World-renowned photographer and videographer, Carl Studna, is the foremost practitioner of the LuminEssence Method, a new paradigm for radiating the light that resides within all of us, inspiring and revealing each person’s authentic gifts. The LuminEssence Method empowers the energy within us thereby allowing us to fully express it. As a photographer, Carl’s intimate portraits of influential people ranging from Paul McCartney to His Holiness the Dalai Lama are published and acclaimed worldwide. Carl shares the primary theme that weaves its way through all modes of his work – that of life as a sacred journey to be cherished and embraced and awakening to the splendor that lies in life’s seemingly ordinary moments. He also shares his pivot story around his new release, Evolution of Loving, an intimate glimpse into eight remarkable partnerships that have been consciously built – and in many cases, rebuilt – on a foundation of authenticity, personal responsibility, and trust. Enjoy this amazing conversation.
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Radiating LuminEssence & A Conscious Approach to Love With Carl Studna
I feel blessed and so grateful to be here with you all and to be alive in this moment. Every day, I am not surprised or shocked anyway that I wake up, but I have for many years now cultivated this practice of being grateful just for waking, just for the fact that my eyes open and that I can see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. These are things that are so profound and so important that I’ve taken for granted from time to time. Maybe you’re the same as me. We take the simple things for granted often and they are so important. They are such a blessing. What would our lives be without them?
We all know people and we all know situations where folks have not been so fortunate, so in this moment I’m grateful. I’m grateful to be here with you. I’m grateful to be able to spend this time doing something I absolutely love. Hopefully, whatever you’re doing, you’re loving this moment. Hopefully in your daily experience you’re cultivating a practice and doing something that you love each and every day. I am giving gratitude ahead of time for the audience and that this is part of that routine or that ritual of doing something for yourself and doing something that you truly love.
I am especially blessed to have a dear friend who is on our show and a guest. I call him a guest but he’s more than a guest for me. You are going to love this guy. What a cool man. He’s got an amazing background and has done some incredible things in his life. We’re going to dig into some of those things and have a great talk. This will keep you company with whatever it is you happen to be doing. Maybe you’re in the gym, maybe you’re on the treadmill or maybe you’re outside walking in nature. I hope you’re outside walking in nature, walking along the ocean, along the shoreline. Maybe you’re at work, that’s fine too. You could be on the subway, you could be doing almost anything, but what a joy it is to be able to keep you company as you’re doing whatever it is you’re doing.
I get to introduce you to my dear friend, Carl Studna. Carl is a multifaceted photographer, inspirational speaker, teacher and author. Carl’s intimate portraits of influential people ranging from Sir Paul McCartney to His Holiness, the Dalai Lama, are published and known worldwide. Carl’s innovative work, the LuminEssence Method, teaches a new paradigm for radiating the light that resides within, revealing each person’s authentic gifts. Carl is the author of the award-winning book, Click!: Choosing Love One Frame at a Time and his new release, the Evolution of Loving, is amazing. Carl’s life work is dedicated to inspiring us to rest in the pure awareness of our illuminated path, both in front of the camera and behind it, but most importantly in our individual lives. Carl’s a member of the esteemed Transformational Leadership Council and travels the world documenting beauty through diversity. Carl, is there something there that you’d like to supplement or add to or maybe tell us what it is that you’re excited about in this moment? Welcome to the show.
Adam, it’s so great to be here. In this moment, what I’m excited about is being with you. This is a great way to start this day. Filling in the blanks, I love being around people that light me up as I see myself lighting them up. I feel that way with you, with Randi, and with your family. My wife is a deep huge spark in my life which I don’t think was mentioned in the bio. As the bio said, my life, as I’ve continued to grow and mature, becomes more and more dedicated to how I can fully rest in the fullness of love and light and be that and emanate that and see that in others and have others bring that out in themselves in a higher way.
Carl, thanks so much for filling in that blank. It’s important that at every opportunity that we can look at ourselves in the moment and say, “How can I be more loving this moment or be more of a presence, the presence of something, some spark of the mother flame which we can call lots of things, Source, God, Love? You mentioned your wife who I happen to know and she is a dear woman and a good friend of ours as well. Would you share a little bit about your lovely wife? I want to bring you into that heart space as well.
