An Interview with Lokita Carter, Tantra Teacher
By
Bill Smoot

“What we are actually teaching here is who we are”.

(Excerpted from “Conversations with Great Teachers” by Bill Smoot, 2010 Indiana University Press)

Lokita Carter was born and raised in Germany, studied in India, lived for a time in Australia, and then moved to northern California, where she teaches classes and workshops in Tantra. Most of the classes she co-teaches with her husband Steve.

An attractive woman with lively, deep-blue eyes, she speaks with a trace of a German accent in a voice that occasionally lilts with excitement. We met at an outdoor cafe near her home.

I began with Tantra when I was fifteen, and I came across a book that talked about Tantra being the integration of spirituality and sexuality. I was still a virgin, but the concept fascinated me, so I started on this path really young. I started reading, and then I found a boyfriend who was interested in the same subject, so we played around and explored. Then I found my spiritual teacher, who had a community in India where I lived for a number of years. I did a variety of different trainings there and read and meditated. My main inspiring teacher is Margot Anand, the best-selling author and teacher.

Some readers of this book may not know what Tantra is.

Tantra emerged from a variety of ancient traditions. There was a Hindu Tantric movement, a Buddhist Tantric movement. Its over two thousand years old. I’m not sure anybody really knows its exact origin. For me it is a spiritual path that includes our body and our sexuality as a way to transform our lives. So instead of negating the body, we are celebrating the body. We are using the life-force energy of the body to become better people: to enjoy life, to relate to others, to make love, to be more ecstatic. Some of the spiritual paths—they don’t really like the body. They say the body is bad, or that certain areas of the body are something “down there”.

Without the body we wouldn’t be here, or we would be here in some ungraspable form! [Laughs.] In Tantra we are experiencing life through the body. In a nutshell, that’s what Tantra is to me—a spiritual path that celebrates the body.

How do you teach it? It must be different than teaching the causes of World War I or photosynthesis—something purely intellectual.

Tantra is a form of spiritual expression that is experiential. You can read fifteen million books about Tantra and never really get the essence of it unless you experience something physically, sitting in meditation or relating to another person. So the way it has always been taught is experientially. There are different processes you do—things you do with another person or you meditate by yourself, or in a couple you have communication—but basically it’s experiential.

In our workshops we don’t talk much about the theory, but we give people a series of experiments which we guide them through—let’s say a breathing practice. They experience something and they talk about it afterward. They say, “I felt something” or “I felt my heart open,” or “I felt closer to my partner” or “I felt nothing,” or whatever it was. Often they have some kind of an “aha,” but the “aha” experience is in the body rather than mental. That’s the way we teach Tantra.

So the teaching is a way to guide people into experience. But I suppose one could find a description of these exercises in a book. But what’s the role of the teacher? Couldn’t one just read a book?

Most people read it but never really do it. I don’t know about you, but when I read about an exercise in a book, I think, “That sounds like a great exercise, I should try that some day,” and then I forget about it. With the real-life experience of having a teacher there, it actually gives permission to try it. And we guide the participants through these exercises, some quite complex. We guide them through, we remind them of things—we’re facilitating. We’re creating a space—I know that’s a “New Age-y” kind of term—but we’re creating an environment where they can just relax and experience something. And if they were to forget what to do next, we can tell them what it is. Or if somebody has an experience that’s unpleasant, we’re there to coach him or her.

Also in that environment, the teacher serves as an example, as a living example. What we’re actually teaching here is who we are. I’m sitting there and I’m saying, “Communicate like this to your wife of thirty-seven years,” but I’m actually embodying that because that’s how I talk with my husband of twelve years. And so they see the example. They’re learning through the experiments we’ve proposed to them, but at the same time they’re also learning from watching what it is I might do as a teacher. Because it embodies the reality of what I’m teaching.. – if you follow my drift.

Yes, it’s like that old saying, “You don’t just teach your subject matter; you also teach yourself.”

Exactly. One of my wise teachers once said that teaching is like a pyramid. The top of the pyramid is what it is you teach. You’ve got to know what you teach, whether it’s accounting or Tantra or whatever it is. The next level of the pyramid is how—how do you teach that How do you present it, logistically and intellectually, so that others can grasp it? But the bottom of the pyramid is the who, because that’s who you are. And so if I know what I’m teaching and how, that’s all very well, but if I don’t live it, if I’m not what I say I believe in, then the whole pyramid falls down. So it really comes down to who I am.

It seems that teaching Tantra is an interactive process. The student may react to an exercise in any number of ways, and then based on that, you in turn react in a certain way. How do you know how to react? I would think that the difference between a very good Tantra teacher and one who’s not so good is that the really good teacher often reacts in just the right way in leading the student to the next step.

