Friday, September 26, 2014

Dissecting The Golden Rule

The concept of the Golden Rule can be found in every major religion and ethical tradition in one form or another. It is the ethic of reciprocity and the standard by which different cultures operate to resolve conflicts. But whatever the form, it demands that people treat others in a way which they themselves would like to be treated.

Note some of the following examples:

Buddhism: Treat not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful. -Udana-Varga 5.18

Confucianism: One word which sums up the basis of all conduct...loving kindness. Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself. - Analects 15.23

Taoism: Regard your neighbor's gain as your own gain, and your neighbor's loss as your own loss. - T'ai Shang Kan Ying P'ien, 213-218

Zoroastrianism: Do not do unto others whatever is injurious to yourself. - Shayast-na-Shayast 13.29

Islam: Not one of you truly believes until you wish for others what you wish for yourself. -Prophet Muhammad, Hadith

Judaism: What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. This is the whole Torah; all the rest is commentary. - Talmud, Shabbat 31a

Hinduism: This is the sum of duty - do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you. - Mahabharata, 5:1517

Baha'i Faith: Lay not on any soul a load that you would not wish to be laid upon you, and desire not for anyone the things you would not desire for yourself. - Baha'u'Hah, Gleanings

If you'll notice, the above versions have one thing in common: they tell us NOT to do bad to others (with the exception of Islam, but it, too, has a qualifier when it implies that one is NOT a believer if s/he fails to practice the rule).

In the Christian version, Jesus takes the Golden Rule in a different direction in Matthew 22:37-39:

"Jesus said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'"

JC takes a more positive and proactive approach than the others. This is not to say that Christianity is a superior religion to the others, but JC's teaching goes beyond the negative formulation of not doing harmful or hurtful things to others to a positive formulation of actively doing good to others, and if one were to find himself in his neighbor's position, he would desire to be treated with the same dignity, respect, and love in return.

We are instructed on what to do, rather than on what we are not to do. There is nothing passive about JC's version; it is a directive to follow and apply.

What I like about JC's version is that it calls us to inspired action. It calls us to go and do and to do it with the energy and power of love. The connotation of fear is non-existent; it doesn't imply that we'll suffer repercussions should we not follow the rule. I find it more empowering than the other versions.

But the Golden Rule is more than a code of conduct when it comes to dealing with others. It's more radical than we think because it calls us to love across religious, racial, and cultural divides...and it extends to our enemies.

Can we do this? We can certainly try. But it will take a radical shift in our thinking, which JC calls for in his version of the Golden Rule.

Consider this in context of JC's version: You are a creative expression of God, a divine masterpiece, and so is the person next to you, the person in front of you, the person behind you, and so on. Spirit is what connects us to one another because we are Spirit and Spirit is us. The way we treat ourselves and others is the way we treat Spirit.

There is no separation.

Does it matter how the Golden Rule is stated?

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Becoming Spiritually Conscious

I woke up dead.

Well, at least that's how I felt.

I felt no connection to anything. Life consisted of going through the in, day out...same ol' same ol'. I had been trying to let outside things determine my happiness and my spiritual fitness, but it wasn't working. I was so concerned about how to "do" life right that I wasn't living it at all. I knew I had to shake things up.

Ever feel like this?

If so, know that this is the beginning of being conscious of your spiritual journey. Your spiritual alarm clock is sounding!

I had been "unconscious" for so long that I really didn't know what I was doing. But I was open to anything, and whenever I felt that "something" tugging at me inside, I followed its guidance. I haunted those "New Age" bookstores that others had told me to avoid because they were "evil." The more I read, the more I craved. My spiritual appetite was ravenous!

I began to meditate, to pray, and to ask questions. I went within and uncovered my true self that had been buried under years of others "shoulding" on me and listening to them instead of myself.

I broke away from the confines of religion, especially the ones that told me I was going to hell if I did or didn't do this or that.

