You've probably caught Wayne Dyer on public television, pacing the stage, offering self-help wisdom in between the channel's fund-driving pitches. Or maybe you're one of the many millions who bought his books like "Manifest Your Destiny," "10 Secrets for Success and Inner Peace," and "The Power of Intention."

The ubiquitous teacher and author has been doling out non-religious inspiration for several decades in the form of world-wide workshops and 30 books; he and Deepak Chopra, that other profitable prophet, pretty much fill the "Personal Growth" section of any bookstore. Dyer was also one of the first to popularize the "law of attraction"—the notion that your thoughts create your life—which "The Secret" book and DVD cashed in on so successfully.
Dyer recently talked to Beliefnet from his home in Maui about his latest book, "Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life: Living the Wisdom of the Tao" and what he's like now that he's embraced the Tao, an ancient Chinese philosophy. He also tells us what’s missing in ”The Secret," and how we can get in on the truest secret of all.
Listen to Wayne Dyer:
I See Myself as Palm Trees
When We Develop the Ego
You Can Change How the World Looks at You
Why I Turned Down Filming 'The Secret'
Focus on Serving the Universe

What's the Tao to you?

The Tao is actually three words, the "Tao Te Ching." And the Tao in ancient Chinese means "great way," "te" means living the great way, and "ching" means book. So, it's the book of living the Great Way, or how to live the Great Way.

Some people have called it the wisest book ever written, sort of a blueprint for living a moral life based upon the principles of the highest levels of consciousness that we know today. It was written somewhere between 2,500 and 2,700 years ago, by a man named Lao Tzu who was a contemporary of Confucius but was very much opposed to governments and laws and rules, and fighting and killing, and really believed the way to guide your life is by staying in harmony with nature. That all the answers come from nature.

They all sound very paradoxical. Water is referred to a lot in the "Tao Te Ching" as an example of how softness overcomes hardness, that flexibility overcomes rigidness. The opening line of the "Tao Te Ching" says, "A Tao that can be named is not the Tao." So the Tao is almost like a synonym for God without the religious aspect. It's trying to describe something that's indescribable. But, if you had to describe it, it would be that which animates all of life, which is doing nothing but leaves nothing undone, which is constantly in motion, which doesn't have any requirements for anybody on how to live their lives.

And it is that divine, organizing, invisible intelligence from which all things emanate and to which all things return. It's what allows the other clouds to form, and the mosquitoes to be here, your heart to beat, and your hair to grow.

How does that notion of Tao compare to God?

Well, it's always interesting about God because, it's like all of the religions in the world say that they pray to the same God, and yet they ask that same one God to divide itself up and agree with this one and fight against that one.

Where it's different is that the Tao doesn't break it down into any pieces. It's a complete and total oneness that encompasses all and doesn't look for any kind of religious structure or organizational principles. It finds all of its strength in nature itself—a spider web is a perfect example of the Tao at work. It just takes what comes to it, and what doesn't come to it, it doesn't get itself obsessed with.

[The Tao] wants to reach out and to be creative, and to be in harmony with its own source. And yet, at almost every turn we're taught to not to trust in our nature, and to listen to other people, and to seek outside for guidance and help and sustenance.

And I think that's probably the most profound thing that you can learn from it—is that you, too, have a nature, and that those inner murmurings that you hear about what you want to do or why you should do it, those kind of things are from an inner nature.

And how has reading the Tao changed your life in a practical way?

The way that I wrote this book is that I worked on [each of the 81 verses of the Tao for] between four and five days, and really tried to live what was being taught in each one.

I See Myself as Palm Trees
And then, the last day I would just sit down and write, and look at a drawing of Lao Tzu in front of me… and I would just ask. I would get very quiet and very peaceful and experience what I call automatic writing. It would just flow to me. It made me almost radically humble. I really began to see myself as just as natural as the palm trees that are out in front of my place. I began to see myself in everyone. It's made me much, much less stressful. Much less judgmental, non-interfering, almost totally. I have eight children and many of them are here with me, in fact, they're here right now. The Tao teaches us not to intervene and interfere. The things we love we have to learn to leave alone. And the people we love we have to learn to let them be. So, when my grandchildren were here, I found myself just biting my tongue rather than telling them how to behave or whatever, just letting them figure things out.

