As a kid, it wasn’t the big “belty” numbers or the jump splits that came as the biggest challenges when it came to theatre. There were however, a few technical things that didn’t come easily: finding and staying within my “special” (spotlight), pinpoint accuracy with blocking and staging, and staying perfectly in time musically. Of course, these elements clicked just fine with a little rehearsal, but I remember being cognoscente of these shortcomings early on as a teenager. I needed to pay more attention to detail, be more spatially aware, and more present, perhaps. I’d get there, I thought. I had to, because I was so taken with it all! Partaking in theatre or even just watching it, was transcendent and joyful for me. Was it the expression of emotion? The attention it brought me? (Yikes) Or was it simply the immediacy of it all that kept me fixated and feeling vibrant? All I knew was, I liked the way it felt to be so instantly and utterly enraptured in a dance, scene, or song.
As many of us did, I went on to get my BFA and quickly learned that the business wasn’t solely about talent and about the immersion in art and music. There was a very technical, practical, and even political side to it all – obviously. I was more of a “hard type” than I had realized. More “unique”, which to a 20 year old, doesn’t always sound like something to celebrate. “You’re odd, like this little sight-gag!” I was told.
Funny on sight?
Instant shame spiral.
Wishing it could all be “easy,” I was deflated by this label and I asked one of my dance professors how I could look and feel more elongated, more graceful. She responded without skipping a beat, “You need to breathe, Tara.”
Woah. I suppose I also needed to get thicker skin.
The concept of breath reappeared when was studying Shakespeare in London during the 9-11 tragedy. It was easiest to commiserate, hypothesize and escape at the pub, so we did. But to offset the calories and the spending, I thought I’d spend some time at the health club. I stumbled into an Ashthanga yoga class and was immediately hooked. In retrospect, I find it laughable how incredibly pleased I was with myself because I was “so good at the poses” when it was obvious, I still wasn’t breathing. Little did I know, this practice would become a lifelong journey. As I transitioned out of college years, my new hobby left me feeling physically strong, but this empowerment was diminished by the weight of insecurities, fears, and self-doubt left over from the previous years.
Still, I was determined to live a truly happy life, and I was curious how I could achieve that. I began to scrutinize my life practices, which helped me in the pursuit of an acting career more that I could have guessed. This was something I hadn’t really delved into before- besides having two great examples in my parents, and of course, the hands-on lessons that life had already served up. There I was, new to NYC with had a spongy mind and an able body, and I was equipped with a part-time job at where else, but the front desk of a yoga studio.
My early lessons on the mat were in listening better -both with my ears and eventually with my other senses. One of the first teachers I gravitated toward at the studio was an Iyengar teacher. I love/ hated his style but absorbed so much about specificity, focus, and the range of motion I unknowingly possessed. I was suddenly more willing to self examine… a concept called svadyaya, I soon learned. I started to understand that although accepting challenge brings growth, the outcome is less important. I also didn’t need to collect clothes, friends, perfect yoga poses, and theatre gigs into a repertoire of “gains.” I could still feel whole during weeks that proved lean in those areas.
“Aparigraha”, there it was.
I have enough.
I am enough as I am today.
“But, am I?” I thought. “I have these goals, but when I fall short of meeting them, then I’m not there yet, not enough,” my mind chattered. My intention setting was always in the vein of stoic perseverance and self discipline (or Tapas) “don’t give up, stay strong…” But all the while, I was self-sabotaging.
I was kind to my body in class, but then destructive to it later; kind to my heart on my mat, but unable to carry the kindness away with me. I’d find myself in great gigs and relationships, and immediately tell myself that I wasn’t worthy of them.
My brain was cluttered. Noisy. Unclear.
Dukkha, it was called: the quality of the mind that gives us the feeling like we’re being squeezed. No, thank you. Please Tara, less dukha. More love.
One year in my mid 20’s, I went to a very powerful weekend workshop to cleanse away the holidaze and bring in the New Year. I assumed I’d integrate some of my detailed resolutions into my asana practice that weekend, and leave feeling focused and fit. What transpired that year was deeper. I learned to create a sankalpa, which resembled a resolution or intention, but seemed a more true, heart centered, positive way of envisioning these ideas. There was no “I want” or “I should” or “I hope to” in this phrase. A sankalpa focused on the fact that a choice to be something was a decision that was immediate and absolute, not a wish or pending plan.
Amazing. Mind blown.
I remember my first sankalpa distinctly: “As the leading lady of my life, I am courageous and radiant.” There was a shift. With this change, along with a little luck and a little destiny, I landed some wonderful theatre work again.
During this time I recall feeling for the first time, a bit closer to the meaning of my name, Tara. A “star” as the Hindu definition goes: radiant and beautiful, but a perpetually self-combusting thing. This was a fairly accurate definition at the time, especially the combustion part. I continued to travel the world and sang big songs in front of big audiences, took many risks, and broke hearts (even my own). I felt liberated from the NY grind- a feeling of moksha or freedom and rebirth. I’d soon learn however, that my ego was wildly fluctuating from soaring highs to plummeting lows. I’d drifted so far from center, I was struggling to find it again. No regrets. Just truth. It was humbling. I made mistakes. I needed more moderation (bramacharya) and more self- love (ahimsa). Half- hearted, I trudged on to re-learn it. The whirlwind of that phase of my life held many lessons and I did learn and overcome. Still, I sensed that I needed some healing.
Funnily enough, at that very time, the cosmic order led me to meet Mr. Heal, who is now my husband. I decided I’d trust the dharma and not resist, although boundless love felt scary. He was someone who spoke with so much conviction and always lived his truth or satya. His steadiness was infectious and was a large part of what helped me stay on my path and to help find “ours”. He was so observant and reverent of nature and had an insatiable appetite for knowledge. Mr. Heal seemed as sweet as he was steady. I was smitten. I leaned into sensation without running from it. I was more comfortable in my own skin again and okay with an unwritten future. My personal silences were less deafening. I was home in New York, and I was breathing again.
The lessons will continue everyday and I’m ready and willing. I’m no monk, that’s for sure. I still have one too many glasses of wine sometimes, and I’m not a vegan yet. I over-commit and under deliver. I’m sure that I hurt people’s feelings sometimes, and I know I still hurt my own. But, I like myself, and because I remember to continue loving myself, I keep remembering to love everyone else as well.
Life is precarious and we see examples of that every day. Still, when we live it fearlessly, a challenging moment we face on the mat or off with a pounding heartbeat, just illuminates how resilient we are. We are quiet warriors and that is where our magic lies. Our subtle body is never stagnant and always making music. It will keep its pace, until it doesn’t anymore. So while the music is going, we should be dancing, right?
I look for the light everywhere I can. At times when I’m feeling dim or defeated, I know that I now have tools to my find “special” and know I’m worthy of standing in it. I’m able to stay on my path and in “my track,” and I follow my inner metronome diligently. I will continue seeking a life rich in love, creativity and connection. I want to trust the process. I have a feeling that most artists, and most humans, can relate to searching for our light every damn day. But rather than exhausting ourselves chasing it, we probably just need to let it seep out from the inside. Every day that I keep this in the front of my mind and the center of my heart, is a day with less darkness.
I tend to be shy about discussing my own experiences and beliefs in detail, but I thought it was time to share. I believe so deeply in the power and peace that comes from mindfulness and from practicing yoga, and I want to share that with everyone I can. Namaste.
~ Tara Heal