A few days ago I was in a used bookstore and came across the book, Spiritual Notes to Myself, by Hugh Prather. I was excited to find it because this was the first book I read, which helped me sort out my life. It started me on a “self-help” journey which evolved in to the spiritual one I have today. That was back in the early 80s.
Last night I sat down to reread his book and came to find out this was not the book I read before. If I had paid attention, I would have noticed the original book title did not have the word spiritual in it. His first book titled, Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person, is a book about self-examination and self-fulfillment. The book I bought recently is another book he wrote with a similar name.
The first sentence in Spiritual Notes to Myself seems to walk back his thoughts and perspective from his first book; almost apologizing that he somehow gave permission to his readers to become selfish. For some reason he changed his mind about what he wrote and that a person wanting to achieve self-fulfillment is now a bad thing. Wanting to put ones needs first is now selfish. Ok, there are people who are selfish and narcissistic but not all of us are. I’m not. I am guilty of being too much of a giver and am working to find balance.
In 1973 I left home and ran across country to get away from an abusive mother. All my life I was told my opinions didn’t matter. My life didn’t matter. I don’t have to tell you that I had self-esteem issues. For the next several years I bounced around life with no direction or plans for a future. Why should I? My life didn’t matter. One day I saw Notes to Myself on a bookshelf in a Woolworth’s Department Store (their last store closed in 1997). The title intrigued me so I bought it. Reading that book changed my life for the better. I didn’t get a healthier perspective for my life immediately but it started me down the path of a new way of thinking and living. My life did matter after all and Prather’s book helped me realize that.
I had problems reading his new book but I finished it because I wanted to be open to new perspectives. There is a lot of his book I didn’t understand, but there were parts I could relate to. A few of his ideas just plain annoyed me. Half way through reading, I wondered if he was a student of A Course in Miracles because his ideas seemed to sound a lot like he read that book. I haven’t read A Course in Miracles so I don’t know exactly what’s in it, but I’ve listened to talks from other spiritual writers, who base their ideas on that book.
I don’t have a problem with reading books from authors who write from a religious perspective. I will admit the word God bothers me a bit because I keep visualizing a judgmental, white guy with a beard, sitting in the clouds frowning every time I do something—he thinks is bad. I know its my hang up and I don’t think that’s what Prather is referring to.
After I finished his book, I looked on the Internet and found out he indeed was a student of The Course and was a resident minister at a United Methodist Church. Prather had a colorful childhood which might be why he wrote self-help books and counseled people when he became an adult. I couldn’t find information as to when or how he became a minister though. The book I read in the 1980s was written sometime in the 60s and A Course in Miracles was published in 1976. He obviously had a huge change of heart and that’s why he wrote a second book, although I wish he used a completely different title.
I kept notes as I read Spiritual Notes to Myself and want to share with you my insights about what he wrote:
To begin with, there was a passage on page 44 that made me raise my eyebrows:
Forget the doormat stuff. Jesus never did one single thing for himself. Was Jesus a doormat? Was he an enabler? Was he codependent? Did anyone ever yell, “Hey Jesus! Get a life!”?
Actually he ended up getting nailed to a cross and stabbed in the heart with sword! There are fundamentalist Christians who say all this was planned so he could come back to save the sinners, but I don’t know about that. A lot of the writings about Jesus were written long after his death but I don’t want to get into that here.
On page 60, he compares a monkey’s behavior to his spouse, explaining that we don’t get upset when a monkey does annoying things (because it’s a monkey) so why get upset when a spouse does annoying things? What? First of all, humans aren’t monkeys or other animals. I don’t expect a monkey to behave like a human, like putting the toilet seat down after using it. I do expect humans to be more thoughtful. His logic didn’t make sense to me.
Page 69 really got to me! He wrote:
It isn’t necessary to have running battles with your adolescent over taking out the trash, having good table manners, talking on the phone, and bringing glasses back to the kitchen. If a duty adds to the oneness between you, keep it. If it doesn’t drop it.
What the hell! What I got from that—was don’t upset your kids, so let them do whatever they want. Experiencing oneness with others (in this case your kids) is most important. Whatever happened to teaching your kid responsibility? There is nothing wrong with assigning them chores. Its called “teaching them responsibility!” I’ve worked with too many people in their 20s and 30s who want their paycheck but don’t want to work. They have the worst work ethic ever! And in case you didn’t know, teenagers aren’t interested in being one with their parents and not having to do chores won’t change that. They just grow up and become a pain in the ass for future employers.
Prather seems to have gone from one extreme to another. In one book he writes about self love and then in his second book, he writes to forget about that and love everyone unconditionally. That would be great if everyone played along but too many people see kindness as weakness. I’m all for compassion but I’m not about to be someone’s doormat. I’ve been there, done that!
Ok, those examples are what I disagreed with, but he did write some thoughtful stuff; like on page 96, he suggests we spend too much time living in the past and worrying about the future. The way to happiness is to live in the now. Eckhart Tolle is all about living in the now, he wrote a whole book about it. Buddhism agrees with this concept. I completely agree. Living in the moment is something I work on everyday.
I liked his quote on page 133, “Judgment creates separation and fear feeds it.” I can’t argue with that. We all judge; all day long, whether we like something or dislike it. It’s still judging. I think it’s a human trait. As for wanting to be free from pain, I think all sentient beings want that. It’s a survival instinct, but we humans take it further and that’s where we create our own pain. A lot of our pain comes from our perspective about a situation. In other words, judgment.
Basically what I got from reading his book is that we should strive to see God in all things, all the time. We are here to serve others. I agree helping others is a good thing and is even good for our health. Allowing yourself to be taken advantage of (and its happened to me on more than one occasion) is not good for your health. My life matters as much as the next persons. If I don’t show compassion for myself, I can’t do it for others. Peace begins with me.
After I got cancer, I examined my life (again) and made adjustments so I would live a healthier life and that includes putting my needs first. I learned I cannot rescue others. I cannot help those who refuse to help themselves. I can’t care more about a person or cause than someone else. I can and do show compassion for all sentient beings. At the same time, I believe in the creed “Do no harm but take no shit.”
I just ordered a copy of his first book from an online bookstore and look forward to reading that again, but who knows, maybe I won’t agree with his writings in that book either. I’m definitely not the same person I was thirty years ago. My perspectives have changed too.