Thursday, February 25, 2010

Words of Wisdom from the Illuminated Rumi

Words are powerful. It's how we communicate with each other; it's how we record our experiences and the world we see. And words, in perfect order and union, can lend us powerful insights and emotions we've never had before.

So for those of you who love inspirational quotes and poetry, please enjoy these nuggets of wisdom from Rumi, the highly revered Afghani poet of ancient times. I can only hope you fall in love with his words and vision as I have.

"The minute I heard my first love story, I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that was. Lovers don't finally meet somewhere. They're in each other all along."

"Reason is the shadow cast by God; God is the sun."

"God turns you from one feeling to another and teaches by means of opposites, so that you will have two wings to fly, not one."

"If you are irritated by every rub, how will you be polished?"

"O, happy is the soul that saw its own faults."

"Let the beauty of what you love be what you do."

"I want a heart which is split, part by part, because of the pain of separation from God, so that I might explain my longing and complaint to it."

"All day, I think about it; then at night I say it. Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing? I have no idea. My soul is from elsewhere; I'm sure of that, and I intend to end up there."

"Silence is an ocean. Speech is a river."

"It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I've gone and come back, I'll find it at home."

"Something opens our wings. Something makes boredom and hurt disappear. Someone fills the cup in front of us: We taste only sacredness."

"The breeze at dawn has secrets to tell you; Don't go back to sleep. You must ask for what you really want; Don't go back to sleep. People are going back and forth across the doorsill where the two worlds touch. The door is round and open. Don't go back to sleep."

"This is love: to fly toward a secret sky, to cause a hundred veils to fall each moment. First to let go of life. Finally, to take a step without feet."

"Only from the heart can you touch the sky."

"Observe the wonders as they occur around you. Don't claim them. Feel the artistry moving through and be silent."

"We come spinning out of nothingness, scattering stars like dust."

"I died a mineral, and became a plant. I died a plant and rose an animal. I died an animal, and I was man. Why should I fear? When was I less by dying?"

"Silence is the language of God; all else is poor translation."


Want more Rumi? Check out these two books of poetry and insight that I absolutely love and return to time and time again:

The Illuminated Rumi (collection of poetry and graphic art):

The Glance: Songs of Soul-Meeting (collection of poetry):

Friday, February 19, 2010

POETography: What's She Thinking?

POETography is something I am going to try to do at least once a month. I'll post a picture that was inspiring to me, and if it moves you, please post what you're thinking in words, phrases, stories, or poetry. It can be whatever comes to your mind.

So... What's she thinking? What thoughts came to your mind when you saw this picture? Comment here or at our Facebook page ( with your thoughts, your words, or your poetry.

I did a POETography about a photo of a Haitian girl after the earthquake last month, which can be found here:

Looking forward to hearing from you! PLEASE don't be a stranger... Post your thoughts. :)


*Photo from Flickr "Interesting Photos" post

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Good Friend, Find Peace

"Peace... It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart." ~ Unknown

I was having a tough time a couple years back when my family was dealing with my mother's cancer (she's in remission now, thank God). During that time, there was a period when I was consumed by the fear of the unknown. It was like a raging fire preying on a dry wood. All the stress and the wringing of hands left me frayed and unraveled. My behavior surely wasn’t bringing me peace.

But then one day at work I was given this distinct clarity; it was as if it just washed right over me, and as a result, I sat down and wrote a poem to myself in about five minutes. To this day, I come back to it from time to time, and it gives me solace. I hope—if you feel a heavy burden or are worrying about something big—that you find solace in these words too. Because, good friend, you can search out peace in all things. It’s right there waiting for you to claim it. And God reminds us that even the birds in the sky are cared for... So how can He ever forget about us? If that doesn’t bring peace to a restless soul, I am not sure what will. Please enjoy.

"Good Friend"
K.A. Phinney

Good friend,
Stop in the midst
Of your heartache
And have foresight
To know
That the over soul
Is bigger than you,
And everything
Under the sun
Will work out
Just as the rain covers
The thirsty savannah
In the midday sun.

Your troubles grow heavy,
I know.
I carry them too,
But friend
You will find
Peace tonight
If you take time
To take it all in,
All that is good
All that is just,
All that is right.
For even the birds
Of the sky
Are cared for,
So you too
Shall find peace
Inside of your angst

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Carry Your Cross

“If God brings you to it, He’ll bring you through it.”

“There’s a perfectly God-shaped hole inside all of us.”

