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Release Date

December 22nd, 2021

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From “God moments” in Ethiopia to falling in love amid her partner’s cancer treatment, actress and writer Maria Bello joins Zainab to talk about evolving spiritual beliefs, finding freedom from judgment, and the wisdom of past and present relationships.

“I’m going to stop trying to make sense of the world by trying to keep it in the frame that makes me feel comfortable. That’s not what the world is. . . . What I learned in terms of that self-healing and love is that my frame is tiny, in a wonderful way, and I want to know yours and the people close to me. I want to understand their frames more.”

INSPIRATION

TRANSCRIPT

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Redefined is hosted by me, Zainab Salbi, and brought to you by FindCenter, a search engine for your soul. Part library, part temple, FindCenter presents a world of wisdom, organized. Check it out today at www.findcenter.com and please subscribe to Redefined for or free on Apple Podcasts and Spotify.

[introductory piano music]

What’s most important about life? What is the essence of life? Is it what we do? How much we earn? How many social media followers we have? Or is it, do we live our lives in kindness to ourselves and to others? Do we live our lives in love to ourselves and to others? In nearly losing my life, I was confronted with these questions, and it led me to the conversations that make up Redefined, about how we draw our inner maps and the pursuit of meaningful personal change.

My guest this time is Maria Bello. Now you may know Maria from hit TV shows like NCIS or for her Golden Globe–nominated performances in the movies A History of Violence and The Cooler, or maybe from her book, Love Is Love, questioning the labels we give ourselves. I came to know Maria through another lens, as a fierce advocate and activist fighting to empower women and end domestic violence in places like Haiti and Darfur—and ultimately as a dear, trusted, and respected friend.

Heartfelt conversations with friends like Maria gave me the confidence to launch this podcast, Redefined. So as we end the year, I wanted to check in with Maria and talk, as we do, about what shaped her spiritual beliefs, the power and danger of beauty, evolving ideas about sexuality and relationships with beloved others, how to appreciate people in our past, and how to free ourselves from judgment. Join us.

[piano music fades]

I want to start by an experience that we had together, and that was in Ethiopia. And it was one of the most memorable moments of my life. And that started for me when we were in the Danakil Depression, visiting Ethiopia, a country that is unfortunately ravaged by a horrible war right now. But we were there a few years ago, and it was the hottest spot, as I’m told, as we were told in Earth.

And I’m sure you remember, because it was such amazing beauty. It felt like we were in a different planet, not on Earth, with this yellow, green, brown colors, walking in this volcanic sand—I don’t know what formations, salt formation. It’s just so gorgeous. And when we left, I don’t know if you remember, you put on my . . . You shared your headset with me. So we shared, I had one ear and you had the other ear, and we listened to Morricone’s music, The Mission.

And I remember that moment, Maria, I remember it so vividly actually, because I teared up and I said, “Life will be up and down. There will be good moments in life, and there will be hard moments in life. But throughout it all, I shall always remember that this life is so beautiful.” And that moment for me came in sharing this experience with you, both in going to the same place and in having the same . . . And in sharing the headsets basically listening to the same moment, to the same music, to the same experience.

So my first question is, what was that for you? And if it’s not, what was that moment for you? But also, what was the moment where you just had this epiphany of “This earth is so magnificently beautiful and that this life is so beautiful”?

Maria Bello:

Just like you, that memory is so stuck in my heart and in my body. I remember it exactly on that helicopter. What we saw those few days, even the few days before, the landscapes we saw, being stunned by beauty, dropping in the middle of nowhere and meeting this amazing tribe of people who have been living the same way for three thousand years. It was really magical. And to see that depression, to see . . . It looked like a science experiment, right? Like you said, green, yellow, brown. I call those moments—particularly with travel, like a lot of people do—God moments. You and I had a glimpse of God. And art—music—only elevates that moment. Right?

So I think we experience this. We’ve never seen anything like it. I have chills talking about it. This is what I love about travel. You just stumble upon something. And that music elevated this experience to almost a godlike experience. And for me, going into that trip, remember, I just got done work. I was feeling a little depressed. I didn’t know where I was going in my life. I went very last minute. I got to say, by the time I got home after being with you and our gorgeous girlfriends in this beautiful, amazing place for a week, changed me. I felt different because I had a few God moments. It’s like a wake up, wake up, wake up. They’re knocking on your door saying, “Hey, look at how big and beautiful the world is.” Right?

