Sunday, January 31, 2010

Join The Universal Soul Discussions on Facebook

The Universal Soul isn't just a one-way street. I want to hear from you and grow our community of universal souls. Please join the conversation with our Facebook discussions here:
http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Universal-Soul/175779326361?v=app_2373072738

Right now, you can discuss hot yoga or the books you're reading. You can also share you own ideas for The Universal Soul, your own health and wellness tips, and your own inspirational stories!

Feel free to start your own discussions as well!

I'll see you there...

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Saint Mother Teresa's "Do It Anyway"

We are all faced with challenges, large and small, nearly every day of our lives. A friend may betray us, a child might disappoint us, a family member may let us down. At work, it seems we toil away only to have our good deeds go unnoticed, while our flaws are pointed out so easily. Sometimes the very thing we work tirelessly to construct is carried away by an angry flood in the blink of an eye... and is gone forever.

Yes, life can be difficult and quite unexpected, but we must overcome and endure it all with joy, peace, and purpose. Our ability to truly live in spite of all these things will define who we are and who we are remembered as.

Mother Teresa was a woman, a saint even, that mastered living with purpose, wisdom, and gratitude. Her words in the poem “Do It Anyway” came to me by way of a student in my second year of teaching. It was a crumpled piece of paper, with the poem scrawling across the thin blue lines in purple ink. She said she read it and thought of me. What a priceless gift.

Now I take it out and read it over when I am having a challenging week, and Saint Teresa's words jump from the page as if she wrote them just for me. Please read, enjoy, and be touched by her beautiful message. Perhaps it was written just for you!

"Do It Anyway"
Mother Teresa


People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.

Forgive them anyway.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.

Be kind anyway.

If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.

Succeed anyway.

If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.

Be honest and sincere anyway.

What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.

Create anyway.

If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.

Be happy anyway.

The good you do today, will often be forgotten.

Do good anyway.

Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.

Give your best anyway.

In the final analysis, it is between you and God.

It was never between you and them anyway.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Ashes to Ashes: A Father’s Memory, A Son’s Lesson

I wrote this short story inspired by several ideas that I kept feeling haunted by all at once: memory, family legacy, death, and the supernatural. I wanted it to be a "snippet" of a family’s life that would feel very real to the reader, as if they were peering into one chapter of this family's life or as if this chapter was pulled right out of their own life story. Please read and enjoy. Any feedback is very much hoped for. Thank you.

"Ashes to Ashes"
K.A. Phinney

He stood in quiet nostalgia. No noise, but the pounding of his heart and the slush and crunch of his boots across the drive. Melting snow was encrusted in dewy, grayish patches throughout the property. The daunting pines and fraser firs lined up and towered over him. Bare branches, like open prayerful hands, reached toward the heavens, as spurts of sunlight beamed through the spaces between their fingers and trunks. And in all of this, the wind gently carried about the smells of aging winter, impending life, and the vanishing memories that were once lived out in every crevice of the lake house.

In his mind, Sam heard a child’s laugh, a woman’s voice, a man’s contentment, all together, dancing in the lovely relics. Blinking, he was transported between his world of reality and that of the ancient shamans. His physical self gripped the ashes of the departed between his fingers, but a vivid memory reached out and tousled his young son’s curls and stroked the small of his beloved Victoria’s violin-like back…

“Daddy, come look. You can see the little fishes swim over the rocks right here… I wanna touch them and catch them in my hands.”

The little boy groped in a haphazard manner at the laps of water that surrounded him. Small specimens of fish swam to and fro, breaking schools and reforming beneath the glassy surface.
“Matty, you mustn’t rush things. Steady your hand. Learn to wait for them.”

“How, Daddy?”

“It takes great patience… and practice.” Sam gently reached out the soft palms of his hands and soaked them into the cool water. Matthew stared at his father’s craft and open mouth, forming words and saying things he couldn’t understand, but he felt them and their gravity, as children often do.

“If you wait, the fish will come to you, between your fingers. Feel their life all around you... and then… when the time is right… you--”
SPLASH. Sam quickly pulled a small fish out of the lake in very little effort at all. Its iridescent scales glimmered in the sun, the glow blinding them both.

