by Diane Urbani de la Paz
Published February 20, 2009

Lindsay Wagner's living room was filled with bright sunlight as the blue Dungeness Bay sparkled just beyond the glass doors. And Wagner herself still has that "Bionic Woman" gleam in her eye.

But these days, the former Hollywood star is exploring a whole other kind of inner strength.

Wagner, 59, spoke with the Peninsula Daily News this week about how she found this part of the world, how she came to be the guest of honor at Sunday's "Hollywood Nights" Oscar party to benefit the Olympic Medical Center Foundation in Port Angeles, and another topic that clearly fires her up.

Human potential. Ever since she was a girl, Wagner has been fascinated by the possibilities of the mind and soul.

"I wanted to be a psychologist. But I was dyslexic, so I couldn't get through college," she began.

Wagner, a tall blonde, hit her stride in her 30s in a string of TV dramas, miniseries, some 40 made-for-TV movies, specials and documentaries and 10 feature films, including 1973's "Paper Chase" with John Houseman and "Nighthawks" with Sylvester Stallone in 1981.

But as anyone who watched TV between 1976 and 1978 knows, it was "The Bionic Woman," about a tennis pro empowered by experimental medical implants, that sparked her breakthrough to big fame.

She won an Emmy for the role in 1977.

"Television was like my playground, if you will," Wagner said.

"'The Bionic Woman' had given me such strength in the industry - pardon the pun - that they would let me do issue-oriented movies."

During the 1970s, she persuaded producers to make movies about taboo subjects such as child abuse, with the goal of helping viewers examine how such issues affected their lives.

She wanted to help people transcend traumas, "not just 'live through it.'"

But with the proliferation of cable TV channels during the 1980s, what Wagner calls the "big bang" of the industry, producers stopped taking such risks.

"We went from three channels to a hundred," she said. "Everybody was scrambling, and grasping at the lowest common denominator. Sensationalism got revved up. They were looking to do things the cheapest way, so there were the reality shows."

When she brought a movie idea to a producer, he or she would demand that more violence, more sex or both be added to the story, she said.

"So I just watched the place that used to be where I could work, the place that brought me joy, disappear."

In 1999, Wagner decided to take time out.

She began studying Eastern and Western spiritual-healing modalities, and in 2001 she became involved with a program in the Los Angeles County Jail system that helped domestic violence offenders reconnect with their families.

"A new life started developing," she said. After two years away from the entertainment industry, she asked herself if it was time to go back.

The answer was no to the past, and yes to a future that was only beginning to take shape. Wagner continued her self-directed studies, with guidance from people she calls her team of angels.

"I met some extraordinary teachers and counselors," who came from within religious traditions and outside them.

She became a practitioner in energy psychology, and has since traveled to India to continue her study of spiritual growth.

Wagner now leads two- and three-day seminars titled "Quiet the Mind & Open the Heart," at conference centers across North America and Europe.

They're a blend of retreat and workshop, she said, during which participants delve into how their past experiences - their inner file cabinets, as it were - color their perceptions of the world.

"Our experience of any life circumstance is a function of our perspective," Wagner said.

For example, a particular incident causes real pain, but the body has the capacity to heal from it - if we allow that to take place.

"We're very intelligent, divine creations, we humans," Wagner said, adding that past experiences with family and society can program us to react in ways that rob the joy from daily life.

In her seminars, Wagner helps people explore their prior programming, and then shift their perspectives beyond it, "to experience life as it is in the moment."

Life's highs and lows are like waves, Wagner believes. "We're constantly building sea walls to not experience the crest of the wave," she said, "because we think we can't handle it."

But by understanding and observing the waves, one gains power, and a fresh perspective on life, in all of its tumult and exhilaration.

Wagner makes her home in the Los Angeles area for much of the year.

But a chance encounter with two passengers on an airplane led her, about four years ago, to a sunny spot on the North Olympic Peninsula, where she now owns property.

Her seat mates told Wagner about Sequim's microclimate, and though she was skeptical, she flew up to look at places in early 2005.

None was quite right until real estate agent Sherry Siegel showed her a house near a lavender farm and the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

"I took possession of the house 45 days later," Wagner remembered.

About two years ago, she donated a dinner in her home to the Boys & Girls Clubs of the Olympic Peninsula's benefit auction.

Rand Thomas, owner of Thomas Building Center in Sequim, was the winning bidder. Rand, his wife, Darlene, and Wagner have become friends as well as ardent advocates of the Boys & Girls Clubs.

It was Rand and Darlene Thomas, major donors to the Olympic Medical Center, who asked Wagner to appear at the benefit Oscar party in Port Angeles on Sunday.

These days, she knows her fame as the bionic woman remains the prism people peer through when they first meet her. But Wagner exudes a new kind of energy, and the feeling that she's found her right livelihood.

"My interest is in sharing with other people the things that have helped me in my life," she said. For the "Quiet the Mind" seminars, "I've chosen the things I feel fan our human potential," be they scientific concepts about brain function or explorations of soul and spirit.

"We are so much more than we hold ourselves to be," Wagner said. Shifting perspectives on life "is not a religion. It's a human phenomenon. It's waking up to your potential."