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I have to ask then. What does God mean for you in that case? I mean, you grew up Catholic, as I understand it. Did you grow up Catholic? Did you grow up religious? I don’t remember.

Maria Bello:

I went to sixteen years of Catholic school, church every Sunday. It was such a tradition. Immigrant Polish and Italian family in Philly. Very blue collar. Very like, this is what you do. Everybody goes to church. But I remember from quite a young age, I didn’t buy it. I remember . . . My mom’s a very spiritual person, though she’s Catholic. She was all about our ancestors, our spirits, pray to Papa. She was always about Mary, the angels. So she had this way of looking at the world that wasn’t particularly Catholic.

And so it wasn’t even like a clear decision I made when I was eighteen, nineteen. I knew in my teens that it’s not where I want to be. It was also so white man–centric, old man–centric, the patriarchy. And I got that really young. I didn’t want to involve myself in that. So what I think God means to me now, or I can say, as I’m living life, I can get a glimpse of this. I don’t have one clear answer for who I think God is. What I know is there are moments in my life when I experience God that I just know. It’s not even a belief. I know completely I am taken care of. We are exactly where we’re supposed to be. Life is right and good.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

So beautiful. Honestly, it’s so beautiful for me to hear it because in that same trip, if you remember, there was . . . We went to this church. And they’re like very old Ethiopian Orthodox rich traditions and rituals. And they opened this historic twelfth-century Bible, I think, for us and all of that. And I remember you were saying, “I’m not going there. This is patriarchy.” And so I actually was like, “Okay.” For me, it was curious. I did not grow up Catholic or in Christian tradition. So I was like, “Oh,” just curious. But for you, “Uh-uh, I’m not going there.” Remember?

Maria Bello:

Yeah. And I loved the musical part about it. Remember when they were outside and there’s beauty and there’s art and that ritual and history. But as soon as you go into that dark space and there’s all these men and no women are involved in this particularly holy thing, it just felt overwhelmingly masculine. And my spirituality is more balanced than that, masculine and feminine. It’s not completely feminine. It’s something in between. That’s why, by the way, we share that book, Narcissus and Goldmund, which is one of my favorite books since I was a kid.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Love the book.

Maria Bello:

Because it’s about that. Right? It’s about the balance of the male, female. It’s about the polarity of being human and being spirit. Right?

Zainab Salbi (Host):

It’s so interesting you bring that book up because I don’t know if many people know or the public know. I mean, the public know you in so many shows and movies and all of that. I’m not sure how many people know that you’re actually a bookworm. Right?

Maria Bello:

Well, like you, some of my friends say my obituary will be like gypsy librarian, right? I’ve been sort of a librarian and reader since I was a young kid and have collected many of the books that really inspired me throughout the years. Just built a library at the house. It’s called Salon des Femmes, which is “the women’s room” because I have so many books, particularly on women’s history and by female writers. And it’s about mining history in a different way. Again, going back to patriarchy, most history that’s been told has been from that point of view. So I like to immerse myself in different things, but Narcissus and Goldmund was one of the first books that sort of opened my eyes to the metaphysical, let’s say that. Even though it was a very practical story.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

And how did you get to it, Maria? I mean, I know for me, my mom influenced me in terms of noticing and putting my direction, saying, “Uh-uh, this is all patriarchal,” or, “This is very masculine,” or, “Be careful,” or whatever, and go to this. And my mom had a huge influence. She always told me. She said, “Never look at God as in the sky. God is in everywhere, is in the flowers and in the sand, is in the water, everywhere.” What was the turning moments in your life where you realized, “That is not God. That is patriarchal. That is masculine and I’m going to actually really need to look into other perspective.” Was it books? Was it your mom? What was it that—

Maria Bello:

No, it’s a good one—

Zainab Salbi (Host):

. . . you had that epiphany?

