, Yoga teaches us to relax every muscle except the ones that are doing the hard work.  This takes great discipline.  Yoga also teaches us to accept what IS rather than forcing what we WISH.  People who can’t learn to do that usually injure themselves, then give up Yoga.  Yoga teaches us that wherever we are, right now,  is perfect in its own way.  Yoga is not goal-oriented like other forms of exercise; it is consciousness-oriented.

So, how do we apply these principles to everyday life?  We are the Observer, not the mind.  So, whenever something happens, we have the power to dictate what we tell ourselves about what happened – which determines our level of happiness.  For instance, if you get a bad grade or lose your job or get dumped, you have a choice.  You could allow your mind to tell you the following: “See, there!  You are a loser!  This kind of thing always happens to you!  Why do you even try!?”  Or, you could say “What is this moment trying to teach me?  What kindness can I show myself to ease the pain of this situation?  What is my next step?”  Either way, the bad grade or the lost job or the ended relationship is what it is.  The only difference is  what you allow your mind to do with the situation, which determines your happiness and, often, your future success.

So, rather than allow our minds to run wild like out-of-control children at Costco, we can choose to ask ourselves the following questions:

1) What do I know?  (as opposed to what stories am I making up about this situation)  For instance if you see your husband talking extensively to a woman at a party, that is all you know.  If you want to know more, such as what were they talking about and why was he talking to her so long, you would have to ask him…

2) Is there another way to look at this situation? For instance if someone gets promoted over you and your mind immediately cries “UNFAIR!”, ask yourself: “Is it possible they worked hard for the promotion?”  “Is it possible I have not done my best?”  “Is it possible that the Universe is trying to get me to move on to a different job or career altogether??”

3) How does my Higher Self want me to respond to this situation?  For instance, with the first example of the husband talking to a girl at a party, do you think your Higher Self would have you fly into a rage and spit out accusations to your unsuspecting life partner?  Probably not.  Higher Self knows that this is not a real issue and that you should just remind yourself to be grateful that you got a hot man that you love!  (On the other hand, if this is a real issue and a pattern of shady behavior, your Higher Self has probably been telling you that for a long time – LISTEN, for God’s sakes and take care of yourself!)

There are many many benefits to training the mind and it is a LIFELONG practice.  Just like with exercise, training the mind must be continued regularly, forever, in order to reap the benefits.  But the increase in peace, security, confidence, and general well-being are well worth the effort – and it gets easier with practice!

Peace and love.  Have a great week and continue to 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!!

The Importance of Forgiveness

Forgiveness gets a lot of attention in spiritual circles and for good reason.  A lack of forgiveness can lead to problems as far-reaching as illness, chronic debt, multiple dysfunctional relationships, and even suicide or murder.  Forgiveness never means condoning or approving of what you did to someone, or what they did to you.  Rather, forgiveness involves giving up the quest for a different past and surrendering to the IS-ness of life.  Forgiveness helps us to play the hand we’ve been dealt, and move forward with confidence.

I did a lot of forgiveness work early on in my spiritual walk but hadn’t revisited the topic much since then.  I do a daily meditation during which I release the minor things such as forgiving a rude comment at school or the bully who cut me off on the street.  But real forgiveness work tends to involve those deep soul-shaking events that change the course of your life, or fundamentally shape the way you see yourself and the world around you.  I did that work today.

I was moved to do it because I am exploring deeper territory in my art – going beyond pretty pictures to exploring more significant social, political, and spiritual issues.  Also, I will be graduating soon and moving on to a new phase of life.  So whenever I’m in a transition phase – going beyond the status quo and moving into something more significant – I think it’s important to clean house internally.  So, I began with my journal.

I did journaling instead of meditating because the topics I needed to explore were painful.  Writing provides some distance from your feelings and allows you to be honest so you can get it all out.  The events that shaped me are traumatic childhood experiences.  I faced absenteeism and indifference from one parent; chronic cruelty, criticism, and name-calling from the other, no one to turn to who would listen or care, and only one sibling who, even today, I have never successfully established a relationship with.

Thus far I have tended to gloss over these things, preferring to just move on and have a successful life.  That worked well for years but today I had to revisit this stuff.  I wrote out in full detail what exactly happened that hurt me.  I listed everything I could think of. It’s amazing how much emotion can be tied up in events from decades ago.  It’s amazing how vividly those events reappeared in my mind’s eye.  I became short of breath as I contemplated how truly screwed up some things really were.

But after the list of negative things I received from each parent, I wrote about the Good that they gave me: my looks, intelligence, and spirituality on one side; my artistic talent, strength, and resiliency from the other.  After listing what these two people gave me, I then listed what I have done over the course of my life to maximize these gifts.  Slowly I regained my composure and my breathing returned to normal.  I realized just how much I have accomplished in my life and how faithfully I have used the gifts I have been given thus far.

Finally, I wrote about what I hope for in the future.  I wrote about all the things I still have left to experience in my life.  I listed the things I’m looking forward to doing and having, and gave thanks for each one.  I gave thanks for all the trauma because it has made me who I am.  I gave thanks for learning how to meditate because I believe it saved my life.  I released my prayers to the Universe with great gratitude for my own children who are my precious gifts, and for my friends, present and future, who will become my new extended family.

