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Go of Control
Letting Go of Controlling, Judging and Being Right, Part 1 A Two-Part Interview with Hugh Prather by Alissa M. Lukara
Part I: Letting Go of Control During Decision-Making
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: In The Little Book of Letting Go, you say that there are only three things that we have to let go: judging, controlling, and being right.
Hugh: Yes, that seemed to be a pretty fair summary of the goals Gail and I talked about in this book.
Alissa: Those specific concepts seem to be core to dealing with adversity, too. What are some ways to let go of these three in relation to life's challenges?
Hugh: I realized that no one was going to pay any attention to this book unless they had some experiences as a result of reading it. It's one thing to read a concept and say, "Oh, that's a nice concept. I think I'll believe that." But that's not doing it.
For example, take controlling. Basically, if you look at the mind as a refrigerator, most all adults have jam-packed refrigerators and there's stuff pushed to the back that we didn't even realize was there. The stuff is getting moldy and taking on a mind of it's own.
One of the things that you can let go of or clean out of your refrigerator is this illusion that we consciously decide what we do as we go through the day. This illusion creates a static. It sets up a mindset of failure every day because you wake up thinking that you're deciding what you're doing. It's not just that you say, "I think I'll have the soy milk this morning instead of the dairy, because it's healthier." It's like a test. Do you in fact end up having the soymilk? If you don't, you feel like you failed.
That's what we do all throughout the day. We set up these goals and fail at them over and over again, because life doesn’t work that way. Then, around three o'clock, most human beings are discouraged. Their energy is down. They're feeling a little depressed because they have not accomplished what they've told themselves they should be accomplishing in the day.
Waking Up Exercise
One of the exercises from The Little Book of Letting Go is done when you wake up in the morning. As you are lying in bed, watch this moment in which you decide to get out of bed. What does your body actually end up doing? One of three things generally happens each morning: Some mornings, your body will get out of bed without your ever deciding to do so. You just suddenly realize it's gotten up. Or you'll decide to get up, but you never get up right then when you make the decision. You may get up in a few seconds, or five minutes later. Or you may decide to stay in bed, so you push the snooze button on your alarm, and then you get up, or sometimes, you'll stay in bed half the day. Probably during that whole period, you tell yourself that you need to get up now.
The exercise is simply to watch what you actually do instead of what you decided to do. It's not complicated. Start with the first decision, which should be the easiest. Then, begin watching every decision you make after that.
The mind will decide all throughout the day and you just watch what you say and what you actually do. It will dawn on you very quickly that something else is deciding besides your conscious mind.
Now that can be shocking to someone who hasn’t noticed that, because the next question is, if you are not deciding, what is deciding? That is a crucial question. It gets to the source of our real decisions and actions.
The answer is that all this stuff is either coming from our ego, the shadow side, what the Buddhists call the monkey mind, or it's coming from the stillness and peace of our hearts, our oneness with God. Is it from the busy mind or the still mind? That's where we do have conscious control. We can consciously decide either to be centered in our stillness or to be centered in our chaos.
Most of us, if we're honest, spend most of the day in our busy mind. Our decisions, the way we treat other people and ourselves is all coming from that. However, one of the things that comes from doing this exercise is that you realize that you don't have to do this.
Exercise on Letting Go of Decisions
Alissa: How do you go about stopping coming from the busy mind?
Hugh: Let's say you get the first exercise right on the first try. The second day, try going for periods without deciding anything at all. First of all, you'll notice you've got a lot more stillness now, and your mind's a lot quieter. You may not use that knowledge well, but you at least notice that there's not this constant racket going on. You'll notice that you can safely turn your life over to your designated driver so to speak.
Interestingly, I've had several people write me that what I'm suggesting is impossible that if, for example, they go into their closet and make no decision about what they are going to put on, aren't they going to have shoes from a different set. They think all kinds of things are going to happen. What's intriguing to me is that they say this without having tried it. Instead of actually doing the exercise, just thinking about it they decide it won't work.
But if you actually do it you'll see that your body does exactly what it has always done. As a matter a fact, it will do it a little more efficiently because you don't have this hesitation that's coming from all these decisions and you don't have the conflict that's coming from all these decisions. It's very much like driving a car. You know how when you are trying to get from one place to another, sometimes you wake up and realize that you're much further down the road than you realized. So what happened during that whole period? A number of very complicated decisions have been made, in the course of driving. And yet you weren't aware of any of them because you were thinking about something. The truth is the body will operate just fine without your decisions.
Alissa: That's an amazing exercise in letting go of control.
Hugh: What happens in this exercise is that you sort of let the day come to you. You are rowing your boat gently down the stream and letting the shore come to you. The shore is the events of the day, and if you can let go of this need to decide everything, the day will come to you. Now, instead of being the decider, you can be a peaceful observer. You can be a blesser of the day. It's just as if you were rowing your boat down the steam. You don't know what's on the bend of the river. You don't know what will be on the shore. As you go around the bend, you simply accept what's on the shore. You don't yell out in advance what needs to be there. You simply see what's there. The day can be approached that way.
Making Key Decisions While Facing Adversity
Alissa: Since this web site is about life challenges: Some people are going through a major life crisis. It seems like they have earth-shattering or life and death decisions that they need to make. What do you recommend in these situations?
Hugh: I advise people not to try this with those kinds of decisions. They could be very effectively made in the same way, but it's too scary to do that. I suggest two or three ways of making decisions like that. Basically, what you are really doing if you look closely at the exercise is getting back to the stillness and peace of your heart. A decision is being made from there, so its really a way of making sure that you are centered where you are supposed to be in making decisions. You're focusing on the state of mind, and not the question.