A dear friend of mine is a youth pastor at a local Catholic church, and the other day we fell into a deep philosophical conversation about God, spirituality, and the various interpretations of God. She is a devout woman who has an impassioned heart for the Catholic Church and its youth; I am a free spirit who finds God where I am and am a bit weary of man-made institutions, but we BOTH love God and yearn to be Godly women for our families and this world. So, in short, our conversations are always robust and full of learning and respect.

So after a while, our discussion progressed to the division of burdens we all have in our lives and the different struggles each of us endure. Lately, I’ve been experiencing delayed growing pains and have been pretty distraught over my vocation and the negativity surrounding it so I shared with her my experiences and feelings over the past month. Overflowing with a gentle wisdom, my friend shared a story with me that both opened my eyes to the moment and helped me see how God may view where I am right now.

And the story goes like this (in my own words and details thrown in, of course)…

“Carry Your Cross”
by K.A. Phinney

There once was a man who was feeling very, very overwhelmed with his life and his division of burdens. He was consumed by the thoughts that his burdens were too heavy, too large, and too difficult for him to carry, and he was very upset with God for giving him a cross that he just couldn’t possibly bear.

At night, he’d tell God, “God, I can’t possible carry this cross anymore! My burdens are too much, too heavy, too large. It’s just too difficult for me, God. And I’m tired.”

And then he would wait and wait, but God just didn’t answer.

So the next day, the man was grumbling and waiting for his bus on the park bench when he overheard a woman explaining to her friend that there was a cross shop that specialized in burden replacement just around the corner. The man couldn’t believe his ears.

“Finally!” he thought. “If God doesn’t want to free me from my burdens, then I will.” So off to the cross shop he trekked, leaving the two chatting woman and the bus stop behind.

When he entered the shop, a friendly elderly man greeted him.

“Hello, Son. Can I help you?”

“Well, yes,” the burdened man replied. “This here cross I am carrying is too much for me to handle. It’s too heavy and too large. I hear you can help me with replacing it…”

“Well, of course I can. Just turn in your cross up here at the return counter, and then take a look around to find a new cross that you feel is just right for you. When you find it, bring it on up to the check out, and I’ll get you on your way.”

“That’s all?” the man thought to himself. So he left his cross with the elderly man and ventured through the aisles of the shop. Here and there, he would pause to closely examine a cross that caught his eye. One was flashy but much heavier than his last cross. Others felt lighter but were much too large, while others were both larger and heavier than the one he brought in to be rid of. So on and on it went like this until he noticed a cross hanging on the front wall he hadn’t noticed before.

He approached the cross and took it down from the wall. Compared to the others, it seemed lighter and smaller, although he couldn’t be sure. He inspected it carefully, practiced carrying around the burden in the shop, and finally determined it would do.

At the counter, the old man watched and waited patiently. “Do you think you found the cross for you?”

“Yes, I think I have. Of all the crosses in your store, I think I can deal with this one best.”

“Are you sure?” the old man asked.

“Why, yes. It’s the only one that seems to fit with what I can handle.”

The old man gave a knowing nod and smiled. He leaned over the counter and looked his patron in the eyes. “Son,” he said, “the cross in your hands now is the very one you came in with.”

The conclusion of the story rang in my ears as my friend explained its moral. The cross God gives you to bear is the very one He knows you can handle. It’s designed just for you, and you will be the one that becomes a better person because of it. Like coal under intense pressure, you will become diamonds. There isn’t another cross more perfect for you, and no one else’s cross can replace it.

So since then, when I am challenged and am feeling weak, I remember this story, and I know that I need to give it to God. He knows I can handle it, and if I get tired He is the one that will help me continue on. And in the end, it's not about the burden at all; what's important is how you bear your cross and what you learn from the journey.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Shatterproof Your Heart

Lately, I’ve been feeling like a long, thin piece of glass. The elements are whipping around, throwing up pebbles and debris, and there I stand, exposed. And little by little, they chip, chip, chip away at my exterior. The chips become fissures. The fissures become deeper cracks, and then like delicate china on a marble slab, I shatter.

That’s about where I am right now, at the shattering part. Don’t you have those moments? Moments that last days or weeks? Moments that test the fiber of who you are and the decisions you’ve made up until that instant? Though the Universe generally gives back what you give it, sometimes it seems to push you to your limits. It’s as if some invisible force is throwing every obstacle at you just to see if you are who you say you are… to test the stuff you’re made of.

