I interviewed Hugh Prather last June in Virginia Beach, where he was giving a talk at the Association for Research and Enlightenment, set up to carry on the work of Edgar Cayce, the sleeping prophet who predicted that Virginia Beach would be a haven during the coming global cataclysms.
Resort hotels and restaurants encroaching on the dunes, a tidal wave of ugliness, suggest another kind of cataclysm in Virginia Beach — the rape of the eye and the ear, Resort Town USA, built on nobody’s fault line, the bottom line. Amidst it all, the corporate splendor of the ARE, looking like an insurance company, or a church, its bookstore crammed with every variety of spiritual literature, a cacophony of truth, a hotel of the mind for every journeyer, no reservations please.
I spent several hours with Hugh Prather in his motel room across the street from the ARE. It might have been a thousand miles away; the materialistic and spiritually materialistic worlds he travels in — and he travels a lot, giving 30 or 40 talks a year — seem to have little hold on him. He’s learned to love himself. And to love others, without advertising it. Wise words you expect during an interview. Genuine words of concern, before and after an interview — that’s not on the menu, but that’s what makes the difference.
Best known for his earlier book, Notes To Myself, a diary of observations about his “struggle to become a person,” Prather has more recently written There Is A Place Where You Are Not Alone, A Book Of Games, and The Quiet Answer. They’re about love, and the power of forgiveness. In The Quiet Answer, he writes:
Fear is a distraction. It is mental turmoil. It does not focus. It does not even know exactly what it fears. Fear is pure avoidance without direction. Calmness dispels fear by restoring the willingness to look. Through either direct or gradual means, the thoughts and exercises in this book urge you to look, to be honest, to be calm, so that the grounds for happiness can be clearly seen. And these grounds will never be comparative. True gratitude is not based on the perception that others have less or suffer more. It is the recognition that spirit instead of flesh holds all that is of value and that there is no end to spirit. Because love does exist, you are free.
A counselor and teacher, who has worked in the fields of alcoholism, divorce, suicide, rape, battered women, and child abuse, Prather lives with his wife, Gayle, and three-year-old son, John, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He is 44.
Sun: Does writing about God take you closer or further away from God?
Prather: Writing used to be a struggle. I would have schedules and I would quarrel with the thesaurus and do multiple drafts and I was never able to adhere to the schedule but always felt I was supposed to.
About a year ago, I realized that there were several gifts in my life. Of course everything is a gift. But there were certain ones I could recognize. My wife and my little boy were unquestionably gifts from God. Another was my particular talent to write and to speak. The gift is given to you to make you happy. And at that particular time I decided above all else I wanted to establish the peace of God as my single goal in all that I did. That’s just my way of phrasing it. And that I was not going to do that unless I began simplifying my way of life and enjoying the little windows to heaven that I could recognize. There are a few places where the rays of peace and love shine into our lives and we must begin there.
I realized that I wanted to put the happiness of my wife first. She was unquestionably my spiritual partner. In so doing I would learn that to give is to receive. You have to begin some place. It’s nice to say to give is to receive but unless you’re practicing it, you don’t really believe it. It’s just a concept. So as I did that, and began to realize that John was the expression of our love, the extension of our love for each other, then the theory that they were gifts became more and more fact. And I saw that speaking and writing could become the same thing if I let them.
We took a little room in the house and made it as comfortable as we could, without any regard to whether the contents were spiritual, because wall-to-wall carpeting is not spiritual. We tried out all these easy chairs that lean back. We found the most comfortable one and it had synthetic material on it that would never stain. We got wall-to-wall carpeting and we got a couch. Just made a peaceful little nest. Very simple. And in there we do only two things. We write or we meditate. Gayle and I go into that little room usually three times a day. It’s not a ritual but usually works out that way. Almost always in the morning and usually also in the evening and in the afternoon. So I just go into this room and I sit down there in peace. And I write in peace.
Now, at the time this change took place — and it was a subtle, gradual, gentle change — I was ghostwriting a book, which is something I’ve done several times. And I was about a third into this project when it became clear to me that either the book would not be published or, if it were published, very few people were going to read it. Here was a case where my ego had all it needed to have a little fit. I was not going to get any credit. I was not going to get any money. And the thing probably wasn’t even going to be read. Now did I want to continue writing? This was a very important turning point for me. The answer — after meditating and thinking about it, calmly and peacefully — was yes. I wanted to continue writing because I enjoyed writing. And that was a sufficient reason. It didn’t matter what happened to the material.
I had to begin doing things out of peace. I had to begin following my peaceful preference regardless of what my ego said the consequences would be. I didn’t know what the consequences would be. The fact that it was a peaceful thing for me to do was sufficient reason to continue doing it. I love writing. The moment there is any distress in the writing I just get up and leave it. I go about my day until I feel I can sit down happily and begin writing again. And once again, if there’s any distress, I get up. In other words, I refuse for it now to be anything else but a thoroughly enjoyable experience. It had started becoming that way with There Is A Place Where You Are Not Alone and with A Book Of Games. Those books had come so much more quickly and easily than the other books. I once spent five full years on a novel and then bought it back from Doubleday before it was to be released. I’d already spent the advance and everything. These books came in a matter of weeks or months. Very peacefully and effortlessly. All my answers won’t be this long.
Sun: You talk about how everything is a gift. With something in your life that is really a struggle — some scare, some craziness — what process do you go through to see the gift in that? If you could be specific that would be helpful.
Prather: I don’t think anything in our life has to be messed with unless it is disturbing our ability to turn to God. This includes illness, even terminal illness.
If I had a terminal illness, I don’t believe I would do anything in particular about it unless it was disturbing my ability to turn to God. I look at everything that comes up in my life — or try to, at least — in a similar way.