Cynthia James is so multifaceted. I can share a little bit about what she does. What she does is she’s a motivational speaker, an author, and a deep reach coach.
I’m more interested in who she is to you.
She’s a huge flame of light, love and compassion. Anyone that’s with her, you’re going to see reflected back to your truth. That’s who she is and what she’s dedicated to.
She’s been that for you for a number of years. You met some time ago. Did you meet in the the’90s? Is that about the right decade?
Mid ‘90s, ‘95. We will have been together 23 years.
She’s also part of this incredible book that I now get to hold up. At the end of this beautiful book, Evolution of Loving, there are tools and practices that Cynthia inserted, is that right?
Yes. What we decided to do at the end of this book was synthesize and pull out some of the gems of some of the practices. There are eight couples in the book. Some of the couples speak of these practices that they would do that help to expand their love and help them grow in their love together and keep it awake, conscious, and fresh. Cynthia extracted something from those and then she added some of hers that she’s developed and ones that we continue to implement through our relationship.
I want us to dive into your pivot. There’s no one pivot. We’re pivoting throughout our lives, it’s just that we’re not always conscious of it. Becoming consciously aware of the decisions we make and why we make certain decisions, we make some of the same mistakes again and again, not because we choose to do that, but we are somewhat unconscious. We talked about your pivot or the pivots that we might mention, they’re the conscious ones. They’re the ones that we consciously chose to make certain changes. Share a bit about Evolution of Loving because this has been a work in progress, a love, a passion of yours, this project for twenty years. Is it about that long?
It’s 25 years. It’s great to give a context for this book because then it will give a greater context for this pivot. 25 years ago this year, I was sitting with Kenny Loggins in his hot tub and he had this idea of this book, the birth of this book or the seed of this book.
We’re talking about the musician Kenny Loggins?
Yes, the singer and songwriter Kenny Loggins. His idea was, “Wouldn’t it be great to be able to photograph couples who are very deeply in love and when they’re looking in their eyes in the depth of expressing their love for each other?” In his case, he was meaning in the act of lovemaking. Some of the couples in this book, they are in the act of making love while I’m photographing them with the emphasis being on their eyes and their faces. Some of them are not. Some of them are in acts of deep caring and caressing and love for each other. The whole point was to be able to document and reveal all the dimensions or many of the dimensions of what love is.
The project grew from there and I was focused on getting as much diversity as possible, ranging from young blossoming love to a whole lifetime together, different ethnicities, and different sexual preferences. I wanted to show cross sections. What grew in the project was getting more and more in-depth interviews from couples and the interviews started getting deeper. Some of the couples, I would go back several years later and get interviews and you’d see how their love and their lives were evolving. Some gave birth to children. There’s one couple where I document them through the birthing process. Some of the couples who are older, their spouses passed away, and they’re talking about how love evolved and how they were doing with the changes after being with their spouse for almost their entire life. One couple split apart but they talked about how they learned to grow apart physically, but still hold onto the love and keep the love alive, so conscious uncoupling. It has lots of ripples in it.
The project was mostly done in the ‘90s, and by the end of the ‘90s, it saw every major publisher that could be a fit and I’ve got the greatest rejection letters. They were wonderful rejection letters. They got it, but no thanks. It was too much of a risk and it was too unusual. I kept resurfacing it at times and I couldn’t find a publisher. This was a time when self‑publishing wasn’t a real viable option.
About three years ago, I woke up one morning and in my meditation I heard, “If you’re on your deathbed and this project is not published and out there, it’s going to be one of the greatest regrets in your life.” I took that to heart. Within the next day, it might have been the next morning, I asked the question, “What’s the next step? In order to get this moving, in order to have it be different than it’s been, what’s the next step?” and I listened. I believe that’s where the pivot was because I hadn’t asked that step before. I don’t think I was ready to ask that step and I’ve got a clear answer right away. The answer was find the right editor. I know a lot of people in the publishing world. I called my dear friend, Arielle Ford, and she referred me to someone who had worked on her sister Deb’s books as an editor, Danielle Dorman, and we hit it off. I knew that the editor had to be somebody that was experienced, really good, but also got from the heart and really got the project and was right in there with me, and Danielle was it, the first person. That was the pivot. That was the element that was needed in order to get things moving because she brought all of this new energy to it. She brought ideas and things to expand it. We worked together in a beautiful way and it created this project that was far beyond what it had started off to be.