I think there’s an art to it. Of course, I’ve had training in how to be with people in those situations. I’m a trained body worker and a rebirthing therapist. That background of how to facilitate growth or transformation in people helps. But in terms of the teaching, one just has to be really perceptive of where they are and talk with them. Sometimes we have to employ tools like confrontation, or sometimes we have to employ tools where the whole group helps them go through the process, or sometimes they just have to leave. Like if a couple is talking about something to do with their sex life and. suddenly they have a really hard time and all this unresolved material arises—which can happen—I might talk with them and suggest they do certain things, and we always bring it back to how they feel now. So instead of confronting a problem, we like to say; “OK, here was a big problem for the past twenty-five years, but what is it now? Do you still love each other?”

But I guess it’s an intuitive thing. But I’ve been doing it nine years now and I’ve taught over thirteen thousand people, so one gets kind of an experienced eye.

Do you feel you’re better as a teacher than you were two or five years ago?

Yes, I think so. The wealth of experience is important. But also I’ve learned to trust. You know, I’m from Germany, so there was a time when I was quite rigid in my teaching. I would always come to a workshop with a schedule: from nine to ten we will do this, and from ten to eleven we will do this, and so on. If anything changed, I would feel kind of nervous. But one day my computer hard drive crashed and I had to go to this workshop without a written curriculum for a whole weekend. So I taught the whole workshop without an agenda. I realized that I had integrated everything, and that I could still be with the situation. So instead of being so rigid with my teaching, there started to be a certain flow. Then I realized that I could do anything. A certain trust developed.

On another occasion I was teaching the women’s workshop and made up this wonderful program, but the day before, I realized I hated it. I didn’t want to teach that at all. So I walked into this room where there were thirty expectant ladies waiting for the presentation. I realized I didn’t know what I was going to do. But the beautiful thing is there’s a certain freedom in this kind of work—it’s not like teaching math. Then some woman said something about her relationship with her daughter, and suddenly the whole material evolved. So all this material presented itself so the whole workshop ended up being about beautiful, amazing things that I never could have conceived of beforehand.

Can you give an example of something you might do in one of your introductory workshops?

We might say for a couple to just sit down across from each other—in chairs or on the floors wherever they feel comfortable—and decide consciously, “Now we are going to enter into sacred time together.” Sacred time means time that is just for me and my partner. To create the sacred time, we are going to take some elements out of our space. They might use their hands and they pick up a resentment, and they say, “I take out these resentments.” {She gestures, pretending to pick up an object with both hands and then toss it aside.] And the other one will say, “I take out anger”. Whatever doesn’t serve them, they can just take it out because if you want to give a massage to your wife, it would help if there wasn’t any anger or resentment or stress from work.

And then we say, “OK, now take in things that you want to have for your sacred time together.” So then they bring in love, connection, relaxation, positive communication, whatever. Now there’s a space where they’ve taken out negative stuff and brought in positive stuff.

Mind you, they do it for themselves, not for their partner. So let’s say, if I had PMS and was moody, my partner could not say, “I take out your PMS”. I wouldn’t appreciate that [Laughs.]

Then they might honor each other. One might say, “I might honor you for being such a beautiful man, and your eyes are shining bright today!” One might give a compliment or a gift, something for real or something we make up, like “here’s a key to my heart”.

Then they would start talking about their desires, fears, and boundaries. By that, I mean… .let’s say here they are, husband and wife, and the wife wants a foot massage. The wife wants a massage that’s two hours long, but the husband has only half an hour. “So my desire”, she says, “ is… I would like to receive a two-hour foot massage, and my fear is that you only have fifteen minutes, and my boundary is that you can’t go higher up than my knee”. The husband might say, “My desire is I give you a foot massage for half an hour, my fear is that I’ll start thinking about work, and my boundary is that I don’t want you to touch me back.”

Now they may discuss it and reach a compromise, meet at the lowest common denominator, and he gives her the half-hour foot massage and then they thank each other. But all this time, they have pledged to just be with each other during this sacred time. If the phone rings or the dog barks, it’s completely irrelevant because this is it. So basically they’ve made the commitment to be fully present with each other. That sounds kind of simple, and it is simple, but at the same time, in simplicity often lies the greatest key. This ritual isthe most powerful one, in all the workshops.

Really?

We’ve taught countless people, and that is the major thing that they take away— that they create this environment just to be with their partner, to be together undisturbed for a period of time, and to do something together that they both enjoy and have it as a ritual. People really, really like it a lot. I like it and that’s why I teach it! [Laughs.]

That sounds fairly talk oriented…

Well, that’s just the example I chose! There are many other things that are not so talk oriented. But they’re more difficult to describe in this interview.

