The Listening Post is a new Cipher Brief column specifically highlighting the experiences of women in the national security space. This new column is a collection of stories, interviews, and profiles of women who have pioneered change, exhibited strength and inspired others along the way. For this one edition, Cipher Brief CEO & Publisher Suzanne Kelly nominated a non-national security woman to share her story because this female pioneer has been an inspirational figure for Suzanne since she was a child.
As an actor, speaker, and business owner, Erin Gray has vehemently carved pathways to transformation and social change in each of the last four decades. As a supermodel, she was the first to say, “I’m Worth It” and two widely watched television roles allowed her to propel a message of strength through womanhood. Initially, as the female commander, Colonel Wilma Deering in ‘Buck Rogers in the 25th Century,’ and then playing the lead actress role in the TV hit, ‘Silver Spoons’. Gray now runs Heroes for Hire—one of the premier talent agencies for celebrity events, making her one of the first (and still few) women to head her own talent agency. She is an avid practitioner and teacher of Tai Chi. Concurrent with her acting work and celebrity status, she’s committed to remaining philanthropic, winning 11 service awards and being named Woman of the Year by the Los Angeles County Commission for Women.
I can’t believe I’m fracking 70 years old. When did that happen? In my heart I’m 30. Okay maybe 40. I’m energized, strong, and flexible, and feel truly blessed.
All my life I’ve heard people say they were going to retire when they are 65. Yeah right.… I’m working harder now than ever, maybe even more so. I’ve had 3 careers and who knows hopefully there’s going to be a fourth.
Our lives are becoming increasingly more complex. More demands are being placed on our time, along with increasing expectations in the workplace. Our stress levels are through the roof with trying to juggle and struggle through it all, running a company, raising children, being there for your partner, family and friends. Our minds are filled with constant divisive chatter, leaving little time for ourselves. This combined with being more separated from nature, leaves us feeling out of control, fragmented, unfulfilled, and sometimes frightened.
We all want to know: what are the secrets to a longer, healthier life? How do we achieve balance in our lives? How do we achieve happiness? The answers for me lie in exploring, nurturing, and unifying all aspects of my mind, my body, and my spirit.
Most of the focus on health today is limited to the Western approach, where a doctor examines and deals with the breakdown or disfunction of our body. Complementary approaches recognize we are comprised of chi, energy or life force and work at keeping a person healthy. One way is bringing the body back into balance (homeostasis), giving the body the opportunity to heal itself as nature intended.
I believe Chi Kung and Tai Chi hold the keys to good health, they embody the tenets I live by, thus an important cornerstone to my life. Not only for the physical movements, but also the tenets and principles that support it. Tai Chi It’s about being centered and aware, it about moving in alignment and represents being flexible in mind, body and spirit. It is widely believed in Chinese medicine that flexibility is the key to longevity and good health.
Chi means energy or life force and Kung means ‘the art of’ or ‘the work of’. Therefore, Chi Kung means the work of energy. Chi Kung comprises of learning to connect with your field of energy and learning to move in specific patterns with the breath. As a moving meditation, Chi Kung is the foundation behind Tai Chi, a martial art form. Thus, Tai chi is a moving meditation, a healing art form and a martial art.
The beauty of Tai Chi is I can do it anywhere, at any time, for the rest of my life and it doesn’t require any equipment and doesn’t cost me a cent. With the limited time in my life, it fits perfectly.
When I was a model, I became very in tune with my body and keeping my body thin, strong, flexible and heathy. Luckily walking from studio to studio in New York doing easily 5-10 miles a day was a great way to keep fit. Adding yoga to the routine introduced me to the power of the breath, gave me a sense of peace, awareness, alignment and inner strength.
As an actress I became even more in tune with my body, by seeing how one can create a character starting with how they stand, sit, walk, and how these postures affect your emotions and your emotions affect your body. Also going to work meant calling upon emotions that weren’t real and repeating those emotions again and again, anger, & fear being the most toxic as your cortisol levels constantly spike.
