Category Archives: Photography

The Power of Deep Stillness

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I’m having a hard time integrating back into the cacophony and anxious energy of Los Angeles after a contemplative weekend deep in the Northern California redwood forests at Ratna Ling Buddhist Retreat Center. Here I am yesterday saying goodbye, feeling completely refreshed, on my deck enclosed by lush woodland. The stillness and silence and peace ran deep this past weekend—at first surrounding me, embracing me—then sprouting from within. Just listen to the sounds of life sustained by these ancient trees. Maybe cut off the TV, close your door, put in earphones, shut your eyes and listen again.

 

All weekend, I became more reflective, less talkative and deeply relaxed. I meditated, took silent walks, sketched, read, wrote, and yes, did amazing daily yoga classes with soulful Gloria Baraquio. (For those who wanted more, there was a sound bath with Lauri , essential oils workshop, sacred texts talk, sacred art class, FOOD (and more delicious FOOD), a library full of Tibetan literature and art, as well as a variety of massages and therapies to indulge in at theMandala Wellness Center.) For me, however, this weekend was mainly about reconnecting with nature. As a little girl who was raised in the South on property jutting against a horse farm, I used to sneak into the woods, the pre-Civil War trails, and lean against the trunks of huge pine trees with roots softened by emerald and sage moss and icy white lichen. I’d listen to the wind make shushing sounds through the branches above, as winking bursts of sunlight pierced through. Sometimes a deer might wander over curiously, just as they do here at Ratna Ling.  This past Memorial Day weekend I welcomed a relief from the intensity of LA. As a child, however, I sought nature as a refuge from the loudness of our house with its large family. older siblings who’d fight, or parents fighting, or TVs and stereos on simultaneously, teenager phone conversations, usually drama of some sort. The energy was too charged for my sensitive ears. The sounds in those southern horse trails were similar to those of the redwood forest, and just as calming, yet still vibrant with activity; a celebration of life. In Ratna Ling I could hear mocking birds, wood peckers, sweet singing Wrens, bellowing toads, screeching crickets, scurrying geckos—all creating a mesmerizing chorus. On my birthday I sat on the rustic deck of my cabin reading, and at one point, a huge butterfly landed on my book. Another moment, a large turkey vulture landed on a branch a few feet away. I watched as a momma mocking bird dive bombed it over and over, likely protecting a nest, finally bothering the vulture, 5 times its size, to spread its mammoth totem pole wings, shading my chair on the deck, as it flew away. The energy felt in this forest was calm, peaceful, purposeful, relaxed. My mind cleared of distractions. I focused. Thank goodness there was no cell reception. I needed this mental clearing.

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Perhaps that’s why returning to Los Angeles was especially hard. The high-pitched beeps and announcements at the airports, then screaming tourists at a local fair, loud intoxicated fiesta goers in my beach town, neighbors blaring music and TV news that wafted through my window like toxic gas—all creating a stunned anxiety within me. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t relax. Even talking with a friend, at first, was jarring as I could heard her blender going, her TV on, her dog whining, then barking, the dish washer sputtering to a start, some more water flowing in a sink, all as we spoke on the phone. Am I like this? I worried. And the answer is yes. Yes I am. I expect that most Americans juggle. We rush, do, do more, multi-task, barely listen fully, worry, pile on more commitments that we can’t complete and keep going—while allowing ourselves to be bombarded by anxious news announcements, or negative talk shows, eliciting a fight or flight response within us and amping up our cortisol. It’s no wonder we can’t hear our intuition. Our center for calm and knowing and creativity.  It’s no wonder every-day life that is hectic creates confused, interrupted thinking. It’s hard to finish projects in this state of mind. It’s hard to prioritize and focus on what’s really important, what your Dharma is, rather than seeking object referral or approval. We have to clear out the noise, sweep away the distractions, center ourselves and listen without judgement to what comes up. Our frenetic life, especially for many parents who are frazzled by over-scheduled activities and interruptions, can feel the drain. I didn’t know how drained I was, until it all stopped and sat still and I breathed deeply. There is another way to live.

Today, I miss the woods. I miss the simple focus. I miss going to sleep with the sounds of crickets and waking to birds singling as the sun rises, illuminating redwood limbs reaching toward each other, like fingers making an ink stain on my window. I thought a yoga class would help me integrate, but the music was too loud, the thumping music was too loud and a teacher was screaming over it. I wasn’t relaxed when I walked home.