When I turned 40, I was running 16 to 18 miles every day, in sand. I was doing over 100 situps, I had one of these rowing machines, I was lifting weights, and I was watching my calories, and I had been doing that for as long as I could remember. I’d always enjoyed running but now the whole thing had become absurd, because I was having to spend almost an hour every day doing exercises to lengthen the muscles in the back part of my body which the running was shortening. I was now spending almost half my life fighting this battle to hold my weight down. So I was out running one day and I asked myself, “Why am I doing this?” And I couldn’t think of a reason. I just stopped right there in the road.
Now what often happens in these situations where we think we’ve found an external solution is we simply go from one extreme to the other. And that is what happened. I stopped all exercise. And I allowed myself to eat everything, all the time. I’m 44 now. Over a period of about four years, this gradually became a problem. My health was not as good as it was. And I started becoming self-conscious in public, especially when I would meet friends who knew me before. I would find that I was thinking too much about that. So that’s an example. I now recognize that while this has definitely been a step forward — it was consuming much less of my mental and emotional life than it had been — it still was a big chunk of something that I hadn’t let go of. So the way I went about solving that problem, or anything that’s interfering with my ability to turn to God, was to pause in peace and then act with assurance. I believe that the peace of God is the best guide back to peace. In peace, something will come to us to do. And it’s very important that we do something. If we don’t do something, we don’t want to go past the problem. So here was the problem. What was I willing to do?
I had not gone to a doctor for 12 years and a certain amount of pride had developed, that somehow I wasn’t supposed to go to a doctor. That I was beyond this. That I should be able to work out all my problems internally. I wasn’t working out this problem. And in my prayer, there was a particular doctor who kept coming to mind. He had been Gandhi’s physician, Krishnamurti’s physician, and he had moved to this country. He had his own ashram. Aside from all that he was an extremely loving and gentle man. I’d met him on one occasion and I’d heard a number of people speak of him. And it was my conviction through my prayer that he was a healer. And the minute I decided to go to him I felt instantly better. I can remember making the decision and suddenly feeling better because I had let go of this pride. And in going to him, it turned out that the simplicity with which he was living was very inspiring to me, and to Gayle. So as a result of going to him I began eating much more simply, we began living much more simply. Not that he told us to do this. He didn’t. It’s just that we looked at his life, how simple it was, how happy he was all the time, how he seemed to love everybody’s personality. I had not seen that point. I was thinking of the ego as the personality and thinking that the ego is something that we relinquish and not realizing that you can love peoples’ personalities just as you can love the personalities of different dogs or different bird songs.
So, what happened was I went to my peace. From the peace came the thought of something to try and I tried it. Now it happens that this began to work right away but what I’ve found is that it doesn’t always work and that doesn’t matter. It does matter, though, that I then go back to my peace, see what else I want to do and try that. And then if that doesn’t work, go back to my peace and try something else. And I continue this until I move past the problem. So the decision is: I will move past this problem because it is interfering with my ability to turn to God. And I will do something.
I realized that I wanted to put the happiness of my wife first. . . . It’s nice to say that to give is to receive but unless you’re practicing it you don’t really believe it.
Sun: Talk about your marriage. What happily married means. What happiness means, for that matter.
Prather: Gayle and I have been married for almost 17 years. I’d say about 15 of those years we had a sort of typical marriage, which means it could have fallen apart at any instant, even if we didn’t think so. All of us look around and see people who have been together for a number of months or years — 10, 15, 20 years — and suddenly they’re breaking up, not speaking to each other. It seems like they were each other’s best friends, sharing everything. A month later, nothing. As if there’s no love in their hearts.
It’s very much like trading in a car on a new model. You had this car and you loved it so much when you got it and you took it out and had it washed, kept it up, got it fixed. And suddenly there’s a new model, something that is more special, and the new car replaces the old car in your heart and you have very little, if any, remorse in letting the old car go. Most relationships are on that basis. You form a new relationship that replaces in your heart the old relationship and there is surprisingly little remorse that the old relationship has gone by the wayside and everyone is left with their mouth open. You don’t understand how this can happen, but the fact is that it happens over and over. And it is, in fact, the given. It’s only because you thought there was real friendship and trust and loyalty there that you’re surprised. Because it shouldn’t surprise us, it happens all the time.
There is another foundation on which a relationship can rest. I touched on this before in saying that I decided that I would put Gayle’s happiness first. A year ago we made the decision to form a holy relationship. The Course in Miracles goes into great detail on this. But it still, once again, is one of those concepts. I’m not recommending this. There are people who are obviously not ready for this and for them it would simply create a war. But if two people wish to form a holy relationship, and they’re together on this, it’s quite simple to do.
The praying together is very important. We begin the day together, with the recognition that we are walking home together, hand in hand. We will always be together. That’s oftentimes not easy for people to see — that they’re going to walk home with this individual. And I can’t tell you how you see it, it’s just sort of a quiet inner recognition that grows within you and you understand finally that you are with this individual. You’re of course with everyone else but you realize that you’re not going to get home unless you treat this individual with all the love and kindness that you have within you, that you respect this relationship and the fact that the universe has brought you together.
So we begin praying together, setting our purpose for the day together, realizing that we want to make each other happy and exert a different kind of pressure on each other. Instead of a pressure that would make each other guilty — that kind of manipulative pressure in which you try to get that other person to do something, hold up their end of the bargain, change this particular thing about their body or their personality — there’s another kind of pressure in which you see sometimes how your partner has gotten onto an unhappy road. Maybe they’re all caught up with something a clerk said to them in a store and this is ruining their day. Any number of things. It’s as if there’s these two roads, one is a very happy road and the other one is the usual, unhappy road. So you exert this very gentle pressure for them to be peaceful and happy. This is not chastising or correcting. It’s a pleading for their happiness. After we’ve been with someone for a certain period of time we know what to do to make them happy and lead them back to peace.
So we may make an effort to do this. And their ego may be so caught up in whatever is going on that they reject our first effort. And that is just fine. We step back in peace and we love them. And then we make another effort. We’re literally there to usher them into heaven. We can do that. We know how to do that. That person, of course, does the same thing for us. Such acceleration of progress can take place when two people are actively working for the same goal and trying to assist each other.
