Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Wisdom of the Ages

Wisdom of the Ages: A Modern Master Brings Eternal Truths into Everyday Life
(Strangely, the subtitle on Amazon is "60 Days to Enlightenment." It seems to be a different edition with 20 more pages.)
© 1998 Wayne Dyer
268 pages


My local public library has taken to rearranging its shelves this spring after a period of discarding (a period I missed, otherwise my personal library would have gained substantially), meaning that I can no longer flit from shelf to shelf in the certain knowledge gained after a lifetime of experience in this library. This has led to me accidentally seeing books in areas where I was not looking for them, leading me to Wisdom of the Ages by Wayne Dyer. Dyer, if you recall, penned a book interpreting the Tao te Ching that I read recently. Dyer is something of a self-help guru whose advice reminds me a little too much of stuff you'd find on the Oprah book club list at times, but which is generally rationally kosher*.

Words of Wisdom consists of quotations from philosophical and religious teachers as well as authors and poets and interpretive explanations on those quotations by Dyer. The book consists of sixty chapters, each devoted to a particular concept that Dyer finds important (self-reliance, kindness, inspiration, leadership, etc) and each introduced by one of the quotations or literary excerpts. The chapters are arranged in a manner that seems to be chronological based on the thinker whose work is quoted. Only one author (Ralph Waldo Emerson) is repeated: Dyer draws from both his poetry and his essay work. Given when they lived, the classic philosophical and religious teachers are quickly exhausted and the bulk of the book's content is drawn from poetry with occasional breaks from people like Henry David Thoreau and Gandhi.

The individual chapters are written well, and I think Dyer does a good job of explaining the poetry. Individuals may agree or disagree with Dyer's interpretations of the many poems included, but there were poems that made little sense to me until I read Dyer's explanations for them. Other poems, like Frosts' "The Road Not Taken" and "If" by Kipling, are more straightforward. As far as value goes, I think it's mostly good advice. While some of his thoughts definitely remind me too much of The Secret and similar works, I'd say the majority of it makes sense. The questionable chapters deal with the power of the mind. I am well aware of our ability to change our perceptions of reality through the power of our minds -- learning to control our emotions and direct our thoughts -- I'm very "skeptical" about our ability to change reality itself with "thought energy", as Dyer claims to do when projecting happiness and calmness at bickering people in the grocery store. Whenever Dyer makes a claim like this, he attempts to ward off questioners like myself by saying "No one knows enough to be a pessimist" -- that is, we don't know that we can't move clouds with our minds, so what's the harm in believing so? I think you could test cloud-moving abilities, but Dyer does not quote from scientists. Although he quotes Buddha in promoting reason as the only way of arriving at the truth, it seems from my perspective that Dyer doesn't quite give reason its due.

What this means for the reader depends on the reader. I think Dyer is generally harmless: his chapters are about individuals taking charge of their lives -- their beliefs and their perceptions. He offers tips at the end of each chapter to help people implement the advice of each chapter, just as he did with Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Life. Maybe some of his other books are more compromised, but I think this is generally a solid read. I enjoyed the experience. I may read more Dyer in the future.





* Now there's a contradiction in terms.

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