Renee O’Connor made a name for herself when she resided in Auckland, New Zealand, playing the role of Gabrielle, Xena’s trusted sidekick on the popular series from 1995-2001. The role created a huge worldwide fan base, one still active in countless websites dedicated to the actress and this signature series.
Since 2001, Renee has starred in several independent films including this year’s Beyond The Farthest Star, the anticipated theatrical release from Pathlight Entertainment.
Currently, Renee writes, directs, and produces award winning short films and new media, with the mission of elevating personal and interpersonal awareness through entertainment.
As a passionate voice for unifying and raising consciousness, Renee facilitates international Awareness Seminars to assist in the personal growth of gifted adults as an affiliation with the Rocamora School in Los Angeles; as well as a featured public speaker with Ellie Drake’s ‘Braveheart Women’ community; one of the 2010 and 2012 nominees for the Los Angeles Business Journal’s ‘Women Making A Difference’ Awards; a featured speaker for the ’100 Women of Destiny’ Tele-Retreat celebrating the 100th Year of International Women’s Day.
Alixandra: Good Morning, Renee. How are you?
Renee: I am very well, thank you, Alixandra. It’s been such a long time since we’ve spoken.
Alixandra: Yes, it has been. I know how very busy your schedule is, and I want to thank you for taking the time to speak with me.
Renee: Of course, it is my pleasure.
Alixandra: Renee, I know that you have passion for many things, including motherhood, acting, directing, and your spirituality. Today, I want to start our conversation with spirituality. Can you please share with our readers what the Awareness Training is and how life put you on the path to teach this work?
Renee: Awareness Training came from a set of principles created by Mary Rocamora. She founded a non-profit school, for gifted adults, which she has been running for over 30 years. What Mary created are principles that are applicable, on a daily basis, in all contexts of life so one can, step by step, interface between the worlds of psychology and spirituality. In so doing, you can break from your patterns in order to gain a sense of that inner light, inner love and that deeper heart, and deeper compassion, we all possess. Mary actually bridged the two worlds, and after doing the work, I asked her permission to facilitate an introduction to her Awareness Training, within a seminar context. Now, four years later, I am teaching an introduction to her work. I have been teaching in different parts of America, and even in London. I convey the very basics of Mary’s work, and then, redirect people back to Mary and the school, should they want to become a student of this path. Some might go into deeper training and want to teach Awareness themselves.
Alixandra: Renee, how did you actually happen upon this work and where were you, in your life, when Awareness captured your attention?
Renee: I first met Mary when she was acting as the mediator in my divorce. My husband and I went there with some trepidation and lots of hurt feelings, resentment and anger. Mary proceeded to build a bridge of connection between us that was made of eternal love, greater compassion, respect and friendship. Mary taught us a process that gave us a much deeper connection then we ever had when we were married. After that experience, I knew Mary had an incredible gift, and I wanted to know what she did, and how she did it so I could apply it to every area of my life. So, I started taking the courses that were available in her home. Subsequently, Mary took me on as a private client. All of this had to have happened about 10 years ago.
Alixandra: Wow, so you have been on this path for a while now. It all sounds pretty serendipitous to me…
Renee: Yes! It was perfect, it was just wonderful! You know, it appeared to be a very usual circumstance that I just happened to fall into Mary’s lap, but nothing is by accident, of course.
Alixandra: I just read that you are going to film a documentary about Mary Rocamora life. Is this correct?
Renee: I am. I started shooting segments of it last fall, when I fully realized that Mary’s story is so unique and her essence so vibrant, that I am now recreating my approach to the material. Just last month I actually shot some new footage, with her, on a sound stage.(If you have interest in helping to fund Renee’s documentary, please go to: www.reneeoconnor.myarbonne.com)
Alixandra: Well, that sounds like it is going to be an amazing project.
Renee: Yes, it’s going to be fantastic. I am really excited.
Alixandra: One of the major themes, in Awareness Training, is keeping an open and compassionate heart. But, many of us keep our hearts closed, and guarded, to new people, events and ideas. What is the key to keeping an open heart and to keeping the ego at bay?
