The self-help author and speaker discusses his spiritual
evolution and finding meaning at any age.
Three years ago, Wayne Dyer, PhD, the self-help author and fixture on public television (his fans call him the “father of motivation”), immersed himself in the ancient philosophy Tao Te Ching. He wrote essays and lived the principals of its 81 verses in several-day periods of contemplation for each.
Dyer says the teachings of the enlightened Chinese philosopher Lao-tzu led to his own more flexible thinking and a mindset less attuned to ego. For Dyer, the study of the Tao marked another major shift in his spiritual growth, a change that informs both his first film, “The Shift,” released this year, and his newest book, Excuses Begone! (Hay House).
Dyer’s embrace of matters spiritual long precedes his study of the Tao. Dyer’s alcoholic father left the family when he was a baby. But a catharsis at his father’s gravesite—the realization that even that act of abandonment had a purpose in teaching Dyer self-reliance—prompted Dyer to forgive him. Years later, Dyer expressed his love to the father he never knew in the dedication of his 2007 book, Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao (Hay House).
His later books are decidedly more spiritual than his more pragmatic early works. Indeed, Dyer sees himself not as a human being having spiritual experiences, but a spiritual being in a human body, the age of which, he says, ultimately matters little. Dyer spoke about those beliefs, being tested in a new physical challenge, to Energy Times from his home in Maui, Hawaii.
Energy Times: What does it mean to say that people are the same in childhood as in their senior years?
Wayne Dyer: Who you are doesn’t age at all. The body that you occupy goes through all those cycles. Even when my grandchildren call me grandpa, I think I’m not old enough to be a grandpa because who we are is in so many different bodies—an infant’s body, a toddler’s body, a teen’s...Now at 69, I see things happening to my body, but all the dreams, all the visions, all my dharma, all my spirit hasn’t aged a bit. That’s where I try to stay in my life. I don’t even think of it as keeping young; I think of it as staying in the moment.
ET: What does the evolution of your body of work tell us about how your life and principles have developed?
WD: My original writings were basically about psychology—I got my PHD in counseling psychology. I was trained in this model of how you go about helping people. I didn’t use words like “God” and “spirit” and “higher self.” I was really pragmatic and practical: “This is what you do.”
The shift that I talk about in the film really was the shift that took place in my life. In the introduction of one of my books, You’ll See It When You Believe It, I tell the story of how I ended up at my father’s grave in 1974, when I was 34 years old. It was a series of what you would call coincidences, but really more synchronistic collaborations with fate, almost. There I was at a turning point in my life—I was overweight, drinking, not practicing healthy eating at all. I was on my way to having an early death like my father did; he died at 49 of cirrhosis of the liver.
When I got that anger and hatred and bitterness out of me…everything turned around. I started exercising and watching what I ate. I started attracting different people into my life. I stopped writing about psychology and I started writing about spirituality and higher consciousness because that was the direction my life was taking.
ET: It sounds like you’re talking about turning challenges into opportunities.
WD: Yeah, but it’s more than that. There are three ways to enlightenment. The first is called enlightenment through suffering. If something occurs in your life and it’s difficult—you have a divorce, an accident, there’s an illness, you lose something, there’s a fire, things are stolen from you, you lose your job—then you go into a funk. You might be in that funk for eight to ten years. You might be using that as an excuse for why you can’t move ahead in your life. There comes a point where you realize it affects relationships, it’s affecting my life, it’s affecting my health and then comes one of these quantum moments…and something opens up inside of you and you realize you’ve been suffering for 10, 15 years with the same behavior. You only have two or three of those 10-year cycles and then your life is over. So you want to move past having to go through all of that pain.
Then you get to the second stage, which is enlightenment through living in the moment. When these storms come into your life, when these difficult moments are here, you recognize that every spiritual advance that you make is preceded by a fall. I used to use a metaphor: I was the high jumper on the track team when I was in Detroit in high school, and I would run up to the bar and I’d get down as low as I possibly could. The lower I would get down, the more energy it would allow me to propel myself to a higher level to get my body over the bar. I think metaphorically these falls really are what provide us with the energy to propel ourselves to a higher place. That’s where you gather the energy to get past it. So now you’re in the moment and when these storms come along, instead of saying, “Oh, here goes another 10 years,” you begin to say, “What can I do? What does this teach me?” You become the observer again. You just watch it and notice the storm and how your body feels. You decide this is something I’m going to use to my advantage rather than “I have to use it to suffer.”
