Introductory words according to Thomas, Co-Founder, Jack of all Trades, and Creative Director of Raven Vanguard
As difficult as it is for me to fully comprehend, that in what seems like no more than just three rapid blinks of an eye, the final suffocating, dying last breaths of 2018 are already upon us. Meaning, believe it or not, this is our final Weekly Once-over for this utterly thought-provoking and baffling year.
Today’s cautionary tales and between-world admonitions have been benevolently composed for each one of us by a Once-over newcomer who is skillful in the art of spiritual transmigration; her earthly nom de guerre is Karla Joy Vandenbergh, but in every other inter-galactic realm she is known by a different sobriquet, one that I dare not speak publicly, as I am not worthy to even pronounce it intelligibly, let alone speak it aloud.
Thanks to Karla, I now understand, in a very basic sense, that “form is emptiness and emptiness is form.”
However, before I get to the ever so dangerous business of giving a further introduction to Karla’s kindly solicitous and mindful introspections, I can’t let this year pass entirely unmolested into oblivion without some final and gratuitous observations of my own.
Overall, for Raven Vanguard, 2018 was, in good measure, about artistic autonomy and rejuvenation in the face of gathering storms on the one hand and circumventing and circumnavigating, on the other. Experiences invaluable, crucial lessons learned.
As we stand upon the precipice of 2018 gazing into the misty haze of the New Year to come, we issue our annual clarion call to every radical left-of-center artist, designer, creative, maker, writer, craftsperson, tradesperson, and thinker to join us as we continue to alter the trajectory of modern design and artful conception forever.
Generally speaking, I loathe social media. That much has not changed. So, in theory, hell assuredly froze over; and, as evidence of this somber truth, I finally and reluctantly did what I swore for more than twelve years I would never do, @ravenvanguard descended upon Twitter!
Was my persistent refusal to enter the Twittersphere mere affectation on my part? Or, was my refusal to enter this Land of Make-Believe and sugary goodness justified because Twitter had seemingly devolved into a sociopathic world of its own gloomy overindulgence where “truth” and civility were mere afterthoughts? If so, what changed?
Well, for one thing, I began to listen. I started by paying attention to a small handful of Twitter users who, I believed, positively used Twitter as a means to communicate and acquire knowledge. People like @mercurialblonde, @BetonyVernon, @AudreyGelman, @thekatvond, @Lurie_john, @EllenJRogers, @AirlaSophia, @WendyOrourke, @tessal37, @sexdeathrebirth, @slutever, @AIGAeyeondesign, @NCityPretty, @markwschaefer, @edockterman, among others, who had worthwhile things to say.
Life and existence are altogether unfathomable. Not that I ever again need any further proof of this conception, because that is no longer the case, but 2018 drove home this confounded reality, in spades. While my life is undoubtedly filled with oh so many amazingly reaffirming aspects, on the periphery, there still always seems to be an accumulating convergence of the ominous that make me shake my head in disbelief. And although the good in my life far outweighs the bad and nearly eclipses the insanity, misguided morality, and evildoing taking place all around me, I would be remiss if I didn’t point a disparaging finger at some of the mischief-making I found quite alarming in 2018. And, for the sake of balance, I’ll also add in a dose of positivity as well.
So, here we go, in no particular order –
Can we all agree that no sitting US president should ever again be permitted to use Twitter for any reason whatsoever? Or, for that matter, to use any manner of short-form communication whatever? Combining idiocy and illiteracy with the presidency is not a good look and does little to engender confidence in an institution that is now little more than just imbecilic parody.
Speaking of good looks, check out the Melee at the Mall taking place on the day after Christmas at the ill-fated Galleria Mall in Cheektowaga, New York, a suburb of Buffalo. Here, let Google and Twitter be your tour guide in search of another shining example of today’s youth culture. And you better look quick before our local politicians, social workers, and law enforcement attempt to spin and sanitize the facts of this situation with another round of revisionist history in this sub-urban wasteland. If one were to examine the mayhem taking place on these videos objectively, it is easy to see why someone named Trump actually appealed to almost fifty percent of our population in the first place. Despicable all around. And let me add that this was not the first event of this type taking place at the Galleria Mall. Which leads me to ask - parents, do you know where your children are?
My next hideous observation comes under the heading of “keep your hands off of my stack.” Let me preface this by saying, I do not desperately crave wealth, and I am by no means wealthy in a moneyed sense. And, at the same time, I do not believe in handouts. Also, I am not a proponent of this misbegotten, clamoring, and sneakily spreading belief that the redistribution of wealth will cure all of our societal ills. I call bullshit on this one.