So I guess it’s a good thing I was asked if I’d like to come back to Ratna Ling to host a yoga and writers retreat later this year. I get to return and I get to take some dear writer friends with me. I can’t wait to introduce them to this haven that will allow them to get centered, ignore their fears and focus on their writing, their unique stories they all are compelled to share. We’ll flow to vibrational yoga, breathe deeply, take meditative walks in the woods, enjoy Tibetan meditation movement with an expert … and write from a place connected to Source. Stay tuned, as I work out the details. Proceeds will go to Dharma Publishing, created by Ratna Ling’s founder, Tibetan Lama Tarthang Tulku Rinpoche, who has spent more than 45 years preserving sacred texts, literature and art. I’m honored to support such a worthy cause, while helping fellow-writers tap into their inner voice, find peace, calm, stillness, confidence. I’ll write more later when details are sorted. 🙂

In the meantime, maybe you’d like to join me this week as I meditate with the intention of re-claiming stillness, letting go of distractions, and finding mindful focus while at work, while at play. Here’s to a week where we can feel calm, peaceful, playful, free, content, loved, secure, safe, inspired, centered, clear, balanced and compassionate.

Love & Light,

Laura xo

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Sending Prayers to Big Island

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2017 Hike to Kilauea

I’m taking a moment today to send love and prayers to those in Hawaii affected by the earthquake and Kilauea volcano eruptions. My heart goes out to all whose homes have been damaged and to children and elderly now in shelters.

I’ve donated directly to the Red Cross Hawaii chapter (information below). If you’d like to help, here is some information:

AT&T has activated their text-to-donate line. To donate via phone, text REDCROSS to 90999. That text will send $10 to the American Red Cross and their recovery efforts to assist Hawaiian residents impacted by the eruption and subsequent earthquakes.

The $10 donation will appear on your monthly phone bill.

Donations may also be made directly to the American Red Cross Hawaii Chapter by clicking here, or calling (808) 739-8109.

For those who have never been to the Big Island, here are some photos from last year’s trip, showing the majestic, other-worldly landscape of the Kilauea volcano and lava, bolder fields on the way to Kona. Aloha. ❤

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MUCH LOVE & ALOHA HAWAII ❤

Hawaii w Kids: Locals, Farming, Aloha, & a lil Me TIME!

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On top of Koko Crater!

I love Hawaii. I think everyone knows that by now, lol! Three weeks ago I took the boys back to Honolulu for our sixth visit. Who would think there was more to do and see? There was SO much more. It was a magical trip for this single mom. It was partly a working trip for me, as I’m writing my fourth novel which occurs mainly on a farm in Hawaii (Read about Orbiting Jupiter HERE.). I also sold a story to MindBodyGreen (to be published in May, so I can’t go into too much detail here) about an organic farm in poverty-ridden Wai’anae, on the western side of Oahu, that also provides scholarships to teens and internships to college students.

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William picking mangos at the farm.

What I can tell you, is that the boys and I got to farm with a youth-leader there, mulching  in the heat and learning, not just about organic farming in a dry region, but about the struggles most Hawaiian teens growing up in this poor area of Oahu, go through. My boys who live in a bubble of wealth in Hermosa Beach, learned what it’s like when most friends drop out of school, get mixed up in drugs, have high rates of pregnancy, can’t eat lunch, can’t go to college because they can’t afford it, etc. We learned how diabetes and heart disease is the highest in this region, than any where else in Hawaii. Once abundant, we now also discovered that quality fruit and vegetables are scarce, mainly because the military cut off the west side’s main water source, diverting it for their needs, so growing is a struggle. The boys loved gardening and creating their own organic lunch later and the connections made were priceless. 

Just down the mountain road from the farm is this amazing, deserted beach. Can you just say WOW?

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Other highlights of this trip include hanging with a friend who now lives in Honolulu, her kiddos playing with mine. The coach for the Honolulu Bulls, met us in Vegas during a soccer tournament earlier, so invited my William and his best friend to practice with them on a steamy night for two hours in Honolulu. What a work out! The coach was so kind and most of the boys on the team gave William their info so they can follow each other on insta. None of them had ever been to California and asked my son SO many questions about girls and celebrities. 🙂 It was eye-opening for William as these boys, unlike the ones he plays with in LA, are super hungry and motivated to move up—as for some, it may be their only ticket to college. At the practice, there were adults and a few college players who were ‘mixing it up’ by playing with the teens, making it more challenging for them. The practice, also unlike the amazing facilities in LA, was held in an over-grown small field near tents of homeless. There had to be at least 25 homeless families camping just near the edge of the field. Just part of life in Honolulu.