I felt connected. Transformed. And alive!

Here's what I've learned along the way...

There is no right or wrong way. We're all on the same journey; we're just taking different paths to get there. The God of my understanding is of the same essence as the God of your understanding, even if we relate in different ways.

There is no "normal" when it comes to spirituality. Our beliefs are unique to ourselves. We are each individual expressions of a Diverse Divine Being, and we are free to call that Being by whatever name we choose.

There's no need to follow the crowd. The differences around us allow us to mold our own journey into exactly what we want. What works for some may not work for me or for you, and that's okay. Be grateful for these differences; it's Spirit's creativity in action.

There's no need to compare journeys. Each journey is unique to the individual. Celebrate each part of it along the way. If something works for you on your journey, hold on to it, and if it doesn't, then let it go. It's not always going to be a smooth journey, so whatever happens, allow it to shape you in the best version of yourself.

I love having the freedom to express my spirituality in the way that I so choose, and I've learned much from the various wisdom traditions and spiritual practices that exist. They've served as the stepping stones in my journey.

In the words of Khalil Gibran, "I love you when yo bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church. For you and I are sons of one religion, and it is the spirit."

What have you learned along the way?

Friday, September 19, 2014

Putting Your Best Thought Forward

Put your best thought forward.

It's easy to get caught up in the web of self-defeating thoughts. Many times this is done by default.

Fortunately, you can change your thoughts so that they empower you.

No one can think your thoughts for you. Think about that. Only you can do that.

And this means that you are responsible, not only for what you think, but for what shows up in your life as a result of your thinking.

Instead of thinking by habit, why not make the decision to think by choice? Rather than accept someone else's thoughts (opinions/beliefs/ideas) at face value, test them to see if they hold true for you. If they don't align with your purpose, your goals, your values, or your dreams, then choose to think for yourself. Thinking by habit is lazy thinking.

When you nurture the same old negative thoughts, you'll get sucked into a black hole of vibration that keeps you from moving forward. Rather than focus on possible negative outcomes, why not focus on possible positive outcomes? Put your creativity to use. Instead of focusing on the problem, focus on the possible solutions. Since thought is the source, it's also the solution.

Our most dominant and consistent thoughts carry power and energy. They have a very real and significant impact on the way we act. Choose to think the best about yourself, your world, and the people and events in it. Doing this allows you to enable, encourage, empower, and motivate yourself to do your best.

You're going to get from here to the future anyway as time goes on, so you might as well think thoughts that will shift your vibration, serve your highest good, and accelerate your desired outcomes. Put your best thought(s) forward, and before you know it, you'll be stepping into your joy.

Monday, September 15, 2014

On Hold...

Sometimes things happen because the Universe is guiding us to place our efforts in a different direction for the time being.

This is one of those times.

And that's okay.

I will be back with more of Spiritography: Imaging the Sacred in Everyday Life. While this series is on temporary hold, I will continue posting about spiritual matters. In the meantime, click on the links below to enjoy the past posts regarding spirituality and photography.

Pruning: Not Just For Plants

Holy Graffiti

How To Disappoint Disappointment

Ways To Wander Into Wonder

Cultivate Your Sacred Vision

Lessons We Can Learn From Water

3 Spiritual Lessons From Autumn

Getting On Track

Butterfly As Spiritual Metaphor

Bee Here Now!

Thank you.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Bee Here Now!

I worked with the most cooperative subjects in my garden this morning -- bumblebees.

Usually I keep my distance from things that are known to sting, but the bumblebee is not aggressive, and I saw this as an invitation to understand its world.

Technically, the bumblebee should not be able to fly. But it does. Scientists have said that aerodynamically, the bumblebee is designed completely wrong, and that the only reason it flies is through "sheer will."

It is a flying miracle.

Being master pollinators, bees also play a vital role in the delicate balance of our ecosystem.

With camera in hand, I let the bee speak to me through the lens.