Maria Bello:

It’s a good one. You’re going to like. This is a true story. I’m fourteen years old, Catholic girl school on one side, Catholic boys school on the other. In the middle was a chapel where you’d had to go every week and like go to mass, whatever. We’re there one day and the priest meets with us and he is talking about confession, and they hand out these little yellow papers with different sins on them.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Like a multiple choice kind of thing, you can just choose?

Maria Bello:

No, it’s just, they were talking about confession, what you might want to confess. And there’s a list on there. And one thing on the list was like, do you masturbate? Have you ever been touched by somebody of the opposite sex there, and like these sort of things. And I was like, “What?” And I remember raising my hand and saying to this priest, “Father, my mom’s a nurse. Like it’s totally part of adolescent development. What are you talking about?” And I remember this like, [huffs] huffy thing, and there was no sort of answer. But then I was called to the office later and sort of questioned by these nuns—who by the way were really cool. Like they got it. He didn’t get it. So it was really a wake up call quite early.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

That’s amazing because I’m sure all the kids masturbated. It’s just no one said it, except you just raised your hand and said, “That’s normal. Why are you punishing us for that?”

Maria Bello:

Exactly.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

But there’s courage.

Maria Bello:

And, by the way, I felt an undercurrent in that school with many priests that I met in that thing, that there was something going on with their own sexuality. And I have to tell you, kids from that school, during my . . . some time there, were really wounded by priests. A lot of young men were really wounded by priests at that time at my school. I didn’t know that then, but now as adults, we know it was happening, and it’s heartbreaking.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

It’s very interesting because my teenage life, for me, it was not with priests. It was, as you know, with Saddam Hussein. And beauty for me was dangerous. I knew, as a teenager, that it’s dangerous to be beautiful because to be beautiful, then you have the gazes of powerful men and that they could do things to hurt you. That’s how it was translated for me by my mother and society at large, because also, it came from truth. If they liked you, they raped you, basically. It was that equal equation. It’s so interesting that you talk about priests in Catholic school. How did you see beauty as you were growing up? Your own beauty, how people saw it, is it to celebrate it? I mean, here you are audacious in saying, “I masturbate and that’s not a sin.” How did you relate to the meaning of beauty as a teenager?

Maria Bello:

Beauty, in general, was always love to me. I was such a romantic. I read pretty wonderful books, great literature. But when I was a kid, from eight years old, I was obsessed with romance novels, really. Like the pirate, she dresses like a guy and sneaks on a ship and the guy falls in love with her. It was seeing my parents’ relationship somehow. Okay, fine, family of origin stuff, something being modeled for you, but also this idea like, “One day I’m going to meet my soulmate and it’ll take me away and life will be perfect and someone will save me—Cinderella.” So I grew up with that, so I had a boyfriend really early on. Every guy I met . . . And I had long monogamous relationships through my teens, twenties, because I was like, “This is it. This will save me. This is the one.” And I really love these humans. I told you about the one who died of ALS a couple years ago and those amazing moments we had, but . . . So, for me, that was the fantasy and that was the life. I was living God through loving and romance and possibility of what that was and passion and sexuality, and . . . Now I look at it differently, but then, that was God to me.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

That’s so beautiful. Okay. Well, now you’re in another part of your life. How do you look at it differently? How has that translated or that meaning evolved over time?

Maria Bello:

Well, then I thought it was real, real, in the moment. If I felt passionately about someone and they felt passionate about me and we had a connection—because listen, all the people I’ve ever been with are really great humans, really cool. Definitely had a connection with them, whether they be men, women, whatever. And, with most of them, there was some passionate thing, but what I realize now, as a kid, you go with that and you think that’s a real thing, but it’s not always. Sometimes it’s your body, just a chemical thing. That’s part of it. So sometimes it’s just sex, but you need to frame it as “It’s love,” really. But as you’re older, sometimes I’m like, “It’s probably just about sex mostly.”

