Women In Wellness: Holly Wilmeth On The Five Lifestyle Tweaks That Will Help Support People’s Journey Towards Better Wellbeing
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis
Find someone you admire for their work and become their apprentice or assistant. This is how I really learned what it meant to work in the field of photography. I was able to understand their passion and see what lead them to becoming a photographer and how they carved out their own path.
As a part of my series about women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Holly Wilmeth.
Guatemalan born, Holly Wilmeth creates images that embody elements of nature, mysticism, and spirituality. Drawing inspiration from ancient mythologies, symbolism, diverse cultures, and a deep spiritual practice, Holly’s images are a personal interpretation of her life’s sacred dance. She is passionate about nature, intentional living, creating beautiful spaces, and designing gardens that are like sanctuaries. She resides between San Miguel de Allende, Mexico and Portland, Oregon with her husband and son and their dog Pistola. She has worked for a wide range of clients in advertising as well as editorial. Her work has been published in international publications such as Time, Newsweek, AFAR, GEO Magazine, Travel & Leisure, National Geographic Adventure, CARE International, Christian Science Monitor, and USAID, to name a few. She has taught workshops all over the world. For more information, visit www.hollywilmeth.com.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
I was born in Guatemala, a small and fascinating country with a rich culture and landscape. As a child, I spent my week going to an Austrian school and on the weekends, I would go with my parents and brothers to Rio Dulce, which lies in the West of the country. My father is a cattle rancher, and we would go with him to work as well as play near the jungle edges. We would swim in the clear waters of the rivers and listen to the howler monkeys as the sun set. I remember feeling such awe from the beauty of nature. I also grew up going to a union church, and as a child, I loved everything spiritual. I remember fondly sitting in the pews listening to the Sunday service and learning to sing the hymns, my heart yearning for love. When I was a teenager, I became fascinated in the Dalai Lama and the Buddha teachings. At the time (mid-eighties), it was very difficult to get any information except from encyclopedias, and I remember reading all I could on this topic and wanting to learn more. I was very attracted to the intersection of spiritual paths. I would draw images of a seventeenth-century Christian cross with a sitting Buddha in the center, and I never showed them to anyone.
I was internally conflicted by my Christian upbringing and was wrestling with its teachings. It was much later in my life that I started contemplating different ways of practicing spiritual devotion and slowly found my own path.
All during my early childhood, I was inspired by my paternal grandmother who was a portrait painter and had traveled the world. I remember her telling a story about how an African King had commissioned her to paint his family and this story stuck with me. I wanted to be like my grandmother, travel and see the world, and make my living as an artist. Instead of a paintbrush though, I wanted to carry a camera. I had grown up looking at National Geographic magazines and knew that I wanted to travel the world and be one of those photographers, or like them.
It wasn’t until my last year at Sweet Briar College that I picked up a camera and finally learned to use it. I was smitten. I took all the classes I could take in the arts. My professor at the time, Paige Critcher, who over the years has become a dear friend, was such an inspiration and guide. My art professor John Morgan also became instrumental in me believing in myself and having the courage to play with seeing the world differently. My creativity was blooming, and I was on fire.
I later attended a program out of Portland, Maine, called the SALT Institute, and my professor there, Neil Menschel, taught me the art of documentary photography, which was the stepping stone to my career for the next decade. Thanks to Robb Kendrick who taught me not only the magic of tintype photography, but also how to have a business, I set off to make my own path. For the next ten years, I traveled to over fifty countries, photographed all kinds of jobs, and taught numerous workshops. I loved what I was doing, and within the last years, I started slowly working on my own projects that were more in line with fine art. I remember working on a series of portraits of people blowing kisses from many different countries. It was such a sweet and fun series, for in some countries, it was less customary to blow a kiss, while in others very common.