The third level is the mystical level. It’s where you see these things and get out in front of them; you actually see these things coming at you before they even arrive. This is where, especially in your conversations and your way of communicating with people, you can avoid having long confrontational conflicts in your marriage because you play it out in advance. You see it coming up and say to yourself quickly, “If I were to say this to her, then she’s going to say that.” You get it out of the way and the conflict no longer becomes a part of your life because when you enter the world of spirit, you enter into the world of oneness. There’s no room for conflict. All conflict comes from “twoness,” you and me. But when you recognize we’re all in this thing together and we’re all one and that’s where we come from, that’s what spirit really is.
ET: You have a very hands-off approach to raising kids. How has that played out in your family?
WD: I have eight children, and by and large I have stayed out of their lives as much as I possibly can. I don’t let them be in danger in any way. [But] when a child falls and gets a scrape, you don’t run over to them and ask “Are you okay?” You just allow them to respond and take care of themselves. You’re only there to guide. Step aside.
One of the great lines I’ve always used with my children, especially when they were younger, was, “What’s the right thing to do? You know the right thing to do,” instead of them asking me. I always told my children, “You’re not going to do the right thing because I tell you to do it and I’m going to punish you if you don’t. I don’t want you to not be doing whatever it is in your life because of what I tell you to do; I want you to have inside a code that you can rely upon.”
Like I said in my film, parenting is not for learning; it’s to make learning unnecessary, not to take away a child’s uniqueness. Everybody comes into this world with a dharma, with something that they’re here for. Allowing that to unfold rather then trying to manipulate it or control it I think is what enlightened parenting is about.
Non-interference works in all aspects of their lives. It’s about trusting them from the beginning. It’s about letting them make their own breakfast. It’s about letting them decide what they are going to wear. It’s about not making a big issue about having them fit in. It’s not always reminding them that their job is to be in competition with everybody else. Getting gold stars on their paper isn’t that important; that’s not why they’re in school. It’s a continual reminding that children are not apprentice people; they are real, they’re whole, they’re complete and they know what to do, and they know what to do from the moment of conception. They know how to let their bodies be formed. They know when to eat, when to cry, when to defecate. It’s knowing that they know all of these kinds of things and treating them that way throughout their lives.
Some of them are going to make some mistakes. One of my daughters has made some serious mistakes, has gotten herself addicted to prescription drugs, one out of eight. But she’s 26 years old now and she’s learning incredible lessons. I couldn’t be more proud of her. But she had to go through some really horrific times and very difficult struggles. I’m not saying that it’s always an easy road.
ET: As much as we are spiritual beings, we still inhabit bodies. How do you care for yours in terms of your diet and fitness regimen?
WD: When I finish this interview I’ll be doing yoga, and when I come out of that I’ll be going into this beautiful ocean I’m looking at right now. I’ll swim for about an hour and then I’ll go for a walk with one of my kids.
I don’t eat sugar at all, but I eat pretty much everything I want. I’m not a vegetarian; I don’t eat too much meat but I eat it once in a while. I eat a lot of vegetables. I don’t eat sugar or drink fruit juice.
I take superfoods everyday—spirulina. I take vitamin E and vitamin A. I take hawthorn. I take NAC (N-acetyl-cysteine). I take milk thistle for the liver. I take alpha lipoic acid. I take vitality enzymes. I take an herbal formula for the prostate and for my heart. I take some for my lungs; it’s pretty intense. I take CoQ10.
I take green tea extract; I’ve heard that people who take it have been able to overcome CLL. I have something called CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia). I just discovered it six to eight weeks ago. It’s something that happens as your body gets older. It happens with men and it’s not life-threatening; it’s not acute leukemia. But whatever it is that’s going to happen to my body I know that ultimately all things that materialize dematerialize, so it’s going to dematerialize and I’m going to leave it behind.
So I detach myself from it. I watch it and I get out there and I do my exercise. I keep a very positive attitude about it and when it’s time for me to shed this old shoe, I’ll just shed it.
ET: That sounds very pragmatic.
WD: I’m fascinated by it. It’s an ultimate challenge. Like I always say, you have great things to accomplish while you’re here. This is like the addictions I’ve had in my life, going through a divorce, living in an orphanage. These are big ones, and this is another one that’s fascinating to me. I’m actually excited by it and I’m finding it a wonderful challenge. I’ve been told it’s something that’s incurable; you don’t tell people like me that it’s incurable. I’ve already read studies of people who have had spontaneous remissions with this and I found out a little bit about it. It’s not life-threatening; I think I can send it away. I’ve always believed that about myself.