So now, I see it differently. I don’t know what it is. Do you have the whole package and that’s love? Because I’ve had that, I guess, a couple of times in my life, but I just don’t think of relationships as linear anymore. I don’t have this “Oh my God. Okay. We’re going to get married, have kids, and be together for fifty years.” So that romantic ideal has left, but in a good way. Look, my parents have been married for fifty-seven years. They still drive each other crazy. They’re in the same argument they’ve been in for fifty-seven fucking years. Who’s meant to be together for fifty-seven years? Of course, the person would drive you crazy after that long.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Well, I mean, according to Carl Jung, we actually are attracted to people who irks us somehow, some way, because we’re attracted to people who have the same want that we have. And so in meeting that want, then we are healing each other. So, by definition, we’re not only attracted . . . The people we love the most end up irking us or hurting us or whatever it is because they’re so close. I call the people who I love the most, they hurt me because I have opened the intimate part of my heart in it, where the muscles are soft there.

I have to say, when I was a teenager, I too thought of “love” of as the romantic guy. I honestly have an image. I was in Mosul which, at the time, was not this horrible war zone. It was this very beautiful . . . Mosul, Iraq, mountains and all of that, on the top of a hill with Saddam and surroundings and I was miserable. So I looked at the sky and I imagined this knight on a white horse will come and snatch me out of there into the white horse. And then he just saved me from the misery that I am in and all my life, I mean, if there’s one thing that I had to correct, big time, is that all my romantic relationships, I always thought that “This knight is going to come and he’s going to save me. And it’s going to take me out of my misery that I am in right now,” whatever it is, by the way, different stages.

And here I am, Maria, I’m fifty-two, and it just dawned on me, a couple of years ago, that I am the knight. I am even the horse. I am the armor. I am the whole thing. There is nothing. I am the knight and I’m the horse that is riding. And there is only one person that can save me, and that is me, actually. And that changed my . . . But the route I corrected that was through understanding the true meaning of self-love, and it’s a major thing because I don’t know if men have the same thing, but we women, I think, because we are of the romantic novels and the romantic movies, we have the projection that the other will save us. And it really, really, really, really took me a long time to understand. It’s only I can save myself, and I can only save myself by truly understanding the meaning of love to myself.

Maria Bello:

That’s right. And then you can come from a choiceful place now, which is you understand when you choose someone, there’s a growth edge. Knowing you now, you would only choose someone who helped you in some way to grow a little bit, to be in a committed relationship. Does that make sense? When I’d go through stuff with Dom as we couples, we all do, and I talk to you about it, which I love that we have that amongst us, that it always comes back to “Yeah, but are you growing? Is she helping you to grow?” It sounds like you guys are still growing, and it’s true. So whenever I think like, “Oh God, it’s a lot having a primary romantic relationship where you’re actually living with someone,” I think, “Are we helping each other to grow?” And I would still say today, “Yep.” And growth is hard. You’re right, I feel like, especially the last year since I took the year off, the ego’s chipped away, chipped away, chipped away, softening, grief, shame, crying. A lot of stuff happened in this year to soften me. So it’s been very interesting. So right now, I feel you so much about that softening. I think it changes everything.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I mean, I would have to agree. I would agree. I mean, I got softened by force by becoming ill when I was really sick. I’m impressed, actually, that you’re going at the softening with intention by letting . . . What I’m hearing is that you’re going about the softening by letting yourself truly express your most authentic and your most vulnerable self and allowing that, and in the allowing, it comes and the grief and all of that comes in. And then that’s when we let go of the armor. I mean, am I hearing it correctly? By letting ourselves express ourselves, the armor that we have around us is melting away and then the softness that we are come more clearer.

Maria Bello:

That’s right. And what I found is that what it takes is a great deal of humility. I learned so much humility this year. And by humility, I mean, I had to get to a point where I was on my knees, saying, “Dear God, help me. I can’t do it by myself.” Meaning I’m not in control of anyone or everything. There’s grand beauty in the world. There’s people who the greatest artists of all time, thinkers, and the constant like, “Oh, I need to be this. I need to be that.” But humility’s a different thing. I can’t maybe explain it. Maybe I can give you an example. Remember this summer, Dom and I went to the Villa La Coste in the south of France? We kind of stumbled upon it, had heard about it, this incredible vineyard where this man, Paddy McKillen, built this hotel and forty art installations all over his property. You walk in the woods for miles, and you’ll see a stone path from Ai Weiwei. You’ll see Frank Gehry builds this music . . . a Louise Bourgeois spider.

