Some kinds of smarts are more valuable than others
Wayne Dyer, whom I disagreed with on almost everything important, talked about talking to even the boring and boorish people around you. He found that when he took a real interest in people that they would unfold to him as fascinating and interesting people. This has always been interesting to me. I’ve written about it a couple of times here and here.
I thought about this idea today when I was talking with someone about getting their car worked on. I knew a guy once, he’s passed away now, who rebuilt my car’s engine in a weekend as a neighborly gesture. He was just a guy down the street – I don’t even know what he did for a living – but most nights you could see his garage lit up where he would putter until bedtime. One Friday my car started to act up. “Act up” is the totality of my mechanical expertise. So I walked down the road and found this guy in his garage and told him about the weird gurgle emanating from my car’s engine. “Let’s go have a look,” he said.
We wandered down to my place and I started the car. He laughed and shook his head. “Turn it off,” he yelled. “It’s your cam bearing.” Or something of the sort – I never really knew. “Ugh.” I was smart enough to know that this was bad. “So I have to take it to the garage? Sounds bad.” “Nah,” he said. “You need to drive it down to my place. We’ll take the engine out tonight and then tear it down and replace the bearing tomorrow and put it back together on Sunday.” I’m sure that I had a look like I was talking to a crazy person. “Really,” he said. “Nothing to it.” And that’s exactly what we did. He was completely nonplussed about it as if it was what anyone would do. I was amazed through most of the weekend. What I saw as confusing and complex was simple to him. He just worked methodically step by step to pull the engine and make the repair and then did the same thing in reverse to put it all back together. It really did look easy when he did it. The car was up and running by the time Sunday football came on. He refused to take any money and said that I could help him with something one day but I truly doubted that I had any skill he would be interested in.
So as I keep saying. Talk to the people around you. Ask them about their story. More times than not you’ll find that you are surrounded with interesting people.
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We made such an odd couple that I mostly kept it a secret, coming out only to best and forgiving friends. He was deeply spiritual and viewed everything from that vantage. All was one. All was love. There was no such thing as death or dying but only transformation. Even personality and self were suspect. Me? Deeply agnostic, materialist, of a scientific bent. I matched his enthusiasm for woo with a deeply held distrust. I think living is all we get. We are alone inside our heads. And when we die? That is all. Everything is lost. At the very core of our values I disagreed with him about everything. Why, then, why would he be such a wise teacher to me? The fact is that I never once read a word he wrote or heard a word he spoke when I didn’t learn something about myself or about the world that we both inhabit. True, I had to sort through the chaff to find that small nugget but the sorting was as profitable and the finding.
I remember the day that I met Wayne Dyer. Not face to face (though I will now scratch that off my bucket list) but as teacher to student. I was at Western Washington University wasting my time and my parent’s money and I bought a copy of the new book Your Erogenous Zones. Except that I’d got it wrong. The book was Dyer’s Your Erroneous Zones and had nothing to do with anything erogenous. But what the hell, I’d spent a hard earned $1.99 and gave it a go. Before I was done with the book I had begun to question everything I thought to be true. And up until he died just recently I believe that was his primary purpose. Dyer never told anyone what to think. Instead he always asked you to think about your choices and make sure that they are your choices and not someone else’s. In Erroneous I remember that he wrote about something as silly as waking up early. Why, he asked, do we measure another human being by how early they wake up? Does that really sum up their drive and enthusiasm and work ethic. If you rise at 5:00 and I rise at 9:00 does that really say something fundamental about us? My favorite question though, that I used to bore my children with, is why orange juice comes out of an orange when you squeeze it. It’s not a trick! Orange juice comes out! It’s what inside. So what comes out of you when you are squeezed? Whatever it is, it comes out because that’s what’s inside. Ugh.
Like many people Dyer got religion as he aged and his advice and teaching became harder for me to sort out. He spoke often of the universe as a kind of mindful something that ran in and out of you and was you and was everything else. Undefinable woo! But this lead to one of my most memorable Stoic epiphanies: I was driving home down Pacific Avenue talking to a client on my cell phone. I was a minute or so into an important call and the phone died. I’m embarrassed to admit it but I threw the thing as hard as I could to the passenger side floorboard where it burst into pieces. I immediately thought of Wayne Dyer in his French beret: the universe works the way it must. Does that mean that the universe wanted me to drop a call? That it was moving to have this client find someone else? No. That’s all silly. It means that electrical devices need energy to operate. You must supply new or stored energy to keep them going. They must be plugged into a source or have a battery. It was stupid of me to expect my phone to work without a charge, without a cord to plug it in, or without a battery. It was stupid of me to be angry at my phone when it was only responding to how I took care of it. It had to die. How many times do we get angry about things that we could have controlled differently? Then why are we angry at things instead of ourselves (remember the orange!) Conversely, how many things do we get angry at that we have absolutely no control over? This is Stoicism 101.