"Master Pollinator" by Penny McDaniel
"Bee" productive. Bees stay focused on whatever they are doing. If our energy is scattered, the bumblebee can show us how to become focused once more.

"Bee" mindful. The bumblebee reminds us to slow down from being a "busy bee" in our lives. Smell the flowers and taste the sweetness of life. "Bee" here now, in the moment.

"Bee" of service. In the pollination process, while they collect nectar, they also collect pollen which they pass on to other flowers. Their service contributes greatly to our livelihood. The bee invites us to service by sharing our talents with humanity. As they service each flower, we see the interconnectedness of all living things. Our gifts are of importance. "Bee" part of the community and contribute where you can.

"Bee" the miracle. Bees, according to science, aren't designed to fly, yet they do. They defy logic. So do miracles. The bee reminds us that miracles are possible.

IMG_7767 - Edited
"Bee on Russian Sage" by Penny McDaniel
"Bee-ing Mindful" by Penny McDaniel
"Just Bee-ing" by Penny McDaniel

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Butterfly As Spiritual Metaphor

Spiritography Day 9: Imaging the Sacred in Everyday Life

For the past three days, butterflies have been making their presence known wherever I go. It's like they're following me. One was even daring enough to make full contact with me when it landed on my arm during a contemplative moment. So I gave it the attention it deserved.

It appeared so ethereal and fragile as its proboscis probed and tickled my skin. Its wings opened and closed in intervals, appearing paper thin one moment, and then on full display the next. I marveled at the life cycle of this little shape-shifter -- from a crawling, leaf-eating caterpillar to a fluttering, nectar-drinking butterfly.

Its metamorphosis represents our own spiritual transformation.

Like caterpillars, we crawl our way through life, doing our day-to-day activities. As we begin our inner journey, we enter into a chrysalis state, insulating ourselves in a dark inner sanctum where the environment is ripe for conversion. We pray. We meditate. We study spiritual truths. When we are ready to emerge, we break free from our confines, spread our wings, and fly as our true selves. We are renewed and reborn.

"Butterfly on Steel Cable" by Penny McDaniel
When my little winged friend finished, it lighted off of my arm almost as quickly as it had landed. It fulfilled its butterfly purpose, pollinating me with the presence of spirit. Though the butterfly lives only one to two weeks, it serves as a reminder to enjoy the present moment and to make the most of our lives before time runs out.

"Iron Butterfly" by Penny McDaniel

Getting On Track

Spiritography Day 8: Imaging the Sacred in Everyday Life

I found myself standing on a set of railroad tracks today, imagining them crisscrossing the countryside, cutting through sleepy towns and winding around bustling cities. Trains have always evoked a sense of adventure and romance in me. As a child, I couldn't fall asleep unless I heard the sound of a freight train rumbling by our home. I'd sneak out of the house to sit on the back porch just to listen to them...they were my lullabies, my reassurance...

People are a lot like trains. We make scheduled and unscheduled stops in life, but eventually we make it to our destination. We move at different speeds along the way. Some of us are like express trains, moving quickly through life, without any stops in between. Others are like luxury trains, traveling new routes, going to unknown places, enjoying the view.

We don't know where the tracks of our lives will lead us. They lie ahead, pointing us toward new horizons, and it's up to us to follow where they lead. If we see ourselves going in a direction that is unsatisfying, we have the choice to change course to find a more fulfilling path to follow. We can always get ourselves on the right track with our choices and decisions.

So, today, I offer you the spirit of trains in poem and pictures as we travel the rails of our lives...