I remember fondly giggling with all those I took portraits of. I later worked on a series of portraits, that were without showing any faces but just what people happened to be carrying with them. This series was shot in Cuba, and it was delightful how much people wanted to show their faces, but instead were behind whatever they had been carrying (bongos, tuna fish, etc.). It was in this way that I started nurturing my inner desire to work on my own way of seeing the world through fine art photography. Magazines, galleries, and people encouraged me, and it gave me the confidence to continue working in this style. At thirty-five, a little before I became a parent, I decided to retire from my career and devote time to being a mother, as well as nurturing my own personal projects. It was quite a leap of faith, two new paths, so much unknown territory, but I had spent years learning to trust in the process, and I knew this new way of being in the world would also slowly bloom in its own time.
The work I do now is inspired by my personal life and my spiritual path. I practice listening to my intuition and pay attention to my inner and outer learnings of what it means to be human and inhabit this earth. I feel grateful to all those who have taught and supported me on my journey, and am grateful to share my vision.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
One story that comes to mind is one that changed the way I relate to my life and how I work as an artist. I had managed to overwork myself and not take the time to care for my body. I remember I was teaching with Jeremy Woodhouse in Todos Santos, Guatemala, for The Day of the Dead and was so sick with a fever and chills I couldn’t get out of bed. I had to have my father come and get me from the city, and I left Jeremy to teach on his own. Soon after, my husband had two heart attacks. We decided it was time for a major shift in our life, our bodies were crying for help. We booked a house on a cliff on the Oaxaca coast for three months, with no internet, not knowing anyone, and set off on a new adventure. The winter we spent there was one of the most transformative times of my life. We slept, ate healthy, walked on the ocean, watched all the sea life from our porch, sang songs about nature, and truly practiced the art of simple and slow living.
My body, my mind, and my spirit slowly started to heal and feel rejuvenated. I could feel myself being guided by this silent whisper of nature and my intuition to see life from a different place, and it was during this time that I started to fall in love with Mother Earth again. I would listen to the bird calls, with the ocean life in front of me, and I would read about plants and animals. It was during this time that I started to slowly work on a series about animals. This series of portraits was guided and inspired by nature, as well as by my life slowing down. Since then, we spend every winter close to the ocean where we do just this, slow everything down and listen. I love this time of year; it’s an inner wintering, of quieting down, of sitting with all that the year has taught me, of preparing for the spring and summer. A time for tending to the roots.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Well, I must admit, I don’t believe in mistakes. I do believe that every choice gives us a lesson, and it leads us on to the next step of our journey, whether it be easy or not. I’ve always held the belief that I will learn something very valuable from what presents itself to me. So, I’ve never looked back and regretted any choice I’ve ever made. I am standing where I am now because of everything behind me and what I said yes to. Ever since I was young, I would make a five-year list of things I’d love to be doing or have accomplished. It could be anything, from traveling to Mongolia, to working for a nonprofit, to hiking beautiful trails in Oregon, to eating mangos for a season. This list has been my little guide throughout my life, constantly changing as I change. Some things on the list I have accomplished, and others got changed and readjusted. My list has always been like an inspiration board, a visualization of where I want my path to go. Like signposts pointing towards the direction I could go. I’ve changed holding on to an image to holding on to how I feel in the energy of the visualization. How does the air feel, taste, smell, and sound?
Let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
We are part of the earth, and the earth is a part of us. Some of us weren’t taught to remember this connection with such sacredness. Once you reexperience the awe and wonder of creation unfolding before you, over and over, there’s no stepping back. Nature has a way of bringing us to the present and reminding us of the wonder of the universe. In nature, I feel the energy of my wholeness find peace, balance, and harmony. Nature holds sacred geometry, sacred energy, and through its visualization and energy, it can connect us to the present. My images invite and play with mythology, philosophy, spirituality, and anthropology as the subjects. My last love was in reigniting my loyalty and devotion to care for this planet Earth. It came in experiencing the awe in my child’s eyes as he saw trees, leaves, flowers, and colors and put words to them, little by little, for the first time. I wanted to teach him how our plants could be our friends and teachers. They held magical potions in the form of healing remedies, available to help our human body. So, I set about learning the names to everything surrounding me in the tropical jungle and playfully teaching my son. By teaching him to care and be kind to all living beings, I was healing my connection to the earth.
