My Grandpa taught me to listen to Nature—starting when I was only three. He’d take me on evening walks into the woods, or along the Long Island Sound, very early in the morning. There, I felt safe—and loved—and intuitively began a spontaneous dialogue with the trees, the moon, the creatures around me. I felt my feral heart being nourished in the wilderness, and the unique sacredness it contains. I also drew from the spirituality I found in the Mexican culture I grew up in—both indigenous and Catholic.

 

The Women of TTB is a series where we focus on some of the women who helped get The Tattooed Buddha off and running and also continue to keep it growing! We sent out a few interview questions to some of these writers and artists so that we could find out more about them and highlight their many talents!

 

Tell me a little about yourself. Where do you live? What is your living arrangement like?

I live with my best friend and hubby, Graham, on a narrow peninsula in Virginia hemmed in by the James River and the Chesapeake Bay. We are yoga practitioners, vegan environmentalists and animal lovers who have recently happily shifted all our energy consumption to solar—including our car—after many years of holding this as an intention.

Our home rests on the edge of a pond in suburbia. My desk faces out onto the water and the oak trees that surround the pond. I am grateful for this view. There is an empty chair by my desk, as its usual occupant—my sweet kitty companion of 14 years—left us during the quarantine. Her absence has accentuated the grief of the pandemic for me. Sometimes, I find relief in books. They pile up on my nightstand like a miniature skyscraper; her framed portrait in the distance behind them.

I am very sensitive to my surroundings. I like feeling nourished by the spaces around me and connecting with the history of the land I live on, the wildlife it sustains, the energies it holds. The trees are my friends, the woods are my temple. I seek them out every day after my morning mantra meditation, and find solace in Mother Nature’s lap.

My love for Mother Nature runs deep. I worship an ancient forest Goddess named Radha—and have for the last 35 years. She is known as the first Yogini of Love. I was formally initiated into her cult of Bhakti when I was in my early 20’s.

How did you get into the arts/writing? 

I was raised in a home filled with books, art and live music. My parents, who were both educators, nourished my love of reading, and writing, and making art from a very young age. They frequently took us to museums and libraries, and encouraged our creativity by offering us endless art supplies, books and instruments, for which I will always be grateful.

Reading and writing took precedence in the house I grew up in. My earliest memories are of my mother reading to me. And of my father—a published author—writing on a big legal pad. My mother tells me that it was not uncommon for her to find me up in the middle of the night writing.

As a young girl my writings gravitated toward occult themes: unsolved mysteries, life after death, UFO’s, the paranormal, etc. Then, upon turning 11, I grew depressed at the state of the world, and the themes in my writings shifted, accordingly, to more angsty ones. Seeing my helplessness, my father—who had a newspaper column at the time—helped me get a little environmental piece published in the paper.

I will never forget Dad showing me my first published words and saying: “Millions of people may potentially be educated or inspired by this, Katina!” That day—as a sensitive and precocious 11-year old—I was struck with what a powerful form of activism publishing was.

Do you meditate? What is your practice like? 

When I am out in nature, I often find myself spontaneously slipping into a very peaceful, meditative mood. I’ve been this way ever since I was a little girl. I loved climbing trees and sitting up in the branches, listening to the wind, and feeling myself being gently rocked by it. The sound of the waves on the beach has the same effect on me, or crickets on a balmy summer night. I love sitting still in natural settings, feeling my breath soften and allowing the beauty around me to move me inward.

More formally, I also practice mantra meditation with wooden beads given to me by my guru, made out of a sacred tree that grew in his ashrama in India. My beads are very special to me. They engage my tactile sense in my meditation practice, helping me concentrate my mind, and feel connected to my spiritual father, who transitioned out of this world in 2003.

My guru gave me six Sanskrit mantras that I recite quietly to myself three times a day, and another special mantra that I recite aloud. For most of my life, this mantra has been both my anchor—as a comforting shelter and home—and my wings—as it lifts me above any preconceived limitations and conditionings that would otherwise hold me down.