“Can I touch it, Daddy?”

“You can hold it, but then you must let it go.”

Matthew’s small, chocolate-almond eyes were deep and jumping with life. Without hesitation his hands jutted from his sides and sprawled before the catch in desire. The hungry water jumped and nipped at his knees, licking the edges of his rolled trousers. He took the fish into his eager care.

“Ewwwweee… it’s slimy.”

“Yes, it is.”

“It jumps around a lot.”

“Yes, it does.” Sam surrendered a grin of satisfaction.

“Daddy, do fishes have hearts too?”

“Yes, Son, all living creatures have hearts,” Sam replied as he eased the fish from his son’s hands and placed it back in its liquid dwelling.

“How’d you do it, Daddy?”

“Do what?”

“Catch the fish like that…”

“It’s magic,” Sam replied with familial authority.

For a small breath, Matthew pondered the supernatural, setting his gaze upon his watchful mother, lounging on her blanket just steps away. “Mommy,” he appealed, “was it magic?” With gentle excitement, he waited for her words.

“Yes, Love. That was magic.” Her voice was clear and sweet as air.

Victoria was musical, and her words gave Matthew a joy that would later carry him when she was gone.

“Magic,” he whispered back to her. “Magic...”

And she blew a kiss into the air...

The temperate summer breeze whipped through the trees that outlined the water and property, swirled and then grew cold as the memory slipped away. All of the green leaves fell, shriveled, and hid under seldom patches of ice and snow. The clear water grew dark and restless, with white crests that rippled about the whipping air. The bright blue shutters and white paneling of their lake home faded to a shadow of gray. The beautiful woman vanished to ashes. The bright-eyed, laughter-filled boy was carried away on the wind, and a man’s voice interceded…

“Dad…”

A silence ensued.

“Dad,” Matthew called once more as he carefully navigated his way down the embankment before the waterfront where his father now stood, alone.

“Son…” The word dragged off of Sam’s tongue. “I’ve been waiting for you. I have Mom’s ashes here, and they’re ready to be…” There was a hesitation and brokenness in Sam’s voice.

“How do you want to do this?” Matthew asked.

“Well… we can… Who am I fooling? I don’t know how to do this. I don’t think I can.” His chin trembled.

“Dad, do you want me to help you?”

“No… I… I have to do this. Your mother wanted it.”

Matthew whispered now, as he took in the expansive view of the lake and surrounding wood. “It’s what she wanted… what she deserves…”

Sam gingerly approached the shoreline. He paused. Laying the crimson urn beside him, he took off his shoes and rolled his trouser. Taking up the urn once more, he stepped into the icy water. It was unforgiving and engulfed his feet.

Matthew watched in a pensive hush. He paused too, taking off his shoes too. He rolled his trousers too, and let the freezing water swallow his feet. There were no words exchanged. There was no need for them.

Sam opened the urn, now nestled under his arm, and touched the lovely relics with his fingertips. Now, just a small portion of her ashes were pinched inside the crevices of his palm, but before Sam could bare his palm to the freedoms of the wind, a wintry gust swirled about him and embraced the ashes. The ashes swirled too, danced, and dispersed, settling into the heavens and onto the choppy face of the lake. My beloved Victoria, today is the first day of spring, Sam mouthed to himself.

For the first time, in front of his father, Matthew had a beautiful breakdown. He was overwhelmed with both pain and acceptance. This was my mother. Her lips, her skin, her hands, her heart... And he was broken. Tears flooded down his cheeks, as he was accosted with the moving pictures of their history. The memories were exquisite and many exquisitely painful, but Mathew was certain of this: It was all magic.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sugar: A Dog Lover's Creed

I read somewhere that the dog has the soul of a quiet philosopher.

Whoever penned those words was entirely right. Dogs are forgiving, loyal, and love us for who we are. So really, where would we be without them? Dog lovers and pet owners alike truly understand that our furry friends aren't just animals we keep, but they are family members we come to cherish and very much need.