Renee: As I am working with people, I recognize that the art of keeping an open heart is a two-step process. People really need to recognize the ego as a present, tangible aspect of their life that needs to be identified, broken down, and even assimilated. In this process, there is a softening of the heart that happens, along with a new sense of vulnerability that we may not be used to. I find some people access the open heart much faster than others. It depends on their conditioning and their life experience. But then, once they reach the open heart, the next vital step is learning how to sustain it; learning how to have more compassion and recognizing that as a strength, and not a weakness. Right now, with the work I am doing, I am recognizing these two different parts. It is a little frustrating, for me, because once again it is a sense of the ego, instead of the open heart. It’s just that so many of us have had such a hard time trusting it and I want to help more people access their ability to recognize the open heart as an experience that is real, and within you. Again, I am finding now that I see more and more people thinking they have to find it outside themselves in order to feel it at all. Whether they need to have some sort of spiritual experience or hear from someone or see someone or read something or hear a song. Whatever it is that pulls them suddenly into their heart feels to me like its transient. What I would like to see now is how people can learn to sustain it, from within, all the time.
Alixandra: Especially in this day and age, it’s tough; this world is constantly changing. As we can see, life and the world around us, is changing rapidly. We are facing new challenges that can be personally overwhelming. How do you, on a daily basis, stay aware and grounded without getting caught up in the chaos and drama?
Renee: I think there are actually two different answers to that question, Alixandra. One, in the chaos, and ego, and pain of the world, it is even more vital to stay connected to your heart. So, in order to develop a sense of recognizing the way we resonate with the collective suffering, mastering the art of an open heart is really important. This helps us to recognize we are all connected, and that we do feel things as others feel them. So, I understand it is okay to feel sorrow, remorse, sadness and empathy. Then, the second part of this is to recognize, throughout the day, when we start to feel disconnected from our heart. This can be because we get caught up in our schedule, or in a series of places where we need to be, or in a myriad of things we need to do. We all need to notice a real distinction between the different ways we move through the day, and then, make the time to slow down.
Alixandra: Now when you slow down do you meditate or do yoga? What brings you back to your center and opens your heart?
Renee: Right now, I am trying to learn to just be still. I want to be able to do this, at all times, throughout the day, in any and all contexts. That’s where I am at right now. I want to be able to access my open heart absolutely, at any time or any place, if I get disconnected. This is a real practice, and I don’t expect to ever be a master. Like everyone else, I am just doing the work and recognizing when I slip. When I do slip, I do what is necessary to reconnect.
Alixandra: You’re a mother of two, Renee. What advice would you give parents on how to raise conscious and aware children?
Renee: I feel every parent does the best they can, with what they have, and with what they’ve learned and what skills they have available. First of all, I feel so very fortunate to I have an incredible relationship with my son’s father and his wife. That is all because of our work with Mary. And I also have a beautiful daughter with, Jed, who is very deeply connected to my soul. We all work as a team, and I really feel that is an incredible gift in all of our lives because we are so different, and yet, we respect each other and listen to each other as we let this guide us to parent Miles. This is only possible because we let go of the ego, and we all act in service to the highest good of our child.
Right now, my son Miles is eleven, and my daughter Iris is almost seven. I find there is a sense of the ego formulating that is a natural part of development. As I am navigating through it and trying to connect them back to the place of what is compassion – not as a concept, but as a direct experience on a daily basis, for them. So, I will take examples they might have together and ask them questions that will help raise their awareness to ask other questions from their peers or their family; to have a voice, and yet have a sense of respect and honor, too. I think it’s really important to allow children to be unique, to find their voice, yet be very careful that they don’t come off feeling entitled. It’s a fine line.
Alixandra: I love it. I think that is a great approach.
Renee: It is subtle work, and what I so love and appreciate is that I can practice my awareness for myself, as well as my family, on a daily basis. Again, if that’s the most I ever do in my life, then it’s been a gift. In fact, it is a huge focus of my time. I consider the most valuable quality of love is the unconditional love that I think children are supposed to receive, and then, are able to carry on and move it forward. But I don’t think everyone gets that.
