Allan Hartley, publisher/editor of New Perspectives interviewed Leigh Taylor-Young recently. She lives her life openly and with great passion. In this interview she shares about certain times in her career and her spiritual life that were of great insight and changed her life forever.
AH: I know you are involved with speaking for a number of social concerns. What is one of the causes you would like to see advanced?
LTY: The cause I would like to see advanced the most is world peace. Where I lend my energy is really where my heart leads me. I participate with organizations when I feel I have a respect for the people and they are genuine. Really, I’m not one of those activists who are externally oriented, where it’s about saving humanity. I would have to sound selfish to say my number one priority is to save myself in the eyes of God within me. So my spiritual evolution is my number one commitment. Out of this “journey” well-being and wholism overflow and I like to give to things that touch my heart and interest. So, I might say on my behalf, that I’m not a representative of the UN or any organization. I participate by lending my heart, and whatever gifts I have, often in the moment, as a contribution of the moment. I’m not much of a belonger to organizations.
AH: How is speaking for organizations specifically done?
LTY: At a dinner I met a woman whom I liked very much, who was representing an organization Ted Turner had started called “The Better World Society.” I spoke to her and said, “I’d like to do some volunteer work for you.” She called me immediately. Within a short time, I was giving speeches and occasionally introducing Ted around this organization, which created educational and inspirational documentaries. And because of my interest in what they were doing I found myself doing other things for them. My particular involvement has been with the environment, the Institute for Individual and World Peace, and Educare. Educare has incredible programs for developing self esteem in children who live in the inner city and who externally appear to have no opportunity.
AH: You are also interested in the environment. Can you tell me about the Greenland trip you took in 1996?
LTY: The Greenland trip was the first Arctic ridge expedition sponsored by a major “green” corporation. Amway has a great sense of commitment and responsibility to the environment. They have increased public awareness of environmental issues. They come up with solutions instead of just identifying problems, an important difference.
AH: Is there one thing that stood out for you on that trip?
LTY: My greatest observation was about the value of “journeys” outside of bureaucratic structure. This allows more intimate dialogue between people who really can make a difference through legislation and other ways. This was a group of highly intelligent, committed, dedicated people on an eight day journey that was extremely intense. We were covering a lot of ground and a lot of air — in planes a lot. We exchanged seats, really talking to each other outside of the formalities.
AH: These were businessmen and government officials.
LTY: They were businessmen, government officials, artists, and an astronaut. We were all very experienced in our own individual areas. We had a lot to share with each other. We were not bound or limited by form or structure. We traveled together with a common purpose to take note and care and communicate. As a result, the dialogue was direct and very dynamic. I think it is what I call a new kind of human diplomacy. We had translators. We ate together, we traveled together. We lost or found our luggage together. It was intense and valuable.
AH: A sort of citizen diplomacy.
LTY: Absolutely. And what does that ask of us as human beings in this next period of time we are entering? It may ask of us to be willing to sit down and find a way to move our differences into the spirit of one accord; to come to a place where we are committed to peace. It is not something to be ashamed of. Love is not something that is unsophisticated, naïve, and adolescent. On the contrary, it is by far the most evolved, sophisticated, and important way to begin to see ourselves as human beings. We are more loving than we are selfish. We are inclined to peace, and perhaps more so, because in my opinion our greatest power as an individual lies in peace and love. We are deeply interconnected.
LTY: We are interdependent. We need each other.
AH: It’s not cool to need someone, is it?
LTY: It’s important to need yourself. And in the search for fulfillment of finding yourself, comes health, and out of that health comes the desire to extend that well-being to others. My dear friend and “way-shower” John-Roger has said, “Take care of yourself so you can take care of others.”
AH: Yes. The greatest gift the individual can give to saving the planet and mankind is that he comes to know who he is. The greatest increment of world peace is individual peace.
The first step to world peace is inner peace.
