From Ambition to Meaning: Reviewing Wayne Dyer’s “The Shift”

Recently, if you tuned into a PBS pledge drive, you might have seen Wayne Dyer sharing his teachings. Some were critical of the network, calling this an endorsement of New Age philosophy.The-Shift-Cover-NEW

Wayne died on August 30, 2015. Personally, I liked him. Not all his thinking resonates with me, but he always seemed sincere, trying to practice what he preached.

A couple weeks ago a friend suggested that I watch The Shift, a movie featuring Dyer. Hay House offers it free online, since one of Wayne’s dying wishes was for three million people to experience it.

Overall, I enjoyed the film. It takes place at beautiful Asilomar Conference Grounds on the northern California coast, a place I have personally found miraculous. The story follows various individuals as they near a shift in their lives: a young mother anxiously attending the needs of her family, a filmmaker driven by success, a wealthy couple at a dead-end in their relationship.

As a backdrop paradigm, Dyer gives a basic outline for our human journeys. It makes great sense.

Born as tabula rasas, we face immediate programming. The dominant forces of family, society, even religion teach our egos to operate with three basic equations: 1) We are what we do; 2) We are we have; 3) We are what others think of us.

Who can deny that in both subtle and blatant ways, these are the overriding themes of our culture?

As we begin to see the hollow futility of these definitions, we intuitively move towards a shift from ambition to meaning. This is found in our passions, our deepest desires, our true rather than false selves. Dyer called it a return to our divine identity, releasing ourselves more fully into the Tao of the present. He exhorts us in this way: “Don’t die with your music still in you.”

This shift isn’t contingent on our age. It comes earlier for some, later for others. And it’s not universal. Many will resist the freedom their spirits long for, going to their graves with their songs unsung. I have presided at hundreds of memorial services, and I can say this with certainty: the unexamined life often ends in regret.

The characters of the film (sure, it’s a bit Hallmark!), embrace changes in their own ways. The mother resurrects her passion for painting; the filmmaker, after facing rejection, begins to use his art for service rather than self-promotion; the couple, originally committed to having no children, welcomes pregnancy with hope.

My wife says, “Self-help books and movies are a dime a dozen.” OK. I agree. Dyer is a clear example of the syncretism we find in the human potential movement. He borrows from a variety of writers, psychologists, religious traditions, pasting them together and stamping them with his own tag lines.

So what? Superhero movies, crime dramas, pop singers, sports stars – these are all a dime a dozen; and, in my estimation, far less meaningful.

If I’m going to read a Robert Crais crime novel, I will balance it with a book on self-exploration. If I’m going to watch Bosch, Breaking Bad or Longmire, I will put a film like The Shift in my queue.

Why? It’s simple. I don’t want to die with my music still in me.


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