When I am feeling like my heart's about to shatter, I think of a wise woman I know, and the valuable kernel of wisdom she once shared with me... wisdom that I’ll never forget…

I said to her, “Why does it feel like that no matter how much good I try to do, and sincerely, people find a way to tear it down or attack me?”

She looked at me with the compassion a mother has for her child and took a deep breath, and she explained this: “In all my years of living, I’ve learned that when I am doing something big, something really good, people come out of the woodwork to attack me… So I know I must be doing something right.”

I sort of waited for her to elaborate. And she continued. “What you’re doing at your job with those kids* and how you’re trying to live your life might ruffle some feathers, but that’s because you’re happy and you stand for something, and people who aren’t happy will look for ways to put chinks in your armor.”

Then I got it. And I haven’t forgotten it since. As long as we are trying to live above the fray… as long as we stand for something BIG… as long as we strive to live with our hearts on our sleeves and happiness on our faces, we are going to be challenged. There will always be someone—an enemy, an acquaintance, a colleague, a boss, or even a friend—waiting in the wings to swoop in and spoil your joy. Don’t let them! Hold your head up high and carry yourself with dignity and grace. One day, when you look over your shoulder, you will know you were the best version of yourself in all circumstances… and above all; you will be able to live with no regrets.

So even though I feel like I am on the verge of shattering, I am going to make it my journey to seal up the cracks and firm up the armor of my heart. I know it's a good one, and I intend to make it shatterproof. I never want to have the misfortune of looking over my shoulder only to learn that I walked away from something that was bigger than me because I couldn’t take the heat or that I could have stood to give more grace in the heat of the moment.

So in closing, my friends, I will leave you with the wise words of the 70's rock band Argent:

And if it's bad
Don't let it get you down,
You can take it.
And if it hurts
Don't let them see you cry,
You can make it.

Hold your head up, oh.
Hold your head high.

And if they stare
Just let them burn their eyes
On you moving.
And if they shout
Don't let it change a thing
That you're doing.

Hold your head up, oh.
Hold your head high.


*For those of you new to The Universal Soul, I am a high school English and journalism teacher. I see the full spectrum of students: upper class children from the suburbs to inner-city children from downtown Tampa who are bussed into the school.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Stories: A Love Letter

I’m a writer. My words are how I give to others. They’re all I have and all I know. So to be in the spirit of Valentine’s Day (although many of us would agree we don’t need a day to remind us of how special our loved ones are), I share one of many love letters I’ve written to the man in my life, a man that has loved me thoroughly and purely for over ten years now. If anything, I hope it might reignite your passion for your longtime love. Or perhaps it may get you thinking about the beautiful stories you share with your lover and the entangled path you’ll walk along together until death has its way. But I am sure, as Elizabeth Bennet Browning once wrote, that you “shall but love them better after death.” So here's to a year of love and cheers to the stories we share.

My Love,

It seems to me that some couples grow tired of each other once they know each other’s stories. It’s as if they were intoxicated by the mystery of that person and not in love with the person themselves. If they were truly taken by their mate then they would fall further into the ravine of adoration, but instead they’re climbing out of it. There are so many stories to know, and it seems that it takes years upon years to truly know them all. Knowing all your stories doesn’t make me lose interest in your mystery or love you less because you are an open book to me. Knowing your stories makes me love you more. I take joy and even pride in knowing most anything and everything about you.

After spending so many years with someone, “so close that your hand on my chest is my hand, so close that your eyes close as I fall asleep,” the stories you learn about them become a part of you.* When I look at you, I see layers of stories and details and memories, which all amount to the most priceless, incontrovertible love. And in time, those stories become mine. And in time, we make those stories together.

It’s the little stories and details about you that I love most. I know the stories of your scars: falling on a fence, an ornery cat, your teeth coming through your bottom lip. And the unseen: having your heart broken by broken promises, being let down by others, feeling betrayed by the ones you trusted most. I know the way you sleep, the way you dream, the way you wake. And in those moments, you illicit from me a smile, a laugh, and a peaceful mind. I know that good food, a good movie, a good wine, and a good laugh are all paramount to you. When I hear you say “my wife,” or my name, or “almost ten years,” I can’t help but to smile inside; I’m sure it radiates the words “I have you.”

I am the one that is blessed to be with you as the story of your life unfolds. I am the lucky one to be a part of your story, to know it, to construct it along side you. And when you die, I just might be the last person you gaze at and speak to and make promises to. And when your storybook closes, I will be there, in the last chapter of your life. I will be your “…and they lived happily ever after.”

