Hargitay has tried all sorts of approaches to healing her inner wounds and finding her life’s path. Her friend Maria Bello, now starring in NBC’s Prime Suspect, remembers participating in a “vision walk” with Hargitay when the two had small roles on ER. “In a vision walk, you take a snapshot in your head and see yourself in complete joy: what you are wearing, what you are doing,” Bello says. “Then you tell your friend what you saw. Then you expand on what you see in your snapshot, and your friend expands on what you describe. One of the things that came out of that walk was that Mariska saw herself moving to New York and becoming a big TV star.”
As helpful as Hargitay found that exercise and other soul-probing pursuits such as journaling, meditation and yoga, her most significant spiritual experience took place when she was surrounded by a pod of dolphins.
In 2002 she went swimming off the coast of Kona, Hawaii, and to this day she stumbles when trying to describe what happened. “All I can say is that I was dive-bombed by about 15 dolphins, and they surrounded me, kept coming toward me, missing me by an inch.” The friendly assault left her understandably shaken: “I thought I was having a heart attack. It felt like a baptism. Whatever it was or wasn’t, the point is, when I came out, I felt a serious heart opening. Something was released. A new passageway opened, and a lot of my fear seemed to dissipate. I had a big channel in me. A fearlessness, an openness, an active hope: I can have anything. I can have it all. I can have peace and happiness and joy. And something in me healed that day. After that, I met my husband; I started Joyful Heart. I wanted to share it. It has been profound.”
The accomplishments of Hargitay’s Joyful Heart Foundation have been significant. It has lobbied state and local governments to test the medical evidence in more than 200,000 rape kits currently backlogged in the United States. And it has paid for more than 5,000 sexual assault and abuse survivors to participate in healing retreats, including ocean experiences in Hawaii.
After nearly a year of false starts and false hopes, Hargitay and Hermann met Amaya’s birth mother. Instantly, Hargitay had a good feeling: “Something was just different, and we knew it was right.” But the woman said she was carrying a boy, which Hargitay found disappointing. “Of course I was open to any child,” she says. “It’s not like you ever get to pick. But ever since my mother died, I’d dreamed of having a girl. Still, I knew something was right, so we called the birth mother and said, ‘Yes!’ ”
The birth mother thought it was a good match, too, but said she had to tell them one thing: The doctor had made a mistake. The baby was a girl.
Adopting provoked in Hargitay the same intense, overwhelming love that giving birth did. But for the first few days with Amaya, she says, that feeling was tinged with disbelief: “Is this really true? Do I really get to keep her? Is someone going to take her away?” There was also the fact that neitherof her parents was there to meet their granddaughter. But Hargitay is philosophical about those losses. Her father, who died in 2006 from complications of multiple myeloma and colon cancer, lived to meet her son and enjoy his daughter’s enormous success. “I think it’s sad when people don’t get the proper good-bye,” she says. “I got to tell him everything, and he got to tell me everything. He saw me living the life that he wanted for me. I think he was really proud. I feel like it was a lock and seal.”