Alixandra: Unfortunately, I think very few children receive unconditional love. How very blessed your kids are to have a mom like you. In 2009 you wrote, directed, produced and starred in a short film called Words Unspoken. The undercurrent of the film is an emotional triangle between a brother, sister and their abusive father. What inspired you to write this story and what message do you hope to convey to your audience?
Renee: The message was one of forgiveness. I wanted to show the point of view of all the different characters, especially the father because he is abusive. I wanted us to have a sense that he was just doing the best he could, although he was completely overwhelmed. And the reason I wanted to share this story is this: I hope to encourage people to see beyond their own circumstances, in more of a heart-felt way; not as a concept, but through truly feeling what it would feel like to be an abused child. We attempt to move them through it, to allow them to have a sense of compassion towards the abuser. I really wanted to show that it is possible. My desire is to encourage people to stop hiding, and start accessing those feelings; to know that they are not alone.
Alixandra: So, your message is that one can move out of that victimhood.
Renee: Actually, you can go even deeper than that. Not only is it that you are not a victim, but that your heart is capable of growing so much, you can wrap it around the person who hurt you, in order to forgive. It’s a deeper step. A lot of people don’t want to go that deep, and that’s okay. Again, there is no right or wrong. I just wanted to put it out there for the people who needed to hear this story.
Alixandra: Indeed, it’s a deep and power story. In those fifteen minutes, you really feel some powerful emotions. I think you have achieved something amazing.
Renee: Thank you.
Alixandra: What is your personal creative process for getting fresh inspiration for your films, artwork and awareness seminars? From where does this well of creativity spring?
Renee: I think it’s the same source that we all tap into. It’s there for all of us and yet it becomes a unique voice that makes us individuals. I have a lot of different ideas that come through, and then, I try to allow them to develop. When one steps up, and I feel it’s the one, I allow it to become my main focus. As with Mary’s documentary, it had been discussed on and off for years, with many different people. And, for me personally, it was never the right time until I had a conversation, with Mary, in the summer of 2012. I then realized there was something I could show, through my point of view, of how I see and love her; and that’s when realized I needed to start on it right away. That’s how this project moved ahead of all my other projects.
It’s a creative essence we all have; I truly believe that. And then, for me, it’s a matter of getting into the deeper elements of my psyche or my heart – because I believe they are separate – to find out what story I can tell. So, in looking within my psyche, I will search out the things that still aggravate or bother me. Those things I have not dug deep enough around, that I want to explore; then become curious, to see if that becomes some sort of art, or if it was just an opportunity, for me, to be curious.
Alixandra: And curiosity is such a great tool.
Renee: It’s the best tool!
Alixandra: It is like being able to venture down that rabbit hole, to see what you can find, right?
Renee: Right! And now, I am in the place of wonderment. My next project will be personal for me as an actor/director. I want to dig through the different elements and see what remains after I lift away all the patterns. I want to do something that is really creative, and very free; something that shows the esoteric qualities of what lies beyond. I don’t know what it will be, but I am very curious, for sure.
Alixandra: I am sure we will see soon enough. You have lived a very adventurous life Renee, living and working in New Zealand on the series Xena, climbing Mt. Killimangjaro, just to name a few. From all your life experiences so far, what was the most profound spiritual moment that changed your life forever?
Renee: I have had so many; I can’t say I have had just one. I do feel that each one is a special moment, to recognize what a gift it is. For instance, when my best friend passed away; that experience of connecting to him, even when he was gone… pretty profound. There was also a moment when I was climbing Mt. Killimangjaro, with my mother, and we sat together to watch the sunrise. Then, I must include recognizing love in the birth of my children, and connecting soulfully with my partner. There are just so many spiritual moments to be grateful for, moments that changed me forever.
Alixandra: All of that is incredible, and proves that we can’t take a single moment of life for granted.
Renee: Exactly! I think every moment does count, and if I can find ways to deepen my experience through those moments, then I will know I am on the right path.
Alixandra: Renee, you are best known for your role on Xena: Warrior Princess, how did this role, and time spent on this show, influence your life?
