Documentary Filmmaker | Spiritual Practitioner | Adventure Seeker | Whitewater Rafter | Net Lover (Tennis) | Canine Researcher | Daily Meditator |

 

 

Lydia B. Smith

My relationship with books goes back a long way. I always loved reading – it transported me into new worlds, exciting situations, and relationships. I was somewhat of a mischievous and headstrong child. A year or two after I learned to read, I remember telling my mother that I was scared of the dark, but the real reason I wanted the light on was so I could keep reading after bedtime. I distinctly remember one evening, not picking up Hansel and Gretel as it was too scary for a nighttime read. Eventually my mother caught onto my little ruse and I then switched to using a flashlight under the covers and read to my heart’s content.

Fast forward eight years later, my mother and I were driving back to California from New Hampshire, after my freshman year at Phillips Exeter Academy, an extremely academically rigorous boarding school. Even though I had an extreme amount of homework there which included lots of reading, I still looked at novels as my way to relax. As we embarked on our cross country road trip, I was indignant that my mother wouldn’t let me help with the driving, the fact that I didn’t have a license to me was irrelevant (I had driven her to the hospital in the pouring rain the year before when she had gall stones – therefore I should be able to drive all the time said my teenage logic.) So, since she wouldn’t let me drive, I crawled into the ample back seat of the gray Buick Skylark and read ten books in nine days.

Books have been an integral part of my spiritual development as well. The books below were the ones I remember best having the most impact on me. I’ve enjoyed reminiscing about these books and now plan to re-read many of them. Enjoy!

Lydia B. Smith has been a filmmaker for more than three decades – both in the camera department on films such as Ed Wood and Matilda as well as a producer and/or director on documentaries. Her last film, Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago was a worldwide hit, airing on national television and having a successful theatrical release in nine different countries. It was the #12 documentary in theaters in the United States and Canada in 2014 and the #5 documentary in Australia and New Zealand in 2015, garnering a 90% Rotten Tomatoes rating. Throughout 2018 and 2019, Walking the Camino aired approximately 2000 times on hundreds of PBS stations nationwide with 1.2 million viewers and counting.

In late 2016, Lydia was invited to see a play about solitary confinement, written and performed by adults in custody at a maximum-security prison. She was so moved by the experience, that very night she decided to make a film about the transformation of these prisoners. For the next three years, Lydia went to the prison once or twice a month and worked on getting permission to shoot a documentary. Finally, in January 2020, she got the approvals needed to film the Restorative Justice program. Lydia began filming Blooming Where Planted: A Quest for Hope and Humanity Behind Bars in January and due to Covid 19 was force to suspended filming in March. She has continued to film, documenting the legal challenges of her main character filming both in person and zoom interviews with his lawyers and supporters. She is currently developing the project both as a podcast and a documentary.

Lydia was trained as a spiritual practitioner at Agape International Spiritual Center in the 90’s. She uses her training in her filmmaking as well as all aspects of her life. She is also a volunteer with Trauma Intervention Program which trains citizen volunteers to respond to traumatic incidents to support victims and their families in the first few hours following a tragedy.

In her free time, Lydia enjoys a myriad of activities including tennis, hiking, whitewater rafting, mountain biking, dog agility, cross country skiing, scuba diving, dance, and meditation. Lydia travels extensively for both work and pleasure, has been to over 30 different countries, and speaks four languages fluently (Spanish, Italian, Catalan and English).

My 10 Best

(Roughly in chronological order)

You Can Heal Your Life
by Louise L. Hay

 

This was the book that opened my eyes and heart to a whole new world and way of being. I was 27 years old and my plan for my life had fallen apart. I had been living in Spain with my best friend turned boyfriend for three years when it became apparent, we would be best off as friends. I returned to the States, not knowing what I was going to do. Upon my return, my father gifted me this book and a trip to Australia for a month. It was the beginning of my spiritual path.

“Louise’s key message in this powerful work is: “If we are willing to do the mental work, almost anything can be healed.” Louise explains how limiting beliefs and ideas are often the cause of illness, and how you can change your thinking…and improve the quality of your life.

The Sacred Journey: You and Your Higher Self
by Lazaris

 

Lazaris was my next significant teacher I found after Louise Hay. I listened to countless tapes, went to many workshops and experienced countless guided meditations. It was through working with Lazaris that I developed a relationship with my higher self which has guided and nurtured me ever since. It also helped me dismantle many unconscious limiting beliefs I had. One of his lectures was on the Keys of Happiness – one of which was honesty. How can one be free and happy if they are trying to keep track of who they told what to? Right then and there, I took a vow of honesty. What still amazes me is, almost thirty years later, I still catch myself wanting to embellish a story or tell a white lie.

