Tantra Teacher Lokita Carter’s Triple Tragedy

Posted on in People in Your Neighborhood by Rob Sidon

Open Hearted in the Face
of Cancer, Fire, and the
Reckless Murder of Steve


Lokita Carter was born in 1963 in northern Germany near the Danish border. She had a successful career in Australia developing accounting software before coming to America in the late ’90s. A longtime student of yoga philosophy and Tantra, she met her eventual husband and teaching partner, Steve Carter, at Harbin Hot Springs in 1998 and cofounded the Ecstatic Living Institute. A soulful and popular Tantra teacher, Lokita is experiencing a harrowing six months that began in July 2015 when she was diagnosed with rare breast cancer. On September 12, her cherished world, which revolved around Harbin, was wiped out by the Valley Fire. And then on October 5, Steve took their dog Coco for a walk on the trails in Fairfax and was shot to death. Coco too was shot but survived. The suspects, three young drifters, were apprehended two days later in Steve’s stolen car, in Portland.

Common Ground is proud to publish this exclusive and poignant interview, wherein Lokita candidly shares her experience of grief and her determination to survive in the context of her spiritual principles. With her world turned upside down and the loss of material income, Lokita welcomes all contributions at LokitaCarter.com.

Lokita Carter and her dog Coco
Lokita Carter and her dog Coco

Common Ground: The last six months have been beyond extraordinary for you. You received a severe cancer diagnosis, then the Valley Fire wiped out your world at Harbin, then your husband was recklessly murdered. Could you start with the cancer?

Lokita Carter: There had been a series of biopsies that showed up benign for a small lump they’d found on my left breast, but finally the doctors urged that it be removed, which we did this past July. A week after the surgery, the doctor tells me, “Oh, your operation scars are healing really well. Please come and sit down, I have something else to tell you.” And then he said, “And by the way, you have this rare, advanced, invasive breast cancer called metaplastic that only 0.1% of all women get.” It was a shocking diagnosis after all the benign ones. I was like, “Oh my God, you’ve got to be kidding me.” He basically said, “I’m sorry. Goodbye. I have to get to my next patient.” I got a second opinion and went into treatment fast. It was shocking. The intense rounds of chemotherapy were just really, really hard. It’s hard on the body. Your hair falls out, you’re constantly tired, you can’t eat anything. Your mouth has sores. It is suffering, hard and painful. The suffering is optional, but the pain is inevitable.

What was the effect of the Harbin fire on you?

After the second of those intense treatments, Harbin burned down, and it was just such a shock. It just blew my mind. Many of our friends up there lost their homes. Once you have a cancer diagnosis, I don’t know if anybody’s life is ever the same; mine certainly wasn’t. I lost some innocence through the cancer, but then all the past, everything just burned up. Steve was devastated. He had been there since the ’80s. It was his heart-home. This is where Steve and I met, where many of our workshops happened, where we loved, where we loved to be. And to see our friends losing everything—their professions, their houses, their community—that was so hard. The grief was strong.

How did you meet Steve?

Steve and I had extensive experience with Tantra for many years in separate worlds before we met in 1998. He had been a Watsu and massage teacher and massage practitioner at Harbin for many years before I first came. We met in a Watsu class, and it became clear that we belonged together. Soon after, we went together to Hawaii where he was assisting Margot Anand, the famous author of The Art of Sexual Ecstasy, and I was assisting Harold Dull, who invented
Watsu. That’s where our journey together as a Tantra couple began, and one thing led to the next, and soon we began teaching workshops together. It was so much fun and so transformative that we just stuck with it. Our first workshop was in July 1999.

Steve had a lot of teaching experience and training in group facilitation and bioenergetics, psychodrama, and therapeutic skills. We both loved each other and Tantra and came together, weaving our talents. Using my business skills we formed Ecstatic Living Institute and eventually became Margot Anand’s lineage holders and successors in the United States.

How do you define Tantra?

