Stepping into the Future
“I think of my body as my spacesuit which I will discard once it has grown threadbare–but I will go on.”
Nina Graboi has had a remarkable life which covers over seven decades of some of the most transformative years in human history. Born in Vienna, Austria in 1918, she fled the Nazi takeover of her country and spent three months in a detention camp in North Africa. Through a mixture of ingenuity and good fortune she managed to escape and came to America with her husband in 1941.
Arriving as a penniless refugee, she went on to become a society hostess in an exclusive Long Island community. At the age of 36 she was living what most people considered the epitome of the American Dream, yet Nina felt a great void in her life. In search of this missing link, she plunged into the study of esoteric subjects and became an avid practitioner of meditation. When she was 47 she left her husband and became deeply involved in the counter-culture of the sixties.
Nina had her first psychedelic experience in the company of Alan Watts and she frequently spent time at the famed Millbrook estate where a group had gathered around Timothy Leary to study the mind-expanding effects of LSD. She was the Director of the New York Center of the League for Spiritual Discovery , a nonprofit organization which operated to help and educate people engaged in exploring the potential of psychedelic consciousness.
In 1969 she opened a boutique in Woodstock and lived there for the next ten years. Her recently published autobiography, One Foot in the Future, chronicles her remarkable spiritual journey and has been described by Terence McKenna as “an extraordinary tale of humor and hope. ” Today, Nina lives in Santa Cruz and gives talks on the relationship between the psychedelic experience and the spiritual quest. She is a frequent radio talk-show guest and is the subject of a television documentary entitled, Voices of Vision.
We interviewed Nina on January 12, 1992, on a rainy day at Two Bat Ranch, in Malibu. Her face dramatically contradicts her 72 years and she presents the demeanor ofa woman who is in the spiritual prime of her life. Nina talked with a gracious calm in the warming glow of a log fire, about the politics of sexuality, the use of psychedelics and the future of the human race.
RMN: Nina, in the fifties, when you were living in Long Island, you had what most people would consider the pillars of success–wealth, social status, a loving family–and yet you gave it all up. Why?
NINA: When I was the woman who had everything, I realized that everything is nothing. I had been busily pursuing the American Dream, and when I had it, it tasted like ashes. I was raised in an atmosphere where success was the goal and only superstitious peasants believed in anything beyond the physical. But unless I could discover that there is more to it than being born, getting married, having children and scrambling up the ladder of success, life lost all meaning for me at that time. I felt a yearning for more so profound that I was ready to die if I could not find it. That was in 1956. There were others who searched as I did, but I did not know them. I was very alone. Books were my only source of information, and for the next twelve years I read my way through psychology, psychic research, philosophy and comparative religions. This brought me to Buddhism and Hinduism, and I felt I’d come home.
RMN: You were divorced at a time when far fewer couples than today split up. Didn’t that take a lot of courage?
NINA: It wasn’t a sudden decision, you know. My children were both in college, and I had planned for a long time to end my marriage once the kids were on their own. But yes, it took a lot of courage to end a marriage of twenty-seven years in those days. Aside from the emotional toll, I had no legal rights because I was the party who wanted the divorce. Feminism was still a long way off, and the fact that I’d helped build the business, raised the children, and taken care of the home, counted for nothing. As I had no marketable skills, my financial future could not have been more bleak. It took courage, but it was the only thing I could do if I wanted to continue to grow.
DJB: What kind of life did you move into?
NINA: I moved from a fourteen-room house to a one-room studio in Manhattan. I was heading The N.Y. Center for The League of Spiritual Discovery at the time –a labor of love that paid nothing, but was as rewarding as it