Doorways of Support and Inspiration:
Letting Go of Controlling, Judging and Being Right
Part II: Letting Go of Control and Judgment in Relationships and Parenting and Getting to Love and Acceptance
A Two-Part Interview with Hugh Prather by Alissa M. Lukara
The New York Times has called Hugh Prather "an American Kahlil Gibran." A minister, lecturer and counselor, he is best known for his many books, including the best-selling Notes to Myself, which helped spark the personal growth movement of the 1970s and has sold more than 5 million copies.
In his new book, The Little Book of Letting Go (Conari Press, Berkeley, CA), which he says was a team effort with Gail Prather, his wife of 35 years, Hugh combines spirituality and self-help in a "30-Day Program to Cleanse Your Mind, Lift Your Spirit and Replenish Your Soul." The book offers tools to "cleanse our minds of what can sour our attitudes, block our intuition, tear apart our relationships, and undermine the very aim and purpose of our life." Alissa Lukara interviewed him for Life Challenges.
Alissa: When you decided to look at the concept of letting go for your book, The Little Book of Letting Go, where did you start?
Hugh: Gail, my partner, and I started by looking at our own relationship, and since then, we moved into looking at our relationship with our children.
We have both been on a spiritual path for many years and one of our goals has been letting go of our egos. We read about the concept of ego relinquishment in the 1970's in The Course in Miracles. It's also something I've taught. One of problems we found about being on a spiritual path is that you can have strong feelings of love for people in general, but not apply that to your own loved ones, the people you live under the same roof with, or to the people you come in contact with that day.
That's the true test though. We talk about how we want to awaken in God, let go of our egos, and all these things, but what about this hair in the sink or these toothpaste splatters on the mirror or this comment that was just been made. What about that? Now, the question becomes, do I want to awaken spiritually or do I want to be right?
In another example, it's one thing to think about loving homeless people. But, in Tucson, where we live, the homeless are on the medians asking for money. What are you going to feel about them? The reality of what you feel is quite different than having a theory about it. Also, if you give money without it coming from your heart, what have you accomplished? Perhaps it's better than nothing, but still, if you just give money out of a habit, are you blessing this person in your heart? Do you see your oneness with this person?
Accepting and loving your life partner
Alissa: You give some good examples of making relationships work in The Little Book of Letting Go. Would you please comment on how these couples got to a place of deeply appreciating each other, despite their differences?
Hugh: In most cases, these individuals made many mistakes, but they got to a state of total acceptance of each other. They're not these extraordinary human beings. Often, they're quite ordinary people, who live quite ordinary lives. What's special is that they accept, understand and don't put pressure on each other. They give up what we were talking about before: judging, controlling and being right.
When you accept another person, you see the ego of your partner very clearly and understand it. You also understand that that person is in God's hands. It's not your function to correct them. The same process that's guiding you is guiding them. Your concern is simply, "What is my attitude towards my partner this instant?"
The couples in The Little Book of Letting Go can have different politics and radically different kinds of jobs. One person's main activity may be watching sports, and the other's may be reading spiritual books and attending workshops, but they love, accept and understand each other nonetheless. They're very gentle with each other. There's no pressure whatsoever. This is very much the way a good friendship works. We put little pressure on our friends, but many of us fall into the trap of thinking that somehow it's appropriate to put pressure on our partners. When couples truly let go, if one person thinks something is important and needs to be done, they do it themselves instead of telling their partner to do it.
Accepting and loving teenagers
Alissa: You mention the need to let go in the relationship between parents and children, too.
Hugh: I think the relationship between parent and teenager has to become that also. Aside from keeping teenagers safe, making sure that they don't get a police record, that they graduate from high school, and a few fundamental things, there's really very little with which we can try to help our kids. As long as they're not jeopardizing their life and health with reckless driving, drugs or something similar, there's not a whole lot to do except accept, love and appreciate them-especially with older teenagers.
Yet, it's amazing how many parents don't seem to get that. They forget what they were like during their teenage years, and they pressure kids to do all kinds of things. In the course of doing that, they destroy their relationship with their child, and they never get it back completely. There still may be Thanksgiving gatherings and phone calls, but the real deep bond that they once had with their child is gone. I don't think it's impossible to get it back, but parents have to see what they're doing to keep from getting it back. From my own experience with counseling people, non-acceptance is so hard for teenagers. As much as they say they don't need acceptance from their parents, they continually act out in some way to get the acceptance or love that's been withheld from them.