Lots of people think it has something to do with great sex. Yeah, it can have something to do with great sex, but Tantra is actually a spiritual path that encapsulates everything, all the elements of our lives. It is a spiritual path of acceptance that is quite different from other religious persuasions because it actually celebrates our body as a gateway for the divine mystery. Whether we use our body for art or for cooking or washing the dishes or for making love, or whatever we might do—for living, the body is part of it. Tantra is accepting of everything woven together into a harmonious whole. It is not just about extended orgasms and how to massage your partner better. Margot Anand said, “If you can’t be orgasmic in anger, how can you be orgasmic in bed?”

To be a Tantra teacher is not just something you do for 200 or 300 hours like some yoga teacher certifications, but it’s something that comes together from all the different facets of life just as an orchestral concert. It has to be a lifetime commitment. I used to teach Watsu, I used to teach Tantra. Hopefully, one day I will do it again. Who knows?

You’re teaching me now. Despite a Tantric outlook, I still presume life is better enjoyed having orgasmic sex versus with chemotherapy and painful sores in your mouth.

The only way to go through it is with as much acceptance and awareness as I can. That is what Tantra is about for me, to accept that this is what I chose to do and that these are the circumstances. To be aware and not to fall into the hole of victimhood, to just be empowered in my own being. Tantra for me is not something I do here but not there, in bed or outside in the garden. It is an awareness of every moment of every day. There is only the present; when I remind myself of that, everything feels better. Steve is gone. Harbin is gone. Me, I am here now. I don’t know what will happen or what I will feel like in five minutes.

Can you tell the story of the day that Steve went for a walk and never came back?

It was just an ordinary day, October 5. We were together doing our ordinary thing. I was tired after chemo. We were staying with friends near the trail, and Steve was fiddling in the garden repairing the watering system. Steve had a green thumb and was a passionate gardener. He said, “I have to go to Fairfax to get some parts for the watering system. Then I’ll take Coco for a walk. See you later.” Off he went after our hug and never came back.

At about 7 o’clock, we were going to Spirit Rock Meditation Center because that was our meditation practice. I sent him a text and called. He didn’t reply, and I thought, Maybe he went to Spirit Rock by himself; it can happen. I went to bed, and then at 3 o’clock in the morning, I woke up and the car wasn’t there and the dog wasn’t there and my husband wasn’t there. Then came the knock on the door. “Hello, Mrs. Carter, we have some bad news for you.”

What happened out there?

I have no idea exactly what happened there. I suggest if you want to know that you contact the DA’s office. I am sorry. I mean, we know what happened: Steve got shot dead on the trail, and Coco was shot. That is what we know. The rest I am sure will come to light in some way or other and will be available for everybody who wants to know about it.

What has been your experience since then?

What do you think? It is a horrible time. I have cancer, my husband of 17 years got murdered. Not a heart attack—that would have been hard. Not an accident—that would have been hard. But murdered! That is really, really hard. I mean, it has been really hard. [Long pause] What can I say? It’s like grief is a tough thing to have anytime. I was already in grief because of all the stuff that happened. Harbin, the cancer, leaving Middletown, and on top of that my beloved was murdered—the man I slept with every night in bed for 17 years! [Pause] Yeah, it is horrible.

I can’t imagine.

It has been so sad. Dealing with the cancer on top of it. For a while I thought I could not live anymore. I just wanted to be dead too. I would walk around town and think, Okay, anybody want to kill me? It’s the truth. Just recently, I finally recovered my will to live. Fortunately, I have good support and good counseling, but I miss Steve terribly. It is like a bad dream. Maybe someday I will wake up, and Steve and I will sit in our hammock with Coco and our other dogs, and I will say, “Gee, can you imagine what I just dreamed?” But it’s not going to happen. It has been three months and even days. [Pause] And it has been hard. [Long pause, offers a tissue]

[Tears bursting] I am fine. I am an empathic sort, and I just haven’t heard of such aggravated grief from one person. Like when it rains, it pours. One thing, then another, then another. It’s just too much. God’s cruel joke?

Should we take a break? Do you want to have a little moment?

[Long pause] I am okay. It’s just such a blast of energy. I can’t believe that you’re consoling me with a Kleenex; it should be the other way around.

I’ve learned to step back from these tsunamis of grief, where I just didn’t know how life could possibly continue. Now when the tsunamis come, instead of really going deep into the grief, I say, “Okay, I can feel another wave coming on. I can cry a little bit, but just not as much because I need to have all my strength now to heal my body so I can continue living.” Do you know what I mean?