I think I've become much more non-interfering, much more patient, much more tolerant, much more peaceful. I'm in almost a total state of gratitude all the time. I've become much healthier. I've been doing yoga instead of running because it teaches us to be more flexible. One of the most famous lines of the Tao is in the 76th verse: "A man is born gentle and weak. At his death, he is hard and stiff. All things, including the grass and the trees are soft and pliable in life, dry and brittle in death. Stiffness is thus a companion of death. Flexibility is a companion of life."

Flexibility and softness and pliability are associated with life. A tree that is young is flexible. The wind comes along and blows, and it'll blow, and then it'll come back. A tree that's old and hard--as the wind comes along, it'll snap it in half. So I've learned that this is true not just in our bodies, but in the way that we think as well.

What's the most common spiritual affliction that you see?

Carl Jung said that the number one purpose of organized religion is to prevent everyone from having a direct experience of God. With spirituality the implication very often is that some people have it and some people don't. And those that have it dispense it to others. And I think it's more than an affliction. It's a huge, huge, huge error to make--each and every being on this planet is a piece of God. We all came from the same source.

It sounds like you're talking about separation.

Separation from our source, yeah. In the first nine months of your life, when you were inside your mother's womb, you were doing nothing, you know? You were just being done. And you surrendered to that completely. And you didn't worry about it, and you didn't pray that your nose would show up on time, and that your fingernails would come and they would be in the right place, and all that. You just surrendered to it. And then, when you're born, we are surrounded by people who suddenly say, well, that was good work, God, but now I'll take over from here.

When We Develop the Ego
And then, we develop this ego, which is an acronym for Edging God Out. As we edge God out, we take over ourselves, and we start believing that we're not these divine creations. We start believing that we are what we have and what we do and what we accumulate, and what our reputations are, and we start really believing strongly in all of that stuff. And in the process, we lose our connection to what we really are.

How can changing your thoughts change your life?

You Can Change How the World Looks at You
They say when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. Einstein once said that the most important decision you'll ever have to make in your life is whether you live in a friendly universe or a hostile universe. And if you're a person who believes that you live in a hostile universe, you're going to be looking for that. You're going to be experiencing that. You'll be seeing it everywhere. You'll become a person who's always looking for occasions to be upset or to be offended or to be hurt, or depressed, or sad, or right, or whatever.

If you live in a world that you believe supports you, and is friendly and is there for you, and is bringing you all that you need at any given moment, and all the experiences that you have are perfect, if you just really believe that, then, the things that you don't like you'll just be able to ignore, and the world looks very, very different.

Since so much of your work has been about the law of attraction, I wanted to ask what you think about "The Secret."

Why I Turned Down Filming
'The Secret'
I'm thrilled that the book sales have been so great on this thing. It's really brought people to a new awareness of the power of the mind to create what you want. The reason I wasn't in that movie--I was asked to be--is that I think too much of the emphasis is on manifesting stuff. Manifesting more things. Nothing wrong with stuff and things and so on. But to me the great secret is that when you're giving, when you put your attention on what you really want and then shift to [asking] "How can I offer this to others rather than seeking it for myself?" That's the ultimate secret—the more you give, the more you receive.

I wrote a book about the secret long before "The Secret." It's called "Manifest Your Destiny," and it's really much, much more about putting your focus on serving. Like, if you say to the universe, "How may I serve," the universe responds back with, "How may I serve you?" If you say to the universe, "Give this to me," you're coming from a position of shortage or lack. If you say to the universe, "Gimme, gimme, gimme," the universe says back to you what you ask for, which is, "Gimme, gimme, gimme." And you're constantly feeling as if you're never given enough, you know?

So, is there an ideal way to ask for what we want?

Focus on Serving the Universe
I think the best way to ask for what you want is to say, "How many I serve?" I have a rule with myself. Which is that I start out every day by doing something for somebody else that they're usually not expecting, whether it's one of my family members or, oftentimes, it's people from around the world--somebody wants me to call them in the hospital, or I send a book or a gift. And the opening words out of my mouth are, "Thank you" when I awaken. I have found that the more I'm able to offer and give as much as I possibly can, that I can't even control how much flows into my life. It just comes in bigger and bigger.

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