The pivot in essence for you was the asking of a question. Say more about that because that’s really incredible.
A preface, I probably wouldn’t even have seen it as the pivot unless you had asked me this question, but I was looking and thinking, “What would be one of the most significant pivots for me?” I thought this was a pivot because it wasn’t moving for many years. It was staying in the same place. It was this loop. It’s like what you were talking about where we can go in this loop where things are staying the same and there are not breakthroughs. It took me first off hearing the message, “You’re going to regret this if you’re on your deathbed.” I heard it and I took it to heart. That was the first thing.
Let’s break this down a bit. You’re hearing that message. Did you hear that in stillness, in meditation or were you walking? Did it hit you in the head like a frying pan?
I heard it in meditation. I was meditating. A lot of times I get insights and a-has during meditation. I’m not one of these people that feels like I have to keep my mind clear to spit out thought all the time. Sometimes they’re the most amazing thoughts that come in or insights. I heard it in meditation but I took it to heart. I knew this was true so I took it enough to heart to then ask the question, “What’s the next step?”
What’s the next step? That question itself, why did you ask that question?
I asked that question because I knew that there had to be a next step that I had to be able to see in order to open the door again to a new possibility. I had to recognize there’s got to be a step here that I haven’t taken before, that I haven’t seen, or maybe to some degree I had seen but I wasn’t willing to say yes to. I was so earnest in asking the question and I was earnest in receiving the answer and knowing that I was going to be true to it that I’ve got the message. This is serious. I don’t want to be on my death bed and have this huge regret. I saw it. I could take myself to that moment and transport myself. That’s true. I would feel extremely regretful and my soul would be very sad.
Did it scare you to get that message?
It scared me. It was serious. You don’t want to be in that place. It’s like a wakeup call. Some people get it through a serious illness or whatever. I didn’t have to get to that place of being on my deathbed or have a serious illness or whatever to recognize one of the most important things to me to complete in my life.
No near-death experience was necessary for you. This is something of a legacy project. What’s interesting is that you were analyzing it. You were in some way objective about the fact that you were stuck. It’s difficult when we’re stuck or when we’re in a loop to see that for ourselves. Sometimes it’s somebody else that points it out to us or some shit goes wrong in our lives and then we keep questioning, and finally you get this big awakening. I keep doing the same thing over and over again. Why in the world would I expect things to be different when I keep showing up the same way?
I’m sure there was a part of me over these years that was feeling like a victim too feeling like, “I’ve tried this route. I’ve tried to get a publisher. I’ve tried so many times and people aren’t getting it.” That’s such an old story of not being gotten. Being an artist, artists often have that karma or that potential plight or breakthroughs to work through. I had to let a lot of that go and go break through beyond all of that. What’s true here? The truth is this project is a jewel. Almost every single person I share the mockup with when I was working on it in the ‘90s had a deeply heartfelt experience and would open up. I knew without a shadow of a doubt for years the power of this book and the heart that it opens up for people. That’s why I knew that it was so essential that it gets out there.
Another great question, what is true here? Somebody could be conceivably consuming this content while they’re in the throes in it. Who knows? It’s possible. I read somewhere that people are picking up their cell phones in the throes of lovemaking or they are picking up their cell phones right afterward. Within a minute of being finished, they are picking up their cell phones. I don’t know what to make of that. It’s easy to be critical and it’s easy to judge and say something has gone sideways or whatever, but who knows why. I’m going to leave that to the sociologists 20, 50, or 150 years from now, but what’s incredible are these questions. When you ask better questions, you get better answers. Regardless of whether you’re using your cell phones or your devices for new and creative things, one thing that will never change, one of these areas that I believe will be unchangeable, is that we will use questions as a means to find and navigate our future path.