Rescuing two American Pit Bull Terriers, I can honestly say that my pups, Grace and Caesar, enrich my life on a daily basis. They make me laugh. They make me love. They can even make me cry when they are hurt. But most importantly, they make me a better person.


So given my feelings about dogs, when I experienced a heart-breaking experience at the vet's office a few years back, I naturally had to write about it. Pet lovers, please enjoy this story as a reminder to love your little friends while you can. They are yet another reason for us to love and cherish our lives with every breath we take.


It's a simple fact that if we listen long enough and if we pay close enough attention to their ways, dogs teach us how to live.


"Sugar"
K.A. Phinney

I took my adopted APBT, Grace, to the vet this morning for an infection in her eyes. As I sat in the waiting room, growing slightly irritated over the long wait, a man walked in carrying a 50-pound boxer. I found it quite odd that someone would carry a dog of that size, rather than walking it. This piqued my curiosity, so I watched him carefully. I began to notice that the dog, Sugar, was shaking and stiff. She appeared to be in a great deal of pain. I quickly realized that she was ill. It now made perfect sense why she was being carried into the veterinarian's office.

Moments later, the receptionist quietly asked the man if he wanted to look over the cremation options. I was emotionally floored. This was his morning, the morning I personally dreaded for my dogs and myself.

Sugar was old. Her muzzle and paws were graying, and her eyes were foggy and dim. I was sure she could sense what was about to happen, as her owner gently whispered in a soothing cadence, "It's okay, Sugar. It's alright." He knew he had but a few minutes left with his loyal friend, of years I am sure.

I slowly turned my head away to choke back the tears, as he filled out the papers for the euthanasia. I could hardly imagine the pain. I looked down at my little white dog, Grace, and stroked her floppy ears. She looked up with her intense, almond eyes and seemed to smile at me. I thanked God for her and that it wasn't our day.

As the veterinarian technician crept out from behind the door to assist the man and his faithful friend to the back room, my eyes flooded further with the tears I had been struggling to control. I watched as the three figures disappeared behind the door. I was alone in the waiting room, and somewhere in the office, Sugar would soon be alone too.

I wish I had said something to her owner as he sat in the waiting room, but I knew that no words could solace a heart that would be losing its best friend. Dog owners understand what I mean. Instead, I just smiled with a look of empathetic emotion. I hope he understood.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Seven Steps to a Holistically Healthier You

It’s the first month of the New Year, and many of us have “get healthy” or “stay fit” up toward the top of our list of resolutions. And although information flows more freely than ever because of the Internet, people are still having a hard time learning about natural ways to stay healthy. Sadly, westernized medicine only focuses on treating or masking an illness rather than focusing on the things people can do to fight or prevent illness. It’s all about prevention, yet in the media, we only hear about whether to take a vaccine or not or what pill to pop if we are feeling a certain way. What we don’t hear is what we can do to fight illness beyond washing our hands and covering our mouths when we cough or sneeze. There is so much more we can do to treat ourselves holistically, and if we can change our thinking about health, we can change our bodies.

There is a whole world of natural remedies and lifestyle choices, and I am trying to learn something new about it everyday. I encourage you to do the same. Personally, I haven’t vaccinated for a single thing in more than fifteen years, and I haven’t had the flu or been to the doctor for an illness in my entire adult life. I’ve been blessed by very good health, and I have to believe my lifestyle choices are helping me in that journey to perfect health. That being said, I can only share what’s worked for me based on personal experience, but I share some links at the bottom for support.

So, here are some helpful tips—that if implemented on a regular basis—could greatly improve your health in 2010:

1. Say Goodbye to Empty Sugars- According to Maggie Ward, a leading nutritionist from The Ultra Wellness Center, “studies have shown that refined sugars can suppress your immune system for hours after ingestion.” This means that excessive sweet treats and desserts during may taste awfully good going down, but once your body digests it, the overload of empty sugars will leave you susceptible to illness.

2. Stay Hydrated- With all this cold, dry weather, your body has a harder time staying hydrated, which means your immune system can’t function as it should. Be sure to keep a bottle of water at your fingertips. Drink all you can, but make sure that the liquids aren’t high in sugar, because that will defeat the purpose. Broths, teas (green and black are best), and coffee (sans the sugary additives) are great choices.

