For Katia Tallarico, meditation is happiness.
Born with an unusual ease in human connection, in 2005, the Vedic devotee left Toronto, Canada to study graduate Counseling Psychology at New York City’s Columbia University. After a period in the trenches, she transitioned into private psychotherapy practice in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.
Still, it may be her deep investment in meditation that sets her apart: Her patients are all required to practice Mindfulness or Vedic Meditation, which she sees as key to success. And, in 2012, she began managing appearances and events for Maharishi Thom Knoles. In 2015, after bonding during a retreat in India, she and trend expert Andrea Praet founded The Uplift Project, making transformative programs and retreats with preeminent thinkers accessible to urbanites. The next retreat is this coming November 2016.
Here, Tallarico explains why all our power is in shifting expectations and staying in the present:
Live The Process: To what do you attribute your desire to help others and investigate the depths of the human psyche?
Katia Tallarico: I have always been keen on connecting with others. My mother likes to tell a story from when I was three: We were on the beach in Acapulco. She turned around and I was gone, but she could see me in the distance walking towards an elderly couple. When she caught up with me, I was introducing myself to these strangers and asking about their day. When I was six, I sat on the bed of a dying woman—my grandmother’s friend’s mother—and naturally understood to be gentle but also was not shy to engage and offer comfort. I do not remember these instances except from stories, but I have a collection of memories from similar situations that all resonate with who I am. I could say that I have cultivated a deep sense of connection and compassion since a young age; that’s an important aspect of helping others. My interest in the human psyche came much later, in college.
LTP: You spent many years practicing therapy for both mentally ill adults and children in foster care. How did you then—and do you now—create enough emotional and energetic distance to stay positive in the face of others’ suffering?
KT: It’s important to establish firm boundaries, stay present and make time for your own therapies. I served chronically mentally ill individuals as part of my clinical training; I’m super grateful for the experience. The first client I was assigned as a case worker (not a therapist) overdosed within the first few weeks and it hit me very hard. I had excellent supervision though, so the first thing we did was remove any personal attachment I had to this woman. That is the way I keep sane: I am not personally attached to my clients. We have boundaries as therapists for good reason.
Foster care seemed horrible if I focused on the situations these children were in and why they are taken away from their families, but that is not helpful. After I read a history, then I’d get to the now: What can I do to serve this child now that he or she is in my care? What can I implement in this person’s life to be helpful moving forward? In general, this is a good philosophy. Spending time contemplating the past or anticipating the future is a recipe for anxiety and does not change the now. We only have power in the present moment. So, I don’t think about my clients much past the time they are sitting in front of me. Outside of my office, I am focused on what actions I am taking towards fulfilling my desires. If my goal is to keep sane in the face of adversity, I ask myself if my actions serve my goals. Working out serves that goal, as does yoga, meditation, conscious eating, connecting with my loved ones and seeing my own therapist.
LTP: How and when did you discover your interest in and passion for meditation and come to work with Maharishi Thom Knoles? How do you integrate that into your psychotherapy practice?
KT: I was introduced to a formal meditation practice on a weekend retreat with David Wagner back in 2007, at a time when I needed to be grounded. My first trip to India was with David, known then as Harshada. It was a life-altering journey. He was my teacher for many years. It was at our favorite retreat site, Kripalu (where I regularly assisted Harshada), where I had—during a seated meditation—this profound insight that my practice would go deeper with another teacher. When I checked my emails at the end of the weekend, there was an invitation to meet Thom Knoles at an introductory talk on Vedic Meditation (VM) the following week. I went to the talk with a few friends and we all ended up taking the four-day intro course together. I knew from the moment our eyes met that Thom was the one. A few months after I learned Vedic Meditation with Thom, he asked me to manage him. That was in 2012. My work with Harshada set me up perfectly to take on the role, so I said “yes.” Now, we have grown to offer the Introduction to VM Course in New York City three times a year, as well as annual retreats upstate and in India. All my clients practice a form of meditation, whether it is daily mindfulness practice or VM. Meditation is the baseline to success.
LTP: How and when were you inspired to start The Uplift Project? What exactly does it involve? What is your role and how has that been rewarding thus far?
KT: The Uplift Project came out of an idea to offer an urban retreat. I have ventured away on quarterly retreats for almost ten years, finding myself outside of the hustle, in nature. There is tremendous value in getting out, breaking our routine and focusing on just being for a couple of days. After a retreat, I return to the city springing back into action, completely relaxed, rejuvenated and with a restored sense of purpose.
My co-founder, Andrea Praet, and I bonded on a ten-day retreat I organized for Thom Knoles in Rishikesh, India. A few months after our return, while we were working on our respective projects at Neuehouse, Andrea started increasingly contributing ideas for the urban retreat. They were all on point. We are so in sync, so, before long, we were naturally working together on creating The Uplift Project, which expanded into monthly offerings as well. With Uplift Urban Retreats, we want to bridge the gap between the idea of self-care and actually having the time and resources to get oneself on retreat. So, in order to make the retreat experience more accessible, we cut out a day (our urban retreat is two days, the minimum amount of time necessary to disengage) and the travel and accommodation expenses. Last fall, from a brownstone in Brooklyn, we curated a weekend retreat in a beautiful, ambient environment, surrounded by warm individuals, rich in content by wisdom keepers from various modalities of wellness and well-being and nourished by fresh, organic meals by Nahvae Frost. It was a huge success. Our next one is coming up in November.
LTP: What does happiness look like to you?
KT: Happiness is the product of my full potential interacting successfully with the demands I encounter. Unhappiness is the product of limited potential reacting unsuccessfully to demands.
LTP: What does it mean to you to “Live The Process” and how can we all do that more each day?
KT: To “Live The Process” is to show up each day relevant and ready for action. I mean really be present, to listen and meet the needs of the time. That also means adjusting expectations without delay, being adaptable and going with the flow. Vedic Meditation is the key for me: practicing meditation every day, two times a day, makes living that much more enjoyable.