One of my favorite Dyer talks was something he called Ten Questions – I’m not sure of the title or of where I heard it. He set a completely illogical stage: image that you are dropped down to the earth today. You have no family, no friends, no history. You have the means to do anything you want. You have skills, dreams, desires. You can do anything. Then he asks ten questions emphasising that there are no right answers. There are only your answers. And if your answers are authentic, if they come from within you rather than from outside, then they area good answers.
He asks, “Where would you live? Would you live here?” The talk was in Detroit and you can hear laughs from the audience. He says, “No, no”. “There are people”, he says, “I’ve met them, who have traveled all over the world and love this area right here. The summer heat. The winter snow. The change in the leaves. This is where they choose to live. Where would you choose to live? Why don’t you live there now? And this thing you do to pay your bills? Is this what you choose to do? If so wonderful! If not then what would you like to do? Are you working toward that? Have you made a plan? Started volunteering? Spend you weekends doing it? Now let’s talk about these people with whom you spend Thanksgiving. Uncle Arnie and your friends from high school. With the entire world to choose from are these the people you would choose to spend time with? Do they support your best self? Are you better around them? Are they better around you? Should genetics define your relationships?”
Rest In Peace to Wayne Dyer. I hope he has been proved right and has proven me wrong. I hope that he has shed his debilitating temporal shell and rather than just enjoy peace, love, and joy has become those things.
I’ve reviewed several of Dyer’s books over the years, all centered around the same theme: though I disagree with him, Dyer, for me, has an infectious way of questioning life that makes things richer and deeper.
Here is my Amazon review of his last book, a kind of compilation of his life’s work.
Book review: I Can See Clearly Now, Wayne Dyer
As a died-in-the-wool materialist and agnostic I sit at odds with Dyer on the most fundamental level yet he has been a guilty pleasure of mine for some thirty years. Never once – really – have I read his words, heard him speak, or seen him interviewed when I didn’t come away with fresh insights about how to live a higher life, a more authentic life, and a life of deep questioning. This sense – for me – of his ability to transcend barriers and labels with his wisdom is the highest testament I can offer. He comes across, always, as someone who believes more in you than you have ever believed in yourself.
I first met Dyer years ago while exploring my Erroneous Zones. Once over the disappointment of learning that I had misread the title of his little book – I was a college kid looking for insights into those other kinds of ‘zones’ – I kept reading. I remember little about it except for a brief comment on sleep and waking up early. How, Dyer asked, have we come to see waking early as a label of success and worth and drive? Why in the world would we measure a human being by what time they rise from bed? I still think about it. And these few paragraphs in a now classic book capture the essential Dyer: he never gives an answer. I’m not sure if he is even interested in answers. He simply asks that you think and that you live a life based on your own investigation rather than following what has been laid out for you as important. This is by far the most important and enduring life lesson that I’ve learned from Dyer.
In I Can See Clearly Now Dyer offers up a biography of his experiences. Many readers will be interested to read about his health and illness issues and his relationships and he lightly dissects them here. He is self-effacing and I sense no care whatsoever to maintain a guru’s image. The book focuses primarily on his earlier years – maybe health and divorce are of less interest to him? Whereas it’s common for people who write biographies to spend their last days wrestling with the whys and hows of their past Dyer does little of that. He’s done the mental heavy lifting all along and leaves much of it out and I think the book lacks something for it. I would be interested to see more of the mental and spiritual machinations that lead him to where he has settled today. For those interested, though, much of that thinking is worked out in his other books. The prose is just what you would expect: very readable, very accessible, and very heavily spiced with spirit. There is a strong sense that Dyer has discovered something and he is unabashedly happy to share it with anyone who will sit and talk. He makes no arguments and I don’t expect the book will make any converts to his way of thinking. But for anyone who has read and followed this wise man over the years to book will provide hours of insights and enjoyment.