Ever wonder if your life path is formed by fate or free will? Taoist tai chi master Sharon Smith's quest to find out is documented in her new film Saturn Saved Me, which she calls a “spiritual road movie." YogaCityNYC's Sharon Watts sat down with Smith to learn more about this hero’s journey that took off during the counter culture era and wove through philosophy, the early Iyengars, sexist astrologers, to the source of it all - Mother India.
Sharon Watts: What got you started on this quest for self-knowledge?
Sharon Smith: Being part of a generation that was searching, seeking, wandering, I was turned onto Eastern religion as a philosophy major in the early 70s. I was raised by Jewish immigrants in Texas, so this was a 180 degree turn.
SW: How did you discover tai chi?
SS: I first heard of it while taking a photography workshop in upstate New York at that time. I had some physical problems that came from looking at the world through a camera--my shoulders were up to my ears from tension. Soon after moving to New York City in 1978, I went to a tai chi class and immediately felt a connection. I got very involved in it.
SW: Tell me more about this discipline.
SS: It's a practice of moving one's energy. "Chi" literally means life force energy. But at the time, I wasn't feeling it yet. I was still getting a lot of the chiropractic benefits; a lot of structural issues were being resolved. I was starting to blossom. Then a friend took me to an Iyengar yoga class, and I thought, Wow! This is great, too!
SW:Iyengar was just starting to take a toehold in NYC at that time. Were you one of the pioneers?
SS: I trained with Mary Dunn, the first senior instructor, along with that first group of students. I could have continued on with them, to become part of the groundwork for Iyengar in NYC, but my real passion was stirred by the Chinese traditions of tai chi, qi gong, and Taoist meditation.
SW:Tell me more about the path you chose at this precipice.
SS: Yoga, tai chi, and qi gong all fall into the category of physical culture, which is basically a cultivation practice of working with oneself. However, the Chinese form has a lot to do with aligning oneself with the forces of nature, which is not a primary tenet of yoga. The term Tao means "the way" of nature. Qi, or chi, is elusive; people tend to expect it to just happen. It requires time and practice. Cultivating an inner awareness is a mixture of consciousness and instinct. With tai chi, qi gong, and meditation, I felt an internal alchemy.
SW:How has this inner awareness led to your film Saturn Made Me?
SS: I've chosen either consciously or unconsciously to not live a standard life. It used to be a rebellion, but in my fifties I was grounded in who I am. The film is part of that whole experience, but in a way I didn't plan. Initially, it was to be about Indian astrology. I am practiced in Chinese astrology, but I wanted to visit India, the "mother of spirituality," for input. The truth of what the film is really about came through the editing process. Because I am not always conscious of my trajectory, I discovered in retrospect that the film is actually about me.
SW:The trailer is unexpectedly humorous, albeit in a cringeworthy way, considering how women are still often perceived.
SS: Receiving the advice from some of the male astrologers was extremely challenging. I had to come to terms, and it took a long time to do that.
SW:I love that you did learn about yourself, but not in the way you expected. Instead, it happened through your own creative efforts.
SS: It's almost a traditional mythological story where the hero/heroine goes on a quest and encounters all the necessary trials and obstacles before receiving insight and transformation. It just happens to be my story.
Saturn Saved Me was made with Sharon's own funds prior to now. Your tax deductible contribution will help with post-production costs. You have until December 20th to visit Indiegogo and be part of this!