CAMBODIA // VIETNAM

It's been a full year since my two month, solo backpacking trip through Cambodia and Vietnam, and it's only now, twelve months later, that I have the words to accompany the experience. I left for Cambodia in late December, on a whim, and without any plan. I've always had the feeling that there was some answer hidden in the uncertainty and solitude of traveling alone, so I set out to find it.

We live in a culture that's constantly encouraging us to distract ourselves. "iPhones! Jobs! The Interwebz! Friends! Shopping! Shows! Read more! Work harder! Don't stop! Feeling a bit unsettled? Beginning to ponder the nature of your existence and impending mortality? JUST BUY SOMETHING!"

I don't mean to say that any of these activities are negative. They're all fun, beautiful, and necessary aspects of our lives. But I'm curious as to the intention behind *why* I participate in the majority of them. Do I even know why? I think in many ways "travel" can be an extension of this "never enough, distraction based" paradigm. "Unsatisfied with your life? Feeling a little restless? Bored? Just leave! Try a new place! Adventure! But whatever you do, make sure you don't slow down *too* much... make sure you don't look *too* deeply within." Got it! So I boarded a plane, and off I went.

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Travel is incredible. It's been a huge part of my life for as long as I can remember, and has catalyzed some of the most brilliant, awe-inspiring experiences. It's propelled huge leaps forward in my consciousness, it's brought me to the most beautiful, brave, radiant humans, introduced me to new cultures, new ways of life, new schools of thought, brutally forced me out of my comfort zone, and brought about appreciation and empathy on levels I could never have dreamed of. The list of positives are endless. But along with the magic, there's always been this underlying feeling that I'm running from something. Distracting myself from something. It of course, was myself, and this SE Asia trip shown an industrial sized spotlight on that truth. Being so far away, and so very alone lit up the aspects of myself that needed work. Big work, and I was forced to look at them. Here's what I learned:

I learned that I could travel thousands of miles, and that my neurotic tenancies would pack up their bags and accompany me. Wherever I went, there I'd be.

I fought hard against this at first. But then I learned to accept it, and to sit with it. What other choice did I have?

I learned how to be truly alone.

I learned how to self soothe, and how to start digging into the parts of myself that I was disgusted with, or ashamed of, or mad at. I learned to forgive them.

I learned that my own heart is a safe place to hang out in.

This last one was the biggest for me. That my own heart is a safe place to hang out in. I realized I was constantly running from ever just being with myself, because it felt too scary. It still feels scary at times. But this new, much safer space has given a whole new meaning to the saying "home is where the heart is." Home is wherever MY heart is. Whether I'm cuddled up in my bed in Portland, or on a motor bike riding down a dusty road in rural Cambodia -- I am home.

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Endlessly thankful for these two amazingly beautiful countries, who's people opened up their hearts and homes to me, and extended grace beyond necessity.

BOUDIOR SESSION

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Witnessing women step into their divine sexuality has been one of the most rewarding aspects of my career. Boudoir sessions are a beautiful opportunity to explore what femininity looks and feels like to each individual, while getting to hang out and play/create in that space! It's the best. Our session was filled with music, champagne, sunshine, the softest rug ever, incredible For Love and Lemons lingerie, and a whole lot of high pitched squealing on my end. Before we begin here... I'd like to take a moment to bow down to this goddess. Brit, you're amazing, kind, intelligent, creative, and out of this world gorgeous. Thank you for existing!!

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BADASS VEGAN INTERVIEW

This is a conversation with John Lewis, The Badass Vegan about the growing tidal wave of veganism within the hip-hop community, the power of kindness, the resilience of the human spirit, and the idea that peace begins on our plates. John embodies a refreshing perspective on what it means to be plant based, and to live from a space of positivity. 

Below I've inserted a little audio clip from the final question of the interview, so you can get a feel for Johns energy, voice and tone before reading on, as they so uniquely shape who he is. This guy radiates kindness. The question I was *going* to ask (haha you'll see) was:

Me: "What would you say to someone who feels like they don't "fit in" to the current narrative of who a vegan is?" (ie privileged hippy).

JOY, am I right?! Ok, onto some questions! 

Me: So you're working with the producers who created CowSpiracy on a new documentary (amazing!) Can you tell me a little bit about it, and how it relates to your life and your vegan journey thus far?

Badass Vegan:  Absolutely. Let's start with hip-hop. It's everywhere. The impact and influence that it has on our culture and community is huge.  And now there's this growing correlation between hip-hop, and the number of hip-hop artists who are now vegan. It's like, wait... until recently veganism has been thought of as this prestigious, white, privileged thing, so why are so many people in this industry adopting this lifestyle? We've got Waka Flocka, Andre3000 from Outkast, Jermaine Dupri, Common, KRS-One, J-Kwon and Murphy Lee from the St. Lunatics with Nelly, MOBI, Jhene Aiko, Russell Simons, Stic from Dead Prez, Styles P, JadaKiss from the LOX, Mya, Stevie Wonder, just off the top of my head. What's going on here? So in this documentary, we're going to talk to the artists, and see why they initially changed, and how they've physically and mentally changed singe going vegan. 