What else? We hiked the Koko Crater! It’s a steep hike up an abandoned rail way, at points near the top, hikers see hundreds of feet below them, as they step on wooden planks. My 9-year-old was so scared that he shook and cried at points! But his big brother and I coaxed him on, helping him get over his fears. He was not a happy camper when he finally made it up to the top, but after he finished, he was ecstatic and beyond proud of himself, telling others they can do it, if he could. I’m proud of him too! 🙂

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post-crater hike wipe out!

This trip was really the perfect trip. It allowed us to meet with more locals, make new friends, explore little-known areas, even going to a Buddhist center downtown and a little known hole-in-the-wall eatery for yummy fish. I met with a realtor, got a few apartment tours for a possible move too, and even got asked to be a teacher at a yoga studio in Waikiki. How cool is that? And since I invited one of my oldest son’s friends, I had make shift babysitters one afternoon and escaped to relaxation: getting a massage (how I love groupon!), with time for day-dreaming at the spa pool after. What more can a mom ask for?

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Aloha until next time. ❤

L. xo

Photo Essay: A Path Unfolds

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Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens

Where is her heart leading her? Is she listening? A path emerges from the depths of her despair. Will she follow it? When she hits rock bottom and has nothing left, she has nothing left to lose. No one to please. No one to worry about. Will she follow this path? Or will she stay safely stuck, tucked away in her narrowing mind of grief that closes all doors, folding her further into darkness.

This is her pivotal  moment. This choice can change everything. Will she choose it? She has an inkling that it just might make everything that happened—every God damn shitty thing done by those who loved her most—almost make sense.

But only if she gets on that plane. Only if she follows the nudging of her  heart. It feels like running away. It is. It feels like giving up. It is. It feels terrifying. It is.

Finally, when she can no longer get up in the morning in the same house decorated with sinister smiles peering behind photos in every hallway, she’ll know what to do. When she’s finally had enough of being left with the mess; being left to walk alone past the empty nursery; being left with the trinkets of 15 years of betrayal and longing mixed within memories pushing her six feet under, she might muster up the courage to go.

A path is unfolding. And because she no longer cares whether she’ll live or die, she may just get on her first international flight and leave everyone and everything she’s ever known behind.

 

Photo Essay: Diving Deep

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For the next seven weeks, as I dive deep into my creative writing and finish my next novel, Between Thoughts of You, I won’t be posting articles on this blog. Instead, I’ll publish photos from my multiple trips to Italy and Hawaii, as my novel occurs mainly in Tuscany and in Honolulu. One agent describes the premise of my book as: “Think of it as The Descendants meets The English Patient.” Well, sort of, not really. Flash backs for the characters also occur in Northern California and Japan and New York. I used to live in New York, so will drum up some photos, but have never been to Japan. My son travelled there with his father, so if I’m able, will post a few of his pictures. 🙂 Every day that I am writing and editing my novel, that I intend to finish at the conclusion of my Yoga For Writers Workshop I’m hosting, I’ll post a photograph. I hope you enjoy them. 🙂

As always, I am so grateful for all who follow or read this blog. ❤

What my mother told me after she died.

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That title may alarm some people. But the fact is, our loved ones communicate with us all the time after they die. It’s as simple as one thought away. And it’s the most beautiful aspect of grief and death. So many people are distracted and numb and out of alignment so the idea of magic and eternal love and light isn’t a reality in their every day life. Yet it is. They are just not aware of it. When someone you love dearly dies, for weeks afterwards, you can feel them, dream about them, sometimes even hear their voice. It’s remarkable and it brings so much hope to those who have forgotten that there is life after death. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience. But life drones on. Responsibilities, work, routines can keep us from day dreaming, noticing beauty, magic. Hurts and regrets and pain can compound our vibration so that our hearts are heavy and we can barely muster hope when we see a beautiful sunset. We become out of sync with our divine selves. We are out of the frequency to hear or see the messages our loved ones send us.

When someone dies, however, we are forced to stop everything. We stop our daily routine. We stop work. We focus. We remember. We pray. We become grateful for what this person gave to us. We open up to the magic of life. And in this grateful, open, vulnerable state, we notice, or hear the messages. That is the gift when someone dies.

