Monday, September 1, 2014

Pruning: Not Just For Plants -- How You Can Benefit

Spiritography Day 1: Imaging the Sacred in Everyday Life

Photography is one of my spiritual practices. Though I am but a mere amateur, I enjoy the challenge of trying to capture a reflection of the transcendental. Photography allows me to find the sacred in the ordinary. It's not about the product; it's about the process. Whenever I view the world through a camera lens, my mind quiets, my body slows, and my appreciation deepens. It serves as an effective form of meditation and contemplation. The camera's eye becomes my eye and together we compose and capture moments that would otherwise go unnoticed.

Pruning Shears and Coreopsis by Penny McDaniel
"Pruning Shears and Coreopsis" by Penny McDaniel
In "Pruning Shears and Coreopsis" above, I was struck by the contrast between the shadows and light, the harshness of the shears baring jagged teeth juxtaposed with the frailty of the flowers sprawled on the ground. But in their frailty, the flowers seem to embrace -- almost forgive -- the shears for their "assault."

And so transcendence begins.

We deal with our fair share of pruning on the spiritual path and it hurts like hell at times, but it is necessary to improve our overall spiritual health. If we are honest with ourselves about our lives, we will find that there are areas that siphon off our nourishment and prevent us from growing and living an abundant life. Sometimes we need to refocus our efforts, energy, and gifting; pruning allows us to redirect our spiritual growth into other areas where we'll be more effective.

Sometimes we have to cut away any relationships, attitudes, behaviors, habits, and beliefs that are spiritually sick or dead.

Sometimes we must cut away anything that is unnecessary, distracts us, or clutters the spiritual process. If it's unfruitful, it can't serve us or our highest good.

Take a good look at your lifestyle and any conflicts that may have arisen. Which habits, beliefs, or attitudes are you holding that may have given rise to these conflicts? When we let our ego run the show, our inner world becomes distorted and disillusioned. We start to live according to an image we want to protect, thus causing separation on many levels. If we want to live a more simplified and unified life, we must seek to make the necessary changes, no matter how difficult or frightening they may appear. Deep down, we know what needs to be done if we want to find the connected thread that subtly unites the moments of our lives.

I shuddered at the thought of taking shears to my coreopsis plants because they had bloomed so beautifully throughout summer, but they were beginning to look haggard and were blooming less and less. If I wanted them to thrive again, I knew I had to cut them back, and now a few weeks later, they are blooming abundantly, even more so than they were in the beginning of the season. The flowers didn't cry or complain about the process; they simply accepted it as part of their blooming potential, a lesson not so readily accepted by me in my own life at times.

"Coreopsis in Bloom"
Pruning doesn't only involve cutting away the dead branches of our lives; it involves cutting off some of the healthy branches as well, forcing us to focus on our roots -- our priorities and our values. Sometimes we are spread so thin in many areas that we can't concentrate on fully growing in one area. If this is the case, then the wisest action is removing something that is preventing what we want more of, rather than adding more to our plates. Less becomes more, and space opens up to areas that can make a bigger and better difference in our lives.

Pruning our lives is a spiritual discipline that helps us cut back to grow more and create the results we most desire.

We have the power to change ourselves in any given moment, and when we do, our relationship with everything around us begins to change.

Give your life a healthy trim. Cut out the superfluous parts that no longer serve you.

What are the heavy boughs or empty branches that are weighing down your life?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Photography as a Spiritual Practice?

As a spiritual woman, I try to bring awareness to everything that I do.

I'm always looking for new or deeper ways of expressing spirituality.

One of those ways is through photography. I use the act of photography as a tool for self-discovery and a method of journey in my faith. It's a fun and creative way of engaging with our world from a spiritual perspective. It's about finding the beauty and the sacred in the ordinary.

They say you are what you eat, or you are what you think. You are also what you write and what you photograph. We cannot separate ourselves from that which we do because we are always putting ourselves into whatever it is we are doing.