When I think about all the stressful moments in my life, for example when my brother died, my heart was broken, I was working as a journalist, or my health was critical, I remember always practically running to nature. In nature, I was able to literally process the stress. I hope my son will do this too. Nature is key to mental health balance.
If we can change the way we see the world, our interconnectedness will help heal us back whole.
Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better well-being? Please give an example or story for each.
- Breath (coming into the present): We exist because of breath, and breath can bring us completely into our bodies, into ourselves. There are many ways to practice being with our breath, through yoga, meditation, swimming, breath work, or anything that asks we pay attention to our breathing. Our breath brings us into the present, stills our mind over time, guides us to finding our source. Every evening my son and I take ten minutes each to ground and breathe. We breathe in gratitude into our heart and nurture our energy of calmness and expansiveness.
- Nature (spending time connecting to this earth, our home): There are so many health benefits that come from bathing under the canopy of trees, walking by the ocean, hiking, or placing our hands and feet on the earth. It’s as though our wholeness is asking us to come back home and rest and rejuvenate. Nature is a stress relaxant. Being in nature allows you to slow down, to listen, to pay attention, and to match your energy with the energy of the earth
- Being in our body: It’s important to make time to exercise, like swimming, yoga, dance, walking, etc. For mental health balance, exercising is essential, more so than ever before. Being in our bodies is proven to elevate our moods. Our bodies need to move energy and release toxins. Being in our bodies through exercise really calls us to the present moment.
- Self-care: Self-care comes in all forms. For me, it comes in practicing a morning ritual of welcoming the sun, the day, our home and food, our health, family and friends, our planet, and our neighbors. I also use my Sacred Nature Oracle deck as a tool for daily guidance. Self-care can also be taking time to be alone, journaling, or practicing gratitude to all of our teachers.
- Relationship to food: How am I nurturing my body? I try and eat balanced and healthy meals, and I place an importance on sitting for meals as well as sharing meals with others. I love to support local food providers who are advocates for our environment.
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I’d love to start a movement that would honor Mother Earth as a sacred being, where children are taught since infancy to learn all the names and medicinal qualities of the plants around them. This movement would teach respect and reverence for the earth. We would care for it with kindness, admiration, and loyalty knowing our plants are our teachers.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
- Find someone you admire for their work and become their apprentice or assistant. This is how I really learned what it meant to work in the field of photography. I was able to understand their passion and see what lead them to becoming a photographer and how they carved out their own path.
- Take care of my body. I remember taking pictures for hours and my body aching after being in uncomfortable positions. Even though I was a swimmer, I wish I had been practicing a good stretch routine to really care for my body, like yoga.
- Enter every shoot with fresh new eyes. I practiced this and always challenged myself to see differently and try something new. I was fortunate to always work with clients that gave me the space to be creative and that trusted me.
- Work with people and companies who share similar values with you. It’s inspiring to be able to create images for companies you support.
- Everything you are doing is part of the learning, even the carrying of someone else’s gear.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health, and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Environmental changes and mental health are two big topics for me. Our systems are collapsing as they should, because at their foundational level, they are not supporting the whole of humanity in balance. Single families are raising children alone, grandparents are living in elderly housing, everyone is working as much as they can in order to live this “dream lifestyle” of having all the latest luxuries available. We are a consumer’s generation, and this is essentially hurting our environment. We spend too much time looking aimlessly to devices, numbing ourselves from being in the present. It’s an addiction. This imbalance is causing havoc, and we have lost our way. Nature, however, helps bring us back to balance and to wholeness when we are feeling lost and fragmented. As a visual artist, I believe in the importance of bringing environmental awareness not only in caring for our earth, but also as an important tool for balanced mental health.
What is the best way for our readers to further follow your work online?
My website offers a lot of information and ways of engaging with me and my work. Instagram and Facebook are another great way to see what I’m up to.
Thank you for these fantastic insights! We wish you continued success and good health.