You can’t believe the giganticness of thought and spirit that went into these pieces. I really felt like I was in a church. And I remember, we were leaving there and I was like, “Dom, after you see that you realize you’re a very tiny speck. You’re a very tiny speck.” For all of my ideas and this and I’m a successful woman. I’m not going to take that away. But then there’s vision. And I felt very humbled by that.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Beautiful. I mean, you reminded me of a conversation we once had when I wrote Freedom Is an Inside Job, and in it somewhere, I was like, “When people ask me when I was in between phases of my life, ‘What are you doing now?’ I’m like, ‘I don’t know.’” And then the not knowing is humbling. And the not knowing, it’s not because one doesn’t know what to do, or sometimes I don’t know. Like, “Who are you?” “I don’t know. I really don’t.” “What is your profession?” “I don’t know. I’m doing all kinds of things.” And that not knowing is actually a very humbling thing. And I’m not sure if it’s related, but for you, it’s the being in the presence of all, what I’m hearing, is where it got you to humility.

Maria Bello:

Again. Again, it’s another that was a God moment for me. Being overwhelmed, like tears in my eyes, like when we listen to The Mission on that helicopter, like those moments where you go, it takes your breath away, but also validates that there is something bigger than you. Way bigger than us. But I think also this year, remember last year at the beginning of the year we were on another wonderful trip with our incredible wild, beautiful spirit friends. And I took an intentional year off because I said to you and everybody, “I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do. I know I’ve been working for twenty-seven years in this business.” The longest I ever took off was five months, right before I had Jackson. I went to work five weeks after I had my son Jackson. And I was like, I need a break running from one thing to the new next to the next, like slow down. So I finished my job in December 9th last year. So that’s almost exactly a year. And I said, “I’m going to take a year off.”

And it was scary for me because look, COVID, everybody took a hit. Like, am I ever going to work again? I don’t know. I had some projects that I’m producing and developing, blah, blah, but, can I do this? And I did. Jack and I had COVID in the beginning of January. By day ten, I was sitting outside looking over, talking to a friend saying, “I’m out. I’m out of here. I’m a traveler. I’m a gypsy. I’m going.” It was before the vaccine, but because I had I could travel at that point. So I started immediately. We were in Cayman Islands and then I was in the Yucatan and then I went to Kenya for a month by myself. And then I went to Kenya again. And then I’ve been in France. And sort of opening up again to huge moments of beauty, curiosity. And I’m realizing, I thought, a couple weeks ago I was like, “Oh, I haven’t done anything this year.”

And suddenly I’m like, so much has been done to me this year. I have done so much this year in terms of making my relationships right. My relationship with myself and others. Weirdly enough, by not pushing so hard on things I was creating, they are all coming to fruition right now. I’m like, “Well, what did I do for that project this year?” It’s like, “Not much, but maybe it’s timing.” So maybe even when you’re not doing something, it’s like when we meditate, something is being shifted in you and changed in you, without me even knowing it. I just went and had fun for a year basically.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I see. I call this the feminine, and this is not to say one is better than other, as we both know that, as you mentioned, that the feminine and the masculine are equally important, but the masculine is a drive. It’s like, “I am going to do that.” The feminine is sort of like let things happen—there is a flow to the feminine. And so the feminine is sort of the allowing for things to happen. It’s sort of putting the intention, being out there, showing up, but then also allowing things to happen. And that surrendering, that allowance, I feel is one of the feminine values. Like, we don’t have to force everything. Sometimes we do. But also to allow it to happen to us, for us, that’s the surrender, that’s the humility. They’re all from that space of just calmer energy to it. And it seems that you’ve experienced that.

Maria Bello:

Softness. Like going there again, softness. I say I’m feeling very watery, which means feminine, which means receptive. Like, let it come, feel it all.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I want to go back to something that you said, which is about making your relationships right this year. So let’s start with the, I think, boyfriend who had ALS. I think, was he one of the first boyfriends that you had? And I know you had a story about going back to him and having a conversation. Can you share that story?