For the Ultra Blog Challenge which commences September 1, I will take you on a spiritual adventure through photography and the words each photograph inspires. Join me for 31 Days of Spiritography: Imaging the Sacred in Everyday Life.

Pelican at sunset over the Gulf by Penny McDaniel.
Silhouette of pelican at sunset over the Gulf of Mexico by Penny McDaniel

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Changing Your Consciousness Filter

Everyone wants to be happy.

If you're not happy, it's not because you don't have the right job, car, or house.

It's because you don't have the right attitude or belief.

Do you find yourself wanting what others have?

Do you bitterly compare yourself to those who've achieved what you haven't?

Do you embrace the self-destructive premise that only certain objects can bring you joy?

If so, then you are destined to live a life of misery, unless you make some much-needed changes.

The good news is that you have the power to change it all.

It's your beliefs, not your material goods that bring you pleasure. If that which you focus on expands, then why would you want to keep concentrating on what you lack that others are enjoying? It's not about changing the circumstances of your life; it's about changing what you make those situations mean.

More often than not, people, many unaware, view life through a filter of lack rather than through one of abundance and gratitude. Whatever the choice, the Universe will surely fill your order.

If you want things to change, then you must change your consciousness filter.

Your consciousness is always in the process of creating. If you keep focusing on your problems or on what you are lacking compared to everyone else, guess what? You'll just attract more of the same. Instead, direct your energy to the emotions and experiences you want, not the conditions you're trying to get away from. This means to direct your attention to solutions.

When viewing others' lives, rather than choosing to see things through the lens of envy, be genuinely happy for them. This shift in energy is a critical step in breaking free of envy and in letting go of desperate striving, unfair judgment, and endless competition.

Look at what you possess and be pleased for yourself. Unsubscribe from the "belief" that you need more to be content. Instead, embrace the understanding that you'll get more as you welcome joy. See the good things within and around you, and expect the Universe to send some more.

Be willing to let go of the things that are keeping your energy down and making you unhappy. Be relentless in your refusal to engage in negative energy. True happiness can't coexist with negative thoughts and emotions. Do an immediate intervention whenever you find yourself tangling with negativity. Take some deep breaths and let the thought go.

Appreciate what you can about the present while pursuing your goals of the future. Choose to see the value of your life and your true self in the present moment.

Behind every personal quest is the desire to find and experience joy, but real achievement comes from finding that joy on a daily basis. Happiness is not some future event. It is a present choice we make.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Searching For Your Spiritual Path? You're Already On It.

In my last post, I wrote that spirituality is about our personal relationship with the energy of the Universe, whether you call it God, the Tao, Great Spirit, Physics, Law of Attraction, or Source. Trips to foreign lands or to a guru are not necessarily required to explore this relationship (unless that is supremely appealing to you). Spirituality begins with us, where we are, in the moment. And it's up to us to nurture this relationship in ways that encourage and promote our well-being and growth. Of course, there are many ways to do this; it's a matter of finding what resonates with you.

As we awaken to our spiritual nature, life takes on new meaning and things begin to happen in inexplicable, mysterious, even miraculous ways. We begin to see things differently as our awareness expands beyond the trappings of our ego. We come to "know" things that can not be quantified or fully explained. There is a surety to this inner knowing that can not be shaken. It's the kind of surety that made martyrs out of some of Jesus' followers.

Years ago when I traveled to Israel, I was baptized in the Jordan River, the same river in which Jesus was baptized by his cousin, John the Baptist. No dove descended from the heavens. No voice announced, "This is Penny, in whom I am well-pleased." I felt...nothing -- even though others cried with happiness, raised their arms in praise, or were "slain in the spirit" as they convulsed on the ground. This experience didn't resonate spiritually with me.

What did resonate with me was realizing that whatever spiritual path I was to follow, it wasn't going to be the same as everyone else's, and that was okay. I found immediate comfort, freedom, and relief in that realization. I knew there was more, whatever that more was, and something deep inside was driving me to explore it.