I have been gainfully employed since the age of twelve; at times in the employ of another, at other times self-employed or in partnership, at other times contract service provider and contract laborer, and at other times in the role of entrepreneur. Bottom line – I have worked my ass off. Here’s where I stand on the subjects of poverty, wealth redistribution, and social services – everyone, and I do mean everyone, has an overarching obligation to get up off of his or her ass and provide for yourself. Unfortunately, there is a growing sense of entitlement in this country, often fueled by leftist political rhetoric, that encourages the populace to seek the paternalistic government handout whenever things get tough rather than trouble oneself with supreme effort. I also call bullshit on this. Now, this does not mean that I also oppose some form of public aid as a temporary stop-gap measure, or as a bridge to help someone who is genuinely between jobs, or taking care of a child with a disability, or elderly parents. But lifelong public support? No fucking way.
How about this for a radical idea? Stake your own claim, make your own mark, be a doer and a giver, and don't just stand there acting like an entitled ass with your hands outstretched believing the world owes you something when, in fact, it doesn't owe you a fucking thing. Moreover, from my point of view, if someone is willing to put in the tireless effort and hard work necessary to achieve their goals, why shouldn't they be richly rewarded with abundance and affluence? I believe if someone goes about their work honestly, they deserve to be fairly paid for their efforts. Fuck socialism! Enough said.
Words of wisdom (not mine) – As far as flavors go, vanilla may very well be both complex and potent, but according to someone much more authoritative than I am on the subject, vanilla is out, vanilla is passe! And just when I started to develop a taste for it.
Very much like the complexities of vanilla, the entanglements of religion and spirituality are never far from my mind or the deepest recesses of my aching heart. And if you know me, you also know that I have an insatiable craving for knowledge. If a life spent toiling away in prayer and the belief in God is the ultimate peril, does that make death and the absence of an afterlife the penultimate peril, or should that indeed be stated the other way around? Will my unwavering belief in God Herself eventually be my undoing? I guess it all boils down to a matter of faith. There comes a time in every person’s life when your playing hand is finally called, and when it is, either you have faith, or you don’t; there is no middle ground and faith itself cannot be faked. In other words, you must always be able to reconcile impending mortality and faith.
The problem with belief in an existential sense is that one’s so-called faith in God is no guarantee of the truth of God’s actuality. The same concept also applies to the beliefs of those who so easily deny the very existence of God. If you are someone who first requires a substantial and material exemplification of God’s presence to believe, then you do not have faith in the same way that I do. I am someone who does not mandate that God is first measured, weighed, sampled, demonstrated, analyzed, graded, and classified to believe. Nor am I someone who ever suffered from the paralyzing need to first poke and prod at the marks of stigmata to give credence to the concept of God in the resurrected sense. Although prayer may indeed be the most common currency of faith among the God-fearing masses and assembling throng, for me, it is unwavering belief. I suppose if I had no faith at all in the Creator, I would live my life permanently pondering whether my conscious reality is merely one long grand hallucinatory illusion.
Along these same philosophical lines, but more in the sense of an abstract digression, I have another passing observation. Whether I name it deliverance, rescue, or the state of being redeemed, perhaps even atonement or subordination, I too often find myself contemplating my instinctive and deep-seated need for redemption as if this is the only way for me truly experience actual physical, psychological, and spiritual salvation. I suspect this tortured fascination of mine must be a leftover remnant from my Benedictine and Jesuit Catholic upbringing. Anyway, I best move on before my thought process entirely degenerates into a further discussion and elaboration of my inextinguishable enthrallment with Nuns and the ongoing wild goose chase in search of ritualistic union with my earthbound redeemer.
The divide in this Country is more profound and broader now than at any time following the conclusion of the Civil War. The reason for this, following blindly. It’s either #VoteBlue or #VoteRed without compromise and no interest in reaching common ground. This thinking is asinine. Since when did we all become lemmings? Are you no longer able to think for yourself? Instead, in the future, try voting your conscience in support of the best candidates available, rather than voting by rote based on bullshit party ideology. Therefore, let’s have a conversation. The ground rules? Only one - since I don’t know you, and you don’t know me, can we start our discussion from the premise that I don’t owe you anything, and you don’t owe me anything? Great, now let’s get started.
Fear mongering is the latest contrivance used by politicians, and the mass media, to manipulate the gullible, the disenfranchised, the uninformed, the ignorant, and those who are easily persuaded by fake news, falsehoods, complete gibberish, and #TotalBullshit. #WakeTheFuckUpAmerica!
