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Before I sat down to write this post, I mused on the phrase, “absence makes the heart grow fonder“, wondering if that could possibly apply here.

It’s true that you haven’t seen my voice on here in over six months.

Tumbling upon the shore of Playa del Carmen was not an accident, there was a clear intention of slowing down the crazy train of travel I was riding on, yet what I didn’t anticipate was a bonafide breakdown aka, a spiritual awakening (a term popularized by Brené Brown).

It began in the spring of 2015, when I was faced with a depression so fierce, I escaped to remote Xcalak, with only a dog and the stars for solace. As time whittled away there, I felt stronger and stronger to finally face civilization again.

I arrived to Playa del Carmen on an intense high, and while this little, walkable beach town welcomed me with comforting arms, my veneer began to crack. My life as a whole was in fractional chunks.

A huge reason I stopped writing was realizing that I was a liar. I used to write this blog to inspire others and spout on about having an authentic life, being true and genuine to yourself, when the reality was segments of my life were a mess.

Many of my relationships, friendships or otherwise, had spun out of control, to the point I would compromise myself to be in them. Whether it meant accepting less than I deserved or being dishonest with others or myself to remain attached to a person.

Since my time in China, I had been heartily dodging a fair amount of debt that accumulated. It felt false to write about a free-wheeling lifestyle I certainly wasn’t practicing.


The promising prospect of Playa del Carmen

Overall, what really became clear was how I allowed all or any of these factors to harm everything I did, including travel adventures. Happiness, to me, meant waiting for the other shoe to drop.  There was never room to relax into myself, or my life, because I never let that happen.

It wasn’t nutty travel that needed reorganization, but ME. There wasn’t a new country I could escape to, or use to conveniently forget what was behind me. It was time to take real responsibility for myself.

So, over the past six months, I toiled at repairing me. I pulled up the hidden rug of my psyche, swept out all the rotting, smelling garbage under there, examined all of it, and threw it away.

I consciously sought to integrate those split parts of myself; everything I avoided, lied about, cried over, or lost.

And who has emerged is someone that still loves to laugh, have adventures, but can finally practice joy, freedom, and choices in all realms of my life.

Happiness is not a cosmic high, but a strong presence of peace and serenity. To be blunt, happiness sometimes feels boring, because it’s devoid of drama or chaos. It’s a state of mind I am still acclimating to, but loving all the same.

With any fantastic frontier being crossed, it only made sense to celebrate this renewal process, which is why I’m grateful to have met and worked with photographer, Ashlie Woods.

The Photo Shoot to End All Photo Shoots

I have come to believe that we don’t meet anyone by accident. Meeting Ashlie Woods was most certainly Divinely Orchestrated.

Ashlie is a Dallas based photographer and retreat leader currently hanging her camera bag in Playa. And through the introduction of my dear friend, Sarah Chamberlain, we decided to work together. How lucky am I!

While Ashlie’s experience is vastly diverse, lately she’s been focusing specifically on women and capturing their evolving journeys.

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When she asked what I saw for our photo shoot, I wasn’t quite sure at first.

I’m in my forties.

I’m never going to be the thinnest woman – definitely not the ideal of what Asian women are supposed to look like.

I’m aging. This is what my body is now.

On it went like this, until finally I knew what I wanted – to capture who I am now, and welcome that as is. To honor all my choices, ones that led me down the painful path, along with those decisions that allow me to continue growing. To love it all unconditionally.

And sure, to document that women over forty are not faded, but hot blooded and alive.

Finally, I always feel the most natural and beautiful at the beach, or in the water. These were taken on Isla Holbox, a small island off the coast of Chiquila.

Get ready, you’re about to see me like you’ve never envisioned me before!

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The process of shooting with Ashlie is nothing short of magical. She is a true sculptor, an artist with a strong vision, and during a shoot she takes raw clay and forms it into breathtaking, rich images. Ones that tell a clear story about each woman she captures.

I felt cared for, safe, and fully trusted her to look after me. Every woman should have this experience, which is why I’m excited she agreed to be interviewed!

I also want to thank equally talented Christine and Robin for cultivating beautiful energy with us on that day!

The Wildhearted Photographer: Ashlie Woods

I’m so glad to focus on Ashlie Woods. Learn more about her work with women and her retreats!

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Gorgeous image of Ashlie by Christine Hara

Q: My readers want to know, who is Ashlie Woods?

A: My journey to freedom began over a decade ago when I attended a weekend workshop and discovered that I wasn’t broken. That life-changing moment propelled me along an endless path of self-love and authentic living.

In the decade since, I’ve come to know the wholeness of who I am, to trust my intuition for guidance and to believe that I am worthy of what I most desire.

Photography is my tool and the perfect doorway into possibility as it teaches us to look for the light, that a shift in perspective changes everything, that where we choose to focus determines what we see and most importantly, that we are the artist and our life is ours to create.

Q: Why have you chosen to focus your photography work on women’s journeys specifically?

A: It all happened organically. I started a tradition several years ago of taking a nice, clean portrait of myself on my birthday. Along with that I’d make a declaration about who I was at that point in my life and what the next year would be about. The year I turned 34 it was, “this year is going to be about speaking up and giving voice to what matters. Thirty-four year olds aren’t afraid to do that!” It sounds rather simple but I found the practice to be incredibly powerful and at some point it occurred to me that everyone should do it and that I could help walk them through it. The whole idea was so exciting to me!

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Q: What do you hope each woman gains from the experience of working with you?

A: I want to see women own their stories, claim their victories, love their bodies, experience their beauty and celebrate all that they are and all they bring to the world. I know the process that we engage in to create their portraits can provide that and the resulting images simply serve to represent the internal shift that happens. That’s what I hope to offer the people I work with — a personal transformation in their experience of themselves, plus a stunning portrait that reflects back to them their true beauty.

Q: Tell me about your wonderful Wildhearted retreats, which I understand is another way to connect to women?

A: I’m so excited about these retreat experiences. The idea first came to me in a flash of a vision (I refer to these visions as Divine downloads) and I saw it all instantly, it was beautiful. There were women circled around a gorgeous, candlelit table at dinner and they were radiating a glow from within. You know the way women do when they are comfortable in their skin, know their worth, and filled with joy? Yeah, THAT! And I knew I was meant to make that happen.

The retreats are about reclaiming your innate creative power and finding the courage move in the direction of what you most desire with a deep knowing that you deserve it. We’ll utilize various modalities including meditation, dance, photography, and journaling as a way to uncover the barriers you have to your fullest self-expression and you’ll set yourself free to create your life from a place of limitless possibility. No previous experience or expertise is required. Just an open heart and a willing spirit. My next retreat is happening in Tulum, Mexico, at a beachfront oasis called Maya Tulum, October 22nd-29th, 2016.

To contact Ashlie about working with her on a shoot, or ask about her upcoming retreats, find her here:

Websitewww.ashliewoods.com.
Wildhearted retreatswww.ashliewoods.com/wildhearted-retreats.
Facebookhttps://www.facebook.com/ashlie.n.woods.
Instagramhttps://www.instagram.com/ashlie.woods/.