The spiritual path, while accessible to all of us, is different for everyone. But, searching for you particular spiritual path is irrelevant because you are already walking it, being the spiritual being that you are. It may not seem spiritual to some, but that is because they may have a skewed perception of what spirituality is and what the path entails. Every action you take moves you forward on your particular path, even when it feels like you are going backwards.

What can you expect on the path? Each experience is unique to the individual. The lessons you learn on your path may not be the lessons I learn on mine, though we may share similar experiences.

There is no "normal" when it comes to spirituality; we have the freedom to believe and practice whatever we choose. As we awaken (return) to our natural state of spirituality, we release the need to judge other wisdom traditions and religions that exist today. We realize that are all on the same journey; we're just taking different roads to get there. There is no "right" or "wrong" way, and Spirit will call you to what is best for you. Spirit expresses Itself in unique and different ways, and you just happen to be one of those expressions. Trust the path that you are on because it is leading you to the highest expression of yourself.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Not Sure If You're Spiritual?

If you think taking a trip to India or seeking a guru is needed to live a spiritual life, think again.

Spiritual living is accessible to all of us simply because we all are spirit.

Spirituality is our personal relationship with the energy of the Universe. It is not religion; it doesn't mean following a specific set of "rules" to reach "enlightenment." Spirituality arises from deep within. It's when you come to know that there is much more to life than what is; and even though you can't fully articulate it, you have felt it affirmed many times. It just is, and it is not reserved only for those who have had some kind of awakening or who are the most zen.

Call it Source. Call it God. Call it Universal Intelligence. Whatever we choose to call it, when we get in touch with this spiritual side, we find ourselves living more harmoniously with others, our environment, nature, and much more. Life begins to flow in magical ways. Even a trip to the local supermarket can turn into an enlightening experience.

It's not about how to become more spiritual, but knowing that you already are. We naturally call spirituality into our lives. Many of us don't realize that we are doing it.

Ever look up into the expanse of night and feel nothing but awe under a sky peppered with millions of stars, wondering what set all of this into motion?

Ever help someone in need because you were moved to help, without expecting anything in return?

Ever been guided by your intuition, only to find out that it spared you from some kind of danger?

Ever felt the power of forgiveness?

Ever felt compelled to seek the truth in situations?

Ever become so absorbed in a creative endeavor that time didn't matter, and hours passed by in what seemed like minutes?

If so, then you have felt your spiritual energy in action. It's moments like these that demonstrate your connection with a powerful, inexplicable source of energy and life. It's a connection that is always there, whether you are aware of it or not.

Acknowledge it. Explore it. Embrace it. Honor it. Spirituality is our natural state.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Great State Of Appreciation

Whenever someone asks me what state I am from, I say "the great state of appreciation."

I often get quizzical looks.

What is appreciation?

It's the intention to live with gratitude in our daily life.

It's the conscious acknowledgement of the value within and around us.

It's the willingness to notice all that is good in our lives.

And it's the desire to experience all of life with this attitude.

Appreciation is where real pleasure comes from, and it is a dynamic magnetic energy that when activated and when really felt will bring bliss to your everyday life. The more you feel it, the more you create because that which you focus on will expand in your life. Universal Law does not budge on this point.

Underneath all positive emotions is the state of appreciation. Likewise, behind all negative emotions is some sort of dissatisfaction or fear. Here's a test: Do you consciously seek to enjoy the present moment, seeing value and worth and giving gratitude for what you already have, or do you look around at your life and constantly see everything that is missing? Understand that whichever state you are in, your attitude affects both your consciousness and your energy. You are either filtering everything through an awareness of abundance or of lack. And as mentioned previously, the energy you give is the energy you get.

We can't experience joy without appreciation. To shift from a state of dissatisfaction, discontentment, or fear to a state of appreciation requires a shift in perception. This means taking responsibility for your own happiness by harnessing your power of choice to cultivate your appreciation.