Renee: That’s funny, I just sent a message to the show’s executive producer, Rob Tapert. I finished it by telling him how grateful I am for the value that he added to my life. Because of the experiences he put us through; I’m in many ways the person I am today. There were many times that I was not happy about what we had to do, like the freezing cold weather and walking around with no shoe! Mostly, it was the physical elements that kept me challenged, and made me go deeper, and stay focused so, I could be a responsible member of the crew. It was definitely character building, and it helped me recognize the level of tolerance I can achieve.
Xena is an amazing vehicle that has reached so many people. I am still surprised at how many people are just now discovering the show, because of the new mediums like Netflix. Stepping back, I can now see one of the greatest things I learned from the show was how many people felt so alone, isolated and hardened in their hearts. They found that the friendship between Xena and Gabrielle gave them hope to feel love and a sense of genuine connection. All I can say is that I was part of it because of the many people who made this happen and pulled it all together. I was just one aspect showing the heart of the character, making a real, tangible person who could feel and be open to the stories. My contribution was important, but it was only one aspect of that.
Alixandra: You practically grew up in your twenties on this television show. What an important part of your life and development as a person!
Renee: It was incredible! I am pretty surprised that it was such an incredible gift and an amazing journey. It’s been the foundation for what’s happening for me now and what’s to come.
Alixandra: Okay, now I have some fun questions for you. What’s your greatest strength and greatest weakness?
Renee: Let’s see, my greatest weakness first. Chocolate, of course… (laughing) and wanting my children to be absolutely happy, because sometimes you just have to allow things. I love seeing them laugh and full of joy. Another weakness really is wanting to do more than I can physically handle; that I get excited about so many different things and want to do them all. And then, when I can’t do them all, it feels like a disappointment. But, I can’t get attached to that. Gosh, as for my greatest strength, it’s LOVE.
Alixandra: I like that answer. If you could be anybody, for just one day, who would you be and why?
Renee: Wow, I would probably pick many different people, for many different reasons. Starting with my children, and wanting to know their world, from their point of view, to people who have found a way to overcome great suffering. There are so many people that I admirer, especially the ones that find it in their hearts to bring light to the world. I find that to be so amazing. I am very curious to see how they did that. The sense of courage and strength that they had to find and where they found it. Did they find it within themselves, from loved ones, or GOD? Then, there has to be someone that would be hilariously fun, and insanely crazy, to step into their shoes. You can also look at the obvious people like Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and Gandhi, but would I want to step into their shoes? I don’t think I would, but I honor their great work. I think we each have an opportunity to do something unique and special.
Alixandra: Yes, I agree, each of us has a divine mission in life. And on that divine mission note, what is divine spirit to you?
Renee: It’s an eternal love that is sacred and of the light. Spirit is divine; accessible to all of us. I believe it’s all a choice. We can be part of the divine or not, we get to choose. It’s kind of a bizarre gift that we have been given.
Alixandra: It’s called free will. We can choose what we believe in and how we perceive life. We can choose to be of the light or the dark. What’s the most important lesson you have learned so far?
Renee: I think the most important lesson for me is being attentive. It’s important for me to stay alert, and to continue to do what I am doing so I can grow, and really be of service in some way. To stay open to the full journey of life, and realize the lesson is that I am in the lesson, and to stay present in my heart. It then becomes a greater experience.
Alixandra: Renee, I am so excited about all the amazing things you are working on. I can’t wait to see what’s next for you. Thank you for your time and for such a fun conversation.
Renee: Your welcome, Alixandra. I really enjoyed this!
About the Author
Alixandra Peters is a student of the shamanic arts specializing in the Pachakuti Mesa Tradition of Peru. Because of her deep passion for Mother Nature she has become a horticulturist, and a naturalist, specializing in Nevada’s diverse landscape and environment. When she is not getting her hands dirty, in the earth, Alixandra is a freelance writer/assistant editor for Kinetics Magazine, an amateur photographer, and a passionate beer connoisseur and home brewer.Alixandra is dedicated to connecting people to the sacredness of nature and finding their own inner wild wisdom. A Nevada native, she resides in Fabulous Las Vegas, Nevada with her three cats, Skye, Chamille, and Jasmine.
Image of Renee O’Connor copyright by starcontinuum.net | P. Becher & R. Cantero