Leading with Love

When I was 19, I enrolled in a theater conservatory in Manhattan. I was hungry for the experience of living in a city and having everything at my fingertips. Unfortunately, I was 19, and full of fear and insecurity. I struggled to enjoy the opportunities that came my way daily. I felt swallowed by a city that never seemed to stop, and fearful of the wannabe-actor cliché I could become in it.

After my first year, the class was cut in half, but I was asked to return for a second year. I spent my days scribbling in notebooks, recording insights I’d heard my teachers make. In ballet class, I tried to mold my body into a dancer’s physique. I sat as tall as I could on a stool as I trained my voice to sing. On the subway, I’d work on memorizing lines for the next day’s scene-study class.

One day in class, two of my fellow students had just finished an acting exercise and were waiting for the teacher’s critique. He leaned into his desk, closed his eyes, and took one of his epic pregnant pauses. We all sat watching, waiting. Finally, his eyes opened, he slowly brought his arms up above his head, and he declared, Lead with love.”

At those words, my eyes filled with tears. I was in awe of this simple yet profound phrase. Here we were looking for the key to success, the key to being a good actor—the key to being a good anything, for that matter. I had scribbled-in journals stacked high in my apartment, but something about this phrase made my notes seem suddenly worthless.

“Try it again, but this time, lead with love.”

The pair did the exercise again, and it was one of the best performances we’d seen in the entire year. What I took away was the idea of not reacting with the mind, but rather trusting what the heart has to say. So much of the time, we go into a situation (in this case, a scene) and try to think our way through it. How often do we plan an outcome, and how often does that differ from the result (or the production, to continue the metaphor)? Often, we plan in order to control things. But if we can allow ourselves to be vulnerable enough to truly lead with love, the results cannot be predicted—and, therefore, they are more fruitful than what our minds could come up with.

It’s been almost a decade since I left acting school, yet this phrase still talks to me daily. Each relationship, job challenge, fear, or difficult encounter I face, I remind myself to lead with love. It feels like my mantra. When I find myself dissatisfied, angry, or stressed, I am most often in a mind space, not a heart space. The mind takes us into stories of the past or the future—full of expectation or disappointment. The heart space can only be here and now, one beat at a time. That’s the rhythm we hear when we lead with love.

Samantha Cullen is an actor and yoga teacher who writes a blog, The Yoga of Cake.

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Samantha Cullen, RYT, is a certified yoga teacher and outdoor guide for Kripalu R&R Retreats and other Kripalu programs.

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