It’s fairly rare that someone doesn’t take to this. Although it sounds like Tantra is some great big Eastern mysterious religion about rituals and sex and orgies—you know what you read about—really it isn’t. Tantra is a way of life. It’s about relating, it’s about being, it’s about being with yourself and being with others, it’s about your energy and your life. Everybody wants that. Everybody wants to have a good life and a good relationship and an open heart and have love and make good love with each other. I would imagine that 99 percent of all people would love that

Can you describe one other exercise you use in teaching?

You might just sit across from your partner. You put your hand on her heart and she puts her hand on your heart, and you just gaze into each other’s eyes for five minutes and breathe together. It’s a simple exercise, very powerful.

And when it works, what is the power of it?

When it works, all these layers of the normal kinds of behavior we exhibit just disappear. I don’t know how it is with you, but I can be very engaged with my work and I’m sitting at my computer, and my husband walks in and I look at him, and then I have something to eat and then the telephone rings, there are veils in front of what’s really truly him and what’s really truly me.

Not that my work isn’t truly me, but when we’re really together, it takes away the veils when we look into each other’s eyes. We become present. There’s so much multi-tasking going on in today’s culture. All these gadgets are beeping and ringing and demanding our attention. But when it works, we are fully present with each other, right now. And usually it opens the heart—feeling love, feeling good, feeling positive, feeling connection.

As a teacher, are you ever aware that some past teacher of yours has shaped the way you teach? Do you ever hear an old teacher’s voice in your own?

I actually do. [Laughs.] I know it’s a little bit absurd, but there’s one particular teacher, I think he was my fifth-grade teacher…

He probably wasn’t teaching Tantra to fifth graders…

No. [Laughs.] He wasn’t teaching Tantra. But he used to just mutter these things to himself about how to be with a classroom. He would say, “Oh, I have to remind myself to look left and right because there’s no attention coming from the left of the room. Maybe I have to look there more!” It’s something so bizarre. Often when I sit in front of groups, his sentences will come to me, and in German. It’s quite sweet. He was a wonderful man.

I’ve also had teachers where I didn’t like their style or way of teaching, so I learned what not to do. [Laughs.]

Are there things about contemporary American culture that make it especially challenging to teach Tantra?

I don’t personally think it’s that challenging. Mind you, I do teach this mainly in California and on the East Coast, and maybe that’s a different culture than the middle of the country. But the thing is, I think that Tantra is especially important now that a big generation of people is coming to the point where they’re beginning to retire—the whole baby boomer generation who have money, who have done the children, who might have grandchildren, who find themselves with this beautiful partner of thirty years and they’re saying, “Now what do we do?”. In that way, it’s a wonderful thing and really necessary. And in the next few years, more and more of them will be coming. Most of them want to have more spirituality in their lives.

Tantra is needed and it’s very well received. But because Tantra has been misrepresented in the media as this sex-type thing, I have thought for a while we should rephrase the language so it’s easier for people to take and not to think it’s this sexual-cult-from-the-East thing. Instead, it’s a spiritual path about ecstatic living—which is the name of our organization, the Ecstatic Living Institute.

Often a particular student will come to mind for a teacher, one who was special in someway. Does anyone like that come to mind for you?

Oh, yes. For sure. Many.

Can you tell the story of one?

Well, lets see… which of my lovely students can I choose?

There’s one particular couple who came to a workshop. They were very nice people, but they were very skeptical about this workshop, sitting in the background. They were very reserved—even when the workshop was over, they were still reserved, so I didn’t think we made any impact on them. They hadn’t seemed very receptive to the work.

Time went by and then a few months later they called and registered for another workshop. And I thought, “Really? That’s very interesting.” So they came to the second workshop, and in the middle of that event, the man had this amazing experience, a spiritual experience in which he saw something about his life and the meaning of life, and his relationship.

He just had a huge spiritual revelation, and he told the group about the revelation, and I’ll never forget that because he used the identical words as the words I had used for a very similar revelation I had years and years before. It was beautiful. And he’s gone through a huge transformation ever since. He and his wife have been married for a long, long time, and they had brought up a beautiful family. They are very different people than this reserved couple who had come to us at first. They are very open with each other. They have a beautiful relationship.

It’s so interesting. In talking with a lot of teachers, I’m finding that sometimes it’s those students they don’t think they’re reaching who turn out to be the most affected!

Exactly. It’s completely out of my control. I sometimes come home from a teaching assignment, and I think maybe it was not that good. And then six months later I get this e-mail from Frank, and he says, “You have no idea how much you affected me.” My husband, he reminds me—we don’t really know how we’re affecting those people. As time goes by, I’m trusting more and more that whatever I’m presenting, they will take that with them in whichever way.

© Bill Smoot