That question that you asked, “What is the next step?” is a question in the book, Pivot. One of the basic things is, “Am I willing to take the next step?” Anybody can pivot as long as you’re willing to take the next step, which begs the question, “What is the next step?” Often, we think or convince ourselves that the next step has got to be something big, that because it’s outside of our field of awareness, it must be beyond us or something. Sometimes those next steps are just baby steps. In fact, the next step might even be just asking a better question, like the question that you asked which is, “Who’s the right editor for this? Who’s going to get this?” If they get it, they get the project, and then everything can change in an instant.
That’s a good point too, Adam. In my asking what’s the next step, it was a safe question to ask because I was clear in asking that question that it could be a very simple and small next step. It doesn’t have to feel daunting. That’s a good point, just asking the question and not having the expectation that it’s going to be this grandiose next step. It can be the next step up the ladder and then that opens the door to whatever is possible from that point or from that purview.
I don’t have the exact quote but Martin Luther King Junior said that it’s like a staircase and we need to be able to take that next step up the staircase even when the rest of the staircase is dark. We can’t see where it all leads to but looking back down it when we’ve gotten to a different perspective, it all makes sense. All the steps were lined up, everything was sequenced perfectly, but we can’t see that from the vantage point that we’re at. It’s that courage, the ability, and sometimes tenacity to continue to ask a question like, “What’s the next step?” Take the next step. Being willing to take the next step is a game changer.
This is a clear example of that because a project that was there and was in your field of awareness for 25 years, a passion project that started in a hot tub with a pretty prolific singer and songwriter, a guy with some great ideas who you are collaborating on this early in the process, for it to incubate for 25 years and then be reborn from the seed of a new question, as you said, isn’t some grandiose thing. You asked another great question which is, “What is true here?” That’s another one of these high‑level questions and not so obvious. “What is the next step?” is something everybody can apply. I love things that we can all apply simply, but “What is true here?” requires some level of discernment, would you agree?
We could come up with an answer to that, “What is true here is that I’m a freaking loser. Nobody wants this book, that’s what’s true here. Nobody’s buying this book. It must be the book is not the right thing or whatever.” You asked that question and then you sat in stillness for an answer. I want to create a micro instruction manual for what it is you did here because this is profound in its application to many things outside of a book project.
Also in asking, “What is true here?” what was clear to me, I never had any doubt about this, was that this project has great value. It has the potential to open the hearts of people and heal wounds that people perhaps had been holding onto related to love, related to feeling worthy, related to receiving love, and related to trusting that love is possible in a relationship. There are so many dimensions about how this book is created and designed from the photographs to the text to the tools that blend all of that.
I believe the truth is that this book will serve as a huge healing agent for people. I believe that we are living in a time now where more than anything, the greatest opportunity and the greatest thing that’s being asked for in this world is to open to greater dimensions of knowing love. We’re living in a world that is so filled, especially in this moment in our country and all over, with separation and division. The opposite of that is love, unity, oneness, and trust. The fundamental qualities that are woven into this and emerged from the pages, your heart cannot help but feel love, so I knew that that was true. I knew that this calling was not from the ego, that it was from this greater knowing. You mentioned the word legacy before. I do believe that this will be one of the largest legacies that I will have left after I’m gone. It tears me to go there because when we tap into something like that, we know that that’s real and pure.
It’s taken time. We’re not necessarily a patient society.
There are two things I shared with you in the last couple of years that were on my bucket list for many years. One was completing this book and the other was completing this studio on our property. I tell people related to our studio because it was finished a couple of years ago that I had envisioned it at the end of leaving college. If someone had told me at that time when I was 22 or 23, “You’re going to have that, but you’ll be close to 60 when you have it,” I would have thought, “What’s the point?” At that time, what is the freaking point of having it at that age? Everyone has their own timeframe on when things evolve, when things open, and when we materialize things, and when we open to being ready for things. Both this studio and this project offer so much more because of who I’ve grown into. I don’t think I could have been the container for them in the same way years ago.
I wanted to add one more thing about the evolution and the theme we’re on. About a year and a half ago, I thought I was done with this book. The editing was pretty much done. I’m sitting with Cynthia at a restaurant celebrating our anniversary and I get this tug on my shoulder, my sleeve, and it says “You’re not done.” I’m told, “It is time to include a male couple, same sex couples and a female couple,” which I hadn’t included. I had thought about it from the very beginning, but in the mid ‘90s, I couldn’t find a publisher with heterosexual couples and I dismissed it. I thought this is too difficult as it is just with heterosexual couples. I opened up, I listened, I agreed and said “Yes. The evolution of love in our world and in our country, now’s the time.” I put the word out to the community again, found the perfect beautiful male couple, Ron and George and a female couple Sunny and Sunshine, then the book felt complete. I wouldn’t have known that that was missing had it gotten published in the ‘90s or several years ago.