Maria Bello:

Yeah. John Clark. He was my first great love. I met him when I was eighteen. I was like the girl whose parents owned the pizza parlor, he was like the hot handsome boy at the end of the street, going to be a lawyer. It was very romantic in that way. And we fell in love and we were together for a few years to the point of like, “We’re going to get married. We’re going to do this.” Of course, you grow, and we were young, and things changed. But always loved this man. He was my first sexual experience and it was so great. So many people tell me about the first sexual experience and it was miserable. Mine was fucking amazing.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Amazing. Good for you. [laughs]

Maria Bello:

We really had a connection and really got to know each other, and he was really hot. [laughs]

Zainab Salbi (Host):

That’s excellent.

Maria Bello:

I’m really grateful about that. But anyway, years later, he stayed in the neighborhood kind of where we grew up part-time, and he had ALS. My family’s still friends with him and his family. So two years ago, I went back to see him and say goodbye. And we’re sitting in the room, my mom’s there, and he can only blink on a screen to sort of spell letters to talk to me. And so we’re being very polite. Like, “How are you, honey?” And give him a squeeze. He gives me a squeeze. But he has a smirk on his face. Like, I totally know his smirk and I know his eyes.

So after we left, we’re like, “Okay, bye,” I’m texting him like, “What are you doing right now?” And he texts me back, “Nothing. You want to come over? Bring some beer.” [laughs] So we ended up on the front patio of his house, laughing. And I’m saying laughing, he’s in a chair. He can’t move, he can’t speak. Laughing about stuff that happened when we were kids. I always thought that I broke his heart. He thought that he broke my heart. And I was like, “I’m sorry I did this.” He goes, “Oh my God. I always thought you were the nicest person.” And I said, “Oh my God, me too.” But we used to fight. I mean, we were kids. And then he goes, basically like, “Let’s see, how’s your finger?” Look, we got in a fight once, and I was like this, and I broke my finger.

But these years later we were able to, and I was able to say like, “Oh my God, we really taught each other about like sex and love.” And he was like, “Yes.” And funny enough, I just started kind of dating Dom. I was like, “Honestly”—this is true—“Honestly, if I wasn’t like dating someone, I would totally make out with you right now.” Like that energy between us was still there. It doesn’t go away. It doesn’t magically go away. It didn’t matter. But what we did realize that night is we might have been apart for twenty years and we never spoke. We heard about each other, but we never spoke. But what we realize now, but we were still so connected. So what’s the difference if we didn’t see each other on this earth for twenty years, or now that he’s here in another dimension? I almost in a weird way, feel closer to him now. I talk to him all the time. Mostly it’s like, “Oh shit, will you help me with this? I’m scared,” or whatever it is. It was a beautiful, beautiful . . . The way that it came around. And I feel so inspired by this relationship, by the courage that we had.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

What other relationships you healed in that year? It seems that you healed your relationship with yourself by allowing yourself to be, basically, and to go with your wind. What other relationship you healed that you’re willing to share?

Maria Bello:

I don’t think I’m ready to share about—or ever—about the different sorts of relationships that I . . . But I will say how I healed myself in order to make all of the relationships good in my life, steady. And that is, I definitely got to a place where I realized a lot of my mistakes, what I could have done better, really owned it. Everything. The pain that I’ve caused other humans, whoever they are in my life.

Also, stop taking all responsibility, because that’s ego as well when you’re like, “Oh yeah, it’s on me,” or “No, it’s not.” That in-between of taking full responsibility for our actions—in the past, in the present—and also having this feeling of like everyone has their own journey. That’s a separate human than I. I’m going to stop trying to make sense of the world by trying to keep it in the frame that makes me feel comfortable. That’s not what the world is. You have your own frame. Jack has his own frame. Dom has her own frame. My mother. Like, I was putting my frame around everybody else for a long time thinking that—Zainab, of course you see the world how I see it. And then when we really talk, we’re like, “Not exactly.” You and I have a lot in common in terms of how we see the world, what we value, even our history. So I think what I learned in terms of that self-healing and love is that my frame is tiny, in a wonderful way, and I want to know yours and the people close to me. I want to understand their frames more.