This is a game I sometimes play: I can’t get to heaven but I can get Gayle to heaven. Now by “heaven” I mean a state of mind. Heaven, I think, is here and now. It’s awakening in God. It’s a state of natural happiness and peace that is ours and somehow we’ve mentally looked away from it. I’m not speaking of heaven as a physical location to which we must journey on some bloody, self-sacrificing path. Like in Alice in Wonderland, when she turns to the doorknob at the end of her journey and says to the doorknob, “How can I get out?” and the doorknob says, “You can’t get out, you’re already out.” That’s what I mean by heaven. It’s a recognition that we’re already there. But it feels like a journey and seems to take a certain kind of effort. So the praying together is important. It sets the purpose. And it flows from this gentle pressure.
The second thing that is important is what I mentioned before — you put the other person’s happiness first. Here’s how that works. Before I do anything during the day, I first ask myself, “Is Gayle happy?” If she’s not happy, I don’t do it. I first make her happy, then I do it. I literally put her happiness first. This can sound like some form of self-sacrifice but it actually teaches me that to give is to receive, because when I make her happy the happiness I receive is ten times greater. What often happens in the usual relationships that we’ve all had is that each person carries on in quite a selfish way. By selfish I mean that only the ego is served. People who may have formed a pretty good alliance ask themselves mainly, “What do I want to do? How can I manipulate my mate so that I can do it? How can I do it so my mate won’t have too big a fit about it, or get in the way?” You will see, for example, one person who may be a writer and one person who is a potter, so the person who is a potter is always looking for a time to go throw pots. The other person is looking for time to do the writing. And they have put throwing pots and writing before their relationship. Now to them this is a very innocent thing to do and it is innocent. There’s certainly no guilt in it. But you can’t form a holy relationship or a great love relationship as long as you do that. The only thing that is difficult about this is seeing the importance of it because it’s not readily apparent that it is so important. It’s easy to say, “I need my space and I need my time, I need this, I need that. And it would be a great sacrifice to make my mate happy, although I can see that my mate is in a lot of trouble right now. I can’t mess with that. I need my own energy.”
The third thing that we recognize are the typical ego ploys to distract us from a holy relationship. Because a holy relationship will produce the kind of peace in which the ego will melt away. This imaginary identity will defend itself because that’s the way we’ve set it up. One of its ploys is, “There are so many worthy things to do.” The ego adopts a new position.
The higher ego has been of so much interest to me that I’ve given it a name. Someone pointed out that I could not use the name here in Virginia Beach. I had an uncle, Uncle Edgar, so when I was trying to name the higher ego I came up with Edgar. But here, in Edgar Cayce-land, it’s Maurice. It’s interesting how Maurice adapts to the spiritual path and cites truth in order to cause conflict. Here’s some worthy project you’ve been offered. I was approached about doing groups at the penitentiary for inmates before they left and then again to have groups for them outside. And at the same time I was being offered an opportunity to start a group for juvenile delinquents. At the same time I was being offered the opportunity to start a public access television station, which would appeal more to the heart than to the ego. And on and on. There’s no limit to it. In addition to the television station, I’d just started a little church, the Dispensible Church. So one of the ploys is worthy activity. This is very “important,” the ego meaning: this is more important than your great love relationship.
What can also come up in the guise of spiritual truth — because the ego will use words like openness and unconditional love — is the idea you should go out and have a relationship with every person of the opposite sex you could think of. Or, in Santa Fe, a person of the same sex. It doesn’t matter. And the ego will say, it’s not important if you go ahead and have this relationship because love should be universal and so forth. That all sounds very good, but it simply isn’t the way it works. It certainly isn’t sinful, but it does stop the forming of this holy relationship. I’ve seen people try to work this out in a thousand different ways. Open marriage is one of those wonderful concepts because it has the word open in it. It sounds like it must be very spiritual. Some couples have been amazing in their ability to sort of accommodate each other. But you don’t see this deep peace growing in the relationship as long as that’s going on. Now, of course, there are simply people who can’t help it, they’re just at the stage where they’ve got to do that. And that’s fine. So I’m only talking about those people who sincerely want to form a holy relationship. The ploy of the ego that they might want to notice is that they will be offered some substitute relationships and that if they see this or if their mate sees this as a form of disloyalty, then they’re not putting their partner’s happiness first. Is that enough on that subject?
Sun: I’m interested in what you’re saying. Is there more?
Prather: Specifically, I often find myself praying “we” rather than “I.” I’m seeking our peace. So, Gayle is very much a part of me now. We are one. In all the teachings of truth, there is only one reality. We know that we are one with all our brothers and sisters, but that’s just a concept. It has to start some place. I have to see that I am one with Gayle. Then I can see I’m one with John. Then I can see I’m one with a close friend. There’s no limit. It doesn’t stop there. But it’s got to begin there. It’s got to begin some place. So I’ve found it helpful to pray “we.” I’ve found it helpful to have an understanding about what we will do when one of us gets caught up in some ego snare. We may both do it. What happens is that you’ll find yourself screaming at your partner, or there may be a murderous silence. Or just a mild irritation. It’s all the same thing. Any time there is that, then you’re on a plateau. You’re not making any progress. What people don’t understand is you can stay on a plateau a very long time. So it’s to everyone’s advantage, once they see they’re stuck in some rut, to get unstuck. And it’s so much easier to get unstuck with someone you are forming a holy relationship with because they can help you so much. It’s surprising how much help we can get from another person in this respect. Let me say this also — not everyone needs to form a holy relationship. There are people who will awaken without someone by their side. Mother Theresa is an obvious example. But Mother Theresa has this constant dialogue with God. She’s formed a holy relationship with God. She talks to God all the time. It seems apparent that there are people who will not awaken without their holy relationship. And there are people who will awaken with another kind of holy relationship. They’ve formed a holy relationship with God, or they may call God something else. They may call God “Jesus” or they may call God their “spiritual guide,” there’s this sense of going beyond the confines of their body. They’re now uniting with something else, which is, of course, simply a recognition that they are more than just their body. This isn’t literally bringing two things that were previously separate together but it feels like it’s a bringing together. Because we start out thinking we’re nothing but a body and we’re actually inside a body looking out of these little holes in our head, hearing out of these little holes in the sides of our heads. We really think that’s where we are.