“On the Spiritual Journey Home to God/Goddess/All That Is, there is the sense that we are somehow bigger than we know — that somewhere there is another part of us that is there to guide us, to help us, to love us. The search for the Higher Self is an integral part of the joyous Journey Home: For the Higher Self, in its immense love, power, and vulnerability, is an invaluable friend and guide.”

The Alchemist
by Paulo Coelho

 

This was the first book I read of Paulo Coehlo’s. I went on to read almost all of them. Little did I realize how much Paulo Coehlo’s work would impact my life – his book “The Pilgrimage” was one of several books that inspired me to walk the Camino de Santiago and then make a documentary about it.

I read The Alchemist early on my spiritual path and it captivated me on so many levels. These are some of my favorite quotes from the book:

“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.”

“The simple things are also the most extraordinary things, and only the wise can see them.”

“Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives,
but none about his or her own.”

“Intuition is really a sudden immersion of the soul into the universal current of life.”

“ It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

“You will never be able to escape from your heart. So it’s better to listen to what it has to say.”

The Untethered Soul: the Journey Beyond Yourself by Michael Singer

 

“Ultimately, if you protect yourself perfectly, you will never grow”

“Stress only happens when you resist life’s events”

In the fall of 2007, yet again my life was not going the way I had planned. I had been engaged to be married and thought I was going to settle down and have a quiet life with a husband and a couple of kids. As we were planning the wedding, it became clear that we were not the right fit for each other and once again I was completely unmoored and not sure where to go or what to do. Somehow at this very moment, I ended up working for the remarkable Lynne Twist (whose amazing book The Soul of Money definitely would have been in my top 15 list!). She had been gifted an early copy of The Untethered Soul and passed it onto me. I loved it and it was one of the reasons I trusted my intuition to go walk the Camino de Santiago months later.

The Untethered Soul begins by walking you through your relationship with your thoughts and emotions, helping you uncover the source and fluctuations of your inner energy. It then delves into what you can do to free yourself from the habitual thoughts, emotions, and energy patterns that limit your consciousness. Finally, with perfect clarity, this book opens the door to a life lived in the freedom of your innermost being.”

40 Day Mind Fast Soul Feast
by Michael Beckwith

 

In the early 90’s I moved to Los Angeles and quickly found my way to Agape – a spiritual center founded by Reverend Michael Beckwith who became one of my teachers as I made my way through the classes and became a licensed spiritual practitioner. Becoming a practitioner cemented my meditation practice and inspired me to aspire to live a life of service.

“Numbers held great significance to the ancients, and the number 40 is constant in a variety of spiritual traditions. With 40 Day Mind Fast Soul Feast, you may begin your own 40 day transformational, mystical journey with a wise, experienced guide who has walked the terrain for 30 years as a practitioner and teacher of meditation, affirmative prayer and the Life Visioning Process.”

The Law of Love
by Laura Esquivel

 

Most people know of Laura Esquivel from “Like Water for Chocolate”, but this book is one of my all time favorite novels. As my spiritual journey was developing, it was reassuring to read books that aligned with my new spiritual beliefs and this one with its innovative use of pictures and music enthralled me.

“Esquivel’s highly anticipated follow-up novel, the historic and futuristic The Law of Love, is an ambitious undertaking, as it attempts nothing less than to explain the divine laws of the universe through the context of science fiction and historical fiction. The story mostly takes place in the 23rd century, where characters busy themselves with recalling past lives and forgiving their enemies in the hopes of existing in harmony with cosmic order. “

The Artist’s Way
by Julia Cameron

 

I like to describe this book as a spiritual book about creativity or a spiritual creativity workbook. I had been living in Los Angles for about five years, working as a camera assistant and occasionally as a documentary producer, but didn’t seem to have the gumption to make my own films. One thing that held me back was my fear of writing (one has to write a lot of treatments, synopses, director’s statements etc when making a documentary). This workbook helped me identify and neutralize the enemies of my creative self-worth, including one teacher that told me my writing was so bad, he didn’t know how to help me. After just finishing the first six chapters, I was motivated to make my first short documentary film in 1998 about friendships between typical kids and children with special needs inspired by my very special nephew, Taylor.