Do you identify with any specific spirituality? If so, how did that happen for you? What spirituality were you raised in?

Well, my Mexican father was an intellectual agnostic, who appreciated science, and the mysteries of the universe. My mother, is a protestant from New England of Irish descent, who introduced us to bible stories, prayer, and old hymns which she sang to us in her beautiful voice. Together—as an inter-racial couple—my parents held “World Peace and Love” as their highest values, and encouraged us to explore the world’s cultures and traditions, teaching us that there was beauty everywhere.

The beauty that has resonated with me the most—ever since I was a child—is the beauty in Nature. My Grandpa taught me to listen to Nature—starting when I was only three. He’d take me on evening walks into the woods, or along the Long Island Sound, very early in the morning. There, I felt safe—and loved—and intuitively began a spontaneous dialogue with the trees, the moon, the creatures around me. I felt my feral heart being nourished in the wilderness, and the unique sacredness it contains.

I also drew from the spirituality I found in the Mexican culture I grew up in—both indigenous and Catholic.

I felt emotionally drawn to the lives of church love-mystics, as much as I was to Mesoamerican folklore. I loved the rich symbolism in rituals, from the opulent altars in grand cathedrals to the candle-lit graves on Dia de Los Muertos, covered in marigolds and burning with incense. I have lush and colorful recollections from my childhood of both cultures and their merged festival days, which nourish my own relationship to spirituality to this day.

Perhaps it’s no surprise then that when I formally committed to a spiritual tradition it was another ritual-oriented one, rich with beautiful, festivities and symbolism called Gaudiya Vaishnavism. In my early twenties I was initiated into this ancient Bhakti Yoga lineage, (with Goddess Radha at the core) which has richly informed and enhanced my own eclectic spirituality.

What do you do for a living? 

In lieu of developing an academic career—or other—I dedicated my youth to ashrama life, practicing celibacy, mantra meditation and the study of yoga texts. Then I married a Bengali monk I met in the ashram, helped him procure a gemologist degree, and together we started a gemstone importing business together, filling astrological-gemstone prescriptions for eager clients around the world.

After three years, we were able to settle down in a little beach cottage down the street from the SRF meditation gardens in Encinitas, CA. and start a family. We lived very simply so that I could be a full-time mother to our two babies. I worked from home making jewelry, selling Ayurvedic herbs and incense.

My conscious mothering became a huge part of my own spirituality, beginning pre-conception. I felt incredibly connected to the feminine force, during each phase of motherhood, from my pregnancies and deliveries, to breastfeeding and nurturing each of my boys as they grew.

In our Bhakti tradition, this nurturing energy is known as Vatsalya, and we engage it with awareness to turn parenting into a kind of dynamic yoga practice. I learned so much about myself, and about love through my mothering.

My babies felt like little gurus to me.

Today, my boys are thriving grown men with lives of their own, their father has returned to celibacy—donning orange robes and a shaved head again—and I am happily remarried now to my best friend, Graham.

In 2006, Graham and I together founded a yoga institute, for which I design materials and curriculum that are used in yoga teacher training programs. I am more of a behind-the-scenes teacher and Graham gives the presentations. My strengths rest in research, web-design, photography, philosophical hermeneutics, content editing and ghost writing.

How did you get involved with TTB?

I first followed Dana’s articles in Elephant Journal nearly ten years ago, as well as her work in Rebelle Society. I was wowed when she started the Tattooed Buddha and began following her here as well. I think I submitted my first article in the fall of 2015, and was thrilled when it was accepted.

Since then, I have been doing my best to contribute to this wonderful publication, which, has—really—turned into a nourishing and encouraging virtual sangha of sorts. It has been so inspiring for me to watch TTB grow and thrive over the years, as Dana and her team have a unique way of helping everyone feel embraced and heard.

I hope to see The Tattooed Buddha continue to encourage diversity and intelligent, inspiring dialogue in all kinds of creative ways. It’s an honor to be a part of it—if only a tiny one. I hope to contribute more in the years ahead.

 

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