And so I think I’ve gotten kinder. I think I’ve gotten a little kinder to myself, but I think I’ve gotten a lot kinder to people in my life.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I think this is so beautiful and honestly so important in today’s world. I feel like we are in a world where we’re constantly correcting each other about what we say and how we say it, and da, da. Like, we are often I feel sometimes I walk on eggshells. Like, “Oh, is this okay to say this?” And to frame it in that way, to frame it on saying, “Okay, I see the world this way. This other person sees this way, this way. Bad intention, good intention. What do I own? What do they own?” Distinguish between my story and their story and move on.

Maria Bello:

And move on. And that’s the biggest case, and move on. If you get stuck in there, you’re still in your ego. If you get stuck there, then it’s still about like how it affects you. Fucking, let it go. Move on. Keep walking. My son teaches me that a lot. He’s very much like, “Mom, one foot in front of the other, we’re all human.” I’m like, “Right, right.” So here we are walking, you and I.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

I have two questions. Let’s stay on the relationship, because you fell in love with Dominique when she had cancer. A lot of people would turn around, Maria, and just say, “I’m out. I love her, but that’s too complicated.” I’m just so, so curious about that, because that, for me, shows so much about who you are. So much about the loving, the caregiving, the seer part of you. Was there any doubt? Was there areas like, “Oh, maybe not,” or just like, you go for it? This is just part of who you are. You just go for things.

Maria Bello:

Everything that you said is just true. And there is the caregiver and it was very romantic. Three weeks after we fell in love, she’s like, “Oh, by the way, I have a lump on my breast.” Right? So within a month, she was in chemo. I was like, “All right, let’s do cancer.” A, I was crazy about her. We’ve been friends for a year. She’s the most dynamic, as you know, incredible, beautiful woman. And I just liked her so much. I liked who I was with her. So when she had cancer, I quickly went like, “Yeah, let’s do cancer.” And then it was nine months of really heavy-duty, horrible chemo, mastectomy . . . It was a whole thing. She was exhausted, of course, by the end, but she was such a warrior. She danced through it. And I was like the tap dancer, “Yay, everything’s fine.” And taking over. We had just gotten together, really.

I want to talk about the shadow side, Narcissus and Goldman, a lot of what you and I talk about. The shadow side of what you said is, I grew up in a family where my mother was always taking care of my dad, and trying to get her self-worth, maybe, from taking care of my dad.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Because your dad had an injury, a physical injury that needed care.

Maria Bello:

Yeah. And then later in life, my mom got cancer when I was eighteen. So I was taking care of her. So there was this caretaking quality, but the shadow side of it was, but it was in history as well. Maybe we all did a little too much for each other. So now I’m seeing my caregiving nature as something that needs to be balanced a little bit. That it’s not just like this altruistic; it’s being stuck in a story, stuck in that story of, “Oh my God, someone needs my help.”

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Very good. Yeah. Yeah. Very good. Because if we derive our identity from that, then we become attached to it. Then we want to take care of everyone. We see crisis and we go and because that becomes how we get the meaning to who are we—

Maria Bello:

Yes! Why do you think I worked in a disaster zone for years? Why do you think you worked in war zones? We gave, gave, give so much to the world and we’re caretakers in the world . . . And then after, just question it. It’s a great thing to question. Am I doing. . . Like for her, yeah, it was an amazing love story. And then afterwards we thought, everything a year later, “Oh, this is going to be great, out in the world again.” And then COVID happened. And so then that was the last year. And then this year I said cancer, COVID, commitment. Commitment’s the last tackle.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Three C’s. [laughs]

Maria Bello:

The three C’s.[laughs]

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Yeah. But if you survive that, one can argue you survive anything.

Maria Bello:

Yeah. Maybe, I don’t know. It’s a lot of learning though, but even for me to be able to say that now, when she has said, “Oh my God, you saved me,” and now for us to get to the point to the growth point where I go, “Well, not really. I was kind of saving myself too and crazy about you.”

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Beautiful.

Maria Bello:

Right.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Wow.

Maria Bello:

That’s growth, to be able to say that to another human, have that discussion about both of where your lives were and what was happening. Like at one point I was like, she doesn’t appreciate me. She’s such an asshole. By the way, she was really fucking sick.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Yeah, yeah. Yeah.

