Pastrami and Wisdom: Dr. Wayne Dyer on 'The Afternoon of Life'

Pastrami and wisdom. That was my first in-person encounter with Dr. Wayne Dyer. In April 2006, I had interviewed him by phone for mycolumn "Long Island at Worship" and our conversation had wandered into open spiritual water.
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Pastrami and wisdom.

That was my first in-person encounter with Dr. Wayne Dyer. In April 2006, I had interviewed him by phone for my New York Times' column "Long Island at Worship" and our conversation had wandered into open spiritual water. By the time we got off the phone, Wayne had invited me to lunch at the Carnegie Deli in midtown Manhattan. Since my brother Eric was a huge fan of Wayne's work, I asked if he could join us. It would be a great birthday present for Eric, a radio announcer for the Texas Rangers who were playing at Yankee Stadium that night.. Wayne, a Taurus himself, said, "Bring him along."

We found ourselves in a booth with another brother-sister team from Brooklyn: Curtis Sliwa, founder of the vigilante organization Guardian Angels, and his sister, Aleta St. James, an author and life coach. Wayne, Curtis and Eric talked baseball while Aleta and I talked about parenting and writing until Wayne switched teams. Then the pastrami got really interesting.

The New York Times was shutting down all of the Sunday regional sections: Long Island, Westchester, New Jersey and Connecticut. My column on religion would be among the casualties. I was trying to be philosophical but losing my column was hard to swallow, even with a pickle on the side. Somewhere between the first and second half of his overstuffed sandwich, Wayne said something that would turn out to be a mantra for sudden, unplanned special events to come: "Sometimes God sweeps the table clean so that you have to get ready to do something else. Because otherwise, you just get too comfortable where you are."

Pastrami and wisdom to go, right?

To my great fortune, our lunch was just the first course in a movable feast of Socratic dialogues that picked up, organically, wherever we had left off. Although he had not yet been diagnosed with cancer, by May 2009 when we spoke for several hours, Dr. Wayne Dyer was poignantly aware of being in "the afternoon of life."

"The afternoon of our lives represents the time when we begin to shift away from the ego and false self being the dominant force in our life. We begin a journey towards meaning. The morning of our lives is really occupied by ambition--giving as much as you can, collecting as much stuff as you can get, impressing as many people as you can, preparing yourself for a job, saving your money, setting goals, pleasing everybody, doing the right thing. Getting good grades in school, all this stuff that's revolved around the ego part of us, really believes that who we are is what we get out of it and what we do, and what other people think of us. That's basically the essence of the ego.

In the afternoon of your life, you don't do what you do because of what might come to you, or how much money you might make, or how much prestige might show up in your life. You do it because internally, it sort of resonates or it's in rapport with the callings of your soul."

After spending several years studying the Tao Te Ching, a sacred Chinese text that dates back more than 2500 years, Dr. Dyer's soul called him to give away all his possessions. He was 65 years old. "I told my secretary to sell everything and give everything away. The Tao teaches us to let go of things," he said. "Use the 80/20 rule. If you take all your clothes, you'll find out that you only wear 20 percent of them. Take what you have and don't use and circulate it. Give stuff to people who truly need it. After all, we come into this world with nothing; we leave this world with nothing. Our spiritual essence has nothing to do with owning things."

He told me that he believed that even if he lost everything, he would be fine. "In my entire life, any time I've ever lost something, I've gotten something even better going around the next corner. It's like one door closes and another door opens. As long as I can walk through the produce section in every grocery store in this country and eat the grapes that they're going to throw away, I know I can be fine," he laughed. "There will always be enough."

His mission had been distilled into one word: "Pi: 3.1416%." By that, he meant that if he could reach 3.1416% of the population and influence their thinking, that shift would be sufficient to align a new consciousness among the rest of the population. A key principle was showing people not to be afraid of loss.

"Every spiritual advance that we make as people is preceded by a fall of some kind or another, so that when you are in a fall, in a low point in your life, whether it's an accident, an illness, a depression, a relationship breaking up, or loss of a job, that constitutes a fall," he said. "When I was in high school, I was on the track team; I was the high jumper. In order to get my body over this bar that was set up there, I had to run up to the bar, then I had to get down as low as I could, and then the lower I would get down to the ground, the more energy that I would generate to propel myself over this bar. Think of that as a metaphor: You're in a low point in your life, and whenever you have these low points, begin to just recognize that you are generating energy, and you're going to propel yourself to a higher place. Whenever you're going through a tough time, generally, you become more compassionate, you become softer, you become more thoughtful, kinder. These are all spiritual qualities that will help you to align yourself with God and God consciousness rather than with a split fear-based consciousness."

Never was that more important than in the afternoon of life.

"If you're in the afternoon of your life and you're trying to feel purposeful and living an inspired life but you're doing it using the same tool that you used to feed your ego in the morning of your life, you'll be living a lie. You can't find peace, and you can't find meaning by trying to be better than somebody else, by being more spiritual than somebody else, or by comparing yourself to others. When you reach the afternoon of your life, you find that the way that you feel fulfilled is not by being better than somebody else. It's by going within and getting quiet and not paying attention at all to what other people think. You live your life from the perspective of 'what you think of me is none of my business.' Whereas, in the morning, 'what you think of me is totally my business and if I don't like it, I'll change in order to make everybody like me.' If you try to continue that kind of process when you're in the place of purpose, it just isn't going to work for you. The afternoon of your life will become a lie."

Following the Tao, he became like water. "Water is the softest of all things, yet it is the most powerful. The ocean patiently allows all things to flow into it. It is always flexible. The Tao is not about grasping, but allowing, like water."

Flowing. Giving. Living from his heart.

"We are a species of beings who have a higher place within ourselves and higher connection to the Source of all creation. We are all pieces of God. We have to find the highest place within ourselves that wants to give. Just think: Even after all this time, the sun never says to the Earth, "You owe me." Yeah. Just think what a love like that can do."

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