Category Archives: Photography

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.

 

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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.

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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!

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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”

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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:

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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!


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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.

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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.

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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.

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Why do I love old barns so?

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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

Living Yoga: Tuning In

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The Living Yoga Retreat in Santa Ynez, Calif. this past week, was a soulful, simple, beautiful journey. I say simple, because it brought me back to the beauty of the basics. We all know the simple truths that ring true if we stop to acknowledge them. These truths, if followed, allow us to live by what tunes us into the beauty around and within us.  For me, this retreat, led by the beautiful and talented yogis Linda Baffa and Chelsea Welch, allowed me to embrace my inner rhythms. Waking at 6 a.m. every morning, doing a netti pot, going to 6:30 yoga and meditation classes, assisting with cook and cleanup, required dedication, effort and focus. The salt water cleanse and whole, fresh, organic vegan diet—cleansed my body and mind. I felt buoyant, yet grounded with focus.  This coffee-drinking, chocolate-loving gal, felt free and pure and happy. I found myself walking through pomegranate fields and just smiling. And like good witches of the West, we all meditated and flowed—focussing on our intentions and manifesting our dreams. Dream boards were made. A day of silence required inner reflection, painting, giggling, hiking. For me, I was able to determine what voice to start the sixth chapter of my book with. I had vivid, inspiring dreams. And, just as important, I connected with soulful, kind, fun, inspiring women.

Now that I’m back, what I have taken from this trip, (which I also felt when in Tuscany) can be boiled down in simple thoughts and pictures. Enjoy:

Slow Down. The Journey May Inspire You as Much as the Destination.

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Be Grateful for whats around the corner. Even bumps in the road provide valuable lessons for growth.

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Pay Attention. Hidden Gems Can Be Found In Your World.

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Embrace What Inspires You.

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You Can Make a Difference: Small Efforts Blossom.

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Pay Attention to the Signs:

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Your Legacy Matters. Pass Down Traditions.

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Listen To the Wind, Breathe Deeply and Tune into Your Truth.

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Sailing Into the Light of Compassion

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I took this photo on Monday evening, after an emotional weekend. My nearly 5-year-old son was sitting on our deck singing his favorite new song: “I Have Peace Like a River, I Have Love Like an Ocean” (so cute!). I looked up and saw this sailboat sailing into a tiny spotlight of light, breaking through rain clouds over the Pacific Ocean. I knew instantly that it was the perfect metaphor for me as of late.

Perhaps it’s all the long hours of yoga teacher training? Or, maybe it’s all the hip opening we’ve been doing lately? But something is breaking down walls. I find that in this past month of intensive training, I’m opening up my heart more than ever and releasing a roller coaster of emotions and long-lost memories. During a particularly long hip opening called frog pose (not advisable for newbies!), a memory of my ex-husband popped into my head. It was in the middle of the night four and a half years ago. He had gone to the nursery, changed our infant baby’s diaper and was humming as he walked back into our room. He handed the little burrito to me in bed so I could nurse him back to sleep. He kissed the baby’s head and mine, before turning back in. It was such a sweet memory.

After our six hour training session this Saturday, I thought about what other memories had been popping up lately. Some have been hard, from my childhood that was an ever-shifting alcohol-fueled tide. But some sweet too. One was of my dad, laughing and teasing me and one of my best friends he liked to call Beastie. I had forgotten how he would tease my girl and boy-friends in such silly ways.

What I’m realizing, as I mellow, is that it’s just as critical to recall the good along with the bad memories from those who have let me down. We are all such multi-faceted beings. Even those who have hurt me tremendously, have also been kind, silly and tender at times. This can be confusing, but for me, it helps as I piece together my past that for the longest time felt like shifting sands. It’s hard to leap forward with confidence, when the past resembles a shaking, evolving platform.

I think the hard part of recovering from a divorce, or any betrayal or lies,  is the internal confusion that grows. As I discovered the truth about events in my marriage, and even in my childhood, I started to question my ability to discern just what is real, or what was felt, or what can be trusted by others.