My mother died May 20th of this year. I flew to North Carolina on the 21st and on the 22nd (a dear friend will love that number, you know who you are!) I saw this double rainbow forming over the highway. I was driving with one of my sisters two hours to her house as she had the best picture of my mother that we all decided must be enlarged and placed at the entrance of her memorial service. So, we drove the two hours to my sister’s house. As we were driving the two hours back to Chapel Hill, this amazing rainbow started forming. Another formed on top. I took a video of it that I can’t upload for some reason…But right after I videoed the rainbow and was still watching it form, my dad called. I am not close with my dad. Well, that’s an understatement. I have forgiven him for the many disrespectful choices and things he did to my mother. I’ve forgiven him for things I still can’t mention, toward me and to my oldest sister, but I keep a boundary up for my own health. Yet I could feel my mother present with us and I could feel her forgiveness. I could feel her urging me and so I answered my sister’s phone and I spoke kindly to my father and even agreed to pick him up from the airport and take him to his hotel. He wanted to come to my mom’s funeral. He likely doesn’t even remember half of what happened during our childhood or even forgot some events with mom later—that’s what is so puzzling and hurtful and insane about alcoholism, and whatever else came into play. But I decided to let it go. He is old. He was sad. And clearly, my mother forgave him years ago.

On May 25th, the day of my mother’s funeral, the minister surprised the family by asking everyone to sing Somewhere Over the Rainbow. Us four siblings had put together the program and we all agreed upon speaking. I was the one who spoke about the power of music, as my mom played piano  by ear and communicated through music. I even provided her top song list as I kept it after we moved her into an Alzheimer’s facility. Somewhere Over the Rainbow wasn’t on it, nor was it mentioned. Perhaps one of my sisters suddenly asked the minister to add this? I don’t know. But my oldest sister and I began crying as we remembered the rainbow forming in the car just a few days earlier. It wasn’t a coincidence. Mom was telling us everything would be ok. Listen to the lyrics. My two sisters aren’t physically well. They both have autoimmune disorders and serious stress and I wish so much I could take away their pain. My big brother even admitted to losing his faith in God after my mom developed early-onset Alzheimer’s. It wasn’t fair. She was a social worker with a huge, kind heart, and helped so many without ever asking for anything in return. He felt it was cruel. It was hard on him to see her, and he lived so close to her facility. It was hard on all of us to lose her. My mom was sending us all a message of hope. To not harden or become cynical in life. To stay aware of the magic that is subtle, but always there.

That evening, as I was coming home to my brother’s house, after walking around with my childhood best friend, we saw this little lime green frog on my brother’s door.

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Frogs like this just don’t appear on doors in North Carolina. I know a lot about frogs. As a little girl I collected them. In fact, I would sit by a pond in the woods surrounding the horse trails and watch for hours waiting for the tadpoles to finally leap out of the water onto the Earth as precious little frogs. I’d put them in containers and take care of them until they were big enough (or so I thought) to ward off predators. Some kids had imaginary friends, I had friend frogs. Neighbors would capture rare red ones or orange ones and bring them to me for my collection. Yup, I was that kind of kid. To this day, my siblings still buy me frog paraphernalia for birthday or Christmas gifts. So to see this frog on the evening of my mom’s funeral was just a little reminder that I was loved, watched after, and was special. I was teased a lot as a child for being stupid. Not by my mom, but by my dad and siblings. I barely spoke until I was 11 and daydreamed constantly. I guess you could say I have always been partly in another dimension or watching for what was happening underneath the surface. I could sit outside watching birds fight for territory for hours. I would get mesmerized by the way light sparkles on dust particles. Listening to the wind through the pines I’d imagine someone whispering to me. Inside the house, I sometimes wrote invisible words or names on the ceiling and imagined them dancing or fighting over me. When sitting at the table for dinner, I paid attention to how words were spoken and whether a person’s eyes were sad or angry, or whether arms were crossed—and often didn’t hear or listen to what was actually being said.

Mom was telling me that was my gift. That’s why I can still hear her. For weeks she’s come to me in my dreams. I see her in her garden. I see her playing her piano. Talking with me about boys in her blue kitchen. One dream was funny, with her and her friends laughing over her fridge magnet of Nixon with the words: “Thank God he kept our boys out of Northern Ireland.” She was suggesting a similar one about Trump. It was funny. She was engaging. I loved talking politics with her. When I became a journalist, I had ground my day dreaming wire, but I still watched body language, especially when covering murder trials or interviewing politicians. I’m glad I’m not in that world anymore, but I remember how much fun it was to talk with my mom about it all.

My dreams showed me her quirky side before her mind was ravaged by Alzheimer’s or before she was stressed and heart broken. And I could feel that she’s returned to her quirky, beautiful, poetic, funny, musical self.