No! Not really, because I have never been tested to such an extent.

After Steve was murdered I had six more infusions of chemotherapy that turned out to be ineffective and then a mastectomy. In hindsight I realized that it’s no wonder the first lot of chemo didn’t work because how can my body heal when my husband is dead, and I have to go through all this grief? I’m starting a new, different chemo treatment that is more targeted toward my particular tumor diagnosis.

Did suicide ever feel like an option? Because you seem pretty strong.

I didn’t have a reason to live and everything turned dark, but suicide isn’t an option. I would never do anything to myself; that’s not who I am. I’ve been a Tantrika [Tantra practitioner] since I was 15; I would rather search. The first time I rediscovered my will to live was when I was sitting on the beach one day just listening to the waves and the birds and the wind and the fog and the whole thing. I realized that just for this, it is worth having this body still. It slowly came back to me: I definitely want to be alive.

How long was that after Steve?

About two months. Then two months and 10 days after he was shot, I had a scary, horrible mastectomy operation, but I made a pledge to be as awake and as aware as possible and to go in consciously as a way to save my body. I brought my own bedding to the hospital and made it into a sacred space. When I woke up in the room, it was fine and good to be alive. I was like, “Yes, I am here. I can do this.” Not so much because people kept saying, “Oh, Steve would want you to continue” or for my family because I have a sister and a father, a niece and a nephew, and Steve’s grown kids, Rob and Emily. The fact is I have to live for myself. That is what I found. And I’m getting stronger and stronger. My friends, family, and even strangers have been extraordinarily supportive.

Are there other silver linings, any metaphysical wisdom, that can be gleaned?

Just survival. Everything dissolved. My whole life dissolved, but I still have this body. I have come to the conclusion that at this point, my purpose in life is to be alive. What it boils down to is that life is very simple. In the end, there is only the inhale and the exhale. The rest of it, we have no clue. We think we do, but we don’t. When Steve gave me that final goodbye hug, we had no idea that he wasn’t going to be coming home. It’s just so random. The great metaphysical and spiritual concepts seem almost irrelevant. With due respect, it is very simple.

I don’t know how you are in your private moments, but here now I see extraordinary success.

Steve and I coined the name of our business, Ecstatic Living Institute. I feel like I am being asked to rise to challenges on my spiritual journey as never before. Can I be ecstatic when the shit hits the fan? Or only ecstatic when I am having a wonderful, elevating experience? I mean, I wake up at night often upset. It’s all of it. I did get angry. We had this shrine over there [points to the hill] where Steve got murdered, and everybody brought flowers and statues and pictures. His family brought mementos, and one day everything was gone. Nobody is taking responsibility. That was the last hit for me. I haven’t really been angry, but then I got angry. That was the first time.

Allegedly, three drug-addled kids shot Steve and Coco while he was on a walk in one of the safest places in America. How do you feel about these people?

They are suspects, presumed innocent until proven guilty. Honestly, I feel really sorry for them. From the bottom of my heart I feel really sorry for them because of what they supposedly did. Not only did they rob Steve’s life and my life as I knew it, but this situation—I call it The Unbearable—has created collective shock, grief, and outrage in the community at large. There was press all around the world. The community here is upset because their trails no longer feel safe. I say The Unbearable happened that day because of the senselessness of it all. Steve has two adult children. Nobody can believe it. Those suspects are young people, and if they are proven guilty, they are going to think about it every day. I hope.

Do you ever feel vindictive, a revenge impulse?

No. Not yet. I’m still waiting. What I did notice is because of the way the suspects appeared on the outside in the pictures, with the clothes and the hair and that kind of appearance, I began to feel afraid of people who looked similar to them on the streets. I don’t know. I don’t have anger. Maybe someday. Maybe when I am through with this whole cancer treatment, I will just blow a fuse. I would like to look at them in the eye [pause] and just look at them in the eye [long pause]. But what is the point? What is the point?

Do you think about it very much?

Not really. That would be a waste of energy. I don’t have any extra energy. I only feel sorry for them. I don’t feel sorry for them every day. Hey, they’ve got themselves to answer to.

Do you feel forgiveness toward them?