Search for things to be grateful for throughout your life and deep within yourself. Write them down in a notebook or journal. Big things. Little things. Do this in the morning when you arise and in the evening before you fall asleep. Your willingness and participation in this activity is part of your consciousness and energy production. Cherishing the simple things will magnetize an abundance of joy. Whenever you get lost in the stress of everyday life, read over this list to remind you of all that you have to be grateful for.

You can also use (or create your own) visualization techniques. Take a few deep breaths to relax your body and mind and imagine your problem (as a bird or a cloud or smoke) floating away to the Light for healing and transformation. Use whatever imagery feels best for you. As you continue to relax, think about something you appreciate. It could be a memory, a person, a place. Visualize all the details and immerse yourself in the center. Allow yourself to feel the peace and joy that this imagery brings. Stay with it and feel that resonance. As you do, you open your heart to receiving more.

When you live by filtering everything through a genuine sense of appreciation, you create a highly attractive vibration to which the Universe will respond. Your energy of gratitude will only attract more to appreciate in the future.

As you appreciate your life, the value of your life appreciates, too.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Breaking Free

When I hear the term "social programming," I immediately think of someone caught in a hamster wheel of social controls, always reaching for some kind of prize. He may get the prize, only to find it fizzle away as he sets his eyes on the next one.
hamster wheel
Such is the rat race.

What's the long-term affect of this?

We end up seeking external approval and external goals in our lives, and we forego living in the present moment because we are fixated on some future outcome. We mistakenly believe that happiness is obtained only by achieving those external goals.

Social programming is the set of instructions we learn (from others) to fit in with society. It comes from family members, teachers, peers, colleagues, and others. We end up doing what most people we know are doing rather than explore the many options that are available to us. Perhaps we are overwhelmed or pressured by those around us to do things "their" way or because "that's the way it's always been done." If this is the case, then our decisions are made by default, meaning they are not "conscious" decisions; we don't always take the time to explore them to determine what is right for us. This is intellectual laziness.

It's not always easy to make decisions that go against the grain. Oftentimes, those close to us may feel threatened or confused by our choices when we diverge from the ones they are making. And we may find ourselves frustrated and defensive when we feel unsupported and misunderstood. It can be downright exhausting having to explain (or reexplain) ourselves (though we do have the right to tell them to respect our choices).

It takes testicular fortitude to break away from social programming. The key is not to eliminate all of your external goals, but to create goals that are meaningful to you, ones in which you enjoy (not dread) the day-to-day process of realizing them.

To break free, choose your own goals, not the goals you were programmed to adopt. Examine your values and principles. Are they yours, or society's? Here's a test: if a goal makes you feel unhappy or distressed, then this goal may not be for you. If, on the other hand, it excites and energizes you, then it's worth pursuing. How aligned do you feel with those goals?

Once you've selected your goals, follow your vision. Move forward by taking the necessary day-to-day steps. This will take persistence, consistency, and courage. Following your vision can leave you feeling alone, but the more you think independently, the higher your self-esteem and confidence will be. Independent thought is by no means a social process; it is a solitary one. If you find yourself feeling alone, it's okay. Embrace it and remind yourself of what's important to you in your journey.

Understand that breaking free doesn't happen overnight. It is a life-long process. If you are feeling enslaved by societal norms, perhaps it's because you are feeling enslaved within. Look honestly at your life. Which habits, beliefs, and expectations are holding you back from excelling in life? How is your past holding your hostage? If you're willing to challenge the mental constructs that enslave you, a natural desire to do something about it will arise within you.

Your life belongs to you and so do your decisions. As you take control of your consciousness and learn to think for yourself, you will grow in your awareness of the programming that surrounds you on a daily basis; and by remaining steadfast to your vision, you will begin to make choices based on what is real and true for your -- and others' -- highest good.