Maria Bello:

After six months and she’s so joyful and tap dancing like this and when she fell in, she fell in and I took it personally. Right. Because I was exhausted too. But then hopefully you can find that out about each other. So it’s not like, remember you did this, remember I did this. If you kind of deconstruct it and really take the other person’s accounts into account, then it becomes a third thing.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Beautiful.

Maria Bello:

Something much more complicated than you thought it was at the time.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

No, beautiful. I mean seriously because you’re taking truth into another dimension. Truth is not . . . There is the, I call it the outer truth. The outer truth is that you took care of her and you showed her love and kindness and all of these things, right? The inner truth, which only us know about, and only us can tell to ourselves, as you’re saying, well, I also derive my identity out of it. And I also loved her. And so when we have this, I feel like when we have this symbiotic relationship between the outer truth and the inner truth a new story of who we are develops, if it’s actually in truth, right? So let’s say before you took care of her, let’s say your truth was, I am the caregiver. I took care of everything. And then it becomes one aspect of truth.

But then you did that and then you realize, oh, there is another aspect, your inner truth, your intimate truth, your authentic truth. Right? And then by addressing it and talking about it, it changes your identity of how you relate to these things. It change your relationships with each other. It change your relationship with yourself and with your truth. Does that make sense what I’m saying?

Maria Bello:

Yeah. Yeah.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

It’s truly beautiful. Truly beautiful. And not many people go there, but when we go there, we can actually shape a new story for ourselves. Totally beautiful.

Maria Bello:

Oh my God. There’s so much freedom in it. There’s so much freedom in it.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Gorgeous. Yeah. Gorgeous. Maria, I can’t end with that you have all these books surrounding you right now where you are, and you mentioned a couple of books that impacted you. If you are to mention one book that you keep on going back to and read between now and then, what would that be?

Maria Bello:

Honestly, and I read it when I was like fifteen, but I still do it. It’s called Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke. Still—

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Beautiful.

Maria Bello:

Live the question, live in the question. You’ll one day walk yourself into the answer. Right. Really simple. Like sex is difficult, but so is life. Learning to love far into the future. These are difficult things that set upon us as human beings. So it’s always been a touchstone in my life.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

A music, a piece of music that you always go to hear for either solace or joy, or I love seeing your dancing video on IG, by the way. But is there one music or couple or whatever that you keep on going to, yeah?

Maria Bello:

ABBA everything.

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Oh! I had no idea.

Maria Bello:

I just listened to the new album. Oh my God, are you kidding? “Dancing Queen” comes on and I feel free. I love it. I love “Dancing Queen.”

Zainab Salbi (Host):

Poem or a poet that you keep on going to?

Maria Bello:

I love Mary Oliver really. I love “Wild Geese.”

Zainab Salbi (Host):

And then we are about to end 2021. Been year of transition for so many of us, for you it seems also with the travels and the rest and the care and redefining the self, if you may. What are your hopes and wishes for yourself and for the future and for the world as we go about 2022?

Maria Bello:

Oh, for the world, that’s a big one. But honestly I hope we get this COVID under control and get their livelihoods and their lives in order again, and realize also what it’s taught us as a global community and maybe work towards healing that and participating in working towards healing our trust and connections amongst each other globally, and to create projects and stories that elevate all of those principles that I so believe in. And I believe it’s part of my purpose here on Earth.

[closing piano music]

Zainab Salbi (Host):

That was Maria Bello. For transcripts and other resources from this episode, please go to www.findcenter.com/redefined. Do please subscribe to this podcast. It’s free. And your subscription, and perhaps your comments is all I ask of you. Thank you. And if you want to learn more about my work with FindCenter, please follow FindCenter or me on Instagram @find_center or @ZainabSalbi. Maria is taking a break from Instagram, but her work is often public. Thank you so much for listening and wish you all happy and healthy holidays. We’ll be back next week for another conversation about life’s turning points and lessons learned. My guest will be author and spiritual leader, Reverend Doctor Jacqui Lewis. Redefined is produced by me, Zainab Salbi, along with Rob Corso, Casey Kahn, and Howie Kahn at FreeTime Media. Our music is by John Palmer. Special thanks to Neal Goldman, Caroline Pincus, and Sherra Johnston. Looking forward to seeing you next time.