Over the past two months, through signs and messages and songs and dreams, these are the things she has told me:

There is no way to sum up the entire life of another person with a quick comment, so don’t read gossip crappy news or watch any of it. Don’t participate in judgmental gossip.

Strive to be happy now, with your life exactly as it is.

Forgive everyone. We have to let go of our judgements against others based on one or two things that they may have done. That doesn’t mean we become door mats and let in every person who hurts us over and over again—but let go of resentment.

You are enough, exactly as you are.

You are special.

You don’t need to prove yourself to anyone.

Those who hurt us the most are expressing their own internal pain. They are bleeding inside from issues and scars we may know nothing about it. So ignore whatever hurtful words they say to you.

Follow your heart.

Get out in nature every day if possible.

Don’t Let In anyone go who is negative or who stirs up drama in any way.

Have fun. Be silly. Laugh more. Let the dishes stay in the sink every now and then.

Don’t try to fit in. Be nice and polite when needed, but show your true feelings whenever you can.

Take risks. True love exists for every person at any age.

Stay true to yourself.

Take care of yourself: your body is your temple.

You are deserving—remember that, but don’t forget to give back.

Be grateful.

Be humble.

Own up to your mistakes, but don’t punish yourself for them.

If you’re ever on an ego trip, pause and give to someone else.

If you give too much of yourself or try to control others, step back and allow others the dignity to make their own mistakes and choices.

Trust your gut, not your ego.

Don’t worry so much about pleasing others. Please yourself and be yourself and those who float into your life will be divinely orchestrated to be with you.

~ Thanks for reading this long post! My wish is that it brings a little ray of hope into your day.

Make it a beautiful one.

Laura XO

 

Points of Light

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LACMA @ Night Photo by Laura Roe Stevens

On the first day of 2016 I meditated outside of LACMA (Los Angeles County Museum of Art) with a Zen Buddhist monk and my dear friend Lydia. The two of us giggled as we approached the monk who invited people via his Meetup group to a New Years Zen meditation between the LACMA lamp posts. There were two 30 minute sessions. I made it only through the first. Seikan, the monk, settled in immediately. It was impressive. He was as still and as straight spined as the lamp posts. His stillness could be felt. Immediate. Unwavering. Powerful. Lydia and I sat down near him, in this place close to the street and in front of the museum. It was too sunny at 2 p.m. It was hot. My feet were sweating inside my Uggs. Typical California winter. It had been cold that morning. Now it was hot. I hadn’t exercised yet, so was restless. I hadn’t journaled, so had too many thoughts that needed settling or releasing. I wanted to flow, run, dance, work out some wiggles first. Children were running around and in between the posts. I wanted to play with them and help the parents who were yelling in exasperated tones at them. I could feel their stress, their sadness and their frustration. The holidays were almost over. Relief would come soon. I could feel their need for that. I could hear car breaks squeal. The occasional horn beeped. Couples flirted as they walked past. Their energy was like a soft wind or delicate whisper of hope. Some people took pictures of us. I could hear the camera shutters or people up close whispering, probably with iphones. A man walked up and sat directly behind me and joined in. I could feel his presence before I actually heard him. He had been watching. Thirty minutes is a long time to meditate. After about 25 minutes, both my legs completely fell asleep and tingles were shooting up from my crossed ankles to my thighs. I tried to ignore it. Another shuffle behind me and the sense of someone’s energy jolted me as I realized my purse was in plain view. I moved it to the front of me and heard this person walk away. My left leg, the one with the pulled hamstring, started aching. I didn’t bring my meditation cushion, but rather my bolster, thinking it would be easier to carry around the museum later in my yoga bag. It wasn’t high enough, however, to allow a straight spine or a good distance to angle my knees downward. I caved. Within minutes of moving my legs into a straight position, I heard the bells chime. Our session was over.

It was an interesting way to start the new year. Am I a Zen meditator? Probably not, if I’m honest. I prefer mantra, kundalini or visualization-types of meditation. I like my eyes closed, not half closed, as Zen meditators do. For instance, on New Years, I listened to all the noises, felt the energies around me, and then silently kept saying to myself: Trust, Love, Accept…all things I need in the New Year. Zen meditators let go of everything, including themselves. Maybe I have too much ego? lol! Plus, I exercise a lot, so when I meditate, I want comfort. I want to slouch, or to lay down, or lean back against a wall. Seikan shared that he once sat in zen meditation for 20+ hours while in Japan with his master. That’s amazing!