"Juncture" by Penny McDaniel
"The 5850 Crossing the Tennessee"
on meeting a sleeping train

the infinite rails stretch

past the horizon

calling me to follow

its curves and bends

like a poem

that never tells me

where it is taking me

when i begin to compose.

the tracks are quiet

and i balance myself,

one foot in front of the other,

a tightrope of steel shimmering

in the sizzling southern sun.

a train rests ahead,

engines purring,

a strong diesel scent

marks its territory,

mixes with honeysuckle air,

a string of cars snakes behind

carrying cargo and secrets.

i could stow away, live

the life of a wanderer,

but i have no need

to tame this train,

whose dark, metal skin

i tremble to touch.
"9832" by Penny McDaniel
Photo by Penny McDaniel
"John Knight's Crossing at No. 2 Hill, Nauvoo, Alabama" by Penny McDaniel

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

3 Spiritual Lessons From Autumn

Spiritography Day 7: Imaging the Sacred in Everyday Life

My favorite color is Autumn.

It's also my favorite aroma.

The fire-glow radiance of gold, orange, and scarlet...

The scent of pine, patchouli, and cinnamon...

Autumn is a season of culmination and transition. It is nature's last hoorah before retiring into winter's dormancy. It is a time that calls us to self-reflection, letting go, and spiritual connection when we open ourselves to its lessons.

Photo by Penny McDaniel
I invite you to gently enter into the Spirit of Autumn and see how it can help you live a richer, more meaningful life.

The first great lesson of Autumn is letting go. Trees that once nurtured emerging buds now let go of the leaves they once nourished. It is a natural process, and that which no longer serves the tree will now enrich and nourish the earth below in its transition.

Autumn prompts us to release our attachments to past experiences, without regrets or resentments. Things which no longer serve us can be donated, recycled, or given to someone in need. Relationships may need to be revised or given the room to fade harmoniously away. We can keep the value of an experience while letting go of its weight.

The second great lesson of Autumn is acknowledging impermanence. When we contemplate the autumnal changes, we grow more appreciative of all the beauty that surrounds us, not just in nature, but in our lives. When we cherish someone or something, we do so because deep down we know that they won't be around forever for us to enjoy, and this moves us to connect as deeply as we can.

Autumn is a time of dual purpose, and so the third great lesson is preparation. While Autumn is a time for gathering main harvests, it is also the time to determine what is needed for the upcoming winter. We see this as animals ready their homes in such a way that they need not go out in the middle of winter for anything they need. Autumn teaches us to be ready.

Photo by Penny McDaniel
As we contemplate Autumn and its spirit, let us be inspired by its sounds, its aromas, its colors, but most of all, its gentle guidance so that we may live full, fruitful lives. Let it reveal again what is most precious in our lives.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Lessons We Can Learn From Water

Spiritography Day 6: Imaging the Sacred in Everyday Life

Since approaching photography as a spiritual practice, I've learned to focus more on the process of it rather than on the final product. It has become a lesson in receiving rather than in taking. Instead of a trophy that is hunted, the image I receive is a gift.

Like meditation or contemplation, photography-as-receiving requires me to cultivate an attitude of receptivity. When I do, I open myself to surprise and mystery.

While it has taken time and deliberate effort, my lens for viewing is definitely changing.

On one of my contemplative walks, water became the subject, not as an object, but as a collaborator, even a co-creator. I spent some time contemplating different bodies of water to see what images I would receive and what messages would come through.

"Nature's Bridal Veil"
"Nature's Bridal Veil"
I've stopped by this waterfall many times, but on this day it arrested my attention because it reminded me of a beautifully flowing veil. It was a sweltering day. The waterfall invited me over, as if to say, "Come. Take refuge here. Let me cool you with my mist." Message: nature is our bride and we are her stewards. Only when we "marry" ourselves to nature will she reveal what's beneath her veil.

"Little Dudh Kosi"
I call the photograph above "Little Dudh Kosi" which in Nepali means "Milk River" for the river that flows through the Everest region in Nepal. The milky water, here, flows from a hidden source within the bluff. Message: when we tap into the hidden resource within ourselves, abundance flows forth in our lives. We find ourselves living in the land of "milk and honey."