2018 proved, once again, that this world is indeed maddening and entirely batshit crazy. I just need to keep reminding myself that change happens over time and then very slowly at that. Faith and patience, and, like Dorothy from Kansas, you just have to believe in the power of the slippers.
We are about to enter that time of year when all we will hear are those incessant and annoying resolutions to purge ourselves of overindulgence in the upcoming year. I disavow any such thing, and instead, believe living life more ornately is the way I’m going to head into 2019.
True, or false? Bear witness. According to an ancient prophecy, my soulmarked redeemer is an ecstatic virgin who will suddenly appear before me adorned in Benedictine black, bearing the sacred mystery of the five psychic wounds, the marks of stigmata in her side, hands, and feet, all aglow in the brilliant radiance of her upside-down halo.
2018 will also go down as another year of the type of small-minded thinking that is destroying the artistic creativity of the entire design industry. The enduring long-term value of almost every project cannot, and should not, be measured solely by dollars and cents. Unfortunately, too many project owners and developers repeatedly exercise this narrow-minded thinking. Decision making that uses project cost as its sole parameter encourages the cheapening, merchandising, and mass production of art and interior design, while at the same time disincentivizing artistry and the skills of those in the construction trades. This thinking also overvalues ordinary, conforms to the mundane, and this worrisome notion that less is somehow more.
In response, I shout, someone please let me design something entirely uncommon that aspires to the sensuality of an 18th Century Parisienne bordello, but with the exaggerated grandeur of a 17th Century holy place. An exalted space where women can safely grace us with their mere presence, and their leadership, wisdom, spirituality, wit, intellect, and beauty.
Finally, getting back to Karla –
Much like those starry-eyed observers who came before her, Karla leaves her otherworldly Once-over mark upon an unwitting and unsuspecting humanity long adrift in an ocean of mindlessness. Also, very much the same as those Delphian forecasters who came before her, Karla’s words, thoughts, and visions are hers alone, without any form of blue-pencil rearrangement or censorship by us. More to the point – Karla scares the shit out of me, so no way I am editing her piece. No way, no how.
So, who is this being named Karla? To those of us who know her, she is a messenger of wisdom and compassion, and a female embodiment of enlightenment, an intuitive force of nature, as well as a practitioner of Five Elements Chinese Medicine. And to those among us who fear her, she is a spiritual duality that defies archaic worldly gender stereotypes. In other words, Karla is a fucking hurricane, run for the hills.
I now leave this Once-over in Karla’s skillful hands as she teaches us about the importance of an unfettered or no-thought mind, non-physical states of spiritual joy, the healing power of both luminous and wrathful energy, the wisdom of both bliss and void, about living a life in praise of the sacred feminine, meditational visions, spiritual liberation and ecstasy, human sacrifice, tantric transmissions, icons dancing on one leg, and about mantras, mandalas, mala skulls, curved knives, and lotus fronds.
Words according to Karla, also known as Dakini by those among us who have stared into the abyss of enlightenment, and as Her High Holiness by those among us who appreciate the nuances of an energetic spiritual beat down, and having no lawful connection whatsoever to Raven Vanguard
What if we could be better than we have ever been, starting now, no going back or trying to become some previous version of ourselves? What if we could accept ourselves, as we are now, completely, and start living fully from this point - not later, when we look better, feel better, have less pain, are in less debt, when we finish that work project, when our kids grow up, when our disease is finally gone or when our toxic mental and emotional states are finally gone.
There are innumerable ways we can hold ourselves back, and we do, all the time. There is a common misconception floating around, a crippling idea that once we have made any sort of spiritual attainment or growth, we will no longer feel upsetting emotion, have negative mental states or be triggered by other people and associations. Stop! Free yourself! This idea is misguided and detrimental to your growth.
One of my core spiritual teachers once said to me, “an enlightened mind is a ferocious mind.” wow, what a concept! This was so freeing for me. I always thought there was something wrong with me, or the way I was practicing because I would still experience a lot of emotional ups and downs, stress and mental negativities. I must be doing my meditations and qigongs wrong, or not enough, I foolishly thought. I must be doing something wrong. This is a trap. It holds us back from continuing our practice and lends to a false belief that we are not making progress.