What I truly enjoyed about the day was learning from this man, listening, and then silently recognizing my own needs, my own preferences. Lydia and I walked around LACMA afterwards. She gravitated toward the architecture exhibit. I loved recognizing models of buildings that I had seen in Spain, France and Italy, but overall, the little models of buildings didn’t move me. I gravitated toward the audio/sensory exhibit. I couldn’t move from Diana Thater’s Delphine room for a long time. Lydia left me and came back. It was like being dropped into the waters with a pod of dolphins. Multiple streaming videos of dolphins swimming and playing were on every wall. Lights shown through in a way that made me feel like I was swimming with them, but also in an angelic dream. Joy bubbled up to the surface and I wanted to play. I wanted to swim with the dolphins again like I did in Costa Rica and in Hawaii. I took picture after picture.

When I was a little girl, my godfather bought me a record of whale and dolphin sounds. I listened to it over and over again for an entire year. The mom whale called to her child differently than she did to family members. The dolphins flirted with one another, warned each other, called out. It was fascinating. Probably because I didn’t speak to anyone outside my immediate family until I was 11. And even within my family, I mainly watched body language and waited for an outburst or drama that I didn’t want any part of. I understood the subtle language of energy and behavior exquisitely at an early age. So of course I gravitated toward whale and dolphin family interaction and language! And suddenly I was in this room, remembering how I played the dolphin and whale sounds over and over when I was a little girl. (My Grease and Heart albums finally bumped the whales & dolphins! ha ha). I got so good I could tell the difference between joyful and sorrowful calls. Remember in Finding Nemo when Dory does all the different whale calls! Yup, I get that. So hilarious. (Here’s the Dory whale VIDEO of it for those in need of a laugh!!) I’m that nerd.

We left the museum after dark and as I drove away, I stuck my phone out of the side window (yes, as I was driving 10 mph) and snapped the amazing picture of the lamp posts. I somehow captured this Crazy beautiful last minute moment that would have past me by unnoticed. How often do I do that? Not recognize a moment or a person or an event or an activity that lights me up? Not until much later do I realize that that person, activity, event, etc. was in fact, one of my points of light?

And once I truly recognize what lights me up, what is my passion, what makes my life joyful, I can gravitate and lean in for more (or to give more.) So maybe I’ll never slow down enough to sit for hours on end as a Zen meditator. But I am finally slowing down enough to recognize my points of light. They are my authentic friends on a similar journey who accept me exactly as I am. They are my senior yogis I teach weekly who teach me more about how to embrace true youth: who are filled with more life and more gusto than most people half their age. Other points of light in my life? My sisters and brother, my children. Music. Yoga. Dance. It’s writing this post. It’s letting go.

What lights you up? What really brings you joy? For me it’s both connection and movement. It’s connected to literal lightness as my life has been way too heavy. It’s connected to playful moments. It’s part emotional, verbal connection and authentic friendship, but then again, it’s playful, silly connection with no need for words. I get that the most. That’s why I couldn’t move away from the audio/sensory exhibit. Having dolphins swim and play and twirl all around me, while listening to the water and feeling light swaying across the walls…drew me in. I wanted to jump in. I wanted to twirl and squeak and flip over and swim over and around each of them. I wanted to explore. I wanted to swim fast. And then crash on a beach and sleep lazily for an hour with a bff. Am I Zen meditator? Probably not. But here’s to exploring more points of light in the New Year! 🙂 ❤

¡Mañana, mañana! I’m in Barcelona!

coffeeBarcastyleI am officially on mañana time…and loving it. After a few hectic and frenetic days in London …I am happy to report I am back to myself and feeling madly in love and at home in Barcelona. In less than two days, it seems that I’ve fallen in love with the heat, the slower pace and the unique rhythms of this city. Or maybe I just feel at ease here. (Here I am, just waking up and having a cup of coffee on the roof with a neighbor who asked sweetly if she could come up @ 1 p.m.)

I love my rooftop apartment where I can literally sleep outside (on what I call my yoga deck) with a bed and outside bathtub. I’m under the stars. I love that feeling! As I write, I can hear my neighbors having dinner at 10 p.m. on their roofs. Soft music, laughter and the clinking of dishes are the soundtrack to a gorgeous sunset each night.

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It’s so relaxing. So peaceful for a city. No yelling or honking of horns like you find in New York or London. A band played tonight in the square. I could hear seniors cheer and clap to the music that wove spanish guitar and accordion, sounding like a Spanish polka. As I write, I can hear bells toll, a child bouncing a ball and sea gulls squawk in the darkness. My apartment is about a 20 minute walk to the sea shore. Earlier, I took a bath under a nearly full moon. My little yoga deck is practically hidden from neighbors with roof decks across from me—the bathtub area is in a private corner anyway!

