Picture two little girls living with their family in a tiny apartment in Athens, Greece. Never wealthy, their mother and father divorce and money becomes even tighter. But the girls’ mother knows something many people
do not—that somehow everything works out for the best, and help is always available. Without naming any specific spiritual principles, Elli Stassinopoulos simply believed and demonstrated for her daughters that grace and joy are the foundation of life.
“She taught us that the way to achieve the outcomes we wanted was to have absolutely no doubt in our hearts that it was going to be so, because we had declared it so,” her daughter Agapi later wrote in her third book, Unbinding the Heart (Hay House, 2012).
When Arianna, the older of the two girls, wanted to study economics at the University of Cambridge, her mother moved with her to England. Today, Arianna Huffington is a best- selling author and cofounder and editor in chief of the Huffington Post Media Group.
When Agapi, the younger sister, set her heart on attending the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London, her mother didn’t blink. She found someone with ties to RADA and engaged a teacher for her daughter. Today, Agapi Stassinopoulos is a teacher of life, sharing her own spiritual journey and her mother’s enduring wisdom. She is an author and international speaker who strives every day to live up to her name; in Greek, agape means “unconditional love.”
The Gifts of “Failure”
Stassinopoulos’ spiritual search grew from failure and disappointment. Her efforts to become an actress in Hollywood went nowhere, and she felt terribly insecure—as if something were wrong with her. She says it took years to learn that not fitting in sometimes means you’re in the wrong place, and more important, that what you think you want is often a disguise for something else that’s more essential to your life’s purpose.
When Stassinopoulos was mired in what she calls “the abyss of Hollywood” and becoming a star wasn’t happening, she turned to yoga. Her mother had introduced her to yoga and meditation when she was 12.
“I always had that soul-searching gene in me, the one that wants to find myself,” she says. “Nothing else worked. When you’re unhappy, you keep digging.” She spent hours in Hollywood’s metaphysical bookstore, the Bodhi Tree, reading about cosmic consciousness, enlightenment, Ayurvedic science, and Indian philosophy.
She had never thought much about God before then. Her family celebrated Easter and Christmas in the Greek Orthodox Church, but her mother’s true religion was communing with people and with life itself. “She raised us on metaphysics rather than dogma,” Stassinopoulos remembers.
Stassinopoulos called herself agnostic and existentialist but kept yearning to connect with something greater than herself. As she later wrote, “It was as if I was walking around knocking on doors, having no idea which one might open.”
A door finally opened—that is, her heart broke open—reading Paramahansa Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi. One morning, she was awoken very early by sunlight streaming through her window and felt simultaneously illuminated by an incredibly powerful inner light, as well. She wept as the experience brought her to her knees. As she describes in Unbinding the Heart:
I called out, ‘Father, Father, Father,’ connecting with my Maker as if for the first time, and every time I said it, I felt a jolt of energy in my spine.
A few minutes later, I opened my diary and wrote simply, Credo. An ancient memory and promise was being revealed: I believe, I know, I am a child of God. That moment would forever change me.
Stassinopoulos was no longer a young actress seeking stardom but part of a larger whole. “I woke up,” she explains. “My soul woke up.”
Voices of Goddesses
She began to study with John-Roger Hinkins, who founded the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness in California. She also began to make friends with the Greek gods and goddesses she had found so boring in school. She created a one-woman show called Conversations With the Goddesses, using monologues to give a voice to each of them. She actually began to identify with the goddesses and see their archetypes everywhere.
“I’m Persephone, the young girl who is a dreamer, who tries to find her path in life,” Stassinopoulos explains. “Once she does, she becomes queen of the underworld and helps others through their journey. She’s very connected to her mother, Demeter. My sister is very much an Athena. I recognize in my friends Aphrodite and Artemus.”
She then wrote two books, Conversations With the Goddesses (Stewart, Tabori & Chang, 1999) as well as Gods and Goddesses in Love (Paraview Pocket Books, 2004), and she eventually produced a one-woman television show for PBS.