In any kind of relationship, you've got to give love and acceptance before the other person asks for it. Sometimes, partners and parents give it if the other person asks for it enough, but that's not a relationship. A real relationship anticipates the need and meets it before the person asks for it. It's not just what you say. What you say has to be genuinely felt, too.
"Something is missing" stage
Alissa: What about those difficult situations where people in relationships have reached a cross road where they just can't seem to accept each other anymore.
Hugh: All relationships reach that point. That's one of the things we point out in our book, I will Never Leave You. We point out the various stages of the average relationship, which are not known anymore because people are not staying in a relationship long enough to see that there are stages. One of the stages is that the relationship seems to go flat and there seems to be no love anymore. It's as if you're living with a stranger. You think, "How did I ever hook up with this person again?"
However, unless you're dealing with a destructive or extreme situation like domestic violence or child abuse, this is simply a stage. If you're in relationship with a decent human being and you can do no more than just hang in there, you'll learn that, just like the "terrible two's" children go through, the stage will pass. Parents don't turn against their children just because the children are saying no to everything and telling their parents they hate them. They understand that this is a stage that children have something to learn from.
The same thing is true in relationships. This is what we call the "something is missing" stage that every relationship encounters. If couples can go through it with understanding, then they actually reach a different level of learning that's much more satisfying and happy. Most break ups in my experience occur during that "something is missing" stage, because people assume it will last forever, but it won't.
Alissa: I remember getting to a point in my own marriage when my partner and I felt like we no longer knew each other and couldn't see how we could stay together. Then, with the help of a counselor, in half an hour, everything shifted. Our conflicts dropped away and we reached a whole new level of understanding and commitment in our relationship. It was amazing. Here we came so close to splitting up, but now we've got something so much deeper, better and more accepting.
Maintaining the bond of love
Hugh: And you've got to work hard to protect it. That's another thing most people don't realize. That oneness is fragile no matter what. We talk about the eternal, indestructible, changeless, timeless nature of truth. But, in our daily life, the oneness, or the bond that we have with our partner, children and friends is very fragile. It's as if there are voices out all around us calling out for us to separate in some way from our loved one. The temptations to separate are there daily and they are much stronger and more persistent than most people understand.
You get to the new stage and you're not judging each other anymore. Suddenly, it's easier-because judging is hard work. However, if you're not careful, you can slip right back to where you were before or go even further back than you were before. It's like weeding a garden. You get the garden weeded and yes, it is beautiful and wonderful, but you still have to continue weeding and caring for it. You have to do this every single day and be alert to the ways you habitually don't do it. You've got to be very aware of the ego and its destructive tendencies, so that you don't fall into the mistakes that you made before.
A lot of people think that if the relationship is right, you shouldn't have to work at it. It should just all fall into place. I only know one relationship that may have been that way. Otherwise, it's really easy to get something started in your mind. One little ego thought about your partner and before you know it, it's undermined everything you've gained.
If you are centered in the stillness and peace of your heart, you are going to treat the people around you more lovingly and thoughtfully. You are going to be more intuitive and feel your connection with other people, including their pain, embarrassment and all those things. If you're coming from a place where you're connected to other people, it will be increasingly difficult for you to ignore what the people around you are going through, and you're going to increasingly begin to take their interests to heart. Some people might consider this a downside, but to me, it's what actual love is. This is loving the person in a way that's meaningful to them.
Alissa: I so agree with this and have found it to be true in my own relationships. Thank you for your sharing your insights with us.
Hugh Prather is the author of 15 books, including Notes to Myself and The Little Book of Letting Go. He and Gayle live in Tucson, Arizona, where they are resident ministers at St. Francis in the Foothills United Methodist Church. They write a weekly column for BeliefNet.com and Hugh is the host of the daily Hugh Prather Show on Wisdom Radio Network and Webcast. They have three sons and too many pets. For more information about Hugh's book, go to www.conari.com or call Conari at (800) 685-9595. For more information on Hugh, go to the Wisdom Channel.
Alissa M. Lukara is president and originator of this website. She is writing a memoir of her personal healing journey, entitled Riding the Grace, and a transformational performance piece based on the same subject. She speaks to groups, drawing on her personal healing experiences and the lessons she learned from them. She also writes articles on interpersonal skills and relationships in the workplace for numerous business publications. Mostly, she considers herself a life artist, co-creating with The Great Mystery the various ups, downs, ins and outs of her glorious beloved life. Sometimes, she even reaches that ultimate place where she can let go of all this doing and labeling stuff, and then, she simply is. Contact Alissa at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Part I of this interview is on letting go of control during decision-making. Go here for Part I.