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This trip is about testing my boundaries and tackling fear. I travelled quite a bit when I lived in London, but this is a solo trip as my boys vacation with their dad in France. I wanted to go somewhere cheap to fly from London, since I meet back up in London to fly back to California with my youngest. I booked this flat specifically because it was on top of a building, mostly outside, (I have about 400 feet inside!) in a residential neighborhood. I knew it was up 8 floors, so I packed only a carry-on and my yoga mat! No hair dryer. Only one pair of shoes! Very few clothes since I wanted a few books. I had to think about just what I need for almost 3 weeks away. I simplified.

And this flat outside where I write, read, eat and do yoga, forces me to engage (important when traveling solo) and detach at the same time. I find myself staring at the clouds and seagulls as they pass by. I watch old neighbors tend to amazing rooftop gardens. I can see younger neighbors doing laundry and cooking or playing with children on their own rooftop oasis.

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My neighbor’s large decks are amazing. On my little deck, I write. Often. I do daily yoga in insane heat, but with continuous breezes that feel like God’s breath. After bathing, I’ll walk very slowly into town to go to markets. I love wearing loose dresses—it’s too hot for anything else. I love smiling at people who smile back. My neighborhood is filled with bohemian artists with nose rings, dark makeup, tattoos—and also seniors who come out only at dusk to watch people from their balconies, while wearing smock dresses and old fashioned white linen shirts. The old and the new converge on this block, perhaps within this entire eclectic city.

narrowlanes

I am not in the main tourist area, and I am thankful for that. Yesterday I ate out alone. I normally hate doing that. I sat outside (it doesn’t get dark until after 10 p.m.) at a cafe table and just watched children run past, adults walking dogs, seniors playing cards. It was relaxing. An old man smiled at me, often. An old lady came over and asked me something in Spanish. I’m convinced she thought the blond girl playing with the water pump in the courtyard was mine. People are people wherever you go. Every southern city I have ever visited has been laid back. No rushing. Long conversations. No one was staring at their mobiles, except for the tourists, who were glued to them. I felt ashamed for that. I felt this way in Seville and in Tuscany too. Perhaps I am destined to return to a hot, slow-paced city again. Southern California, for all its sun, still leaves me cold by the icy Pacific breezes. Laugh all you will, but I had purple fingers after an evening beach stroll last week in Hermosa Beach! Plus, everyone is so busy. So very very busy in LA. I feel like I will move to a southern European spot someday. I know I could definitely live here.

On my first evening in Barcelona, I sat on my balcony observing how the neighborhood begins to percolate once the heat subsides. I noticed a neighbor drag out a large paint brush and bucket. She began to paint her outside patio wall beige. I naively thought she wanted a new color for her wall…I woke in the morning to find a screaming lioness mural across from me! How appropriate for my arrival, as I feel like I’m coming back to life after a long hard winter!

beigecanvas lioness mural

Until I muster the energy to write another post…Tener una hermosa noche! 🙂

Timeless Images From Southeastern Appalachia

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Slave Girl, Photograph, property of the NC Archives, Asheville, NC

“And when great souls die,  after a period peace blooms, slowly and always

irregularly. Spaces fill with a kind of soothing electric vibration.

Our senses, restored, never to be the same, whisper to us.

They existed.  They existed.

We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.”

Maya Angelou “When Great Trees Fall”

countryroad

I recently went on an excursion in the appalachian mountains in TN & NC. I love getting lost on old dirt roads where history seems to drip from the branches of trees. Getting lost here gives you a perspective that can rarely be found in today’s America filled with strip malls and manicured neighborhoods. I sought to find images of a history that wasn’t always recorded. A past that can be sensed and felt from the old dirt roads, abandoned farms and barns, stoic river banks. The backdrop for part of my novel Uriel’s Mask is from this region, and from the pain of those who existed a long time ago, but were never recognized, named, seen, heard. They may never be, but their past still subtly influences the story of our present—which is especially felt in this timeless region of the country.

Here are some more images from my journey:

kudzuhouse

How old is this house, now eaten by kudzu? What stories does it have? Only the trees and soil know, and they aren’t telling! I found this cabin on an old dirt road near Townsend, TN…I was lost, but so glad I found this, as well as a few wild turkeys and one small black bear!


