Q&A with Myrna J. Smith
Q. Having been through all your travels, external and internal, how do you define spiritual transformation?
As the cliché goes, spiritual transformation is an inside job. It doesn’t even require that we move from our couches. However, it does require that we connect with the deepest part of ourselves, which some might call the divine. Most of us can’t do that because we have so much unconscious guilt, anger, and hatred. Transformation happens when we bring these dark forces to the light and realize our own innocence. All of us have opportunities through our everyday activities to feel these dark forces in ourselves, and most religions offer support for letting them go, be it meditation, prayer, confession, song, movement, chant, or workshops.
Q. What role did traveling play in your experiencing different religious leaders and ways of life? Would your journey have been possible without these direct encounters?
When I began my spiritual search, I wasn’t clear what I was looking for. I only knew that I didn’t like my life. Once I went to India, I experienced a different way of living that didn’t emphasize material success or intellectual achievement. Living in close quarters with two different gurus made me see that happiness just might be possible for me if I could figure out a way to open myself to the divine. Here in the United States the consumer life presses on us daily, so for me I think India was critical.
Q. What role does reading spiritual texts and stories play in your spiritual journey?
Because my main guide is the text of A Course in Miracles, I continue to read it most days. When I finish it, I just start over. Ken Wapnack and Gary Renard’s books about the Course have been helpful. My two daughters, both Buddhist practitioners, pass on to me whatever they are reading. I attend a Unity Church and enjoy hearing the stories of the speakers’ important spiritual moments and reading whatever most church members read. Also, I take yoga classes from a teacher who reads wonderful stories from the Hindu texts or from important teachers such as Ram Dass.
Q. More than many spiritual writers, you point out that the quest for happiness often can be disappointing. Our hopes too often exceed realities. What is the role of disappointment in your spiritual journey?
My initial disappointment came with every religion I tried to join. I so desperately wanted to belong to a group. Yet none seemed to hold a truth I could accept. My second disappointment came with realizing most spiritual teachers, even gurus with many followers, have at least a toe of clay.
Q. How crucial is it for a person who feels some discontent to leave their literal and spiritual home of origin to seek perspective?
Oddly enough, I ended up close to my first spiritual teacher, my grandmother. She read all the Unity publications, some of them to me. Through my mother, I learned to appreciate attending church and, through my father, the teachings of the East. Now I attend Unity and read A Course in Miracles, which is written from the point of view of Jesus but is more Buddhist than Christian in its message. So I feel connected to my spiritual roots. If we can stay with the spiritual home that nurtured us, it’s wonderfully comforting, but seeing other perspectives deepens one’s understanding of spirit.
Q. You write that your mother was a traditional Christian and your father a spiritual explorer ahead of his time. What do you think your parents would say if they read God and Other Men?
My parents would both be pleased with the book—my mother because she admired education and good writing and my father because I continued in his footsteps. Both would be confused by my coming to a belief in “no self,” an idea that my father only began considering at the end of his life.
Q. How do your own children, now all grown, figure into your journey? Or do they?
Each one of my children has been a significant teacher for me. Now they are companions on the path. My daughters both encountered major challenges in their personal lives and like me, used those challenges as doorways into the spiritual life.
Q. If you had your journey to do over again, what would you do differently?
The journey isn’t over, so most of what I wish I had done, I still can do. But I do wish I had mopped those floors at the Zen Monastery. I let my anger and pride dominate my decision making. At that time I was not ready to examine my own issues with authority.
Q. How is your journey now different than when you set out after your divorce?
My spiritual journey began as a search for answers to the big existential questions: What is the Truth? Why am I here? Is there a God? Those questions came forward because of my unhappiness. In my experiences with the great religions and with A Course in Miracles I found satisfactory answers to those big questions. However, I still have to struggle with myself. Now I ask simpler questions that unfortunately cannot be answered by books, teachers, or spiritual paths: Why am I annoyed so often? Why aren’t I more content? Why can’t I see the Great Rays in every person, no matter what their body looks like or what they say?
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