That’s why light bulbs flashed for me while reading an article by psychiatrist Anna Fels on Sunday. Apparently, many other people felt the same way, as her New York Times editorial Great Betrayals was the fifth most viral news article on the Internet that day.

I haven’t written about divorce or betrayal in a long, long time. There’s a reason for that. I’m focussing on my kids and my writing and moving on in positive ways. But Dr. Fels’ compassionate explanation of the psychological effects of  lies has resonated deeply with me. I don’t think I’ve read a more thorough article on the topic ever—and trust me, I’ve read plenty. Here’s why:

Dr. Fels explains eloquently why it’s so hard for those of us who have had been lied to, to move on successfully. We no longer have trust in our memories—in the narrative of our life. This erodes into a patchy, mental foundation, as we begin to mistrust what we see or hear or even experience in the present. In order to move forward, we have to put together the narrative of our past. And this takes courage and time to put the whole story line back together. It takes courage to own the good and bad times—regardless of what else might have been happening. And perhaps that part can only come after forgiveness truly settles in. At least, that’s how I see it.

Dr. Fels simply explains that the person who does the lying or betrayal can recover more easily as they have an intact past. This person knows exactly what she or he did and felt. And if remorseful, can recover faster and step forward refreshed and determined to begin a new. Typically, they garner more support, too, as everyone loves a come-back story. The psychiatrist gave many examples of betrayal, including a client who hid a massive debt from his partner for years.

The part of betrayal that hurts the most are always the lies. They eat away at the fabric of your past reality and the ability to trust what you sew in the future. For instance, a friend who has been divorced several years is still discovering more lies and betrayals from her ex. The continual drip of new information from friends and family keeps her on edge. Just what was real from their marriage? When they were on vacation did he mean what he said? They had a lot of fun times, did he not share them? Were they not real? When he wanted to venture into another business abroad, was another woman in the picture then, too? And what about their many friends who knew? Should she trust them now?

Dr. Fels explains:

“Insidiously, the new information disrupts their sense of their own past, undermining the veracity of their personal history. Like a computer file corrupted by a virus, their life narrative has been invaded. Memories are now suspect: what was really going on that day? Why did the spouse suddenly buy a second phone “for work” several years ago? Did a friend know the truth even as they vacationed together? Compulsively going over past events in light of their recently acquired (and unwelcome) knowledge, such patients struggle to integrate the new version of reality. For many people, this discrediting of their experience is hard to accept. It’s as if they are constantly reviewing their past lives on a dual screen: the life they experienced on one side and the new “true” version on the other. But putting a story together about this kind of disjunctive past can be arduous.”

As I read this article, I felt a wave of compassion roll over me like a mother rocking her child and saying “there, there.” Piecing together the past is arduous.

I loved that Dr. Fels reminds readers that the people who are lied to are NOT naive for trusting their partners and they were not” in denial and knew on some level”—both sentiments that misguided friends and family often say to the person in pain. The psychiatrist explains that friends become queasy about the lack of control victims of betrayal have—often making them to be less supportive or critical.

“But the betrayed are usually as savvy as the rest of us. When one woman I know asked her husband, a closet alcoholic who drank secretly late at night, how he could have hidden his addiction for so long, he replied, “It took a lot of work.””

Dr. Fels’ article, (without specifically stating it) reminds ALL of us to seek compassion. Life is messy. We are all multi-faceted and none of us are perfect. The person who is struggling to piece together their own narrative, especially, needs to find compassion for themselves. It’s okay if you don’t move on immediately or always behave with grace and forgiveness. This is hard work.