Your practice may be meditation, running, cooking, qigong, taiqui, writing, walking, dancing, church, volunteering, community service, healing work, drawing, painting, sculpting, yoga - it can be anything. The important thing is that you do something for your personal growth and cultivation. Maybe it’s taking a mug of hot coffee outside on your porch to be with the trees, or cultivating your rooftop garden each day. Maybe you walk your city blocks each day, taking in the wonder of the architecture, and the surrounding landscapes. Unplug, put down the phone, walk away from your computer. Do something that engages your inner world, that connects you back with yourself. Movement helps — a lot. Sometimes if I’m stuck with an idea or in a project, and things have gone stale, I get up and take a walk or pace around the room. Moving your body moves your mind, moves your energy, moves your creativity.
Healing is often synonymous with the idea of restoration. If we are healed, we are back to “ourselves.” We create very fixated identities that crucially hang on many attachments, such as having certain qualities and things in place in order for us to be “ourselves.” I'm going to propose a radical idea (though I’m certainly not the first one to do so). Healing isn’t about restoration; it is about transformation. Movement forward, rather than back. A radical acceptance of who and where we are right now that leads to a shift which can open new potential and possibilities beyond what we think is available to us and our lives.
Bamboo grows fascinatingly. Before it can make a new section of its shoot, first it forms a tight knot. The knot provides strength and stability to the integrity and structure of the plant as a whole. What if our struggles and tension could be the basis for new growth instead of the thing that forever holds us back. Even holding this concept itself can start to shift your life. What if the knot is precisely what we need to get to the next step. It’s what we do with the knot that matters. The way we hold space for it, accept it or oppose it, stagnate and ultimately become enslaved by it.
In the same way that we think our spiritual or self-cultivation progress should be linear, we often fall into the trap of thinking our healing should be the same way. Our western culture minds are very programmed to believe that progress is always linear — a straight line moving up along the bar graph as time continues. The nature of healing is circular, more like a spiral. As we are growing and shifting in our bodies, our minds, and our spirits, sometimes we get a glimpse of the mountaintop or the spaciousness of the clear blue sky. Other times we plummet to the depths of the darkest ocean, the caverns under the earth. They are all necessary, all part of a greater whole — radical acceptance. If you experience a “setback” in your healing, it doesn’t mean you’re back to square one. Maybe you have to take a step back, to the right or left, in order to take another one forward. Just remember, healing is non-linear. Free yourself from the tyranny of a straight line.
In esoteric Buddhism there is this concept of holding your aggregates as sacred; in fact, at the ordination level, there is a vow you take not to “disparage your aggregates.” What this means is to hold all of your experiences and emotions as sacred, as fuel for the path. The poisons of hatred, ignorance, anger, pride, and jealousy are all the earthly aspects of the divine five wisdoms, mirror-like wisdom, dharmadhatu wisdom, discriminating wisdom, all-accomplishing wisdom and the wisdom of equanimity. These five wisdoms have many correlations and deep, deep meaning, (on which many wonderful scholarly books have been written, and I won’t try to recreate here).
When you hold it up to the light of the divine, you can see it’s beautiful facets and glowing qualities. Jealousy held up to the brightness of sacred, is a radiant verdant emerald. When light is reflected through, it becomes all-accomplishing wisdom. Instead of becoming trapped in jealousy, one can use that energy to spring into action, grow and accomplish their own authentic goals. In this way, even the ugliest of psycho-emotional states have a place in the sacredness of you and your life, and can actually lead you somewhere. A psycho-emotional state that isn’t worked with stagnates and leads to suffering and disease. Holding space for the divine and radical acceptance, giving the sensations in your body a name, a place, leads to freedom, evolution, and health. A liberated mind is not free of emotion; it is an aware mind, fully present, ripe with understanding. Able to hold emotion and negative mind states, not react from them but respond to them. Also the wisdom to know that your psycho-emotional states are not who you are, they are an experience you are having.
This is a powerful concept. Getting to the meat of this powerful concept, it allows us the freedom from hating ourselves and our emotions. We are so mean to ourselves. Often, meaner than anyone has ever been to us. When we have a difficult emotion or mental state, the tendency is to push it away. NO! I do not want to feel that! We all do it, and, unfortunately, this is the way to make it even stronger and enslave us to it. If we were to do something radical instead, to sit with ourselves as if we were sitting with our best friend. What if your friend came to you with the same emotional state or thought pattern. What would you say? How would you treat that person? When you listen, without trying to fix it, or give a solution. Just be, just listen. Simply feel into your somatic experience, the sensations in your body. I guarantee there is a lot going on in there. Be with it, describe it. Say it out loud, to someone you trust, or write it down. Accept it, embrace it. Make a space for it. It is pure magic what can happen. Breathe. Pause. You may have other thoughts, images, concepts or emotions that arise in relationship to it. Embrace those too. Write them down, say them out loud. Accept. Embrace. I promise, it is ok.