With undying love,
Your wife

*Excerpt from Pablo Neruda’s “Sonnet XVII”

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I Love You This Much: When Our Best Intentions Are Shattered

A long, long time ago, I was told a story that was so powerful to the person I was at the time that I’ve been carrying around its message ever since. I can’t really remember its details, where I heard it, or even who told it; I just know its premise and its lesson. So here I am, telling a story I only halfway remember in my own words and with my own little details along the way. No matter its variations from the original anecdote, I am sure the heart of the message will be the same. Maybe you’ve heard the tale before too. I hope it speaks to your spirit as it did mine.

“I Love You This Much”
By K.A. Phinney

There once was a little boy who loved his mother so very much. In fact, he loved her so deeply that he was inspired, in the way five year olds are, to give his mommy something very special.

So he set out about his days, making a grand plan. The little boy wanted something absolutely beautiful to give to his mother so he could truly show her just how much he loved her, but he knew (at such a tender age) that he had no means to speak of. So instead, he reviewed in his mind all of the things within his reach that his mother truly loved… beautiful things. He knew she loved animals, books, and sewing. But he couldn’t do anything with those things. So he mused on.

And then he had a miniature epiphany. There were two things his mother loved more than anything. For generations, there was one possession that even this little boy had already grown to respect and cherish, just as his mother did. The white porcelain and blue filigree antique vase that sat erect, pristine, and untouched at the top of his mother’s hutch in the dinning room. He knew she loved it so, but was confused by the fact that she never touched it. After all, he truly loved his toys and made sure to play with them all the time, until they were tired and needed replacing even.

His mother loved one more thing a great, great deal. In her free time from her duties around the home and raising her son, she could be found in one place and one place only… her garden. In her garden, the little boy’s mother grew all types of vibrant colored flowers. Throughout the spring and summer there were often daises and roses and tulips. There were geraniums and lilies too. And when his mother wasn’t tending her garden, she would relax in a lawn chair with a mystery book of sorts and take in the beauty of her work.

So now it was all very clear to the boy. When his mother was busy, because it had to be a secret of course, he would sneak out into his mother’s garden and cut down the most beautiful flowers that were offered. Then he would climb up a big chair, stand on his tippy tippy toes, reach as far as he could, and take down that beautiful vase. And finally, he’d clean the dust from the vase and put the flowers into its beautiful mouth. When his mother would come into the room, she’d see her beloved vase full of an array of breathtaking flowers sitting atop the dinning room table. Then and only then, the little boy thought with flooding joy, his mommy would see just how much he loved her.

When the timing was right, as his mother was busy folding laundry upstairs in her bedroom, the little boy set to work. He found the garden sheers and slipped out the back door. He clipped, clipped, clipped, taking down several delicate flower heads from their respective bushes. He gathered his findings, and slipped back inside the house. Now he was dragging a chair across the sticky carpet to the front of the towering hutch. He had to work fast and quietly so his mommy wouldn’t come and see what he was doing before he was ready to show her how much he loved her. He positioned the chair just so and began to climb its woody legs and back. The vase was almost in reach. Higher and higher his little arms outstretched as he wiggled his fingers in earnest, just brushing the bust of the vase with their tips. One more try he thought, as he inhaled and pushed his toes to their tippy tips. This time his finger clasped the vase. An instant smile leapt between his cheeks but was quickly chased away. The vase was far heavier than the little boy expected, and it slipped from his finger and began to teeter. Back and forth it went until it lost its balance entirely. The boy let out a gasp and then a tearful cry.

“Mommy!” he cried as he watched the vase tip slowly, bump off the ledge of the hutch, and hurl for the ground.

His mother heard a crash and came hurdling down the stairs.

“Michael!” she cried out. “What are you doing?”

“I’m sorry, Mommy. I didn’t mean it.”

“What happened?”

The little boy crawled down from the chair and ran into his mother’s arms. She stood frozen in shock, but embraced him as her own nonetheless.

“I-I-I…” The boy was crying uncontrollably. “I wanted to show you how much I loved you…”

His mother took stock of the scene before her. There was a chair, an opened back door, a shattered heirloom, and her garden flowers scattered across the dinning room table. The story all came together, and she understood her little one’s intentions. How could she be angry? How could she find fault in his motives?

The little boy was tense and shivered as he gripped his little arms around her hips. “I’m sorry, Mommy. Please don’t be mad.”

