Wayne Dyer: Self-empowerment teacher and motivator rose from rags to riches by preaching the gospel of positive thinking
Wayne Dyer, who has died aged 75, was an all-American success story – an orphanage boy who rose to fame and fortune by proclaiming the can-do gospel of “positive thinking”.
Dyer’s rags-to-riches tale began in 1976 when he published Your Erroneous Zones: Step-by-Step Advice for Escaping the Trap of Negative Thinking and Taking Control of Your Life, a work of pop psychology in which readers were instructed to avoid self-destructive emotions like anger, guilt and anxiety and take control of their own lives. The book had two main themes, set out in the introduction: “You are the sum total of your choices” and “There is only one moment in which you can experience anything, and that is now.”
When the book did not sell, Dyer adopted his own advice, crisscrossing the country, pestering bookshops and giving interviews to small-town newspapers and radio stations. The book became a runaway success, topping the bestseller lists for more than two years and selling more than 35 million copies. It propelled its writer on to a national stage.
Dyer went on to produce some 40 books, with titles such as Pulling Your Own Strings and The Sky’s the Limit, in addition to CDs, television shows and decks of “Affirmation Cards” promising such benefits as “inner peace” and “power of intention”. The message was always essentially the same – that the only problem in life is misguided thinking and the key to getting (to quote another Dyer title) What You Really, Really, Really, Really Want is to vanquish negative thoughts: “As you think, so shall you be”; “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”
The challenge of repeating the same thing over and over again meant that Dyer became a master of analogy. Life was like a boat on the sea; and its wake was one’s past; people were like oranges, and their emotions, orange juice. A brick wall was just there for people who do not really want something badly enough.
As time went by Dyer began to throw in borrowings from Buddhism, Taoism, Christianity and New Age mysticism, somehow ignoring one of the basic messages from the first three spiritual traditions that clinging to the idea of success and fulfillment in this life is what causes unhappiness. To paper over any cracks, Dyer promoted a concept he called “plugging into the Source”, a cosmic power which exists somewhere between God and electricity, and which is there to help you get what you want.
Yet in many ways Dyer, who had to overcome a battle with drink as well as two divorces and a separation, was not a good advertisement for his own philosophy. His own happiness seemed fragile, and in the examples he used from his own life in his books, he often seemed on the verge of losing his cool over trivia that would not bother most people.
In his book There’s A Spiritual Solution To Every Problem he recalled becoming angry at the “thunderous noises” made by workers mowing the lawns on his estate on the Hawaiian island of Maui, until he learned to “send a silent blessing” when they arrived.
In another anecdote he recalled how, on a lecture tour to promote his philosophy, he had worked himself up into a rage when he could not get a sandwich delivered to his hotel room because room service was not available. The crisis passed when, remembering what he had been preaching earlier in the day, he took a deep breath and went downstairs to get a sandwich for himself.
Wayne Walter Dyer was born on May 10, 1940, in Detroit. His alcoholic father abandoned his mother and her three children shortly after his birth and until he was 10 Wayne lived in foster homes and orphanages. He returned home after his mother remarried, but his stepfather was also an alcoholic – an abusive one. “I was aware at age 10 that whatever happens to me, my own destiny was right in my own little hands and in nobody else’s,” he recalled later.
Dyer attended Wayne State University in Detroit and spent four years in the US Navy, where he educated himself by reading books in his spare time. He returned to Wayne State to take a doctorate in educational counseling, then worked as a counselor in schools before becoming a teacher at St John’s University in New York. It was there that a literary agent friend suggested that he turn some of his lectures on motivation into a book. Your Erroneous Zones was the result.
He followed up with dozens of books, 20 of which became New York Times bestsellers, and was a frequent guest on television chat shows, forging a long-standing relationship with PBS (Public Broadcasting Service) — where he would often appear for hours at a time on “pledge drives” (fundraising campaigns) and for which he claimed to have raised $250 million.
A great favorite and personal friend of Oprah Winfrey’s, he also officiated at the wedding of Ellen DeGeneres and Portia de Rossi in 2008.
In 1998 Dyer claimed that his philosophy of life had allowed him to “manifest” whatever he could ever have wanted: “I’ve manifested enough money. I’ve manifested a wonderful family and a beautiful wife,” he explained.
He even claimed to have avoided the common cold for more than 20 years by telling the virus “you’re not going to flourish here” and urging it to move on to someone who really wanted to be ill.
Dyer was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia in 2009. He later claimed to have received successful treatments from a Brazilian psychic healer called John of God who performed “surgery” on him from 12,000 miles away. Dyer was separated from his third wife, Marcelene, and is survived by six daughters and two sons.
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