LTY: Yes. If I want peace in my life, what do I need to alter in my life that can contribute to being more peaceful? For me, it would be meditation and exercise. I found out a long time ago, for myself, just meditating and ignoring my body is not productive. It’s helpful to keep my spirit and body in balance. Now that may be right for me and, I suspect, it would be helpful for most people. Someone else may get the true experience of spirit, listening to Beethoven or Mozart or looking at a Rembrandt or Michelangelo or taking a walk near trees or doing something more solitary for a brief period of time so that one can attune to what is already present. Peace is already present. Do we listen? Do we tune in? It’s not gone anywhere. God never goes anywhere. We are the ones who move.
AH: Would you talk a little about your films?
AH: The first I ever saw you in, I think was your first film, I Love You Alice B. Toklas. More people know you from that picture than ones you did later, it seems.
LTY: Yes. I understand. Well, it was a picture of its time. It came out in 1968, made in 1967. It was a comedy with Peter Sellers during the Vietnam era, hippies, cultural change.
AH: That’s where we learned about brownies.
LTY: That so tapped into the current time, and my role was a “representative” of a certain aspect of what was going on. And for me, personally, it’s pretty amusing because up till the time of doing that movie I had never smoked marijuana. I had come from a very conservative, cultural family. I was wearing long skirts and still wearing stockings. I don’t think I ever said “groovy” in my life. I was entering into this role and this culture and I was extremely innocent.
AH: So you were a real actor, there! You weren’t just playing yourself?
LTY: No. Not by any means. Because I had never smoked marijuana and this was obviously about a girl who did all the time. I was deeply concerned that I didn’t know what it was like to be semi-high all the time. What I decided to do was to choose my favorite symphony and listen to it in my head silently all the time, which is sort of interesting in terms of how actors work. Intention is everything.
AH: What is your favorite film?
LTY: I liked my role in Jagged Edge, a small role. I was a witness being cross-examined. This woman’s character had a lot going on that was extremely different than what she was saying. And that’s always interesting to play. I enjoyed being in Alice B. Toklas.
AH: You pretty much carried that film and it was your first one.
LTY: The other cult film I did was Soylent Green. I remember shooting in 1972 in back of MGM in Culver City. The atmosphere was created with oppressive smog. I remember it had a sadness for me. You know, on the whole, I haven’t made very good movies. I think there are three movies, perhaps, which are looked upon as good. These movies are Alice B. Toklas, Soylent Green, and Jagged Edge. The rest were just somewhat mediocre. But there are moments in all of them that hold a sense of quality for me.
AH: Can you pick a moment from one of your movies?
LTY: There were some scenes in a Warner’s “B ” movie called The Big Bounce. It was my second movie and I made that with Ryan O’Neal. It was Van Heflin’s last movie. And Lee Grant was in it. I was twenty-two years old, playing a psychopath. I was also the lead in the movie. The story line is one of a girl kept as a mistress by a very rich man. She likes to live on the edge of things and create serious crises and see how people will react in terms of pushing the envelope, highly manipulative, anything for a thrill. She calls it the “big bounce.”
AH: Did this involve farm workers?
LTY: Yes. The character actors were very good. Elmore Leonard wrote the story, a thriller with noir quality. I was fortunate and blessed to be in the last movie of two great actors; Edward G. Robinson in Soylent Green and Van Heflin in The Big Bounce. And Dan Duryea was in Peyton Place the last year I was there and I got to meet him. I really felt like I experienced a generation passing.
AH: I got to meet Manly Hall in his home about six months before he died. So I know the feeling.
LTY: I worked very closely to Muktananda in his last years. I loved him very much. This was before I met John-Roger. I was with Muktananda for three years before I met John-Roger. I was so deeply called inside to be with John-Roger and study with him. Yet I loved Muktananda. I am a one guru, one teacher, one master, one way-shower, lover. So it was confusing. However, I chose what my heart and soul called me to. It was the next step and what a blessing it was, and is.
AH: He took you by the hand and led you to the other who then took you by the hand.
LTY: Yes. I grew up in my own home with India as a second culture. From a very young age I felt a deep connectedness spiritually and culturally to India. And so by the time I was an adolescent, I was reading Vedanta and I had read Autobiography of a Yogi.