I feel blessed to finally be on the other side. And as waves of good memories start flooding in, I’m starting to own them. At first it confused me into thinking I wanted to return to my old life. There were many good times, after all. But now I know it’s just a way for me to be grateful for what I had and how I’m growing in my awareness and in my capacity for forgiveness and compassion. (And this includes for myself.) There were plenty of times when I might have been overly critical and less grateful than I am now. I’m owning them too—and moving on. But most importantly, when I recall a memory where I felt love and security, when in light of discovered events, it likely wasn’t reciprocated, I now allow it to be ok. I felt it. I lived it. And that memory can be owned, too. One person’s actions doesn’t necessarily negate your own feelings or hopes. And they shouldn’t be an excuse to shut down, and not trust or dare to love again. But it just takes time—and more importantly, it takes compassion.

I’ll leave you with this quote from one of my favorite Buddhist authors:

“The only reason we don’t open our hearts and minds to other people is that they trigger confusion in us that we don’t feel brave enough or sane enough to deal with. To the degree that we look clearly and compassionately at ourselves, we feel confident and fearless about looking into someone else’s eyes. ”
― Pema Chödrön

Is Success a Destination?

Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens

Photo by: Laura Roe Stevens

My apologies for being gone so long. To say life has been nutty lately would be an understatement. As a recap: the last two weeks of August my boys were with their father and I had delicious, rare alone time at home working feverishly on my new book. It’s southern, semi-historical fiction and a lot of fun. I was really in the groove. It was amazing to have the freedom to write, work out, take walks, etc. I was SO excited when the boys returned, however. For two days beforehand, I organized the house, their toys, books, etc. I prepared meals like veggie lasagne, freezing half. I was determined to start the new school year on the right foot. School would start, I would focus 3 to 4 hours a day on my book with the goal of getting through half of it by October.

Little did I realize that I was entering a crazed period. The first week with my boys should have been an indicator of what was to come! School hadn’t yet started, my nanny was away that week, and to add insult to injury, my freezer broke. Repairman couldn’t come for two days. I lost just about everything.

Second week, school still had not completely started for my oldest (we had one day off and one half day for some reason with two intensive back to school nights!) and the preschool for my youngest wouldn’t start until Sept 9th—and only half days till Oct. 1! I also had five articles to write for clients. Oh BOY! No work on my book could be done while I struggled to finish two cancer articles, one pregnancy article and begin two more bylines for an author/client. I was very grateful for the work, because as luck would have it, my car broke down. And when I say broke down, I mean completely broke! I had wanted to sell it and get a hybrid this Fall, but in this condition, there was no way. The transmission cost $3,500 and required me to be without my car for a week. During this time, I had also started yoga teacher training. All the times were not completely convenient for me or my babysitter. Some morning training started at 6:30 / 7a.m.

Finally, last week, as the crescendo, someone hacked into my email system, compromising clients and friends and family—even nearly fooling my ex-husband into giving him money—pretending to be me having an emergency. My computer had to be shut down, the FBI contacted and an expert hired to fix and clean my machine. All this delayed my projects and even infected one of my editor’s machines.

Sigh.

So, what valuable life lessons did I learn during this period? Plenty!

Lesson One:  Prepare/Plan ahead.
From the freezer incident, I learned how great it was to cook ahead of time. With many of my frozen foods thawing, I began to cook with abandon, preparing marinated chicken dishes, cooking meats and fish, making sandwiches with cooked meats, and having every meal accounted for the entire week. Life went smoother. Similarly, the computer incident taught me that while some things can’t be helped (we still don’t know exactly how the hacker gained access to my account), I can back up my important documents with a new hard drive.

Lesson Two: New Beginnings are Energizing.
Cleaning the freezer, I realized how much I had kept in there that I didn’t use for years. Throwing out the old and cleaning the freezer, energized me. As I slowly restock the freezer, I am conscious about what I put in and what I will actually cook within the week.

Lesson Three: Let People Help You.
The car incident and my yoga training needs taught me to ask for help when I need it and to accept that help. I have no problem helping others. I do, however, feel badly about asking for help. But friends often want to and are honored when you trust them with important things, such as your children. As a single mom without family nearby, I need to reach out more. I started doing that and am grateful for the car borrowed and the help with my kids on days that I need it. I know that I’ll respond with love and assistance in the future.