3. Get Your Vitamin A and C- Vitamin A boosts antioxidant activity and immune function, and Vitamin C contains ascorbic acid, which is an antioxidant that fights the free radicals that make you sick. You can get Vitamin A from carrots, broccoli, sweet potatoes, and spinach. You can get Vitamin C from oranges, kiwis, sweet red and green peppers, strawberries, guava, and vegetable drinks such as V8.

4. Get Some Sleep- I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth mentioning again. No matter how busy you are or how stressed you get, don’t skip on sleep. If you can, be sure to get seven to eight hours of sleep a night so that your body can rest and rejuvenate. A steady seven hours of sleep is considered optimal by many doctors and health professional.

5. Get Some Exercise- Believe it or not, getting regular exercise helps to increase your immune system. Most people are so tired when they get home from work or after they are done taking care of their children that the last thing they think their body can do is exercise. The best thing you can do for your health is to push through you exhaustion and exercise. Find a routine that is about 30-45 minutes in length that increases your resting heart rate and implement it three to four times a week. I have lots of other tips on easy home exercises and tips here: http://theuniversalsoul.blogspot.com/2009/12/10-things-you-can-do-to-stay-fit-and.html and here: http://theuniversalsoul.blogspot.com/2009/11/full-body-makeover-for-under-100-part-1.html.

6. Get Your Fish Oil- Doctor Oz calls omega-3 fatty acids (fish oils) a miracle worker. Please see my earlier post on the myriad benefits here: http://theuniversalsoul.blogspot.com/2009/11/one-little-supplement-that-transforms.html.

7. Don’t Keep It In- If you have congestion building up, the worst thing you could possibly do is sniffle it down and ingest it. Be sure to excuse yourself to blow your nose or rid yourself of the mucus buildup in your throat. This seems like an obvious point, but so many of us just ingest these fluids since it’s not always convenient to purge yourself.

There are so many more tips. If you have any, please post them here or on the Facebook thread so others can benefit from your knowledge and experiences.


Sources:
http://www.thedailygreen.com/healthy-eating/eat-safe/top-sources-vitamin-C-44102808
http://www.ultrawellnesscenter.com/Tips.aspx
http://www.vitaminsdiary.com/vitamins/vitamin-a/sources.htm

Thursday, January 14, 2010

POETography: Haiti, Dark and Rolling

“Haiti, Dark and Rolling”












Hanging my dress
In my closet today
I thought of you
And your bloodied body,
My little stranger.
And I was arrested
By your broken story
And bones
All swallowed by
The cracks and rubble,
Snaking up your roads,
Choking your smiles,
Dividing your homes,
And Haiti, dark and rolling.

For you and for always,
It is cold and heavy
Under the pressing earth,
As the world turns on
Without you in it,
Little soul. My little stranger,
I pray for you tonight,
And Haiti, dark and rolling.

K.A. Phinney

Photo: http://i.telegraph.co.uk/telegraph/multimedia/archive/01558/HAITI-GIRL_1558332c.jpg

Write it Down

Write it Down

If you see the world in words
There is a blanket of poetry
To lay over every experience
Under this wide, blue sky.

And if you dare to write those words
(Or speak them into existence)
You will see the storybook of your life unfold,
And whatever was once deemed ordinary
Will become extraordinary under its light.

Without words on the page
There is no memorializing
And the hazy, vengeful fog of time
Will carry off the memory
(Or at the very least its shear potency).

So lock up your life with words
Before its little wings grow the strength
To carry your misplaced mementoes on their backs
And fly away without you.

K.A. Phinney

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Where Faiths Intersect: Buddhism and Christianity

The Buddha-Dharma is the realization within one’s deepest consciousness of the Oneness of all life. For the attainment of this purpose, Buddha showed his future followers the Eightfold Path. I am exceedingly interested in the Eightfold Path and the 12 Principles of Buddhism, not as a religion, but as a lifestyle or philosophy. Many of the assertions that Ralph Waldo Emerson, the spiritual and philosophical inspiration for this blog, puts forth in Self Reliance seem to fall within the proximities of Buddhist thought. The Oneness Buddha outlined is in fact The Universal Soul that Emerson refers to in his essays, and in Christianity it is The Ten Comandments and the philosophy of living Christ-like.

