An Interview with Regina Sara Ryan
Author of Igniting the Inner Life
Stone Mandala interview conducted in September 2010 with Bhadra Mitchhell of Banyan Tree Communications
Question: As a writer and spiritual seeker, how has your personal progress informed your writing in terms of style and content?
Regina: "Spiritual seeker" is a somewhat loaded term for me. I am doing my best day in and day out to turn around being a "seeker," because it implies that there is something "out there" for me to attain or find. It might be better to call me a pilgrim, making the rounds of the holy places (and aren’t all places holy from a certain perspective?) in order to worship, celebrate and meet others with a similar focus. So, with that in mind, I’d say that writing for me is a way of clarifying what it is that I already know but have not yet articulated. The wisdom is all there already, I simply have to relax enough to access it. It’s the same for all of us. We may lack some technical data, but the truth/the truths are available with inner listening. I made a strong effort in my writing to stay within the parameters of my own personal experience. It would be so tempting to write "about" things that I consider ideal. But, life is not ideal, it simply is what it is. I hope my writing will reflect this appreciation and honesty to my readers.
Question: Praying Dangerously was published in 2001. What have you written since then, before this new book?
Regina: In 2004 I wrote Only God, A Biography of Yogi Ramsuratkumar following two years of research; and in 2005 I wrote Breastfeeding, Your Priceless Gift to Your Baby and Yourself to encourage this life-giving and life-saving practice. Since 2005 my work has focused on editing the extensive writings of my spiritual teacher, Lee Lozowick, and assisting in the production of books for him.
Question: Who are your literary and spiritual heroes and how have they impacted your writings?
Regina: Literary heroes: among so many … Dostoevsky, Rilke and Hesse. Have they impacted my writing? They amaze and humble me. But also they inspire me to greater consistency of practice, and to dig more deeply into what I know. As for spiritual heros / heroines: my teacher Lee Lozowick, and his teacher Yogi Ramsuratkumar; Thomas Merton; the hermit monk, Abba Jonathan of God who lives in the southern Arizona desert; my friends Chandrika and Lalitha who spend their lives in supporting and loving whomever comes their way; Tessa Bielecki, another hermit monk, and all the women I write about in my book, The Woman Awake . . . plus so many more.
Question: Please tell us about your background and what you are passionate about.
Regina: "Just getting by" has never interested me. From the time I was a child I decided that whatever I did would be characterized by joy and exuberance, and be a service to the world. While I didn’t know how to do this, I let this passion direct the course of my life. It led me to the convent, where I lived and worked for about nine years as a Roman Catholic nun. It took me to India where I studied with great living masters. It took me to my writing desk where I crafted words into books about leading a wellness lifestyle, and particularly about the spiritual dimensions of the human being. I am still passionate about dispelling the illusion that love is scarce. I still love to write, and to encourage others in their paths of wholeness, devotion, contemplation and service.
Question: Can you describe the content of your new book Igniting the Inner Life and how you arrived at the title of the book.
Regina: I’m strongly attracted to the metaphor of life as a pilgrimage. Rather than remaining as a mere tourist, I’ve always wanted to live deeply within whatever path I was on. For me, the inner life (of prayer, self observation, listening to the heart) turns any trip or activity into a real pilgrimage. Attention to the inner life turns any external quest for more and different experiences into a learning, growing, transformational journey. Igniting the Inner Life is about how I’ve been able to keep that inner fire burning in the midst of the busyness and distractions of everyday life.
Question: What makes this book relevant to readers at this time?
Regina: The busier we become the more we long for something that promises a real break! Although we all know that "wherever we go, there we are," it is rare to put being at the center of our life’s mandala. Many of us want this today more than ever. I’ve crafted this book to remind us of the inner place of true rest and sanctuary from which we can see, work and reorient once again.
Question: Is this book meant for a particular demographic religious or spiritual group, or is it more broadly based?
Regina: I write this book for any serious practitioner of any universal spiritual path. My own background in Christianity and Catholicism certainly flavor my approach. My further work with a spiritual teacher and within a lineage that draws from both Hindu and Buddhist traditions adds spice to the mix of my stew. But, I have not asked the reader to believe anything, only to examine his or her own experience to find out what is true. If a reader is looking for a way to deepen self-knowledge, the contemplative life, or the heart’s preeminence, this book can inspire and point to that.
Question: I see you are a published author of eight other books including Praying Dangerously and The Woman Awake. How is this new title different from the subject of your previous books and how is it similar?
Regina: All of my books arise from the same source—the shared wisdom that has been opened within me by my teachers and my practice. Everyone has this same wisdom, and some of us can serve by reminding ourselves and others about what we already know but may have forgotten. This book is unique from my other books in that it reflects my own most recent explorations. Specifically, I am observing more clearly the workings of my mind, my habits, my emotions; I am observing the constant tendency to separate from the source of love and to deny the love that is the ground of being. I share my latest "discoveries" in a way that may be of use to others on this path.
Question: Is this book a "how-to guide" on contemplative practice?
Regina: Contemplative practice is a tricky term. I use it mainly because I know that many hungry readers are looking for the next step in their prayer life or spiritual life. Personally, I find that the holy spirit or the heart’s wisdom is the only real guide to contemplative practice. But, how to quiet ourselves or attune ourselves sufficiently to hear this spirit, this voice of wisdom? That’s always the issue. This book will hopefully inspire slowing down, listening within, dropping self-deprecation. These conditions allow us to be "guide-able." We will enter mystery or emptiness each in our own way. Within that space, love will do the work.