Everything in its time. I’m searching for a way to cap that. There’s no capping it obviously. The words speak for themselves. Your story, the way you described it, speaks volumes of how important it is that we not rush things. We want to, I get it. I’m an impatient person at times except with my kids. That’s one thing about kids, they teach patience, but rushing to what is interesting.
Carl, I so enjoy your company and I’m sure the audience as well have enjoyed this conversation. I want to ask you one final question relative to the practices that you’ve got. I call them rituals. We refer to them as rituals and they’re master habits, the things we do on a regular basis that is conscious, not something we do habitually. You mentioned meditation. Maybe that’s the ritual you’ll speak about, but what is one ritual that you have that’s helped you to be able to continue to evolve as you have? It’s beautiful, the book title, Evolution of Loving, says it all, but it is something that happens over time. I will ask the question, can you rush evolution? We know the answer to that. You can try.
It never seems to work to try and rush it. Honoring the Divine pace, staying fully open and listening. To answer your question, if I was to choose one thing, it would be meditation. I’ve been meditating since I was seventeen. I took transcendental meditation. I’ve got initiated when I was seventeen. I was influenced by the Beatles. There were periods when I didn’t, but it has definitely been a very dedicated morning practice for at least the last 25 years or so. Incorporated for at least ten to fifteen years in the beginning of my meditation is spending time with who I call little Carl in my meditation, allowing whether it’s my higher self or the Divine to cradle and to be with my young self and to reassure him all the things that are true about him. He is fully loved, he is gifted, and there’s nothing that he ever needs to do other than fully be himself. He can relax and rest and know that everything is perfect exactly as he is. I incorporate that in the beginnings of my meditations. That helps me in connecting with my inner child and allowing him to feel open, trusting, and fully loved throughout the day.
The inner child is that part of ourselves that is not self-conscious, so the creativity that flows from a child, the play and not being all caught up in self-criticism or judgment or any of that stuff.
Allowing our absolute authentic self to shine.
This is a beautiful distinction. It’s not something we hear all the time, spending time with the little us, the mini me, the little Adam, the little Carl, whoever it is. That’s so cool. Your meditation length, is it 30 minutes, an hour, ten minutes? What is it typically for you?
It probably used to be about 30. It’s probably more realistically about twenty, and then I do journaling and incorporate journaling following that. The whole practice ends up being probably about 45 minutes or so every morning.
You mentioned the Beatles: John, Paul, George and Ringo. George was somebody you know. You brought up meditation so it popped into my head. You brought up the Beatles. That’s popular.
In the ‘90s, for whatever reason, I was in that zone where I felt very inspired to photograph and connect with many of the musicians that I grew up with that inspired me, so I had the opportunity to do that. My field was open. Passion was there, inspiration was there, no blocks. It just went there, and so for a good ten or fifteen years, I was in that zone. I covered about two weeks of a three-week tour that George Harrison did in Japan and had the opportunity to spend tea with him and his wife, Olivia, for an hour in their hotel room in Osaka and talked about meditation and spirituality. That’s what we discussed for an hour. Opportunities like that have been very gifted and very blessed.
The opportunity to have tea with George Harrison and discuss meditation, that’s one of those beautiful moments in life.
I hugely cherished edit.
I’ve never met George but love so many of his music and just have a sense of him as a person. He was a sweet man. Is that an accurate statement if I said he was a sweet man?
He was a very sweet man and very humble. From what I read and from what I could tell from being with him was that he always had a hard time with such a strong identification that the world had of him as a Beatle when he just wanted to be himself and wanted to give his gifts from a very pure and authentic place and be true to himself and true to spirit’s guidance for his life.