I find it’s very helpful to have a plan of operation. So in our moments of sanity, Gayle and I have said to ourselves a thousand times that above all we want the peace of God. Above all, we want to give a gift to our awakening and to the awakening of all our brothers and sisters. Nothing is more important than that. So we’re either giving to the awakening of mankind, or God’s creation, whatever terms you want to use, or we’re not. We want to give a gift to that. We want everything we think and do to serve the purpose of this awakening of this world. So whenever one of us gets caught up in something, some jealousy, some anger, some bitterness, some grievance, some depression, some sickness, whatever it may be, it’s understood it’s all right for the other one to come and help or suggest we go off and meditate. Now if we are both caught up in it, what I’ve found is that one person is a little more sane than the other. They’re not more advanced or better or anything. And this changes all the time. But usually in these situations there’s one person who suddenly sees the insanity of it and can suggest that there’s got to be a better way and wouldn’t you like to sit with me just for a moment and let’s see if we can’t find a better way to do this.
I carry Gayle with me, since we’re well along in forming this relationship. I can bask in her love. I can mentally turn to her even though she is not physically present and receive a tremendous amount of strength from the relationship.
I don’t think anything in our life has to be messed with unless it is disturbing our ability to turn to God. This includes illness, even terminal illness.
Sun: A friend of mine, a therapist, wanted me to ask you how you deal with dependency on your wife. But the terms you’re using to describe that relationship, the assumptions about who the two of you are, suggest to me something quite different from emotional dependency.
Prather: There is a sort of sick dependency and it’s characterized by a great deal of anxiety. What will I do if I lose this person? We sort of tiptoe around the other individual and the relationship is like walking through a minefield. We don’t know if any moment we might say something that will set the other person off. Or maybe there is a dependency on some aspect of the relationship, such as getting your mate to cooperate sexually with you. You think, above all, you’ve got to have sex three times a week, so you can’t do anything to anger your mate, who might say, “No sex.”
But that’s always characterized by a ground of anxiety. There’s no deep trust in it. Another thing I didn’t mention that is part of a holy relationship, a very fundamental part of it, is complete honesty and openness. But this isn’t the kind of honesty practiced in the late sixties and seventies in which you list — honestly list — the other person’s faults. You tell the person, very honestly, that they’re a son of a bitch. That’s not honesty. What’s happened is that these angers have built up and now, instead of being honest, you’re simply using the opportunity to attack and you’re attacking in the name of honesty. It has nothing to do with this instant. True honesty has to do with this instant. So we may, for example — and we do this quite frequently — sit down and examine, not analyze, but look at our ego positions on a particular subject. Most people who have come together have opposite ego positions on a number of subjects. Now, that is a disguise for spiritual strengths that complement each other, but on the ego level it shows up as one person who always wants to spend his money, and one person who always wants to save her money. One person wants to be gregarious and have lots of people and go out and the other person likes to be quiet and spend a quiet evening at home. One person wants to be very firm with the child and the other wants to let the child be free and learn for itself. Always the individual’s ego is arguing the rightness of its separate position and to us our position always seems right. And if we’re on a spiritual path we can justify spiritually what we’re doing, because we’ve temporarily forgotten that truth has nothing to do with behavior. It doesn’t imply anything about behavior. It implies something about our heart. But it implies nothing about our actions. Because the same action can be loving or unloving. So I cannot form a holy relationship while hiding things from Gayle. I cannot in the name of kindness be a little deceitful. Once again, this doesn’t imply that I must criticize her. An example: I had a deadline on a book and I was getting an inordinate number of telephone calls. I mean, every time you put it down it would ring. So I was not getting the book written. I asked Gayle if she could handle some of those calls for me.
And she said yes. But she wasn’t doing it. So we sat down. This was a problem. We recognized that something was going on here. We were quiet first. It’s very important often to be quiet first, so that you’re doing this out of peace and not out of anger. The ego can’t use this opportunity to dump a lot of grievances on the other person. This is not helpful. That’s only saying that I’m right and you’re wrong. That’s not a helpful position. It’s perfectly fine to say my ego position is this and your ego position is that but neither ego position is right or wrong, just ego positions. How can we move beyond this? Out of the quietness came something she wasn’t telling me, which was that many of these calls were people making requests. Would you write this introduction? Would you help me edit this book? Whatever. And she said that in the past, on a number of occasions, I had undone whatever she had agreed to do. On the one hand, I’d ask her to take care of these things but then when she would take care of them I would come back and either complain about what she’d done or I wouldn’t do the thing that she had told the person I’d do. Now this was said in peace, not said as a criticism. I recognized it was true. And that if I were going to ask her to do these things I had to back her up. She would use her best judgment and she would try, and she might not always get it right. And she didn’t want to be embarrassed by my coming back and telling the person, “Of course, I’ll write,” after she’d already told them no.
Sun: Are your dreams important to you?
Prather: The greatest of all hymns — “Row, row, row your boat, gently down the stream. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,” — that’s very important, you see, there are four merrilys to every three rows; even though you’re rowing gently it is still more important to be merry — “Life is but a dream.” Every major philosophy and religion says the same thing. Even our own Bible says Adam fell asleep and never woke up. There’s no account of his waking up. So it becomes obvious as we journey back towards God, what we are actually doing is awakening in God. We are asleep in the arms of God, dreaming that we are bodies just as we do at night. And at night we can dream that we are a body that is quite different from the body in bed. It’s no less convincing to us while we are asleep. And we still think we’re confined in this body and we have all these problems and we try to solve them, even though we ourselves have set the problems up. It’s very important in the dream. We wake up and see it wasn’t important at all.