From a young child to adulthood I was being taught by my mentor, who was my grandfather, an extremely erudite and spiritual man. He was a professor of sociology and also a minister and was one of the more powerful participants in the Ford Foundation in India in New Delhi in the 1950s. He went there when I was ten. He and I were so deeply close, like my first guru. When he returned, which was a year later, he gave me Autobiography of a Yogi. I think I was twelve. He had already immersed himself in Eastern thought. He awoke in me a sense of self worth. He created an atmosphere that was so equitable. Despite the disparity of our ages, he would sit with me for hours dialoguing about life. It was always questions. He called me “Tyke.” He would say, “Tyke, given this discussion about the Romans and Greeks, what do you think about the parallel between them?” Then we would discuss it. He would create this atmosphere of warmth and invitation to be with him.
AH: I read where you took some time off from your acting career to pursue your spiritual journey. How long a time was that?
LTY: Six years. In the movie industry, you hear the word “momentum” a lot, meaning that you do not take time off because the competition is great and trends shift. You must stay on top of the energy as it’s moving since it does move quickly. Opportunities come and go very rapidly. Leaving for six years means you’re literally eliminating yourself from that machinery.
AH: You must have been very sure of yourself in your career or felt very good about your spiritual life.
LTY: I had no confidence in either. Looking back with 20/20 vision, I can see it was perfection. My marriage ended painfully, and I was very young. I had a new baby. I was devastated by the enormity of everything. A powerful dynamic had pulled me away from my center, and I realized I must step away.
AH: So you did it because that was the only thing you could do.
LTY: I did it because I, Leigh as a being, needed to survive more than I, Leigh as an actress, needed to survive. Looking back, I’m proud of myself because every day I see people who do not step back from their drives to choose to know more of themselves. It was a choiceless choice. Leaving Hollywood to search for myself was something I had to do. I did it without guidelines, so it was a free fall that I went for 100%. I had to be somebody who had a spiritual self.
Thus, I went on a journey. I let go of my press agent, secretary, nanny, agent, and husband. Taking my child, I drove to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where I found a house in the Pecos wilderness for $35 a month. I needed to find something that I couldn’t identify, and I couldn’t seem to do it while in Hollywood pursuing a career. I am so grateful that I followed my yearning.
AH: So many other elements are involved in a human being’s life other than just his or her own.
LTY: Who knows what past experiences pushed me into an uncontrollable need to seek my deeper identity? Was it my grandfather’s words, a memory of my yearning for God, or my feeling about Jesus at a very young age?
All was triggered by the dissolution of my marriage. I had made the mistake of placing my identity in another human being. I walked away from a salary higher than what my father earned as a corporate executive. I had a handsome famous husband, a beautiful child, and a successful TV series along with beauty and health. I looked at all this at the age of 22 and was so depressed. By the time I was 24 years old, I had left the business. I had made money, had an amount of fame, all of these elements, and a beautiful child. None of these added up to contentment. It was confusing.
So, something had conspired to give me a blessed opportunity to look at everything that the culture teaches is important. They are not unimportant by any means, but for me something else was clearly going on. Shortly after finishing Soylent Green, I decided to go to India. I immersed myself in many metaphysical books, and went to the Sivananda Ashram because of my close friendship with Peter Sellers. In India, it was the first time in my young life that everything I yearned for, to know God, was spoken about as if I was asking for a glass of water. In my culture I was odd. I was a true bhakti. I was utterly in love with God and didn’t know what to do with it. At the Ashram in India all the focus was about knowing yourself and God was in every other word in various forms. Focus and intention was all I cared about. And having been very familiar with the Indian culture in my upbringing, this was not contradictory.
When I came back, I really searched until I found Muktananda. Then, through another friend, I heard a tape of John-Roger. It was an extraordinary and powerful experience. I am one of the most blessed people that I know, that my good karma brought me to Muktananda, and then, moving into love and work and learning with John-Roger. I consider John-Roger the best friend I’ll ever have here and “there” if you will. It is a rich, multi-dimensional experience.
At the very core of the experience is Love, compassion, forgiveness, soul. He is my way-shower. A good teacher is someone who has by their very gift and skill, being, and spirit, awakened me to what I see in him. He never disempowers me. He uplifts me. All I’ve ever experienced is awakening, strengthening, and knowing in greater ways the love that I am and the divinity that I am.