The photo below is deceiving. Looking at this makes me feel as if I'm in an M.C. Escher illustration. The angle makes it seem as if the flow of water is moving away from me, from left to right, down into a dark cavity. It's really flowing toward me, cascading down from the right toward the left and into the light. Message: life can be an illusion for those who are struggling with personal darkness.

The photo below shows the interplay of stone and water, creating various ripples. Message: the current of life that exists in all things flows in a natural rhythm, and connects everything.

Fellow photographer and friend Mike Rothman experiments with light and water in his contemplative practice. What he calls "water drop photography" is an exploration into the nature and beauty of something many people take for granted. He uses the common element of water and the science of physics to create images that are not only aesthetic but comforting on a soul level. The photo below is a beautiful example of his work. Note the precision and the concentricity.

Photo by Mike Rothman
Here's another that leads the eye on a visual journey accented by pops of color (completely unretouched, no photoshopping). Who would have thought that water had such a colorful personality?

Photo by Mike Rothman
Of course, the message I receive may not be the message another receives, but that just goes to show how multi-dimensional the sacred is.

Collaborating with water has taught me a few things:

1. The act of living is the act of flowing. Water teaches us to be fluid, to flow, to move, to change, and to let go. If water is dammed up, it can't flow and will stagnate. If we resist flowing with life, we, too, grow stagnant.

2. Water is nature's reminder to relax and enjoy. It soothes us and produces a very relaxed state.

3. Like water, we can make waves and make change. We can also create storm surges and tsunamis, so we must take care that the waves we do make are not destructive.

4. Our body is approximately three-quarters water. The water that flows in the world is the same water that flows within us. Our bodies require it to live. Interestingly enough, studies have shown that our thoughts and emotions can change the molecular structure of water. This in turn affects our health and well-being.

Water is part of the rhythm of life. It teaches us how to live when we embrace its message. Let's respect and appreciate it and give gratitude for it's life-giving properties.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Cultivate Your Sacred Vision

Spiritography Day 5: Imaging the Sacred in Everyday Life

I've been spending a lot of time cultivating my capacity for spiritual sight through the medium of photography. While it has been a challenge, it has allowed me to slow down, contemplate, and linger over moments of beauty.

I used to take such an aggressive approach. I used my lens to hunt and capture, rather than open up to the moment and receive the image. Photography was a conquest rather than a contemplative act.

The challenge is to shift my physical eye from seeing the obvious to beholding the sacred within each moment with my heart's eye. My ability to see the world beneath the surface appearance of things is growing, but it takes time, patience, and practice. I'm learning to see with wonder, respect, and humility.

We don't realize how blind we have been until we begin a contemplative practice. Technology, speed, and the busyness of everyday life in Western culture fosters this habit of blindness. We forget that there is more beneath the surface of things because we are so used to using our sense of sight to quickly survey our surroundings and to scan over things.

I'd like to offer you the opportunity to cultivate your own spiritual vision.

It will require you to sit in a relaxed and comfortable position.

You may use the photographs I've supplied below as your point of focus, or you may choose an object from your everyday life. It could be anything that you use on a daily basis but often falls short of your full attention.

Take a deep breath and allow yourself about 10 or 15 minutes for this exercise. Do some deep breathing before you start. Then, when you are ready, begin with a soft gaze while releasing any inner judgments and projections as much as possible. The less the ego is involved, the more the sacred will reveal itself.

Let go of your expectations of what you think you will see and instead just be with it. Become intimate with it. Allow yourself to "receive" from it. Take notice of what this stirs within you. Let go of the need to analyze the experience. Enjoy the process.
"Looking Up"
I would love to hear how the process went for you...feel free to post comments below.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Ways to Wander into Wonder

Spiritography Day 4: Imaging the Sacred in Everyday Life

There's a difference between being a tourist and being a pilgrim.