She took a deep breath and briefly mourned the loss of her priceless vase that rested in a million little pieces upon the floor. And in that moment, the feelings of displeasure were gone. She stooped down and scooped her little boy into her arms.

“Honey, I’m not mad at you. You never meant to break my vase. You wanted to give me pretty flowers in my favorite thing, didn’t you?”

“Yes, Mommy, yes,” He cooed.

“Then I could never be angry about that. I see how much you love me.”

“I do. I love you this much, Mommy.” And with that, the little boy stretched out his arms to show her just how much, and hugged her around the neck.

And before she knew it, the little boy's mother was the one crying. But unlike the boy's, her tears were for joy.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Power of Peace (Part III): The True Health Benefits of Relaxation- Yoga 101

“Yoga releases the creative potential in life… and is the union of the individual self and the universal self.” ~ From B.K.S. Iyengar’s Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health

A while back, I wrote to you all about the power of relaxation in your life, and I mentioned that yoga was one of the very best relaxation techniques out there: Part I: Part II:
The more I learn, the more it seems that yoga is a topic with infinite possibilities and infinite knowledge to obtain. I am still sort of new to the yoga scene myself, so I’ve been doing some digging on my own around the web and in the writings of B.K.S. Iyengar’s definitive volume Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health.

And as promised, February’s first post is dedicated to you, my faithful readers. You voted for yoga as the post topic, so I hope you enjoy this little journey into some of the basics of yoga and what it does for your health. Namaste.

Historical Tidbits:

First, most of you know that yoga originates from India and roots itself in the religions of Hinduism, Jainism, and most popularly, Buddhism. But did you know what it literally means? Yoga means “to unite” or “to contemplate,” making its purpose that much more understandable to its followers. The entire intention of yoga is to unite the body with the soul and to contemplate existence and higher living.

In western culture, yoga is typically associated with Hatha (forceful) yoga, which includes the states of asanas and pranayamas. As you may already know, asanas are the physical poses or postures we strive to master during our yoga sessions, whereas the pranayamas deal with our breath or “subtle energy control” as it is described by many yogis during our poses. In the West, Hatha yoga is predominately practiced for its stress-relieving powers, but more and more, westerners are becoming interested in the spiritual facets of yoga as well, meaning yoga isn’t just to be practiced on the mat, but also in every step we take in our day-to-day lives. As Prashant Iyengar explains, “Yoga, once the domain of a select few, is now universally practiced. Its popularity can be attributed to its therapeutic effects on both the mind and the body, enabling practitioners to enjoy a profound sense of well-being.” And as a result, yoga courses and yogi literature are becoming exceedingly popular among people who are looking for a better way to live. The ultimate goal of Hatha yoga is to achieve a withdrawing the senses and an oneness of breath and body on the mat, and for this union between body and mind to be carried with us wherever we go and through whatever we might experience.

“Yoga is a light, which once lit, will never dim. The better your practice, the brighter the flame.” ~ From B.K.S. Iyengar’s Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health

Health Benefits:

If practiced regularly and correctly, yoga promises harmony of body and mind to its practitioner. It lends the body good health. First, as you know, yoga relieves stress, and stress is a silent killer, as I discussed in Part I of this series. And believe it or not, yoga is a stimulative exercise. Mistakenly, many people who have never given it a try view yoga as a physical activity that is “light” or ineffective. In fact, many other exercises are irritants, leaving the body exhausted or in the need of mending. Yoga leaves the body energized and invigorated, which makes it one of the very best things you can do for your body.

In fact, if you have an ailment, chances are yoga can heal it, decrease it, or soothe it. Yoga can help with heart and circulation problems, such as high and low blood pressure, varicose veins, blocked arteries, and heart attack. It is also very effective with respiratory woes, such as colds, breathlessness, sinusitis, and asthma. It can relieve gas, constipation, menstrual aches and pains, irritable bowel syndrome, and diarrhea. And most unbelievably it can rework your entire immune system and even help with infertility, according to Iyengar and many other yogis. And truly, the list can go on and on, as I’ve just named a handful of things that yoga has been proven to address.

Where to Go for More:

If you are interested in learning the particular poses that heal these ailments and more, please read Yoga: The Path to Holistic Health; it’s all there in this comprehensive best-seller. Also, if you’ve found a wonderful source on yoga, please feel free to share it here or at our Facebook page.

If you’re feeling pain and soreness due to stress, please try these five stress-busting yoga moves for you from The Universal Soul:

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