Cortisol is the main stress hormone in your body that helps control your mood, fear, and motivation. High cortisol levels can cause wight gain, mood swings, high blood pressure, digestive problems, and fatigue. It became increasingly important to me to learn how to ‘shake it off,’ and recover, revitalize and stabilize.
HOW I WAS INTRODUCED TO TAI CHI
James Garner is the first person I met who introduced me to a great acupuncturist which eventually lead me to Tai Chi. I remember first hearing about acupuncture when Richard Nixon went to China in 1971. A reporter, Mr. Reston traveled to China as part of the advance team where he suffered an acute attack of appendicitis and was hospitalized. His appendix was removed in an emergency procedure where he suffered acute pain which was treated with acupuncture. Mr. Reston’s reports of his experiences with Chinese medicine, and the reports he sent along with his observations of the effectiveness of acupuncture, captured my attention.
When I worked with James Garner on The Rockford Files in 1978, I learned that he had suffered a knee injury during a stunt and was in constant pain. He knew if he went the Western route, he would become hooked on pain pills. In order to continue leaping over cars and hedges and chasing bad guys as a leading man he decided to deal with his pain through acupuncture.
I started reading about acupuncture and asked a lot of questions. What I learned fascinated me. I started to think about myself as being more about energy. I learned that we have 14 primary channels (meridians) in our body, that our chi (life force/energy) moves through. When the energy is stuck due to stress and suffering, the body begins to break down. Think of water that when it stops flowing stagnates and when its flowing it’s crystal clear. The acupuncturist uses very fine needles at specific points in the body to trigger the release of chi.
But do alternative ways really work? Everything changed for me when my acupuncturist, performed a miracle. In one afternoon, he cured me of a horrific head cold.
After being told by my Silver Spoons producers to go home to rest for tomorrow’s performance, as I could barely breathe, where I had no energy at all and could barely stand. Instead of going home I went to my acupuncturist and begged him to heal me. The producers had written an episode for me to sing and dance in an episode. Not a big number but it meant the world to me. Truly a dream come true. I can dance. Singing…not so much. Even after years of lessons. Yet I love it.
After 3 hours of acupuncture, I went back to the studio and went on to perform for the Network and did two more performances the next day. Everyone was shocked to see me return and immediately wanted to know what drug I was on. No drug, just acupuncture.
Over the next year, we talked more and more about acupuncture and finally one day he said “You learn Tai Chi. It does the same thing as the needles.” Meaning if I learn this art form and these movements, I will know how to cultivate and enliven my energy, keep it flowing and in balance? Will I learn how to quiet the mind and be able to bring my body back into homeostasis making me feel centered and allowing the body to heal itself? Will Tai Chi increase my awareness, and strengthen my body yet keep it flexible? Most of all, will it really keep my immune system strong? The answer is yes, yes, yes. I began my studies and have been practicing Chi Kung and Tai Chi for 40 years. I’ve been blessed with many teachers and blessed to teach what I love since the mid 90’s.
After years of aerobics classes, marathon training, working with weights, cross training, Pilates, cycling, all great workouts, my focus now at 70 is on living a longer healthy life. To that end I use Tai Chi and Chi Kung to cultivate my immune system and keep it strong.
Happiness comes with changing your perspective. It’s about learning and cultivating how to be flexible, looking for ways to adapt and ways to practice the art of letting go, of expectations, of anger, of fear and of things.
My wish is to BE, See, Know, Flow, Love. And, I wish the same for you. By knowing ourselves and changing ourselves, we change the world.
To nominate someone to be interviewed for The Listening Post, please send us an email telling us who you are, and why you’re nominating the individual. By the way, you can also nominate yourself. It’s something that traditionally, women aren’t used to doing. Here, it’s welcomed. Drop us a line at [email protected].
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