I had an incredible therapist when I was much younger and struggling with sexual abuse, chronic illness, and suicidal thoughts. My anxiety was through the roof. Often I couldn’t breathe and wouldn’t leave my room for days at a time. Once I crashed from my panic, I would sleep for 16-20 hours at a stretch, my system completely fried from so much adrenal surging. My therapist taught me how to be with my primary emotion and that my secondary emotions were the ones making me spiral into the rabbit hole. A secondary emotion is not what we are originally feeling, but our thoughts about what we are feeling. The spiraling out we may experience.
For example, If I were worried about making it somewhere on time, my chest would start feeling tight, and my breathing became shallow. I learned to stop, catch myself. Awareness is the first key. Pause and breathe. What’s going on in there, I learned to ask myself. “Ok, I’m worried about making it to my appointment on time. My chest is tight, and my breathing is shallow. Ok, one step at a time. What can I do to make things efficient and get there on time?” When I learned this awareness and how to pause, I could start to problem-solve. Before I learned how to do this, it would go something like this: my chest would tighten, and my breathing would be shallow. My inner dialogue would go something like this, “oh no! It’s happening again. How will I get through my day? What if I don’t have enough energy to do it all? What if I want to cry and I am in front of people? I suck at life. I am not good at any of this. I can’t do this. Why did I think I could be a performer? I’m not talented enough. I”m too fat, too tall, not a good enough dancer. I didn’t start at a young enough age. I’m too tired to get up and take a shower. Brushing my teeth seems impossible. I don’t want to feel this way.” Pushing it away only made it persist and left me unable to cope or move through my day. When I learned to focus on the primary emotion, the initial body sensation, and the reason for it, then I could problem solve and move forward. I won’t lie. It isn’t easy. It takes a lot of hard work, dedication, and commitment to develop that awareness. Just like developing any habit, it gets easier and more automatic over time. I promise you, it is worth it.
The most powerful shifts in healing I have experienced with myself and working with others as a practitioner is when the sacred is brought into the space. Holding this concept that we are nature, nature is us, that we are a reflection of God, whatever that means to you, is a powerful tool that we all need. This outlook opens a different field. Have you ever been struggling, deeply, about a situation or person in your life? Perhaps someone you loved who was sick or dying. Maybe a deep financial or work crisis, possibly the heartbreak of losing someone you loved, or deep concern for one of your children. Have you ever stopped and prayed? Or had a momentary “breakdown” in the car and cried out to anyone or anything for help? What happened when you did this? My guess is, there was some kind of opening, a shift in the field and a shift in your consciousness. The situation may not have been magically resolved, and yet, suddenly it seems doable. Solutions start to show up, and problem-solving takes a turn.
I’m not saying you need to pray, though that would help you, if I’m honest. I’m proposing that simply tuning into the “sacred” changes things. There is this idea in transformational healing; it’s about the map of the body, the topography of our form. And how this topography interrelates with the stars, planets, rivers, streams, wells, doorways, windows, chimneys, valleys and stars all intersecting. The pond at the crook of my elbow, the window that leads to heaven on my neck, the hollow at your eye, the temple at your heart space.
Each area of the body has vast correlations to aspects in nature; wood is green is spring is the liver is wind is east is sunrise is gallbladder is sinews is tendon is eyes, is vision is the hun is dreaming is the starlight brought back to us in our dreams, is forward momentum is anger is sour is active is yang is birth is planning is strategy is benevolence is kindness is frustration is one-sided headaches is stiffness along the outer aspect of the leg….it goes and goes and goes. Simply put, when I place my hand on the small of your back with the awareness of the depth of this place, you will feel it. I can’t say exactly what you will feel, or how you will respond, but you will feel something. A shift, an easing, a sense that you are ok. Radical acceptance.
Now, what if we were to view each other in this way all of the time? What would happen to our world if we always strived to see the best in everyone around us? If we focused on the sacredness of that being. This is not to say that people don’t carry stagnation, disease, and pathology, which lead to aberrant behavior, but deep down in there, they carry the light of the stars, too.
So, how does one begin this process of radical acceptance, of cultivating and freeing yourself from the chains of the inner dictator? Simple. Do something for yourself, something that has meaning for you. As you meditate, walk, paint, breathe into the larger picture. Step back a little. Allow yourself to see, to experience everything that present has to offer you. Notice your body. What is going on in there? Notice your thoughts and feelings. Open the door. Accept, radically.