Jim Burns Bio
Jim Burns (1931-2016) Photo by Dan Mottsman
This missal takes a look at a modern day teacher, mystic and psychologist: Jim Burns (James J. Burns, III). Born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in 1931 to Irish-American parents, Jim's life was one of struggle and subsequent triumph, from mental illness to great feats of insight into the human condition. Suffering from a withered arm as well as a profound disinterest in the games of life and society, Jim struggled to gain understanding of himself, life, and his source. Realizing at an early age that the only answers that satisfied him and relieved his angst where those he found within, he devoted himself to a life in pursuit of self-understanding. These journeys within gave fruit only after tremendous struggle, but Jim slowly found a system of insight and self-knowledge, and in later life gave these insights to those who also longed for real answers.
If you've gotten to a point where you realize that the thing you would like most to find in this world is a steady source of guidance, to help you become your own source of guidance – then that's what you are after. You never find that stated anywhere in simple language. The key to the whole process lies in the fact that there is a fountain-spring of endless guidance and information within every human being. One only has to learn to get out of its way, to let the consciousness generate in a stilled and quiet mind.
Jim worked in his father's law office and as a service station attendant and mechanic, and developed a love for motorcycles; but despite his astute intellect, he could not hold a place in the working world. The stresses of mental illness and inner angst led him to spend a good deal of his adult life in mental institutions. Despite his afflictions, Jim was able to remain objective enough to his situation to gain an acute understanding of psychology and the world of the mentally ill. In the 1960's Jim had the good fortune to be introduced to A.R.E., (Association for Research and Enlightenment, founded by America's "sleeping prophet" Edgar Cayce) by an understanding psychiatrist, giving Jim an outlet for his insights into the mind. Later, an A.R.E. member introduced him to Richard Rose and Rose's TAT Foundation, leading to a friendship with like-minded fellows which lasts until this day. Jim has been invited to many TAT gatherings, always an inspiration and light for those with an interest in their own minds, and a path within.
When you begin to have experiences of the information from within, you learn how perfectly attuned the inner mind is to your immediate and momentary circumstances. It can guide you exactly to the thinking required to deal with the outer circumstances or other aspects of consciousness that is absorbing your attention. It is perfectly attuned to the potential of expanding your total consciousness to its absolute maximum. It is designed to do this. It is endlessly trying to do this. It can't stop doing it. The fountainhead lies totally within.
Jim's association with TAT led to many of the conversations being recorded. These were painstakingly transcribed and edited, culminating in his insightful book, At Home With the Inner Self (this website),* published by the TAT Foundation Press,** a masterful work on psychology and insight. Jim teaches three important techniques for reconnecting with the inner self:
- free association
- holding awareness through all states of consciousness (i.e., going to sleep slowly)
- dream analysis.
Jim Burns, center, TAT Foundation gathering
Your internal system is entirely capable, given the opportunity, of teaching you what it is trying to teach you. Try to place the problem mentally in front of you and let every tension go out of your body. Gradually, a word will come to mind that will begin to explain and alleviate the circumstances. The words form so long as you hold that center. It is uncomfortable and miserable, and the only thing that is worse is that which you're trying to escape. There is a free association part of the mind that is like a citizen's band scanner, constantly going up and down the channels. Your inner mind is constantly trying to get your outer self to be aware of what's going on within yourself until you've answered to that need. It keeps throwing balls over the fence. As you drive down the road your mind will constantly pick out this fence or that tree, or this sign. You're accustomed to it and assume that everyone else's mind does the same thing. If you analyzed why you pick this or that to see out of everything that is available, you'll see that there's a definite reason and pattern to it. It follows very closely the things that come in ordinary dreaming, which is another method of throwing balls over the fence. The dream-maker uses these things in waking life. They are attempts to guide you to what in you is unfulfilled.
Jim's life was one of hardship and separation, he spent many years in mental institutions, and had few opportunities to work and have normal social relationships. His success in spiritual endeavors can be directly related to his troubles: he had to find solutions to the pressing emotional problems, and he had the time to do it. Having a clear and calm mind is necessary to communicating with the inner self, and this requires many long hours of solitude, something Jim could afford. He also stumbled on the capacity to maintain his waking consciousness even in sleep, something he recommends highly:
In the beginning, you have to learn how to clear your mind of daily concerns. You have to take them one at a time until they die a death of their own. This is what permits you once you accomplish this. This permits you and brings you to the edge. And you realize that if you try, you can take your daily consciousness once changed into sleep and not lose track of it. Once you have accomplished this, you never leave the waking state consciousness again. It carries into all things, fundamentally a clear-headed sharp capacity into insight into all matters regardless of what they are in the mental aspect, which is part of everything. That is the goal. It was built into you and buried by misconception, but once you try to bring it back to life, it will have a life of its own.
Once the ability to observe and remember the information and feelings of the dream state is reached, Jim recommended using the material to find and understand what the inner self is trying to communicate. These buried feelings and moods can be brought into full consciousness, further clearing the mind, enabling deeper insight:
When I was young, I learned that dreams were the source of all necessary information. It's good to go to sleep slowly and to wake up slowly. If you have a nagging dream, just lie in bed and be quiet. Try and be conscious of no-thing, which is different than nothing. Just let it come to you. All the pictography of the dream is an attempt by the inner stage master to throw things over the fence to key you in to what is happening in your insides. Through dreams, you can repair the bridge to the inner self and again become a whole person. Realizing something in a dream isn't enough – you have to become aware of it in the waking state.
Jim's presence and astute sense of humor will be missed by all of those fortunate enough to have spent time with him. His time was spent in understanding the problems of his own life, and then communicating this universal insight to those around him. While he didn't have the ability to communicate, work, and travel as much as some, he did find an audience, one that keeps his work and insight alive and well.
The goal is to be peacefully and rejoicefully aware and awake in common garden variety consciousness. It is the goal we all seek to achieve. If you work at the things I am saying, if you can find the time, you cannot miss getting there. If you don't have the time, you are finished and it eats time. It is the biggest reason why no one ever said much to anyone about it since once they realize that all the time they have and all the effort they can stand to put out is eaten by paying the bills. I was carried along first by my family and then by social security disability. There is where I got the time. I knew one thing the whole way through: that I dare not waste one second.
All the above quotes are by Jim Burns, from his book At Home With the Inner Self
Listen to Jim and friends during an afternoon's conversation: