Friday, December 23, 2011

The Currency of True Self

No. I’m not taking about dollars, yens, or euros (that’d be a whole different blog)... Although, I am taking about exchange and how we “buy” and “sell” and even “trade.”

In our lives, I believe we all choose our currency (few do it carefully, while most allow the culture to do the choosing for them). And with this currency, we go out into the world of relationships to buy, sell, and trade. We use our currency to gain friendships, respect, and romance. We use it to define our position and purpose. For some, their currency is wit. For others, it’s cunning. And for some, it’s intimidation. Really, the list could go on and on…

But the way our society is, it is very easy to feel that above all, beauty and material wealth are the currencies of our nation. Everywhere we look, we are bombarded with images of sensual men and overly-sexualized women, all of which are under the age of thirty. We are inundated with fantasies of affluence and power and are made to feel that those traits are our own currency, our crowning achievement, our highest calling.

If we are unthinking, it’s all too easy to allow the magazines, movies, and television to do the picking for us. The message is ubiquitous and unceasing. But what if we rejected it? What if we went about our lives with the currency we alone created for ourselves? And what if we helped others to discover their true currency as well?

To know your real currency, your true self (or as the Buddhists call it, ātman), one must truly look within their own nature. Your currency must 1) come from your natural state, 2) be timeless, and 3) be without worldly trappings.

1)    To know your natural state, one must look within themselves without the attachment of their roles and exterior definitions. Who are you, really? Not, what are you? For example I am a teacher and photographer… But who am I? I am a helper and an artist. Those traits will not change no matter my role or station in life. They are the fabric of my soul.

2)    For your currency to be timeless, it cannot rely on your age or youth. It must be a nature you possess now and forever. Beauty cannot be a true currency, as it only lasts a portion of your life. And you, my friend, were not the maker of your beauty. Your true currency must be cultivated by you. Your beauty is a blessing of good genes.

3)    True currency cannot come with exterior trappings that limit you or shape who you think you are. Your true self comes from within, and from this comes your currency for the world. A large home or a bountiful financial position is wonderful to share with others. But tomorrow a storm could come and carry it all away. Then what will your currency be?

So now, my friend, you must go about finding and defining your currency. And once you know, use them in your relationships with people, nature, and the Universe. Work to cultivate them and sharpen them. Use them in love, in pursuit, in selflessness. These currencies are your true self. It is a beautiful self, a more meaningful self.

This world is always changing, and so are you. The man or woman you see in the mirror today will not be there ten or twenty years from now. The jobs, wealth, physical characteristics, and roles you may perceive as “self” today, could be gone tomorrow. Instead of gripping onto this surface currency, learn to release it. Then go about the work of cultivating your true self, the one that is natural, timeless, and without the trappings of this exterior world.

And what’s magical, and exceedingly so, is that when you go out into this world with your real currency, your true self, you will be embraced by people just like you. You will be seen for exactly who you are, not what you are. And if you are not, be at peace; for the people who are oblivious to you, are often blinded by their own stumbling.  

May your new year be bright!

Peace and love,
The Universal Soul

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Thousand Words...

Over the past few months, I've thrown myself into my photography business and improving my craft... Here are a couple photos from the road that merge the art of photography and poetry together... Enjoy!

*All photos are property of K.A. Phinney.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Find Joy Now: Mindfulness and Non-judging

Don’t wait for joy to find you. Allow the perceptions of your daily life to shift from a dreary autopilot to a dynamic actor at center-stage. Allow yourself to shape your own mind, rather than allowing your circumstances to shape it for you. You can do this with mindfulness and an attitude of non-judging.

Start with mindfulness in the little things.  When you are washing the dishes, only think about the simple act of scrubbing. Take in the fragrance of the soap and feel the warm bubbles on your skin. Don’t fret about your nagging list of “to dos.” Be in the moment, for the future will care for itself. Only meditate in the absolute simplicity of the here and now. 

Other “mindless” tasks that can become mindful:

1.      Picking up after your children: Instead of becoming overwhelmed by the monotony of picking up the same ten toys for the tenth day in a row, count your blessings. Each toy was afforded by your financial ability or from a loving family member or friend. Think of that instead. Or, think about how each of those toys gave your child joy today.

2.      Making your bed: Like I’ve posted before, making your bed can get a little old. We do it every day, right? Instead of rushing through the familiar motions, thank God that you have a warm bed to sleep in. Never forget that millions of people don’t…

3.      Preparing dinner: Some people LOVE to cook, so they are already mindful. Their pure joy and passion already makes them a mindful cook. But for those of us who aren’t Julia Childs, we need to learn to be mindful for the evolution of food. We are blessed it is so widely available, as millions of people can’t count on their next meal. Healthy food choices nourish our bodies and souls. When we are cutting or dicing or chopping or cleaning, we can take joy in those small steps which will lead to a meal. And that meal brings our family and friends together. Be mindful that it is a blessing and that it is an investment in your loved ones health and happiness.

The next crucial step is to practice approaching difficult tasks and challenges with a non-judging attitude. Our mind tells our emotions what to feel and our body how to act. If we have a peaceful mindfulness in our dealings with others, we will be fully present and in control. When we practice non-judging we will be less likely to spiral into a fit of anxiety or irritability. And we will be more likely to achieve a comforting homeostasis in a raging storm.

Non-judging tasks and challenges:

1.       Traffic jams: Every day that you leave in your vehicle, especially in a busy city, you are leaving your realm of control and entering the beehive of society. It is inevitable that you will get stuck in traffic, be cut-off, or experience a fender-bender. It is hard to accept, but we often have no control over these circumstances. So rather than allowing your brain to judge the traffic as something that angers you or tests your patience, allow yourself to think nothing at all of the traffic. Create a bubble around yourself. Listen to music or talk radio that calms you and puts your mind on higher things. Simply focus on being the best driver you can be, and when traffic gets bad or someone cuts you off, allow it to have no effect on you. Continue to be non-judging and be certain you are only emitting positive energy into the world.

2.       Angry co-worker: This is a tough one. You colleague is a difficult person, maybe an erratic ticking-time bomb. They are confrontational and quick to call you out. Instead on allowing their toxic energy to suck you in, practicing non-judging. Deny your ego’s kneejerk reaction to engage or make harsh judgments. This only puts out more negative energy and gives an abundance of air to an already fiery entity. Instead, accept that that behavior is your colleague’s way. It is not yours. Limit your interactions and never return their low-blows with a similar energy. Ignore their nasty e-mails, or if you must, reply in a neutral tone. As hard as it may be, work at understanding your angry colleague rather than judging them. There is certainly a decaying burden at the root of their anger.

3.       Challenging family members: Family is, well, complicated. We get caught up in our roles, our complicated histories, and unfulfilled expectations. Because of these intricacies, we have scars and open wounds. Instead of making a judgment on your family member’s choices or lifestyle, try to understand them. If your father has never shown your affection or validation, don’t allow your ego to judge him an inept man. He may not fulfill your rightful needs, but there is still goodness to be found. Try instead to understand him and his life-view. Look into his past, and you may find a glimpse of clarity that allows for your understanding. Let this understanding bring you the peace to rise above the difficulties of an imperfect relationship and give you the validation you so desperately seek.

In the end, mindfulness and non-judging are choices we must make. They determine the world we see and the life we will live. So much of this great Earth is uncontrollable.  And our mind, which is the map for our spirits, is the only thing we can control. We must choose our prism and the space our soul will inhabit.

Peace and blessings to you on this beautiful day,
The Universal Soul

Monday, October 31, 2011


I haven't left you all... I am just growing.
My love of words and thought and beauty has spilled over into photography.
You can find me here too:
Please visit and follow me! I'd love to have you.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Pencil it in…

Sometimes I get in my own way.

My thoughts bog me down. My worries become a stronghold. My “to do” list becomes a tyrant. And in the midst of it all, I tell myself a lie: there’s no time for inspiration. There’s no time to sit. No time to write. No time to read. No time to play my guitar. No time to meditate or pray.

I am really good at working the perpetual state of “go-go-go.” I think we all are because that’s the lives we’re living. But what if we’re wrong? What if this rat race is the lie?

A couple weeks ago I wrote about finding every excuse to embrace life as the beautiful, fleeting thing that it is… My heart knows this. My mind knows this. But apparently, my schedule doesn’t.

Looks like my schedule and I need to talk…

But, the bottom line is: there is time for inspiration. It’s all around us. We just have to make time for it. I wish it were as easy as penciling it in:

Monday 5:00-7:00 p.m. meet Inspiration at the park


Sunday 7:15-8:00 p.m. curl up with Inspiration

But then again, what if it were that easy? Life is merely time, isn’t it? So if that’s all it is, then why don’t we start making time to live life? What can’t we find some time for inspiration in every day? We’re good at making time for everything else...

Maybe what inspires you is different from me, but what matters is that we move time for ourselves to the top of the “to do” list. What are the things that make you feel alive? What makes you sigh deeply with satisfaction? Is it reading to your small child? Running solo as the sun sets over the orange sky? Working at a soup kitchen? Figure it out (like I am), and pencil in some time for yourself to get inspired.

When we’re inspired we operate at our highest forms of ourselves. We are light. We are air. We are dynamic. And when we are full of life and inspiration, people take notice. We draw others to ourselves because we are in balance. Life’s joys expand.

So turn off the television. Shut off the computer. Let the “to do” list wait. Let’s make it a point to be inspired every day. Let’s pencil it in, as funny as that sounds…

This week, let inspiration be your new priority.

Let the light in.

Let your life become an art form.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Guest Post: "Imagine"

Below is a beautiful poem submitted by one or our readers. It's spiritual and incredibly inspiring. Please enjoy this piece and feel warmly encouraged to submit your writing or poetry to

By Lauren Madsen

Here I find myself basking in the aesthetics of my mind’s playground:

I doodle with my thoughts on the sketchpad of my imagination.

I'm contemplating in the mirror.
The reflection staring back at me penetrates my soul
With ravenous eyes seeking out the optimism in life’s creations.

Confide in me your secrets and let the wind whisk them away in a graceful bliss.

I float along in this celestial slice of heaven.
Angels nurture my emotions and guide me on this path to self actualization.

The chirping of the birds ignites a hungry fire ablaze in my heart.

I am a butterfly fluttering around in this ubiquitous concept on conformity.
We are all pieces that mold together to create this mundane society.

I learn to adapt by persevering through whatever maelstrom of trials life thrusts at me.
This undulating stream of hopes and dreams drowns me in revelry of happiness.

The rustling of the leaves serenades me like the strings of a guitar.

Listen to the sweet melancholy in this peaceful calm.

On it echoes,
on and on...

Sunday, October 2, 2011

And THIS is Life…

Today, a little girl was born and an old woman waited at the steps of Heaven.

At just after midnight, the message came: one of my best friends was in labor. She gave birth to a beautiful baby girl just after 5:00 a.m. this morning. Madison Therese. Beautiful.

Then, just after noon today, another message came. My mother called to tell me that our dear elderly friend at her church was finally losing her arduous battle to COPD. Ann. Beautiful Ann.

So today, I cried. Tears of joy and sorrow too. And I thought, "And this is life..." THIS, my friend, is life. In one minute, a child is born into the world. Pink, innocent expectations. And in the next, someone is leaving it, slipping away like the last seconds of night.

Life. It’s a bittersweet coming and going. It’s poetic in its very makings. We are tugged one way, and then pulled the other. We laugh so hard that it hurts. Then we hurt so hard we have to laugh. Sometimes the happiness is so abundant and all-consuming that anguish feels like impossibility. Then sometimes the pain is so gut-wrenching we feel like we’ll never leave the valley of grief.

Ying and yang. Ups and downs. Inside-out and outside-in.

But this is life. Whatever it is. Whatever it is not.

There’s something so much more epic and mysterious than I can intellectualize about today’s happenings. It's so much bigger than me. But what I can take away from it is that perhaps the beauty Ann radiated will be funneled through Baby Madison. Maybe that’s the cycle of the Universe. The doings of God.

Perhaps beauty doesn’t ever die. Maybe it’s reinvented. Renewed. Relived.

Every time I look at Madison, I’ll think of Ann. When she does something new or squeals with unbridled joy, I’ll think of Ann. Somehow they’re connected for me now.

But then again, perhaps we all are.

And that’s the way of the Universe. The doings of God.



P.S. May God be with Baby Madison and Ann tonight, whenever they are. Amen.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Find EVERY Excuse!

I had faith that the writing would come back when the time was right. Today, a divine thought popped into my mind. A little whisper hummed in my ear, and it went like this: Find every excuse to absolutely LOVE your life because it’s the only one you’ll ever have.

Clichéd? Perhaps. But how many clichés are just that… until you actually live them or connect with them? It’s funny, actually. I’ve heard “Life’s a gift; that’s why it’s called the present” a million times… But today, the idea of finding an excuse to absolutely LOVE my life spoke to me in a way that just grabbed me. I’ve been feeling this for a while, but finally the words came, and I guess I had to share this epiphany with you… my five readers!

It seems that most days, we are in survival mode… The sun peaks, orange in its burning glory, over the horizon, and we are off… Buzzing at a million miles per hour until the sun sets and the moon is hung among the stars. Then tomorrow, it all begins again. How many times have you said, “Whew! So glad I survived that week!”? I know I’m guilty of it…

Instead of merely surviving, we need to be thriving… We need to find every excuse to absolutely LOVE our lives… They come only once… And the happiness, and the joy, and the peace are the gems we must find and nourish. So how do we do that?

Well I sure don’t have all the answers, but here are some tips I’ve learned work for me and some ideas I’ve collected from various places:

1) Be in the moment and no place else. Worrying about what will be steals your joy and worrying never made anything any easier. “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life… Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” –Matthew 6:25-27
2) Find joy in the simplicity of daily tasks. Every day, I make my bed (Mom would be proud). I used to hate it (maybe she wouldn’t be proud about that). But now, I have some beautiful red, purple, and brown stripped throw pillows that make me smile. When I make my bed I take my time and place them just so on top, and I get a little joy from the final product. When I go to sleep at night, I thank God for a warm, safe bed to sleep in as I pull down the covers. Simple task, but infinite joy. Think of your daily tasks, and find a way to squeeze the joy out of them.
3) Create a life soundtrack (for the moment). Music is exceedingly powerful. It soothes us. It connects us. It empowers us. All these feelings shape the human experience. Why not be sure your favorite songs are at your fingertips? Take time to make a soundtrack of songs that bring you joy, make you think, or remind you about the things you need to think on most. Play them in your car, as you work out, or before you go to sleep… It will make a huge difference and take your mind off things that keep you from reveling in your precious life.
4) Make a Gives Me Hope List. So many times, we fixate on what we don’t have or what people do that drives us nuts. Sometimes we’re consumed by shortcomings, disappointments, and the wars waged throughout the world. It’s important we acknowledge these things, but if it’s all we allow ourselves to think about, then we tend to forget about all the things that give us hope. At the end of each night or week, generate a “Gives Me Hope List.” Here’s my example: Last week I saw a girl stop in the hallway to help a student in a wheelchair gather the books that fell from his lap as the crowd just rushed passed him. Her compassion for those who need it most gives me hope. Check out to see more of what I mean.

There are plenty more things we can do to be certain we find the maximum joy and love in our fleeting lives. There’s really no excuse that we shouldn’t. Even when it’s as bad as you think it can get, look deep within yourself and into the eyes of the people that love you, and I am certain you will find something to live for.

So what things do you do to absolutely LOVE life? Please share!

I'm so glad we could talk again. Please come back soon! I think I have some new things bumping around in my mind that might be worthy to share with you.

Peace and love,


Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Coming Up for Air and Broken-down Trains...

I am normally orbiting in the abstract, daydream world where I can theorize or meditate on just about anything. A leaf drifting on the wind means something to me, and I’ve always been all too good about neglecting the menial tasks of life for “higher pursuits” (Just ask my family about this one!).

And though some of us may be completely content with being ethereal, sometimes life on Earth grabs you by your belt loops and drags you back down to the land of the living…

It’s like reality is a really possessive ex-boyfriend, and he wants you back.

As I wrote in my “Forgive Me?” letter last week, life was having its way with me. Which means that I went from thriving to surviving. And when that happens, as you well know, you sort of lose a bit of control, a bit of your sanity. And that means you certainly neglect making time for the quiet time or the time when you come up for air.

But coming up for air is a mandatory luxury, isn’t it?

So what did I do when I stopped coming up for air? Well, I buried myself even further beneath the suffocations of work, household chores, and mindless consumption (Oreos, American Idol, and Entertainment Weekly). But of course you can insert some family dramas, a couple of serious illnesses, and a major readjustment or two between the Oreos and the Entertainment Weekly. Those experiences were the major reasons I turned to the said Oreos (double-stuffed, to be exact). And besides, who doesn’t like the much nicer, kinder American Idol?

All kidding aside, my dry spell meant that my guitar practice and song writing stopped. My novel ceased. My yoga was stuck in child's pose. Even my poetry dried up (insert shedding of tear). Heck, the closest thing to creativity was my sing-alongs to Pandora radio... Until Jack saved me.