The Buddhist principles I note below are from the website http://www.budtempchi.org/12prin.html, and the Christian perspective was added by me.

1. Right Views means to keep ourselves free from prejudice, superstition, and delusion... and to see aright the true nature of life. Christian Perspective: Christ taught us, “Do not judge, lest ye be judged” and, “Do not point out the speck in your brother’s eye until you remove the plank from your own.”

2. Right Thoughts means to turn away from the hypocrisies of this world and to direct our minds toward Truth and Positive Attitudes and Action. Christian Perspective: Christ taught not to be concerned with this world, but to keep our eyes upon heaven and our salvation. The “Truth” is Christ. The “Positive Attitudes” and “Actions” represent our spiritual choices, both in mind and body, to be Christ-like. In Romans we are told, "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind."

3. Right Speech means to refrain from pointless and harmful talk... to speak kindly and courteously to all. Christian Perspective: Again, this path refers to being Christ-like, or at least striving for that type of perfect existence. Also, gossiping is very much discouraged in Christianity. Have you read Proverbs lately?

4. Right Conduct means to see that our deeds are peaceable, benevolent, compassionate and pure... and to live the Teachings daily. Christian Perspective: For me, conduct is how you carry yourself throughout the day. Am I acting out of goodness and selflessness like Christ did? Do I exhibit this in my thoughts, musings, actions, and work?

5. Right Livelihood means to earn our living in such a way as to entail no evil consequences. It means to seek that employment to which can give our complete enthusiasm and devotion. Christian Perspective: Do I earn a living by serving others? Some people earn a living by deceiving, harming, victimizing, or capitalizing on others. Christ warned us to be holy in thoughts and deeds. Making a living on the backs of others is not God’s best for us.

6. Right Effort means to direct our efforts continually to the overcoming of ignorance and craving desires. Christian Perspective: I can’t but to think of dedication and work ethic here. It states in the Bible that, “A man who does not work, will not eat”. Also, slothfulness is considered to be one of the Seven Deadly Sins.

7. Right Mindfulness means to cherish good and pure thoughts; all that we say and do arise from our thoughts. Christian Perspective: Sinful thoughts turn into sinful deeds. So keep your thoughts clean and directed toward God and Heaven.

8. Right Meditation means to concentrate on the Oneness of all life and the Buddhahood that exists within all beings. Christian Perspective: This highlights the Christian assertion that we are all God's children. No single being is more important to God than the next human being, no matter their lot. Yoga is the perfect way to meditate on the right thoughts.

I find great peace and beauty in the fact that most religions, when left uncorrupted by overzealous men, have the same foundations and messages on righteous, mindful living. And I find the most comfort when I look out into nature and see the patterns of God all over the rolling hills, the colorful foliage, and the ways of animals. Who needs four walls when nature is our sanctuary?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Wild

THE WILD

If I am not the mountains
Or the bucolic hills of jade
Not the gaping winged songstress
Or the widowed fawn’s still gaze,
Then I am not.

And if I am not the melting snow
Or the raging river stream
Not the earth upon her axis
The sun gleaning through the trees,
Then I am not.

If the wild’s not tied up in me
Like an eternal, unwinding string,
If the wild is not made of me,
Then I don’t mean a thing.
And I am not.

K.A. Phinney

Monday, January 11, 2010

No Other Way

"No Other Way"

There is no other way
That the golden leaf shall fall
Or by which the moon will wane
Or in the way the blossom fades.
No other way at all.


The oceans ebb and the oceans flow,
And so goes life and all its glow.
The sweet retreat of summer
Will be embraced by fall.
The bitter taste of let down
Is solaced before long.

The birds fly south for winter.
The snow blankets the ground.
Dear friends will slip away,
And new friends, in time, abound.
There is no other way to live it;
No other way at all.