“Julia Cameron’s novel approach guides readers in uncovering problems areas and pressure points that may be restricting their creative flow and offers techniques to free up any areas where they might be stuck, opening up opportunities for self-growth and self-discovery. “

A revolutionary program for personal renewal, The Artist’s Way will help get you back on track, rediscover your passions, and take the steps you need to change your life.”

A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

 

When I went off to walk the Camino de Santiago in May, 2008, I was in between jobs, homes and relationships. I had no idea what I wanted to do or where I would live. I fell in love with the Camino and it completely changed the trajectory of my life. When I finished after six weeks of walking, I was discombobulated to say the least – I couldn’t seem to adjust to “normal” life. Never in my life, before or since, had I had panic attacks, but the first couple of months after doing the Camino, I had a couple and the only thing that brought me peace was listening to Tolle read A New Earth.

Looking back, the irony is truly amazing. I didn’t realize it, but I was about to embark one of my life’s main purposes – making Walking the Camino: Six Ways to Santiago and so it makes sense that a book that was about fulfilling one’s life purpose would be what could bring me peace. I was busting out of my cocoon, not a comfortable process, stepping into my new life as a documentary director/producer.

“In A New Earth, Tolle shows how transcending our ego-based state of consciousness is not only essential to personal happiness, but also the key to ending conflict and suffering throughout the world. Tolle describes how our attachment to the ego creates the dysfunction that leads to anger, jealousy, and unhappiness, and shows readers how to awaken to a new state of consciousness and follow the path to a truly fulfilling existence.”

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
by Elizabeth Gilbert

 

Q: What is creativity?
A: The relationship between a human being and the mysteries of inspiration.

I have always felt like my projects pick me – not the other way around.

In the fall of 2016, I went to see a play a friend of mine directed in prison on solitary confinement. I was transfixed – it was incredible and the men, so inspiring. Another outside visitor was planning on making a documentary about the transformative work the prisoners were doing. I volunteered to help him make the film and we became business partners. I was thrilled as I made my last film on my own and swore I never would do that again, too hard, too heavy of a load for one person to carry alone. For four years we tried to get permission to film the men and just when it started to look like it was going to happen, my partner informed me he was moving to Mexico with his family. I was now shepherding the project alone.

Big Magic talks about creative ideas as if they were independent beings and that they float around until someone engages with them. If they don’t get the attention they need, they may go off and someone else may pick them up. I found this idea both comforting and exciting especially reading it during the thick of the pandemic.

“Elizabeth Gilbert digs deep into her own generative process to share her wisdom and unique perspective about creativity. With profound empathy and radiant generosity, she offers potent insights into the mysterious nature of inspiration. She asks us to embrace our curiosity and let go of needless suffering. She shows us how to tackle what we most love, and how to face down what we most fear. She discusses the attitudes, approaches, and habits we need in order to live our most creative lives. Balancing between soulful spirituality and cheerful pragmatism, Gilbert encourages us to uncover the “strange jewels” that are hidden within each of us. Whether we are looking to write a book, make art, find new ways to address challenges in our work, embark on a dream long deferred, or simply infuse our everyday lives with more mindfulness and passion, Big Magic cracks open a world of wonder and joy.”

The Buddhist on Death Row: How One Man Found Light in the Darkest Place by David Sheff

 

After almost five years, in January 2020 I finally received permission to film inside a prison to document the transformation of a group of prisoners in a Reforming Criminal Justice class made up of University students and adults in custody. We were shut down not even half-way through the class due to Covid19. I held onto my belief that there was a blessing in this pause and diverted my energy to conducting zoom interviews, following Sterling Cunio’s legal journey, and grant writing. As I struggled to articulate my vision into words, I came across this book. It inspired me to keep going and to be grateful for my circumstances.

Here is a man who finds freedom through meditation and frequently rises above his incarceration. I think any struggles I may have had for our “lockdown” was lessened significantly as I thought about the men and women who spend months or years in prison not to mention solitary confinement, with only a half hour of fresh air a day.

While working in prison I got to know men who were grateful for the opportunity to say a kind word, to be of service, for a deep breath of clean air when out in the yard (Please indulge me for a second and let me sneak in book #11 – Breath by James Nestor. “Modern research is showing us that making even slight adjustments to the way we inhale and exhale can jump-start athletic performance; rejuvenate internal organs; halt snoring, asthma, and autoimmune disease; and even straighten scoliotic spines. None of this should be possible, and yet it is.”)

I have so much to be grateful for, things I used to take for granted – the ability to moon bathe, buy flowers, watch the river flow, walk in a straight line, take a bath and to choose.