As long as the mind focuses on the question it's going to be conflicted. Most people say there are certain decisions that seem so big that you can't treat them in what appears to be, but actually isn't, a casual manner. If you can get to that stillness and peace in your heart, you can make large and small decisions. Everyone has experienced that at least for a few moments. At those times, there aren’t any questions in your mind. You're just going through your day peacefully and the question of what you should do doesn't even arise, because the act of questioning itself indicates that you are in your busy mind.
Alissa: It's more like you are just coming from the center of your being.
Hugh: Right. And so you can study this and read about it in books forever, but experience is needed.
Deciding From A Place of Wholeness
Alissa: Let's talk more about how people can make life-changing decisions.
Hugh: One way that's helpful is to sit quietly, and let the scattered parts of your mind come together until you have a sense of mental wholeness and stillness. The second thing that's important is to do your homework before you sit down.
Wait to do this until you can actually make the decisions. To try to make decisions you can't make today because you haven't done your homework is useless. It doesn't prove anything. It just keeps you stirred up.
Wait until something can be done. Usually big decisions have a number of parts. There's something you have to do first, then second. Take up first thing you can do today, and that's the part of the decision that you can make. Let's say that you're trying to decide whether or not to move to another city. What's the first thing you would do? Maybe you'd send for a subscription to the newspaper there, and read what's going on. Or maybe you would take a trip to the city. Whatever this first thing would be, that's the part of the decision you would concentrate on.
You'd also have a fantasy about doing it or not doing it. Most decisions are either do this or don't do this. Let's say that today is the day that you can get into the car and go check this place out. Close your eyes and have a fantasy about doing it. Ask yourself, "What's the first thing that I would do if I went there?" Project your mind into the future as if you were there.
Then you have a little fantasy about what would happen if you don't do it. What happens the first hour and second hour and so forth? What happens tomorrow and in the future? After you've done both, you will be clear that one scenario will seem more peaceful than the other.
You've gotten in touch with your peaceful preference. I use this term in the book. We all have a peaceful preference. It comes to us not as a booming voice, but as a gentle leaning in a direction. It takes a certain amount of stillness and concentration to feel our preference, and we can always see what we believe we should do. Where we get in trouble is trying to see what the consequences will be.
Letting Go of Outcomes
Alissa: Would you explain what you mean by that?
Hugh: Most people making large decisions try to see their way through to what will be the best outcome, and, of course, that's impossible to see. You won't know what the outcome will be. You don't know how this choice will play itself out. But you do know what you believe is the best thing, the most peaceful thing, the most loving thing to do in the present. Having those two little stories about doing it and not doing it is one way of getting at your peaceful preference.
There are many other ways of wording the question. "What do I think will make my life the simplest?" "Which choice will I think about the least after having made it?" "What is the kindest choice in terms of the people around me?" Someone on a spiritual path might ask, "What do I think will help or hurt my awakening to God?" It's all variations on the same question using different ways to get at an answer.
No matter what you choose, however, you can't control events. Even Jesus, one of our great spiritual leaders, knowing he was to be crucified, asked his disciples to pray for him. When he came back, he found them asleep. He asked them a second time, and when he returned, he found them asleep again. He wasn't able to control even this one tiny thing. But instead of being angry, he blessed them and told them to sleep in peace. People who are spiritually further along accept their life as it is, and they bless it. They don't fight it. They don't judge or condemn it. They simply see it the way it is, accept it the way it is, and they bless it.
Alissa: How do you fit this in with the concept that many people have of creating your reality?
Hugh: There's a story of Mother Theresa at end of her life. She had a pacemaker and was in a great deal of discomfort. A friend of mine was supposed to have an interview with her he went all the way to India and on the appointed morning, Mother Theresa was in so much discomfort, that she pleaded with him not to do the interview. She was just too uncomfortable. He said, "Well, of course."
That was Mother Teresa at the end of her life, and many people would say,
"Well, she chose that." But I don't think it works that way. I don't think you can say when people have challenges, "Oh well, they choose that." I think adversity simply comes with human life. We have various physical problems, financial problems and everything else. It just goes with the territory.
I don't think we can judge each other by saying, "You have different problems than I have, therefore, you must be doing something really wrong." For example, Gail and I have counseled wealthy people and have found that, as a group, wealthy people seem to have more money problems and other problems than people of moderate means. Having the very thing that would seem to eliminate problems 'money' actually tends to create more of them.
Alissa: Is there anything you'd like to say in conclusion about all this?
Hugh: I would urge people to try to experience letting go in little doses. Just relax. You can either relax and let go of your life, in which case you will know peace. Or you can try to control your life in which case you will know war.
Try to make simple enjoyment of your life your goal. For example, if you want to be a good parent, just make the goal to enjoy your children, and you'll do everything right. The simpler you can keep your goal, the more successful you're going to be. There's nothing complicated about all this. Just relax, be happy, and treat the people around you gently. It really is that simple. The struggle is in getting to a place where you sincerely want to do that.
In Part II, Hugh Prather and Alissa Lukara discuss letting go of judging and being right in regard to relationships and parenting.
Hugh Prather is the author of 15 books, including Notes to Myself (which has sold over 5 million copies) 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 a writer and president and creator of the Life Challenges Web site based in Ashland, Oregon. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org
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