Thursday, October 23, 2014

A minimum of 500 books: Wayne Dyer on libraries, reading and self-education

"I'm merely acting on my inner vision to prepare myself for university study."

When Wayne Dyer was a young man in the US Navy he soon realised that the regimented life was not for him. Despite extremely difficult childhood circumstances (an absent, alcoholic father, a broken family and abandonment in an orphanage), Dyer managed to conceive a passion for self-improvement and this really blossomed when he was stationed at a US Navy base in Guam. Here there was not all that much to do, and he had access to a humble but helpful library. He decided to make the most of his circumstances and, instead of drinking and carousing like his buddies, he would set about reading as much as he possibly could. He determined to read a "minimum of 500 books" while he was in Guam, and to record the titles he read and his impressions of them. He filled his little room up with books, and the books almost became talismans, symbols of a greater and more meaningful life he was beginning to imagine for himself. Describing this new self-conception he writes: I see myself as a teacher, a college professor, and I am acting on that inner vision every day.

Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
Dyer's love of books is constantly explored in his engaging and very inspiring memoir I Can See Clearly Now. From his childhood discovery of Thoreau's Walden, through his absorption in To Kill a Mockingbird while avoiding duties on a navy ship to his late-life study of the Tao Te Ching, Dyer's autobiography is, like so many bookish people's, easily marked by important books he has read and how he has incorporated them into his life.

Pages from the Tao Te Ching

Dyer's beautifully romantic vision of the universe is always the merest step away from magical (an analysis I don't think he would object to), and the place of books and writers in his life reflect these magical possibilities. In the late 70s he meets Dr. Victor Frankl and reads his immensely influential book Man's Search for Meaning. Of this experience he writes:

When I first read the accounts of Dr. Frankl's maltreatment at Auschwitz, Dachau, and Theresienstadt in Bohemia, the suffering overwhelmed the words I was reading, and I knew I would one day visit those hideous places. In some mysterious way I felt I would meet this man who spoke so persuasively about the innate capacity humans have to transcend evil and to discover meaning, when madness screams out from every angle.    

Dr. Victor Frankl

Despite repeated re-readings of Ken Keyes' landmark 1970s book Handbook to Higher Consciousness, Dyer hadn't known about that author's disability (he was a quadriplegic). After hosting Keyes in a visit to his home, Dyer writes how his outlook was fundamentally changed (and it is to Dyer's credit that he is so open to learning from other people and acknowledging their influence):

After Penny and Ken drove away, I took some notes on what we discussed. I detailed four keys to higher awareness that came out of our intense and inspiring conversation that evening. I made a mental note to include these four keys on my lectures, and maybe one day write about them. They were: banish the doubt, cultivate the witness, sgut down the inner dialogue and free the higher self from the ego. I spent the next decade making these ideas the centerpiece of my presentations.

Part of Dyer's great charm, and a clue to his incredible success and prolific output, is his ability to put to use everything he reads and hears. Nothing is wasted in Dyer's universe, it is all in service to his art and to his sense of purpose. He recognises that books lead the way out of his dificult past, and remain the key to his future happiness. I Can See Clearly Now is a wonderful read, and offers a great reading list in personal development. It is memoir as self-help, a grand tradition that dates back to Benjamin Franklin. See if you can make the most of it.

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