The documentary will start out with my story, how I grew up in Ferguson, Missouri and was constantly surrounded by violence. I was a butcher there for a while. I would cut up 50 pounds of chicken and not even think about it being an animal, or having once had a life. Where I'm from we're just numb to death, it's scary. Like if someone were to tell me someone died, I mean I would feel bad, but mostly just numb to it. It's so normal. When you've been around violence so long it doesn't have much of an effect on you -- numbness is the mentality that comes along with it.

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How we think is related to how we eat, and I don't think many people make the connection that when we eat meat, we're consuming violence. I'm big on catch phrases, and I've been putting rhymes together since I was a little kid, so, the first name that came to me for the documentary was Hip-Hippocrates -- Hippocrates being the Greek physician who was way before his time in his understanding of food being medicine, and medicine being food. So that will be the title, "Hip-Hippocrates."

It's important for me to share my personal story. I know that with everything I've been through, there's somebody out there who's going through something similar and feels like they're alone. People always think that their story is unique, and that no one else has been through the struggles that they've been through, but that's just not true. You're never alone. I'm very open about my mom being hooked on drugs, and trying to sell me for drug money when I was born, or about loosing countless friends in high school to violence. I was a fat kid growing up, and I didn't apply myself in school. I've been through all of it, so I just know that by telling my story, I can help a lot of people who might be going through it too. I'm hoping that this documentary will help speak to an audience that might not normally listen to the vegan message. I think people will be able to relate to my story, and will listen to the huge hip-hop influencers who are also vegan. It's not about preaching to people, its just about sharing knowledge and trying to help. 

Me: Have you felt your energy shift since going vegan? Like have you felt yourself softening to these experiences? Or what has it been like for you, within your own body? 

BV: "I didn't feel a softening, but I felt a new awareness. Like a cloud had been lifted. Like I was previously living in this haze, and now I see more, I feel more. Especially within my body.  I can recognize the energy within my body. My judgment is less clouded, I'm very, VERY aware of everything I do now. I'm able to think before I act, where as in a lot of situations in the past I was more reactive. I was ready to fight. But that's just where I was from. I was raised to strike first, 'cuz if you don't strike first, you might not get to strike ever again.  That's how it was. But now, instead of striking first and being physical, I can outsmart people.

Me: "Ooooo there's so much power there!"

BV: "There's SO much power there. But I think even more so, there's power in kindness. That's probably my biggest thing, if you do good shit enough, it's going to help somebody, and it's ultimately going to help you too. Being nice feels good. And on the other hand, when you try and act tough and are an asshole to people, it negatively affects you. You really feel it. So, thats my big message really, just spread kindness. You don't even have to spread love. Just kindness. You don't have to love the person, just be nice. Thats it!

Me: Kindness and understanding are really at the core of the vegan message that you're spreading then too, isn't it? Not shaming or condemning anyone if they aren't as "vegan" as you. 

BV: Right. And that's what I tell all the vegans who go trolling on other people pages, up on their high-horses.

Me: Oh god, that was SO me at one point. Well, not the trolling but definitely the high-horsing. 

BV: Haha thats okay! Actually a couple of my friends and I call them "Tier 5 Vegans" -- you were a Tier 5 Vegan, Olivia. Like, "all you down there! You're not in Tier 5 yet. Talk to me when you're at least a Tier 3 or above." 

Me: Haha shit. Yes, guilty. So, what is it like when you go back home to Ferguson? How has your family and friends reacted to you becoming a vegan? 

BV: When I go back home, they may joke with me a bit, but they don't play with me too much because they know I'm passionate about veganism. I've been living this way for ten years, and the funny thing is, a lot of people who make jokes with me, they're the ones who end up asking for advice. So for instance, a lot of people are absolutely shocked when they find out my age. 

Me: Wait, yeah, how old are you?

BV: 39.

Me: 

BV: Hahah exactly, thats what I'm saying, the vitality that I got with the transition to this lifestyle has been amazing. Like I said, my family thinks I'm crazy, but they're all on medication and I'm not, so that's a big difference. I attribute a lot of my vitality to the vegan lifestyle, but a huge part of it came from the lack of stress in my life. Regardless of my situation, I just don't stress anything. Stress will age you like nothing else, it takes a tole on your body. Most of what happens to us in life is out of our control, but what you CAN control is you. And when you control you, that's all your responsible for. Just do your best, and be kind to people.

AMEN. Thank you so much, John! If you want to listen to a longer and more in depth interview, check out his segment on The Rich Roll Podcast -- it's incredible. You can follow that link here! http://www.richroll.com/podcast/john-lewis/ 

You can also find John on Instagram at @BadassVegan or at his website, http://badassvegan.com/

And if you havent yet seen Conspiracy on Netflix, pleaseeee go watch! It's a game-changer. http://www.cowspiracy.com/

Be sure to keep your eyes peeled for "Hip-Hippocrates" coming to Netflix in 2018 as well!  Love you guys! xx