That’s Mr. Jack Johnson, to be exact. On one of my many long, insipid days I was listening to Pandora Radio as I was grading one of about 100 English honors essays on cultural conflict in the Middle East and the world at large and the thematic connections in our cannon of literature...

I was frazzled and overwhelmed by the monotonous workload and the dullness in my joints... And that’s when Jack spoke to me. He said he’d been there to… In his song “Breakdown,” Jack Johnson was me…

I hope this old train breaks down
Then I could take a walk around
And, see what there is to see
And time is just a melody
All the people in the street
Walk as fast as their feet can take them
I just roll through town
And though my windows got a view
The frame I'm looking through
Seems to have no concern for now
So for now

I need this
Old train to breakdown
Oh please just
Let me please breakdown

This engine screams out loud
Centipede gonna crawl westbound
So I don't even make a sound
Cause it's gonna sting me when I leave this town
All the people in the street
That I'll never get to meet
If these tracks don't bend somehow
And I got no time
That I got to get to
Where I don't need to be
So I

I need this
Old train to breakdown
Oh please just
Let me please breakdown
I need this
Old train to breakdown
Oh please just
Let me please breakdown
I wanna break on down
But I cant stop now
Let me break on down

But you cant stop nothing
If you got no control
Of the thoughts in your mind
That you kept in, you know
You don't know nothing
But you don't need to know
The wisdoms in the trees
Not the glass windows
You cant stop wishing
If you don't let go
But things that you find
And you lose, and you know
You keep on rolling
Put the moment on hold
The frames too bright
So put the blinds down low

I need this
Old train to breakdown
Oh please just
Let me please breakdown
I need this
Old train to breakdown
Oh please just
Let me please breakdown
I wanna break on down
But I cant stop now

Jack was tired and drained, and he just wanted the train to breakdown so he could stop and smell the roses. He wanted the rushing and the flashing and the hastening to stop so he could just be; he wanted to chill and count his blessings.

And that’s me. Heck, that's all of us! That’s what we all want. And this song reminded me that I don’t need to wish for the train to breakdown so I can come up for air. I need to make it breakdown! So I got to work...

I am still working... And I'll be a work in progress until my last breath. Good thing there’s absolutely nothing wrong with wishing for a broken-down train and that we're entitled to stop and smell the roses of the Universe. Truly, it's a disservice to our humanity when we don't, and it's a disservice to God's miraculous handiwork.

That's the lesson I've learned lately.

So here's to coming up for air and broken-down trains... Here's to going nowhere... Here's to standing still... and just breathing. And thank you, my surfer-hippy-guitar guru dude, for inspiring me to “break on down.” And here's hoping you "break on down" too.

Namaste. ;)

Listen to "Breakdown" here:

Death is Nothing at All

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away to the next room.
I am I and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
That, we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name.
Speak to me in the easy way
which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me. Pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word
that it always was.
Let it be spoken without effect.
Without the trace of a shadow on it.

Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same that it ever was.
There is absolute unbroken continuity.
Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you.
For an interval.
Somewhere. Very near.
Just around the corner.

All is well.

--Henry Scott Holland

R.I.P. to the ones we have lost... Godspeed.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Forgive Me?

Dear Friendly Soul,

I know I’ve been missing, but I hope you can forgive me… Life sort of got away from me for a bit. Or maybe I poured myself dry. I’m not entirely sure.

They say still waters run deep, but it seems we writers suffer from an empty well every now and again, even when we’re still… Oh, who am I kidding? That’s just plain fancy-talk for, “Hello, my name is the Universal Soul, and I’ve been suffering from writer’s block.”

My hiatus from our virtual corner in the world (since Thanksgiving… yikes) would be diagnosed as writer’s block by any common physician; however, my symptoms are a bit more complicated, as all good writers know. To boil them all down into one mother-symptom, I must confess I’ve been spreading myself too thin. Amid all the work, family functions, work, friendship fixes, illnesses, and work… I’ve forgotten (and even neglected) to breathe, to sit, to stare off into the wild blue yonder... and to write to you.

To be honest, I actually thought I lost my mojo (Did I just use the word mojo?)… I’m still not convinced that I didn’t, but I am hoping my few remaining fans are still out there and are reading this (Miracles anyone?)… And I surely hope you’ll have me back, not to mention find a way to forgive my stop-and-go writing and the mediocre musings that are sure to bleed out of my pen moving forward…

Then maybe we can get to the good stuff again… Since that’s what it’s all about…

Yours Truly,
The Universal Soul

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