No, I don’t feel forgiveness toward them. I don’t know if that is something I will ever feel. I have thought about that a lot, and some people wanted me to write about forgiveness, but no, I don’t know if it is ever going to happen, or if it has to happen, for my healing.

Steve and Lokita attending a wedding in 2006
Steve and Lokita attending a wedding in 2006

You’re going to be an interesting person to watch. I wonder what you will be like at the other end of this transformative storm.

I sometimes wonder what is going to happen next. Hopefully, nothing. Every time something happens, that is a new thing that happens. I don’t think about what the universe is trying to tell me. I may write a book about my discoveries, something that may be helpful for other people who find themselves in challenging circumstances. Some people say, “You can be a great spiritual teacher.” I don’t have that wish at all. I just want to disappear, to get through these chemo treatments. On Friday I will be sitting with a four-hour infusion going into my arm, and I don’t know how my body will take it. I don’t know anything. The storm is still going.

That’s in less than 48 hours; I’d be filled with dread.

Of course I’m filled with dread. On the other hand, I’m also looking forward to it because I feel positive this is the best thing that I can do, to survive and make sure this cancer doesn’t come back. Let’s imagine I was on my deathbed due to a recurrence because I decided not to do this extra treatment. Then I would regret it. At least now I will be able to say, “I gave it my best effort.”

I think your German-ness is a boon for you.

Yeah, Germans are known for having structure and determination. It’s been like that since I was a teenager, and those values work well for me still, but the secret in anything is about weaving the two different sides. The original word Tantra means “loom.” It is about the weaving together of all the elements of life into a harmonious whole. I look at my life and see a clear sense of structure and for getting things done. At the same time, I’m a flowing, soft, receptive kind of person. I do believe that without structure, there can’t really be much flow. If there was just flow, we would be all over the place. And conversely, without flow any structure would be dead. Just like with everything in life, the opposites can be woven together. My German part serves me well, but I am also scared and soft and vulnerable.

We’re hanging out with your great dog Coco, a victim of a crime. How has your relationship with Coco altered since The Unbearable?

Coco was mainly Steve’s baby; he would take her for long walks every day and yes, she too was shot. She was taken to a veterinary hospital and only came back to me just before Christmas. They say dogs take on the qualities of their owners. She reminds me a lot of Steve. He had this zest for life, and she too is happy to be alive and like Steve is cuddly and snuggly and has beautiful lightness and heartfulness and calm, wise qualities. It’s wonderful to have her. She is allowed to sleep in my bed now, and we are a family.

She is missing an eye.

That is correct. I thought she would be traumatized. On Christmas, the day after she came back, I decided to take her out to the trail where Steve got killed. It was just so amazing. She walked up to the shrine and sniffed around and that was pretty much it. She ran off down the trail and had a good run. I was like, “Oh, wow, maybe she doesn’t remember it.” I don’t know, but she just moved on through life, and that was a good reminder for me because life goes on.

Nowadays, when she hears an ambulance she immediately gets unsettled, or when somebody watches a movie on TV and there’s some shooting, she is traumatized. Occasionally, when there is a car that sounds like Steve’s, she races to the door because she thinks it’s him. I’m so glad she survived. The first two days after she came back were really hard because she was this direct link to Steve and life before The Unbearable. When she came, I had a couple of days where I really broke down and cried hard, but then there’s nothing to be done. We just move on. [Sighs heavily]

Do you have a final message to share with Common Ground readers, many of whom already know and sympathize with you? This is our Love issue.

On Steve’s memorial plaque I had a message written as a dedication. It says, “May we all love more.” Love is a way of being. It is important to remember that as we go through every day. Can we act from love? Can we radiate love? How can we be more loving, toward everything and everybody, toward ourselves, toward our friends, our family, to the one who sells us the milk at the grocery store? It sounds idealistic, but if we all did that, it would make the world a better place. If there’s someone special in your life, you don’t know if you will ever see them again. When Steve and I were together, we always made a point to give each other a good hug, to have transparency with each other at every point. That way if either of us died out of the blue, we had expressed how much we loved each other. My message is: be conscious and loving toward each other. The open heart can guide us through anything. Not the closed heart, the open heart.

Rob Sidon is publisher and editor in chief of Common Ground.

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