FBroadRiver1

This stretch of the French Broad River in Asheville, NC seems to ache in a haunting way. Neglected from its former state of importance, few visit, and yet it rolls on as if a witness to those who died silently, nameless, near its banks.

oldbarn

If you look closely, you can see the U.S. Mail sign sliding into a Blacksmith sign of this TN barn near Townsend on a winding old dirt road.

horses

How I miss horses! Gentle, powerful, sensitive, soulful—better company than most people. It was hard to see so many neglected in the mountains. Not brushed, left alone for months. These were better cared for than others I saw.

barnred

Why do I love old barns so?

fieldbird

A typical scene between Nashville and Knoxville, TN.

streamI will always love how trees arch and lean in across streams, as if yearning to touch, to comfort one another. They are silent witnesses to all who have walked near or sat on their banks.

maskA mask found in Asheville, no name for artist, unsure of age.

My time in southeast appalachia is always special. This time I researched details for my completed novel Uriel’s Mask. I am so grateful to the librarians, historians and art preservationists who bent over backwards to help me! And also to my sister Elizabeth who got lost with me, giggling the whole time. Sometimes it takes getting lost to get on the right path to be found, right?  And thanks also to Georgene who looked after the boys so I could go on this adventure… Here’s a poem that has always resonated with me, as it strikes a chord of truth, especially for southerners who can sense how much of our painful history has slipped away without witness, into the soil, the river banks, the roots of trees—and even into the boards of old barns and cabins.

“Trees are sanctuaries. Whoever knows how to speak to them, whoever knows how to listen to them, can learn the truth. They do not preach learning and precepts, they preach, undeterred by particulars, the ancient law of life.”

Hermann Hesse, Baume

Grounding Roots While Reaching For the Light

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Reaching for the Light by Laura Roe Stevens

Today I received two messages that I clearly needed—completely and utterly  perfect for me at this moment. The first came from a friend in Italy, another single mom who painstakingly takes care of her seriously ill young daughter’s every need. The quote from Khalil Gibran: ‘Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.’

Then, for some reason, I received a free copy of Deepak Chopra’s 21 Days of Inspiration—part of his bestseller The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success.

Today’s ‘inspiration’ about transformation is based around the metaphor of the beloved Sequoia tree. Again, how perfect for me, as I have been intrigued and mesmerized by these ancient trees and took a trip to see and hike among them. I even bought sequoia puzzles and blocks from my sons, as I am fascinated by the fact that these 3,000-year-old trees, older than Buddha, can only exist with the presence of fire. The heat of the forest fires release their seeds and clear away smaller trees that might block sun light from their roots.

My book, that I’m having difficulty focussing on at the moment, is quite literally centered around the mysticism from ancient trees. Not entirely, but it starts in this manner. I wish I could share a sneak peak within this blog, but a literary agent told me not to, so I’ll listen to her advice.

While the book is not based at all on my life or my childhood, I have always been affected by trees. As a child, I would escape the madness or chaos or fighting that might be occurring within my large household and run away to lay beneath 200-year-old pine trees. Our house bordered an old horse and tobacco farm and I would quite literally run past abandoned slave quarters and a tobacco-curing barn and then walk for ages on the then-empty horse trails, lined with soft pine needles. When I was finally exhausted, I would lay underneath a tree, my head resting on the moss that blanketed its knotted roots, and look up into the sky. The fingers of the trees would touch and move softly, letting in rays of sunlight, bits of blue sky. The shade helped me escape the usual oppressive heat of the South and if I laid still long enough, sometimes a deer would gently wander past. It was my heaven. Laying against the roots of trees that had witnessed likely atrocities from slavery, and perhaps moments of joyous horse-back riding, I wondered just what else had occurred or who else had shared this spot with me in the past. I didn’t know that I was meditating, but my eyes would close half-way, as I’d sleepily watch the limbs sway far above me. There were no other sounds except that of water trickling in the near by stream, leaves or pine needles rustling from deer, rabbits, squirrels or chipmunks. But most certainly, and steadily, like an ocean tide, I’d hear the soft, whispering wind from above. Although I was only a young girl, I think on some level, I recognized the metaphor in the moment that I sought over and over again when I needed to escape. And that is:

– Beauty Exists.

– Distance yourself from chaos, addiction, toxic relationships.

– Find stillness.

– Listen.

– Strengthen your core, your roots.

– Although rooted in who you are and what you want, strive to stay aware, mindful, accepting and grateful—especially for those lessons taught by those who have hurt you the most.

– And, most importantly: bravely, tentatively, reach for the sky, the light, and toward baby steps to manifest your dreams.

Happy New Year all ~

Laura xo