Park City’s Phyllis Barber has published a new memoir, "To the Mountain," which is comprised of a series of essays she wrote during the 20
Park City's Phyllis Barber has published a new memoir, "To the Mountain," which is comprised of a series of essays she wrote during the 20 years she stepped away from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. (Courtesy of Phyllis Barber)
For years, Park City-based writer Phyllis Barber considered herself a faithful follower of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

That changed when she went through a series of life-changing personal crises, and for 20 years, Barber left the church and embarked on a spiritual quest.

Many of her experiences are captured in her new book, "To the Mountain," which Barber will sign at Dolly's Bookstore on Friday, July 11.

The author wrote 14 essays of her journeys to the Southern States, India, Peru, Ecuador and the Yucatan.

"I basically started writing essays about my travels and realized that they all went together," Barber told The Park Record about the origins of her book. "They were written during a time when I was having a difficult time in my life. My 33-year marriage was coming to an end and I was going wacky in a really important way."

One of the things Barber came to realize was how habitually involved with the Mormons she was.

" I went to church every Sunday, so when that day came around, I would wonder what I should do, so I began attending different churches," she said. "I went to Lutheran and Baptist services, Church of Religious Science gatherings, and traveled to Tibet and North India and studied with a Buddhist monk."

Barber also met with shamans in South America and embarked on a trip with goddess worshipers to Mayan ruins.

"I didn't do this all willfully or knowingly," she said. "I just happened into all these things."

Barber eventually learned that she was trying to make connections.

"I could say I was searching for spirit, which is what the title of the book means," she said. "But I guess I was trying to find out where and why people worship and what's it all about."

One question that nagged at her throughout the journeys was — is religion even an important topic anymore?

"Someone, I can't remember who, wrote in the New York Times that religion is dead and no one is interested in the subject," Barber said. "I have to disagree. I think people are still interested in the subject.

Phyllis Baber’s "To the Mountain" recaps her life when she studied with a Buddhist monk and traveled with goddess worshipers to Mayan
Phyllis Baber's "To the Mountain" recaps her life when she studied with a Buddhist monk and traveled with goddess worshipers to Mayan ruins. (Courtesy of Phyllis Barber)
We're all still wondering about the mystery."

Barber began writing her essays in 2007 and one of her first international stops was India.

"When I went to the Buddhist monastery, I stayed in a town in Northern India that used to be Sikkim, which used to be a little country between Nepal and Bhutan," she said. "I had really been interested in Buddhism and especially interested in how the mind works."

While at the monastery, Barber was taken aback at how exotic it was.

"I loved it," she said. "It was such a surprise to me, especially the colors and the things they wore."

The writer also had an encounter with a young Lama, which she wrote about.

"I was feeling really sick and I was standing in this courtyard, ready to melt into nothingness," she said. "This boy, who was about 12, came and took my hand and took me up to this temple where this Lama was."

The temple was a white Tara temple, which is the temple of the healing entity, Barber said.

"This was an amazing place and apparently it was a replica of a monastery that was destroyed in the Cultural Revolution in Southern India and brought it North," she said. "It was so remarkable, and the feeling was so similar to other religions because of the caring and loving nature."

Still, Barber did find that different religions have different ideas of how the world works.

"If people can relate something to that, well, yeah, good for them," she said. "Also, many of the attitudes and behaviors of cultures in communities, states and prefectures, even countries, stem from religion."

Barber mentioned the Nation of Islam as an example.

"I feel badly for Islam, because there are some incredible people who are Muslim, but all we hear about are the extreme terrorists," she said.

So, Barber attended a Muslim Society meeting to learn more about the philosophy and met an Imam and his wife who invited Barber to a meeting.

"At the meeting, the people lent me a scarf and I did all this bowing, but after this experience, the young women there just embraced me and we embraced each other," Barber said. "It was this feeling of them seeing that I was there and wanting to learn more about them and their beliefs."

A lot of the essays in "To the Mountain" are about how people from other religions receive others, according to Barber.

"The problem is we forget how similar religions are because we get judgmental and develop our own ideas of what is the right way to be," she explained.

This was something that Barber may not have learned if she didn't personally visit these places and have these experiences.

"I went to a mega church in Denver and heard rock bands and a huge gospel choir," she said. "The minister got up and asked people to come unto Christ. It was so profound and that experience helped me gradually come back to the church."

Barber realized that she did have her roots and the connection with Christ and knew how to serve in that capacity and that setting.

"I kept coming back to the idea of redemptive love, and that's why I eventually returned to the Mormon church," she said. "It's like when an artist is painting a flower, [he or she] keeps looking at it and see new things. In a way, an artist redeems that flower by continually studying it."

Dolly's Bookstore, 510 Main St., will welcome Phyllis Barber, author of the new book, "To the Mountain,' on Friday, July 11, beginning at 7 p.m. The event is free and open to the public. For more information, visit dollysbookstore.com/events/july-11-phyllis-barber-author-event.