Afterwards I felt clean, happy, a little shaken, but ready.  I feel more prepared now to be a beneficial presence on the planet and to help others reach their true potential.

With love and gratitude, I appreciate every reader of this blog and wish you all the very Highest and Best for your lives.

Now go follow your bliss…

These are a few items, (some very rough works-in-progress) from this week:

The Link Between Extreme, Rigid Views and Violence

This has been an exciting week but for the wrong reasons.  My heart goes out to the victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, to the residents of Boston, to the family of the bombing suspects, and to the suspects themselves.  I do have more sympathy for the victims than for the perpetrators, but being responsible for the deaths of multiple people would be a terrible karmic position to be in.  The fact that someone could be such a victim of his own limited, extreme perspective that he would completely lose sight of right and wrong is tragic.  Unfortunately, ALL extremist perspectives can lead to violence.

Before we knew who was responsible for the bombing, people were speculating that it might be domestic terrorists.  Although ideologically people who commit domestic terrorism are at the opposite pole from people who commit Islamic terrorism, the mindset is almost identical.  Once we swallow the mistaken notion that we are Right and that “They” are Wrong, we can justify anything we say and do to “Them”.

All rigid views, even if they are not labeled “extremist” fit this bill.  I had a dead-end conversation this week with an atheist where I realized that this mindset was in play.  The Atheists I have interacted with tend to believe that they are Right and Superior and that all “believers” are Wrong and Stupid.  Once you swallow that, you can justify cruel, mocking disrespectful words and behavior because you feel that whatever you do is justified because you are Right.  I was unable to make any kind of real connection with this person.   Disrespectful, rude interactions are typical of not only atheistic but also fundamentalist religious people, radical political organizations, “stay-at-home moms” vs. working moms, vegans vs. meat-eaters, etc.  The mindset is the same regardless of the supposed issue.  Once someone adopts this all-in “I’m right, you’re wrong and stupid” mindset, rational conversation becomes impossible; they are not speaking to you as an equal, they are condescending to inform you why you are wrong.  Conversations with such people are black holes of wasted time and energy.

In order to deal with each other and live in peace and harmony, we have to resist the urge to fall into extremes.  The urge is very strong because the world is so uncertain.  Extreme and/or rigid views provide a certain amount of comfort because they are “Certain”.   Resisting the urge to form little camps of Us and Them can take a great deal of vigilance and effort, but it can be done.  It also helps to really try to listen to people, in order to figure out why they believe what they believe, even if you strongly disagree.  It doesn’t hurt your position to hear someone out.  But be careful not to waste your time trying to convince someone with an extreme view that they might not have all the answers.  Such people tend to thrive on conflict and you only succeed in going round and round in circles, getting increasingly frustrated, and wasting precious life energy on a low-level conversation.

For those of us who strive to remain open-minded and compassionate in an increasingly polarized – and violent – society, prayer and meditation really help.  These practices help us go beyond the human intellect, which is insufficient to solve the deep emotional problems facing our nation.  Prayer and meditation help us to stay grounded ourselves while we use Inner Guidance to figure out how to respond non-violently to the violence (physical and mental) around us.

For those who don’t practice meditation and prayer, or any kind of spiritual practice, you still have access to Inner Guidance, it just might be more challenging to access.  Nevertheless, you can still use the inner power you possess to be a representative for Peace and Balance on the planet.  If we all prioritize love over “rights”, compassion over vengeance, and happiness over the need to be right, we will be doing our very best.

Have a great week and go follow your bliss…

Basic Practice Breeds Brilliant Performance

The biggest thing that informs everything I do in my art is my relationship to the spiritual realm. Every morning and every evening I quiet my mind and reconnect to the higher level of myself, the one that knows things, the one that has access to wisdom that feels elusive during normal waking hours. The messages that come to me sometimes encourage, sometimes inspire, sometimes provide gentle warnings, and often motivate me to confront issues I’ve been avoiding.

I welcome these messages during meditation, but I cannot command them to come.  Spirituality, like quality art, cannot be conjured up or forced. It is not something you do; it is something that does you.  The foundation for transcendent moments is daily, mundane practice.  For spirituality, it means getting up early and meditating, whether you feel like it or not; and it means forgiving and letting go, whether you feel like it or not.  For art, it means drawing and painting regularly, reading books, watching tutorials, studying the masters, etc.  The mundane practice is not the fun or glamorous part; the days of ho-hum are more numerous than the days of transcendence.  But the latter is not possible without the former.

This lesson applies to whatever we do in life – whether it’s sports, or parenting, or teaching, etc.  Moments of brilliance and breakthrough are supported by all the days of thankless service, boring practice, and the routine honing of skill.  This is why, to be truly brilliant at anything, you have to love it, and you have to persevere, day in and day out.  You do all this and one day someone will say to you “I wish I could do that – she makes it look so easy!”

Have a great week of thankless service!  Now go follow your bliss…

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