I have a friend who had a dream that he was in the house and his wife asked him to go out and check on the spoons. So he did and sure enough, the spoons are jumping over the wall. And this was a problem. What were they going to do about this? They didn’t know whether they should build the patio wall higher or hire a spoon trainer. They decided they would build the patio wall higher. But what was going to happen? Would the spoons get hurt? You know, if they jumped over the wall. You know how it goes. It goes on and on. There’s no end to it.
A Course in Miracles says that when you awake in the morning you merely pass from one dream to another. One of the most important recognitions is that this dream is never going to end in and of itself. It will just go on and on, like the soap operas on TV. It will always be something else. And it will always seem important. Sooner or later we have to make a decision to begin very gently to turn away from the dream. Not from our brothers and sisters but from the dream. A dream at night is a mimicry of what’s going on. The daydream or the waking dream is once removed, but the night dream is twice removed. And when it’s seen that way it can be extremely useful. For example, who holds a grievance against someone who did something in a dream, once they have awakened, and realizes it was just a dream person? You can’t stay angry when you realize it didn’t happen. We realize what they did in the dream was just dreamed and so anger is dropped immediately. A Course In Miracles says that what you think your brother did to you did not happen. That’s the basis of forgiveness. It’s not dishonestly saying, “Well, somehow it was all right,” or, “It will benefit me,” or, “They didn’t really mean it.” Of course they meant it. They really were trying to hurt you. If you step away from the whole thing rather than trying dishonestly to manipulate the interpretation of it, then it is possible to let it go because you realize this grievance has nothing to do with your walk home.
I find dreams extremely helpful as an analogy to what’s going on during the day. And they also suggest the solution, because we’ve all had the experience that we’re dreaming at night and then suddenly realize that we are dreaming. We suddenly know in the dream that it’s just a dream. And the whole thing becomes very happy, even if we’re being chased by monsters. We now know it’s a dream. It isn’t the change in the circumstances of the dream that makes us happy, but the recognition that it is a dream, and that we are safe, and can’t be hurt by any of this. What that analogy points to is that all we need to heal, all we need to change, is our heart. The way we are looking at things is the only change that is needed. If we can look at all things in love and peace, then we can enjoy all things until we awake. Another thing this analogy can teach you is that once we realize we are dreaming at night we also realize that our awakening is inevitable, and is not very far off. So no one panics once he realizes he is dreaming at night. It doesn’t even occur to the dreamer to think, “Oh, will I ever wake up from this?” because now he realizes it’s a dream. In that recognition comes the certainty that you will wake up and that you will wake up very soon. So you don’t start running around in the dream forming committees to get everyone in the dream to wake up.
So, what do I say to my friend, whose spoons are jumping over the wall? Just sit quietly in peace. If you want to do something in the dream, that’s fine, but this is just a dream and see what it is you want to do, because it will all be over very quickly. And so he sits quietly and maybe he does something about the spoons and maybe he doesn’t. Why would he decide to do something? Maybe on the basis of whether or not it was disturbing his peace, which is his awakening process. To do nothing has consequences as well as doing something, in the dream. You can’t do anything in this world, you can’t do anything in a dream, that doesn’t have ramifications. So, it’s not possible to retire from the dream in the dream. This is a mistake that many people make. They go off and try to isolate themselves from the world, while still being in the world. And often people come back quite discouraged because they took the world with them in their mind. I’m not saying people shouldn’t become nuns or monks. What I’m saying is that you do not awaken from the world by trying to isolate yourself from the world. You awaken from the world by accepting the peace of God within your heart.
It’s not possible to retire from the dream in the dream. This is the mistake many people make. They go off and try to isolate themselves from the world, while still being in the world. And often people come back quite discouraged because they took the world with them in their mind. . . You do not awaken from the world by trying to isolate yourself . . . You awaken from the world by accepting the peace of God in your heart.
Sun: How does someone keep in touch with the truths you’re talking about, and be effective politically. How do you do that?
Prather: I help the people I can help. I take regular duty on the crisis line. I have two groups in Santa Fe. One is a grief group, people who have had a child or husband or wife die. I have a general open group in which we have mugging victims, battered women, alcoholics, people who are suicidal, people who are going through the breakup of a marriage. Then I have a Dispensible Church, which is a completely volunteer organization. I receive no money for it. I do a lot of counseling with individuals. I don’t charge for that. So those are the things I can do. So that’s the beginning — helping the world in the way I can help it now rather than running off after some broad project that somehow never gets done and causes as many problems as it solves. When Mother Theresa was in India at a big conference they passed around a petition for the speakers to sign — a very mild statement, as those go, opposing nuclear proliferation. Mother Theresa and Baba Muktananda, without having gotten together on this, declined to sign it because they said they did not want to take part in a controversy and they did not want to side against the people who were for war, for nuclear proliferation. Now this to me is a truly helpful position. Love doesn’t take sides against those who don’t believe in love. One mistake people make — and they’re well-intentioned — is that they think to solve some problem they’re going to have to walk over a few people. Some reputations are going to have to be destroyed and certainly a lot of feelings are going to be hurt but it’s all in the name of this cause. We can see in our own government these very well intentioned things literally accomplish nothing. We’ve had all these projects in Washington that were very well meant but didn’t do anything, they just sort of shifted the whole thing around. There was a good deal of love and compassion and sincerity behind it, and that was very helpful — seeing that children were starving, that there were mothers that needed medical care, that there were streets that needed cleaning and all that. And they did what they thought they could do to help the situation. But often that sort of manipulative approach doesn’t net anything. Whereas one individual working from his heart and doing what his intuition guides him to do can obviously relieve misery. And he may be doing it on a large scale or a small scale and that doesn’t matter. Because the love is in helping us to awaken from this dream and not the overt form that it takes.