When tourists visit places of interest, they see the outer reality. They may or may not know the history. They may take a few pictures. And then they move on to the next attraction. It becomes a "been-there-done-that" mentality.

But when a pilgrim visits, she focuses on the inner and symbolic reality of the place. The place becomes more than its physical characteristics or its history. It becomes sacred ground and a place for self-discovery. A pilgrim doesn't tour; a pilgrim wanders...right into wonder.

I use wandering as one of my spiritual practices. It is a sensory experience that propels me into, through, and beyond the physical realm and into an organic, spiritual one. It is an act of discovery and exploration. It reinvigorates the senses, the spirit, the soul, and sanity (of course, I always take a camera along because there's always something to discover).

As a spiritual practice, wandering is an art form like no other. It's easy to do. You can wander on foot, by vehicle, or by animal. You can wander in the country, in the city, around your neighborhood, in the mall...just about anywhere.

To make the most out of your wandering experience, know what you like and don't like. What areas or things are of greatest interest to you? What things are associated with the things that you like? If I'm in an unknown area, I'll use a map to find points of interest, and then I'll meander in their direction. By all means, use caution if you are in questionable areas so no harm comes to you.

Let go of your fears. Practice wandering with the mindset of adventure, discovery, connectedness, and Presence. Immerse yourself in your surroundings for the full experience. Take in all the sights, sounds, and smells. Stop, close your eyes, breathe deep, and listen. As you wander through the woods, stop to listen to the different calls of birds, feel the gentleness of the breeze, smell the rich scent of pine.

"Pilgrims" by Penny McDaniel
If you're wandering down cobblestone streets of an old village, listen to villagers speaking in their native tongues, smell the aroma of brewing coffee and baked goods permeating the air. Embrace this awareness and you embrace the spirit of the moment.

Let go of expectations. Release the notion that you must get to a particular destination by a certain time. Wandering is not a race. Placing restrictions on yourself restricts your joy.

Expect the unexpected. I love the element of surprise that comes with wandering because there's always, always, always something to discover when you open yourself up to the experience. Appreciate what you discover. Learn from it. As you make discoveries, allow them to lead you on a series of more adventures that will keep you engaged for as long as you are able. Entertain your curiosities!

"Into The Hobbit Hole" by Penny McDaniel
There are no dead ends. More avenues open the more we explore, both internally and externally. The possibilities are endless when we step into awareness, and that awareness is what allows us to connect with a greater reality when we place ourselves in the moment.

As J. R. R. Tolkien says, "Not all those who wander are lost." Lose yourself in the moment and you'll never be lost.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

How To Disappoint Disappointment

Spiritography Day 3: Imaging the Sacred in Everyday Life

Once upon a time, a little girl visited a magical kingdom beyond her wildest dreams.

A shining castle graced the landscape. It's beautiful princess welcomed the little girl with a hug. And cartoon characters came alive! It was the happiest place on earth for children.

The little girl was so excited to explore the kingdom. Amusement rides beckoned her. The aroma of cotton candy and popcorn enticed her. Magic tricks enchanted her. The little girl bubbled with joy.

When she saw all the other children with ice cream cones, she wanted one, too. So, her daddy got her one -- three giant scoops of vanilla.

In her excitement, she took one lick, and then. . .SPLAT!

All three scoops began melting at her feet.

I was left standing with an empty cone. Epic disappointment.

This memory resurfaced as I crossed the parking lot to my car when I came across an ice cream cone on the ground, the ice cream melting all over the hot asphalt. So, I snapped a photo of it as I contemplated disappointment and the gift it offers, when we open ourselves to it.

ice cream
"Ice Cream and Asphalt"

No one enjoys being disappointed, but it happens. And as uncomfortable as it is at times, we can find the strength we need to effectively handle our disappointments and move forward with our lives.