Lesson Four:  BREATHE.
Sure, I had a lot of expenditures and demands on my time and stress that didn’t allow me to focus on my goal of putting in more writing on my book. I did, however,  keep my cool. I credit that completely with yoga and meditation. Instead of snapping, getting distracted, thinking (too many!) negative thoughts, etc. I took deep breaths and centered my mind. Daily yoga (even if at home for 20 minutes) and 10 minutes of meditation each morning or evening stilled my mind. I have to distance myself from all that stresses me and all that is out of my control, to garner the perspective I need to focus on all that is possible.

Lesson Five:  Slow Down.

If you’re stuck in the fast lane, spinning from moment to moment—something HAS TO GIVE. For me, these weeks were crazed because I had so many school and athletic demands for my oldest son and a preschool getting out at 11:45 a.m. daily for my youngest. ( Oct. 1st, we start full days!) It seems that California schools start later and ease into their year more slowly than East Coast schools. That’s just life. I also had soccer games and deadlines and yoga training. At the time, it felt like I couldn’t say no to any freelance projects as the car breakdown and all the school payments from PTAs and ed foundations and other multiple requests, meant that I could have easily spent nearly $6,000 additional this month alone. Now, I’m slowing down. There’s no reason to take every assignment or go to every event or contribute to the point of insanity.

Lesson Six:  Success isn’t a Destination, It’s a Daily Journey
As Andre Agassi said in a recent interview (Q&A in the October 2013 issue of The Red Bulletin): success isn’t a destination. “Setting goals and always meeting them doesn’t make you happy. It’s how you feel every night when you go to bed.”

“Success isn’t what comes out, it’s what you put in,” says Agassi. “Doing things completely or not at all. Caring about what you do. …  Don’t lie to yourself and look for shortcuts. Success isn’t a result. Success is a way of living you choose for yourself.”

Lesson Seven: Concentrate on What You Can Do

Instead of letting fear take over when stressed, focus on what can be done. For me, I could worry about losing clients or worry about paying all the bills and berate myself for not logging more pages in my book. Instead, I chose to concentrate on my strengths and what I could do—triaging daily what needed to be addressed. Agassi put it perfectly in his advice for child athletes (which is applicable to all of us setting goals): “You should concentrate on the things that you can influence—you can control your attitude, your work ethic, your concentration. If it’s windy or hot or something aches or you’re tired from the match yesterday, then you have to accept it.”

For me, each day, I have to concentrate of being present with my boys. Listening to them. Being in the moment at dinner, or during bathtime. It all counts. Making sure I don’t freak out, and am a good role model. That’s what matters most, at the end of the day, this matters so much more than whether I logged 10 pages. I will, however, log more pages as my schedule allows.

Lesson Eight: Be Kind To Yourself

Beating myself up will never help me accomplish my goals. Sure, I could have handled some things better. I could have backed up my computer, for instance. I could have stayed up till 1 a.m. and logged more pages in my book. But rehashing all of my mistakes and beating myself up doesn’t do anything. Over the past month I’ve really been introspective and honest about past mistakes and while that can be helpful when trying to improve, it can also be destructive if I let negative voices into my mind and constantly berate myself. Instead, as I drift off to sleep, I say to myself: I am doing the best that I can. I am exactly where I am meant to be right now. I am enough.

Final Lesson: Laugh Every Day

Even during all the mess, I love that my four-year-old, especially, makes me laugh. He demands that I look at him when he makes silly faces. He dances. He prances. He tickles. He skips. We have secret codes and games that make us laugh. Our latest is when he starts talking gibberish like Mr. Chatterbox and only I know what he’s trying to do as it’s our favorite bedtime story. We also have a daily competition on who loves each other most. “I love you more than an eagle!” he says. I respond: “I love you more than a pelican!” These moments last a lifetime. They sustain me. I only hope that as my little one gets older, I can keep finding ways to laugh a little each day—in spite of how my day may proceed.