Sun: You refer to A Course In Miracles a lot. In many ways you’re the main popularizer of A Course In Miracles. Tell me how it’s been important for you.
Prather: A Course In Miracles itself states that it is a course in miracles and there are thousands of courses. So it is simply one statement of truth. It is a tool, a teaching aid that I personally find very helpful. But the course itself says it is not for everyone. It says if you’re already praying you don’t need this course. It makes statements like, forget this course and turn to God. So it’s very important for your readers to understand that I am not recommending A Course In Miracles, for to do that would be against the very teaching itself, which is that a universal theology is not a possibility, but that a universal experience is a necessity.
It’s very important that we stop shopping around. People really cause themselves a lot of unhappiness by trying this and that. There’s just no end to it. The ego has gotten in there. They’re looking for the perfect spiritual tool. And on that level there is no perfect spiritual tool. When I first started reading A Course in Miracles I was so impressed with the content. Then I ran across a few mistakes in punctuation and I was horrified. Well, this is the ego. Does this mean I throw out the books because of whoever was proofreading it? It was important that I stop shopping around. That’s what I did when I came across A Course in Miracles. I said this is the best thing for me that I’ve run across. I’m going to settle on this and start. Maybe it will be useful for several months, maybe several years, maybe the rest of my life. That’s irrelevant. It’s useful to me now so I will use it.
It’s a set of three books. The second book contains 365 lessons that offer specific suggestions on how to remember God as you go through the day, along with some very simple meditation techniques and even suggestions on how to word certain prayers or certain affirmations. So A Course in Miracles presents a teaching — a very theoretical, abstract thing — and then shows you how to incorporate the teaching into your mental process. And that was the thing that made it so helpful to me. It gave me a specific way of using it. The third book gives the answer to a number of questions that would commonly arise with anyone that studied the course. And it gives a general tone of an answer, so that from reading the third volume — a manual for teachers — I can get a sense of how to be very gentle with someone who is asking for help. Or someone who is obviously making a mistake. So often, we want to rush in and try to convince a person that they’re not doing it right or point out their error. And it becomes clear that it’s never necessary to confront the ego directly. A person may be embarking on what we know will be a very unhappy course but it also may be apparent that there’s nothing that can be done about it. They’re just not ready to see that. But we can help them in this other area of their life. We don’t even have to get involved in that thing. But here’s this other area where they are ready to see something and so very gently and happily we can present them with something truly useful to them. I don’t study the books in the way I used to because I now realize that truth is simple and whether we understand how A Course in Miracles is using this term or that term is not important. There’s simply the dream and there’s reality. And the question of which do I wish. Do I want to be happy, or do I want to be right?
Sun: If you see your child is about to fall down a flight of stairs, you’ve got to act on that, you might feel anxiety. That seems natural to me, although in your terms it’s also within the dream. On a more global level . . .
Prather: It’s bringing love into the dream to save your child, and love is the awakening. And it’s more loving to catch your child than to let him fall. By expressing that love and protecting his peace you are then part of the answer rather than part of the problem.
Sun: How about those who view the presence of nuclear weapons, for example, as humanity tottering on the stairs?
Prather: Anyone who feels strongly about nuclear proliferation or nuclear power plants or anything else should obviously follow the deep feelings within his heart. If someone sees how he personally can be of help in that situation, it’s fine for him to do that. We’re always doing something in this dream, even if we’re just sitting in a chair. And sitting in a chair has consequences, as I said before. This is something that’s so often misunderstood. For example, A Course in Miracles says, “You need do nothing.” But it doesn’t say, “Do not act in this world.” There’s nothing that you need to do. Your way home does not consist of certain prescribed, overt behaviors. But obviously it’s not calling for no physical action, just to vegetate in a bathtub.
Sun: Are you afraid to die?
Prather: I’m less afraid than I was. As long as my ego is capable of acting up and controlling me, I’m still going to be afraid, to some degree. But I am decidedly less afraid. Often, students of truth feel that they have to test their faith and I went through a period like this. I had to leave the front door open because everybody should be trusted. I shouldn’t wear safety belts in the car because it was a negative thought and it would draw accidents to me. But who would get in a car with no brakes and expect God to stop the car at every stop sign? One of the main ways Maurice, the ego, makes the spiritual path so hard is by telling us that truth implies certain behavior and that the behavior is the way home. Therefore, if you’re spiritual, you shouldn’t lock your door, you should never take medicine, you should never have an insurance policy, and so on. Which has nothing to do with truth whatsoever. For some people not taking aspirin would be the way for them not to be thinking of their body. For other people taking aspirin would cause them so much mental guilt or anguish it would be best for them not to take it. You see what I mean?
Sun: Yes. To what extent do we create our own reality?
Prather: This is a concept that’s presented in almost all teachings of truth — that we are responsible for our experiences. Once again, Maurice steps in and uses this to cause all kinds of distress. I heard someone say recently, about a mother who had a blind baby, “She created her blind baby.” Now this is not helpful to the mother, and it is absurd. Did Jesus create the crowds that stoned him? Did he create the stones? Did he create the Pharisees who railed against him? Did he create the corrupt system in Rome? Did he create the crucifixion? Did he create Judas? Did he draw Judas into his life? And make Judas betray him? When we take spiritual truth and try to apply it to the world we just make people very unhappy and this, of course, is the ego’s purpose. It makes people become disenchanted with spiritual truth and they drop away for a while because they’ve been spending all their time manifesting parking spaces near the front door.
We do create our own reality in the same sense that when we fall asleep at night we choose to dream. But within the dream itself all of the circumstances are already set up so we choose the dream as a whole. But to go into the dream itself and look at the dream as if part of it is healed and part of it is unhealed and to say, “I am choosing that part which is unhealed, and this other part is ok” is absurd. There’s no way to wake up by approaching it that way.
