Hugh Prather’s Deep Thoughts

The Thinker Auguste Rodin

Continuing with the 4 teachers closely associated with ACIM who had a major impact on my thinking, today my focus is on Hugh Prather. I just finished his book, How to be Happy and Still Be in the Worldwhich was wonderful. Surprisingly, it’s the only book I’ve ever read by him! I’m going to read Notes to Myself, next.

I met Hugh Prather in the early 1990s at an ACIM event in Dallas when I was in my mid-20s. He had given a hilarious, moving talk about marriage and I felt inspired to ask him a question afterward. He thanked me for my question, suggested I walk with him to get some water, and spent close to 30 minutes talking with me. He was very down-to-earth and one of the nicest people I have ever met!

I encountered him again at a conference in California. Marianne Williamson had given a talk that was not well-received. I have notes on it somewhere so could probably give better specifics if I could motivate myself to find them, but based on my sketchy memory, I think it had something to do with India not wanting Pepsi (or some other huge American Corporation) to come into the country because it would bring with it an undesired American cultural aspect. I wasn’t at all offended by what she had to say, but a lot of people were extremely upset. Unfortunately, she responded a little too defensively and the very large group of attendees split in two and yelled at one another as well as at Williamson. So much for forgiveness and peace!

I don’t remember who directly followed Williamson’s talk but it had to be uncomfortable. Every speaker that followed acknowledged the split. When it was Hugh Prather’s turn, he lightened things up with his great sense of humor, but he was very direct saying that all spiritual teachings inevitably incur division so the division within ACIM was to be expected. (Apparently this was an already well-established division.) I remember that I was very impressed with both Frances Vaughan’s and Hugh Prather’s responses. They were compassionate toward all involved and not judgmental toward Marianne Williamson, or those standing against her, even though I’m sure they landed on one side of the divide or the other.

Prather’s lectures and the short meeting I had with him in Dallas were my only experience of him. I’m not sure why I have never read any of his books until just now, especially since I was so impressed by him. That is (and was) very unlike me. I never attempted to find his radio broadcasts, either. The only thing I knew about him was that he was a fellow Methodist and that he was somehow involved with the ACIM gurus. I had no idea that he had grown up in my hometown of Dallas, that he played tennis, went to SMU, or that his father was the real estate tycoon who developed Highland Park. I also had no idea that he attended the University of Texas in Austin for graduate work. These are all things I am very familiar with.

It sounds like he had a somewhat complicated childhood because both of his parents had several marriages which gave Prather seven parents. According to the NYT article below, of the seven parents there were two alcoholics, a drug addict, an institutionalized mentally ill patient, a convicted murderer (one of his father’s wives) and a convicted embezzler (one of his mother’s husbands). Thank goodness he turned to humor and introspection rather than drugs, alcohol and crime!

His early book, Notes to Myself was internationally famous and has sold millions of copies in over 10 languages despite Prather not particularly liking the book. (He claimed it was “too self-absorbed”.) The SNL parody, “Deep Thoughts with Jack Handy”, was based on that early book and the famous vegetarian restaurant, Moosewood Restaurant, was named after Hugh Prather’s dog which was also mentioned in the book 

In the 1970s, The New York Times called him an American Khalil Gibran. He and his wife, Gayle, were very close to Jerry Jampolsky and Diane Circincione. He was also good friends with William Thetford. Some people claim Prather was Thetford’s ACIM successor because they were both so gentle, compassionate, and focused on spreading peace.

Prather died at 72 years of age in 2010 from an apparent heart attack.

A Course in Miracles: Teachers

My experience with ACIM is limited to a very few teachers. I am not at all familiar with the current, more popular ones like Gary Renard or Gabby Bernstein. A few years ago, I read one of Robert Perry’s books and was definitely not on his philosophical wavelength. I also read something by Alan Cohen that I didn’t care for, either.

Around that same time, I read a book by Ken Wilber about his wife who was dying of cancer called Grace and Grit. That had a completely different effect on me. Treya Killam, Wilber’s wife, was a devout ACIM practitioner. She developed breast cancer and became uncomfortable with all of the new age promises that if she just had the right thoughts, she could cure her cancer. What she came to realize was that cancer was not her enemy. By embracing it, it became an opportunity for self-understanding and growth. That is what I think ACIM is about. It helps us have the courage to embrace what we fear. 

I’d like to learn more about Ken Wilber and Integral Spirituality, but lest I get too thrown off track, I’ll stick with ACIM for now.

The people who most influenced me when I was first involved in ACIM were Jerry Jampolsky, Hugh Prather, Marianne Williamson, Francis Vaughan, and Vaughn’s husband, Roger Walsh. With the exception of Jerry Jampolsky, I met each of these people back in the 1990s.

Despite almost single-handedly bringing ACIM to the multitudes in the 1990s, my understanding of ACIM didn’t quite mesh with Marianne Williamson’s. I should probably go back through some of her work to clarify the disconnect, but for now, I feel more strongly about reconnecting with the works of the other four.

Jerry Jampolsky: Jerry Jampolsky’s Love is Letting Go of Fearis the first book I read based on ACIM principals and it had a HUGE affect on me. Jampolsky was a Psychologist and graduate of Stanford’s School of Medicine. He founded The Center for Attitudinal Healing which offered free support services to people facing catastrophic life events. His philosophy, in a nutshell, was that you can only have peace of mind when you forgive rather than judge. What needs to be healed is not your sick body, circumstances, or the world, it’s the judgmental mind. 

Hugh Prather: I don’t think I’ve read anything by Hugh Prather. I only know him through his lectures and a short conversation I once had with him. His first book is what the SNL Skit “Deep Thoughts with Jack Handey” was based on, so his writing may have been a little “new agey”, but he just seemed so honest and grounded in person. He didn’t make claims that you could potentially change external material circumstances with the power of the individual mind. (That’s not the point of ACIM, in my opinion.) What was necessary was a change in cognition. It’s not about what’s happening to you, it’s about what you think about it. And if what you think about it is that you can change it by how you think about it, you’ve missed the point. I noticed that his wife has made some of his lectures available so I will plan to make my way through some of those in the future, and maybe some of his books as well.

Frances Vaughan and Roger Walsh: I’ve personally met both, but only really know Frances Vaughan And Roger Walsh through their lectures. Both are probably better known in the Integral Spirituality circles these days than through ACIM. Vaughan died in 2017. She was a Stanford graduate, clinical psychologist, professor, and founding faculty member of the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology. Walsh is a professor of psychology, philosophy and anthropology at the University of California at Irvine. I have his book, Essential Spirituality, and I’m fairly certain I have a few by Vaughan as well. Both are worth revisiting.

I’m sure there will be others that I recall or that I will learn about in the future.