Your eyes will close at midnight.
The stars will take their flight.
Dreams can’t dance forever;
Long lovers must say goodbye.
There is no other way to live it;
No other way at all.

The music will find a standstill.
The glow begins to dim.
Memories will find haziness,
And the birds fly north again.
There is no other way,
No other way at all,
To live this life you’re given
And then to leave it all.


K.A. Phinney

Sunday, January 10, 2010

A New Year’s Resolution for Everyone: Dare to be YOU

"To be nobody but yourself in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting." ~e.e. cummings


It’s 2010, a new year. And I’ve been thinking a lot about being my authentic self and the beautiful power I can lend to my life if I refuse to be anything but ME this year. Maybe you’ve been thinking the same thing. And if you haven’t, you owe it to yourself to set out on this lifelong adventure.

I read… well, a lot. And I am always looking for passages in literature and spiritual texts, poems, or even songs that will be an inspirational catalyst for my week. A smattering of words have been floating around in my head as of late, and it’s funny they come from such disparate sources, but yet they share a powerful message and give me a great deal of clarity on the subject.

Here’s a few:

"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..."
~Romans 12:2

“Who says I can’t be free
From all of the things that I used to be?
Re-write my history.
Who says I can’t be free?”
~John Mayer

“Well, if you want to sing out, sing out
And if you want to be free, be free
‘Cause there’s a million things to be
You know that there are

And if you want to live high, live high
And if you want to live low, live low
‘Cause there’s a million ways to go
You know that there are…

Well if you want to say yes, say yes
And if you want to say no, say no
‘Cause there’s a million ways to go
You know that there are

And if you want to be me, be me
And if you want to be YOU, be YOU
‘Cause there’s a million things to do
You know that there are…”
~Cat Stevens

I’ve noticed several things about myself in my 27th year. I am a people pleaser. Simply put, I want to—no I have to—be genuinely liked. I hate conflict; it actually makes me sick to my stomach. And lastly, I am a hopeless perfectionist with impossible standards for myself. This combination of attributes causes me a good deal of emotional difficulty. I bristle at the thought of upsetting someone I respect or like. My mind spirals into “what ifs” if things go down an unexpected path or can’t be easily prepared for, and I am always preparing for the worst-case scenario once I enter my “stress zone.” If I have to work with difficult people, I let their bad attitudes or drama affect my well-being, or worse, I let them walk on me just to maintain some peace. So at the cost of compromising my sincere self, I have been quick to hide parts of me, bite my tongue, build walls, or even allow people (not the ones that matter, sadly) to take advantage of me or mistreat me. I think we've all done it a time or two. I know I’ve leveraged myself at the cost of making others “happy.” Well this behavior is NO MORE, my friends. I am all about respect and love and peace, but sometimes, I’ve got to grow a backbone and dare to be myself, even if it means people will talk.

So, I’m doing it! I am going to be me. I am going to protect my heart, my motives, my life, and my choices. I am going to be me, unapologetically. I am going to think for myself, speak for myself, and live my life. If it offends someone that I actually stand up to them or dare to have a differing opinion from them, so be it. We only live this life once, right? And who are we truly living it for? Strangers? Colleagues? Bosses? Acquaintances? I hope not. We are living our lives for a higher-calling, for God, for family, for our children, for ourselves. They know us; they love us, and it’s because we are who we are. So why change it, mute it, or hide it?

My mother always says, and a wise woman she is, that “even in the face of adversity or judgment, you are still God’s child.” No one can deplete or deny your humanity. So please, be you! I know that this year, I am going to be me in every circumstance because I have to believe that in being my true, authentic self, I am leaving a legacy for my future children, my family, and the ones I love most in this life…

“All my life I had been looking for something, and everywhere I turned someone tried to tell me what it was. I accepted their answers too, though they were often in contradiction and even self-contradictory. I was na├»ve. I was looking for myself and asking everyone except myself questions which I, and only I, could answer. It took me a long time and much painful boomeranging of my expectations to achieve a realization everyone else appears to have been born with: that I am nobody but myself.” ~Ralph Ellison, "Battle Royal"

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