Stassinopoulos achieved that goal by practicing what she had learned from her mother and her spiritual teacher. As she instructs in Unbinding the Heart: “If you want something, you should simply hold the thought of it steadily in your mind and not focus on your lack of it.”
She tried the same practice with taxicabs in New York City, firmly holding the mental picture that a cab would be available for her—even in rush hour in the rain. Cabs magically started pulling up.
She used the same principle with the PBS show, writing in her organizer, “PBS Special—completed successfully,” and putting a check mark next to it. She held a clear picture of the result, with no idea how it might come about. Time and again, she returned to her mother’s example. Thanks to Elli, Stassinopoulos says, she, too, can see the world as “a place of boundless abundance from which we can choose and create solutions to whatever problems we face.”
The Philosopher Mother
Stassinopoulos has written and spoken extensively about her mother, evoking mother-envy in many others. “How wonderful,” they say, “to have been brought up with such confidence in a friendly universe and with assurance that anything is possible.”
An actress friend once remarked, “If I’d had your mother, I’d have been Meryl Streep.”
“No,” Stassinopoulos replied. “If you’d had my mother, you’d have been okay with yourself the way you are.”
Stassinopoulos remembers watching her mother when she didn’t know how she would pay the rent, yet not worrying about it—even making food and inviting people to dinner with the family. They always lived with a sense of abundance.
Her mother’s five brothers helped her financially, and her ex-husband, the girls’ father, sometimes chipped in. People seemed unfailingly happy to help.
“She had a lot of chutzpah about asking for help,” Stassinopoulos says. “She thought the world was a helpful place. She didn’t think the world was against her. It’s easy if you think life is rigged in your favor.”
Her mother lived out her life with Huffington until she died in 2000. Her daughters planted a lemon tree in their garden and installed a bench engraved with one of their mother’s favorite sayings: Don’t miss the moment.
“She was a very big being,” Stassinopoulos remembers, a little tearfully. “There was an amazing spirit about her. She struggled, but she was evolved. I know she was ahead of her time. She was a teacher. She was the likes of Socrates and Plato—a philosopher.
“Now that she’s free in her soul, I often see her. I see her light,” Stassinopoulos continues. “She’s a big light in the world. I think she came into this world with a very strong mission to raise me and Arianna. I think her calling was, ‘I have to raise these girls so they can go be who they are and do their work in the world.’”
Stassinopoulos is now teaching the world about health, life balance, and especially self-love. “Self-love is not a ‘woo-woo,’ California, under-the-mango-tree spirituality,” she told a laughing audience at the Global Wellness Summit in Mexico City this past year. “It is real.” Judging ourselves and pushing ourselves to improve only creates pain, she added. It binds the heart.
“I want you to rest,” Stassinopoulos urged the audience. “Write love letters to yourself. Walk in nature. Be in reverence. Pray—just say thank you every day and every night. That’s how we’re going to wake up this planet, this humanity.”
She says her greatest fulfillment is hearing people tell her they have changed the way they were living— becoming kinder to themselves, leaving a miserable job or relationship, opening their hearts to love.
“The greatest thing we can do for others,” she writes in Unbinding the Heart, “is not so much to share our riches with them as to help them recognize their own inner wealth.”
Stassinopoulos is currently working on a new book, Wake Up to the Joy of You (to be published by Harmony Books in December), largely about self-love. In it, she shares 52 stories of overcoming difficulty to become more aware of the Presence.
She and her sister now live together, with homes in both New York and Los Angeles. They also work together, giving seminars based on Huffington’s book Thrive (Harmony Books, 2014) to help corporate employees with work-life balance.
“We’re very independent women, but we feel very strongly about doing good in the world and helping people,” Stassinopoulos explains. “And we are each other’s best friends and supporters. That’s a great blessing.”
She may never have become a famous actress, but Stassinopoulos spends her days in front of audiences, uplifting people, helping them, and sharing her own heart.
“That to me is a greater gift than being an actress,” she says. “When you act, you’re acting as someone else. The greatest gift is to be yourself.”
To read more about Agapi Stassinopoulos and to watch her videos, visit unbindingtheheart.com.