It helps to recognize our old strategies of dealing with disappointment before incorporating new ones. Many times we are tempted to blame someone or something else. Some people will reach for alcohol or drugs to numb the pain. Whatever the method, it only prolongs the pain. With this kind of mindset, we condemn ourselves as victims. Once we recognize our old strategies, we can create new ones that are healthy, constructive, and affirmative, and we can turn disappointment around to our advantage.

Disappointment makes us take a step back. It gives us the gift of reflection, offering us the opportunity to re-evaluate who we are and where we stand with our priorities. It's the pause button in life that helps us to reconsider our position and direction.

Disappointment can help build character and patience, if you're open to it. It invites us to discover just how strong and resilient we really are.

Disappointment is here to serve us, not defeat us. It challenges us to find new ways and to try new things, allowing us to tap into our creative potential. We begin to search for solutions rather than perseverate on the problem. If Thomas Edison let disappointment stop him from inventing the light bulb, where would we be?

Disappointment is temporary. It may shake our core at times, but we can take an empowering approach by seeking help, talking with a trusted adviser or friend, thinking about the role we played in the situation and how we can change it, and expressing our feelings in constructive ways. Sometimes it helps to ask, is this really worth getting angry or upset over?

Disappointment is no accident. So you didn't get that dream job you were hoping for, or your romantic interest is unavailable. Or maybe you didn't get to enjoy that ice cream that you dropped onto the sidewalk. Whatever the disappointment, trust that a better scenario is working its way toward you in order to bring you closer to what you truly want. With this mindset, you are no longer a victim to circumstance.

In a perfect kingdom, disappointments wouldn't happen, and ice cream wouldn't fall off of their cones, but we are human and we will continue to disappoint and be disappointed. It's a part of life, but it's a part that can help us grow. Accepting this lessens our suffering while granting the opportunity to appreciate what really matters in life.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Holy Graffiti!

Spiritography Day 2: Imaging the Sacred in Everyday Life

I recently journeyed to Memphis, and while there, I stopped by Graceland, Elvis Presley's home (and final resting place). While I wasn't interested in touring his home, I found myself fascinated by the stone wall that lined the property. I was struck by the outpouring of adoration for someone who sang and gyrated his way into people's hearts. Messages of love covered the entire length of the wall. It was like rock 'n' roll's version of the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Fans clamored for a piece of the wall to leave personal messages and prayers to the King.

Holy Graffiti.

I snapped these photos because they reflect the spirit of pure devotion from fans all over the world. What compelled me to capture these images was their heartfelt vibrancy; it made me take serious pause. I was standing on sacred ground.

"Holy Graffiti"
"Holy Graffiti" by Penny McDaniel
"Pammy Loves Elvis"
"Always and Forever"
"Graceland's Graffiti Wall of Love"
Even if one were not familiar with Graceland and its famous owner, this wall simply can not be written off as just another blatant example of vandalism. It calls us to stop and take notice. It is meant to be encountered. It is meant to be engaged. And it makes its statement loud and clear. What may look like acts of vandalism are really acts of devotion. Fans have turned this wall into a timeless memorial with their endearing messages.

The word "memorial" comes from the Latin word "memos," meaning "mindful." And the German word for "monument" is "denkmal," meaning "thought object." Graceland's wall is both of these because it takes us back to the past and forward to the future, linking generations, while leading us to think of our own lives and to contemplate questions of mortality and meaning. The wall is a place where spirit is alive and well, giving fans a sense of warmth and welcome, and it will tell its tale to the many generations that follow.

Our need to establish memorials is a universal one. We want to remember and be remembered. No one wants to be forgotten. For centuries, we have erected commemorative statues, buildings, museums, and monuments, in memory of those who have perished in natural disasters, major accidents, and wars. We do the same for famous people who have brought inspiration to our lives through their gifts and talents. From the pyramids to roadside memorials, we commemorate our loved ones to keep their memories alive, not just in the world but in our hearts. It allows us to cope, to heal, to appreciate, but always to remember.

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?