On a friend’s recommendation, I picked up the 1970 classic, Notes to Myself: My Struggle to Become a Person, by Hugh Prather. Color me impressed! Enchanted, even. It seems a perfect artifact of its time, in its zen-flavored earnestness, and I wanted to share a few passages that I hope you might enjoy (and find meaningful) too…
At first I thought that to “be myself” meant simply to act the way I feel. I would ask myself a question such as, “What do I want to say to this person?” And very often the answer was surprisingly negative. It seemed that my negative feelings were always the ones I noticed first… However, as I continued practicing I saw that below these were more positive feelings – if I was still long enough to look deeply. The more I attempted to “be more me” the more “me’s” I found there were. Now I understand that to be myself means choosing which level of my feelings I am going to respond to and recognizing that, whatever I am feeling, I am always free to think carefully rather than carelessly about myself and those around me. When I am careful about the thoughts I brood on, because thought precedes feeling, circumstances can no longer dictate my mood. But when I think carelessly, my self is “lost in thought.”



This: It’s such a chore to talk to Bill. Why is he such a drag?

Versus this: I make such a chore for myself when I talk to Bill. How do I make it so hard?



I get along with people a lot better when I recognize that no one ever feels exactly the same about me or anyone else from one moment to the next. And, likewise, it is self-defeating to believe I must “love” anyone all of the time. 

Esther may dislike me from time to time and I want to respect that by not trying to quickly change her feelings as if they were wrong.

The heart loves, but moods have no loyalty. Moods should be heard but never danced to.



From Notes to Each Other:

Sometimes I think that all we are learning in life is that we are happy when we are kind and unhappy when we are not. We resist the lesson because it’s so simple it’s insulting.



From Prather’s obituary in The New York Times:

Hugh Prather, a self-help author whose first book, “Notes to Myself,” put an aphoristic finger on the pulse of the ’70s, has sold more than five million copies and inspired the long-running “Saturday Night Live” segment “Deep Thoughts,” died on Nov. 15 at his home in Tucson. He was 72.

Mr. Prather died in his hot tub, apparently of a heart attack, his wife, Gayle, said.

First published in 1970, “Notes to Myself” was never intended as a commercial book. It began as Mr. Prather’s journal, a set of private musings, some telegraphic, others longer, on the nature of life, death, love and much else.

An aspiring poet with a cache of rejection slips, Mr. Prather (pronounced PRAY-thur, with a soft “th”) sent the journal on impulse to a small publisher with limited distribution capabilities and no national advertising budget. But between word of mouth and the tenor of the times, the initial print run of 10,000 copies was devoured by ardent seekers.

Before long the book had become a phenomenon — a “Chicken Soup for the ’70s Soul” — and The New York Times was calling Mr. Prather “an American Khalil Gibran.” Now published by Bantam Dell, “Notes to Myself” remains in print.



From Lawrence Downes, writing in The New York Times two weeks after Prather’s death:

Mr. Prather made his mark in a short but memorable era of sensitive men of facial hair. Read “Notes,” and you hear his gentle voice. Who’s that in the background? Dan Fogelberg, Gordon Lightfoot, England Dan, John Ford Coley.

In later life, Mr. Prather was a minister at a Methodist church in Tucson. He wrote about 20 books, having made the hard turn from introspection to advice. It all seems to come back to letting things go. Here is a prayer for bedtime:

“I release my car; and all is peace.

I release you (name); and all is peace

I release my (stomach, hair, back, nose — whatever part of my body is troubling or embarrassing); and all is peace.

I release (name of politician or public figure); and all is peace.

I release my life; and all is peace.”

Mr. Prather died, in his hot tub, on Nov. 15. He was 72.


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