A time comes when we recognize that we don’t need to get into this absurd application of truth to the details of this world. For example, let’s take sugar. Sugar is a very fearful thing right now. There are many articles and books. Everybody’s scared of sugar. So someone says, “I create my diabetes. Diabetes is a decision.” Meaning, sugar shouldn’t hurt me, therefore I will eat the sugar. Well, that’s crazy. Disease is a decision. It is true that if we understood this, no food would hurt us. We could walk in the sun and not be burned by the sun. We could leave our front door open and never be robbed. That’s all true. The fact is there are certain things we have not gone beyond and if there is any anxiety about leaving the front door open, it shouldn’t be left open. If there’s any anxiety about the seat belts, then put the seat belts on, because the peace of God is more important than the issue the ego has raised. It doesn’t matter that certain foods should hurt us. It does matter whether or not at our particular stage they are hurting us.
Often, students of truth feel they have to test their faith and I went through a period like this . . . I shouldn’t wear seat belts in the car because it was a negative thought and it would draw accidents to me. But who would get in a car with no brakes and expect God to brake the car at every stop sign?
Sun: I know people who go through a cycle of smoking a lot of pot, for example, then deciding it’s not good for them, and stopping it, and then, predictably, a few days or months later, they’re doing it again. The same with coffee, tobacco, or diet. There’s much conflict.
Prather: Once again, the body is not important. Do whatever allows you to not think of it. Finances are not important. Money is not important. Do whatever allows you to not think of it. I see people, for example, refusing to get jobs because God’s supposed to take care of them. Well it’s true that it’s possible to reach a state of mind where you can get money out of a fish’s mouth. But if the person hasn’t gotten to that point then it’s ridiculous for them to sit home while the collectors beat on their door.
It’s all coming from the higher ego. This has nothing to do with truth. So with smoking, drinking coffee, smoking dope, and various mild addictions, first of all this is not a big thing, not truly important. Alcoholism can be causing quite a bit of a problem, but smoking isn’t causing that much difficulty with most people. Drinking coffee isn’t. Beating your spouse or your children is probably causing a great deal of difficulty and should be taken care of quickly and easily and it can be. If the person will just try something, they can move beyond it. They can try neuro-linguistic programming or AA. There are so many organizations, so many approaches to solving those problems. The individual just has to decide that he wants to move beyond this, go out and get the help. If that help doesn’t work, he goes to someone else until the problem is behind him. Because he realizes he’s not going to make any more progress until he does that.
But it’s possible to make tremendous progress while you’re continuing to smoke cigarettes or drink coffee or take medicine or masturbate. I once had a woman call me up who was beating up her daughter. It took her half an hour to tell me that. It took her almost a year to tell me she’d had an affair with her minister. It took her two years to tell me that she masturbated. This was the worst of all her confessions, that she masturbated. Obviously the ego has made an issue out of something that is not important.
Now, if the individual finds that he is thinking a great deal about the smoking thing or being overweight, he can go ahead and do what he needs to do to move beyond that. But I would not advise anyone to do that unless they are sure that this is keeping them from turning to God. If it’s not interfering with their meditation and their praying, and they have a sense of progress in their lives, it will take care of itself in its own time. One day, you’ll wake up and you’ll realize, “Oh, I’m not masturbating anymore, I’m not eating meat anymore, I’m not gossiping anymore, I don’t have a craving for sweets anymore.” Those things just fall away. There’s no effort, you just happen to notice them in retrospect. So the best policy is to let it take care of itself. Unless it is consuming a large amount of attention and then, try something.
There’s a friend of mine who’s very religious in a conventional sense and he’s very religious in a real sense, too. He doesn’t think he’s supposed to look at women’s bodies. So when he walks down the street, he will turn away from an attractive woman who is passing. Passing a store window in which there’s a girlie magazine, he’ll turn his head away. It seems to me he’s creating an unnecessary war here. He’s trying only one solution and it’s obviously not working. There are other things he can try if he wants to move beyond that. For example, this is a little meditation that I used. Let’s say I had suddenly seen a woman whose body had startled me. I’d look at the body, and then I’d look away from the body, and say, “Is this the only place I’ll find God?” Then I’d look back at the body. Often it’s not the body, it’s some particular part of the body that seems to contain all the power, which means the peace, all the peace of God we long for. And we think that we’re going to be able to find it in another body, or a particular part of the body. So I would shuttle back and forth. I would look at the body. There’s no war there. I’m just looking calmly. There’s nothing to be afraid of. And what almost always happened was I would see the faults in the other person’s body, meaning that it was just a body among all other bodies. Instead of being some sort of fantasy — which it would have been had I just glanced at it and then tried not to look at it — I am now looking directly at the woman’s body and I say, “She’s got fat thighs or she’s got a pimple on her nose.” And this makes it, of course, just a body.
Then I tried something else, because I didn’t like the fact that I still could not walk down the street without being preoccupied by women. I wanted to be able to walk freely without worrying about this, or worry about whether Gayle would see me do this and it would hurt her feelings, or that people would feel uncomfortable because I was looking at them. I just wanted to go beyond that. So Gayle and I took our pickup truck to Baskin-Robbins — Gayle knows about this; it’s helpful to talk about these things to your spiritual partner — and we sat in front of the door. Everybody in the world goes in and out of Baskin-Robbins. I had this experiment I wanted to try, which was every time anybody at all — a little child, an elderly person, a buxom teenager — walked by, I would say to myself, “Is that a good body or a bad body? No, it’s just a body.” What I thought would happen is that this would make me have a neutral feeling about bodies. But what actually happened after a few minutes was that I fell in love with all the variety of bodies. I had never seen the world that way. All the different bodies we have. These wonderful tall people with bald heads, different colored peoples, eyes going in different directions. I had never seen that and I just loved it. I was still in this state of love and we started driving home, down this road in Santa Fe where all the fast food places are. I loved the motels with the half-broken signs. I thought it was the most charming thing I had ever seen. So when we look directly at the ego, it melts and there is love. Love is already there.