I’m losing track of where I get all these references these days, but at some point, somebody said that George might have said to Ringo or something, “I can’t believe we’re here. I don’t belong here. I don’t deserve this.” To be a part of the band, he talked about humility and humbleness that he might for even a second consider himself unworthy of being a Beatle. How many of us on a daily basis have those moments where we don’t consider ourselves worthy of something? We don’t think we deserve something when clearly, we are all so divine in so many more ways than we ever give ourselves credit for and maybe even in so many more ways than we ever realized or become aware of. Carl, you are very much a simpatico with George Harrison in the sense that you are a sweet, kind and a good man. I feel blessed that you are a friend. Thanks for being here.
Both Cynthia and I feel so blessed to have developed such a sweet, growing and expansive loving connection or relationship with you and Randi. We’re so grateful.
To the audience, I hope you have enjoyed this conversation with Carl Studna. Carl, we have all your information in the show notes, including how to get a copy of Evolution of Loving, this utterly beautiful book. It’s beautifully written and the photographs are magnificent. We haven’t made nearly enough mention of the fact that you are award-winning. Forget the awards. You’re this incredibly impeccable photographer. The way that you capture the essence of people in your photographs, and your photography is incredible. This book is filled with those photographs, some of those pictures that would tell the proverbial thousand-word story.
I want to end our session as we are accustomed to doing to end where we began, which is in gratitude. Wherever you all are in this moment, I’d love it if you take a deep breath and breathe into the space of appreciation, appreciation for yourself, of gratitude for yourself, of love even for you. It is important that we learn to love ourselves unconditionally. It is definitely something I don’t think we’ve been taught near enough and not programmed to receive from the time that we are very young and it is so important.
I would love to share the ritual that Randi and I use each day and that we’ve shared with a lot of people, it is a game changer, and that is that you wake up. Part one is that you wake up. I wish that for all of us with a magic wand, I wave that magic wand and we all get to wake up, wake up our souls, wake up our spirits, wake up our minds, wake up our bodies, wake up our consciousness just a little more tomorrow than we are even awake today. What a blessing that will be. In that moment when we’re taking that deep breath, that first conscious breath, we can realize and have it be true in that moment that there are people who are taking their very last breath at that moment. There are also beings that are being born, that are taking their very first breath of life in that moment.
It is pretty sacred moment and I wish for you that you are in gratitude for that holy moment. If you’re inclined to say these words out loud, they’re just words and they’ve changed my life. That doesn’t mean they have to change anybody else’s, but they’ve worked for me, and those words are “I love my life. I love my life. I love my life.” As much as I love my life, I love it even more in this moment that I’ve gotten to share with you, Carl, and with this entire community. Great blessings to everybody. Carl, thank you so much.
I love my life. I love you, Adam. It’s wonderful to be here.
Everybody, if you haven’t yet subscribed to the podcast, please do that. Leave a review on iTunes. We love those reviews and they’re very helpful to us. If you are wanting to join our community on Facebook, the Start My Pivot community is rich with people who are practicing all of these very same things and curious and vulnerable and having a great experience of living. You can get there by going to PivotFB.com. You can join the community and weigh in on some things and share your love and we’d love to have you. I wish you all a beautiful rest of your day or evening, wherever you are in the moment, and blessings.
- Carl Studna
- LuminEssence Method
- Click!: Choosing Love One Frame at a Time
- Evolution of Loving
- Transformational Leadership Council
- Cynthia James
- Kenny Loggins
- Arielle Ford
- Danielle Dorman
- The Conscious Pivot Podcast on iTunes
- Start My Pivot on Facebook
About Carl Studna
Carl Studna is a multi-faceted photographer, inspirational speaker, teacher and author. Carl’s intimate portraits of influential people ranging from Sir Paul McCartney to His Holiness the Dalai Lama, are published and known worldwide. Studna’s innovative work, the LuminEssence Method©, teaches a new paradigm for radiating the light that resides within, revealing each person’s authentic gifts. Carl is the author of the award winning book, CLICK! Choosing Love, One Frame at a Time, and his new release, Evolution of Loving. Carl’s life’s work is dedicated to inspiring us to rest in the pure awareness of our illumined path, both in front of the camera and behind it, but mostly, in our individual lives. Carl is a member of the esteemed Transformational Leadership Council and travels the world documenting beauty through diversity.