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.

Gerald Jampolsky and Healing the World

Years ago, I read a book by Gerald Jampolsky called Love is Letting Go of Fear that had a profound influence on my thinking. Jampolsky was among the handful of people who read ACIM before it was published. Judith Skutch gave him a photocopied version she had received from Bill Thetford and Helen Schucman.

In looking for Kindle books by him on Amazon, I found Finding Our Way Homewhich Jampolsky co-authored with his wife, Diane Cirincione. I purchased it and finished it one sitting. It was a very enjoyable read! The idea that love is our goal and forgiveness is our single function fits perfectly with my idea of ACIM (and spirituality in general). I was somewhat bothered, however, by the heavy focus on receiving guidance about trivial things like asking what you should do about your car being blocked in a hospital parking lot.

I agree that we receive inner guidance when we silence our screaming egos long enough to listen, so it’s very practical advice. I don’t think that is what ACIM is ultimately about, however. So I decided to check out another book by Jampolsky called Poetry and Notes to Myself: My Ups and Downs with A Course in Miracles which was also a very quick read. Again, quite enjoyable but much of the focus was on receiving guidance so I finally re-read Love is Letting Go of Fear,the book by Jampolsky that had so much influence on my understanding of ACIM decades ago,

I can see why Love is Letting Go of Fear was so influential for my younger self 30 years ago. I used to believe that religion/spirituality was about saving the world. The possibility that we could save it single-handedly through love and forgiveness was especially appealing. Then I read Nietzsche and the other existentialists and found that I agreed with the idea that the western focus on a future, more perfect world, is problematic. This world is viewed as faulty and so rather than being here, in the world now, the focus is on some future world that has been perfected through missionary religions, the “right” political thought system, futuristic technology, an escape to heaven…

Spiritual traditions claim that they have received their wisdom through divine guidance. If you believe your choice is “right” because you were guided by something beyond yourself/ego to make that choice, then it feels justified. But ACIM says nothing about the outcome of our practice being a perfected world and I think Wapnick would probably agree. It’s message is existential. Our thoughts create our reality. Change our thoughts, our reality changes. But to expect a perfect world to be created by perfect thoughts is the stuff of the ego.

Let me try to explain… if our thoughts are merely projections, then isn’t the choice to listen for inner guidance just a projection, too? Granted, it is undoubtedly healthier, cognitively speaking, to feel happy with your choices, but your decision to be at peace with your decisions and to view the outcomes of those decisions as positive is likewise a choice, not some sort of absolute truth reigning down from on high.

ACIM is about non-dualism which helps people have the courage to accept things as they are. In some ways, I think this was one of Gerald Jampolsky’s primary goals in working with sick children. He created the Center for Attitudinal Healing, which now exists all around the world, to help children who were suffering from cancer and other illnesses let go of their fear of being sick and dying. He modified the principals in ACIM to help children discover joy through a shift in perception. (Thus, the name: Attitudinal Healing, not bodily healing.)

So why does Jampolsky’s writing (and that of his wife) place such a heavy focus on inner-guidance and healing the world? I think it’s probably the same reason Robert Solomon says Sartre, who coined “bad faith”, was ultimately in “bad faith”, too. Sartre was so mired in the Cartesian philosophy that he didn’t realize he had dropped God but maintained the guilt. All of Western society remains trapped within that “Christian guilt” mindset because it has been an integral part of Western thought for thousands of years. It is such an integral part of our thought system that we don’t even realize it is there. The world “out there” continues to be viewed as guilty and in need of perfection.

I genuinely appreciate Gerald Jampolsky because his approach to dealing with personal hardship through healed relationships with ourselves and others is very practical. And while I do agree with Jampolsky that all of life is relational, maybe we need to quit insisting that the world needs to be peaceful? That it needs to be healed/saved? Everyone has their own idea of how that salvation will come about and many of the ideas are in direct conflict with one another. Perhaps we need to forgive our misperceptions of the world, too?

Jampolsky constantly says that you can’t simultaneously be fearful and loving. But if you believe the world needs to be healed/fixed, isn’t that belief based on a fear that something is justifiably wrong with the world? How can you forgive the world while simultaneously fearing it? I am hopeful that Wapnick can help me figure that out this time through ACIM. According to Wapnick, ACIM is more specifically about letting go of the guilt that causes our fear.

I’ll try to read something by Hugh Prather before I begin the lessons because he was another person who very much influenced my views on ACIM and it looks like he was close friends with Jampolsky.

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. 

ACIM Lesson 126: All that I give is given to myself.

Williamson’s blurb: In the world as we know it, once you have given something away, it is no longer yours. But in the spiritual realm, all that you give is given to yourself and all that you withhold is withheld from you. As you give love, you receive love. As you give peace, you receive peace. Notice how just knowing this changes both your perception and your experience.

ACIM: When you “forgive” a sin, there is no gain to you directly. You give charity to one unworthy, merely to point out that you are better, on a higher plane than he whom you forgive. He has not earned your charitable tolerance, which you bestow on one unworthy of the gift, because his sins have lowered him beneath a true equality with you. He has no claim on your forgiveness. It holds out a gift to him, but hardly to yourself.

This was always my problem with forgiveness. It seemed like a one-upmanship – that forgiveness was really about feeling morally better or more spiritually advanced than others. This is the sort of stuff Nietzsche denounces as hateful Christian piety and why he says charity is so ugly. ACIM says that what we typically think of as forgiveness is not forgiveness – at best it is a charitable whim which is ultimately worthless because it maintains the idea of separation.

ACIM: You do not understand forgiveness. As you see it, it is but a check upon overt attack, without requiring correction in your mind. It cannot give you peace as you perceive it. It is not a means for your release from what you see in someone other than yourself. It has no power to restore your unity with him to your awareness. It is not what God intended it to be for you.

In order to truly understand forgiveness, we must first understand that giving and receiving are one in truth.

All that I give is given to myself.
When I give forgiveness, I receive it.

From Gerald Jampolsky’s Love is Letting Go of Fear:

When I am able to resist the temptation to judge others, I can see them as teachers of forgiveness in my life, reminding me that I can only have peace of mind when I forgive rather than judge.

Inner peace can be reached only when we practice forgiveness. Forgiveness is letting go of the past, and is therefore the means for correcting our misperceptions.