Another thing I found very helpful is this little statement from A Course In Miracles: “Your brother’s body is of no more use to you than it is to him.” What I would say to myself is, “Her breasts are of no more use to me than they are to her.” For some reason I found this helpful. I knew if this society had covered elbows we would have dirty little shops where they would sell magazines with closeups of elbows. What we’ve singled out as the parts of the body that contain all this power over us is so arbitrary.
The breakthrough for me happened to come when I realized there is so much more in life to look at. I just didn’t want to be preoccupied with that. I wanted to look around and see the different things on the street. So that was the breakthrough for me, though it’s hard to know just how free you are of it. I’m quite free of that, compared to the way I used to be.
Sun: What role, if any, can drugs play in someone’s spiritual growth? What role have they played in yours?
Prather: Gayle and I were in Berkeley during the days of the Free Speech Movement, the Peoples’ Park and all that. We partook of everything —psylocibin, mescaline, acid, marijuana, and hashish. In those days, these drugs were a religion in and of themselves. The idea was that if you could get a straight person to smoke a little dope they would become enlightened, loosen up, and enjoy their life so much more. And because it was looked at that way, it did seem to have that effect. And people did seem to have genuine mystical and spiritual experiences at that time.
The reason it didn’t last was because it was all hinged on an external agent. Any time we think it is something out there that’s bringing us the peace of God, we become controlled by the thing. If we think we can only be peaceful in a church, then we cannot be peaceful if we’re not in a church, and we have to go across town to church, and maybe it’s only a particular church. Or maybe it’s only one church when there’s a particular person giving a sermon. The ego will keep reducing this. We have to sit in the third row. It keeps narrowing the agent. It can only be when we’re in nature. When we’re walking in the woods and smelling the pine leaves or when we’re walking on the beach. That’s the only time we can be peaceful. We think it’s the ocean that’s causing the peace. It’s the backpack and the pine leaves. Then we’re tied to it. Although those can help someone start on the spiritual path, a time comes in which he has to move beyond that or else his progress is extremely limited. Many people turn to truth today to become healthy, wealthy, and wise. If they study metaphysical truth, then this will increase their income. And they’ll have some sort of super health and of course they’ll be wise because they know more than other people. There’s nothing wrong with that, because it draws people to the truth to begin with, but a time comes when they have to see we don’t apply the truth, we enter the truth.
Sun: Define love.
Prather: People often mistakenly think they have to love other people. You find yourself at a party and someone is holding a drink, telling you of the great illnesses in their life. And you think, “I’m supposed to love this person,” because of the teachings or whatever guru says since you’re supposed to love everyone. That’s a useless battle, because when we are in the presence of an ego that we don’t like, it’s very difficult to see beyond the ego to the child of God. And it isn’t necessary. If we simply make peace our goal, being comfortable in that individual’s presence, often we will feel some love come into our heart.
Sun: What about loving yourself? How do you distinguish between your own ego and the child of God in you?
Prather: Once again, the higher ego uses spiritual truth to cause as much trouble as it can. It is true we must love ourself, but this is Self with a capital “S.” The way Maurice translates that is “I must love my body.” People spend time going to the spa, doing things they don’t want to do. If they enjoy doing those things, that’s fine, but so many people put themselves through torture because they think that to love themselves their body has to reach a certain ideal. I was once bitten by a spider and a little growth started to form on the bridge of my nose. So I went to a plastic surgeon to take off the growth. Before I got there I noticed this other growth that had always been there and I said, “Could you take that off too?” He took that off. I went home and started looking at my body and noticed a number of things that could be corrected. I went back to him. It was about two months before I woke up. I was standing in front of the mirror one day filing my teeth.
That’s what happens when we think that the self we’re supposed to love is a body or a personality. You think you’ve got to be witty. Or suddenly somebody’s decided they’re not funny enough or that they’re too boring. Now they’re studying everything so they can pepper their conversation with interesting facts. Or they’re too short.
The Self is a joy to love. There is this deep river of peace that flows through the heart of everyone of us, still waters that connect us all. There is no distinction between loving ourselves and loving another. There’s nothing to choose between because the Self that we are is the Self that unites us to all living things. And it doesn’t even occur to us that there could be a choice between what is in our interest and what is in someone else’s interest. But if we think it’s this body we’re supposed to love, then we think we constantly have to make choices between our interest and someone else’s interest.
Sun: What particular spiritual teachers are important to you?
Prather: The spiritual teacher that is important to me is this man I was telling you about who was Gandhi’s physician. I’m not naming him. People then think that there is more of God in one body than another so you would have people running to Santa Fe to see this man and they would be disappointed. This just happens to be the person who came into my life at this time. The way he lives and the way he loves people’s personalities is very inspiring to me. He was once with a group of people and there was one woman whom everyone seemed to find very obnoxious. She dominated the conversation and she asked endless questions. Everybody tried to point this out to her and that hadn’t changed a thing. He immediately saw her personality and started calling on her. He would make a statement, and he’d say, “Tell us what you think about that.” And so she would talk and he started kidding her, not in a way that hurts but in a way that makes people relax and realize they’re welcome. Everybody was laughing and the woman felt happy and loved. After a while she quieted down and became part of the group.
So at the moment I guess he’s my teacher and I would say he’s almost in the same category as my son John. John is such a wonderful teacher to us. Children see that everything is for fun — the knives and forks and the salt shaker on the table. They’re not interested in the past. They don’t want to tell you what they did today. That’s why they can forgive so quickly. Here they can have an awful argument with their friend and two minutes later you see the kids playing. The present is more important to them than the past. Whereas the past is the only thing that the ego believes is real. That’s why it holds on to it. When we’re caught up in our ego, we look at another person and instead of seeing that other person we see what they did to us. Their body is a symbol of all the unfair things and we’re not even looking at them. This is why we have such a hard time in letting people change. Old friends have a hard time realizing that we’re not what we used to be. And we can see their egos trying to make us be the way we used to be, even though we’ve moved beyond that.