Yesterday public television in Seattle celebrated their decade-long relationship with the just-deceased self-help writer Wayne Dyer, and to honor the author the station was replaying one of his final talks.
The theme of his presentation alludes me; it was something about Five Steps to Something or Other, the secrets of which were contained in his new book, which was touted tastefully throughout his talk.
I decided to give the show a try, despite the fact that I’ve a strong aversion to listening to other people talk or write about ‘how’ life should be lived or experienced.
Prior to the advent of the Internet, this phenomenon of people giving advice about living was always buzzing in the background of life, but not in the omnipresent way it does now.
The Net has mutated what used to be a semi-contained industry (the self-help, how-to world) into a bacchanalia of yapping gurus and guides — billions of bromides pinging back and forth across blogs, YouTube and social media every hour.
The world, as the Net depicts it, is divided into distinct camps: Those with electronic devices doing nothing. And those doing nothing but writing or talking about doing stuff and then selling that information on an electronic device to people that aren’t doing anything.
While watching the PBS tribute to Wayne Dyer talking about Wayne Dyer and Wayne Dyer’s new book about doing stuff to be a better person like Wayne Dyer, my fascination and agitation landed not on Dyer, but on the audience.
Their eagerness and willingness to be told how they could improve their lives felt heartbreaking. Because the camera would periodically cutaway to random scans of the crowd, I was privy to dozens of eyeholes dilated in moist receptivity as Dyer spoonfed them a list of dos and don’ts for a ‘better life.’
Dyer had conveniently crafted these pointers into a list that was transformed into an illustration of a ladder with five distinct steps. And because our culture is obsessed to the point of mania with lists, the childlike image of the ladder remained projected behind Dyer as his proverbs tumbled forth.
I squirmed. Each ‘pointer’ or step on the ladder was related to Dyer’s personal existence — as if I were interested. (I write this flatly, not from a place of mean-spiritedness but fact, I wasn’t intrigued, though I’m sure many in the audience were.)
Dyer’s peculiar mix of humility and hubris was incredibly distracting. I kept thinking, “God, this is so brilliant. You missed your calling (and million$) by not starting a church or movement.” And yet my eyeholes were bone-dry.
Too, this interweaving of the promise of a secret to be revealed (to better oneself or reach a financial goal), with Dyer’s insistent desire to give it to me was just weird.
I’ve long suggested that no one follows the how-tos of self-help books. Books of this ilk are akin to talismans that people keep on their nightstand to remind them of something or other that is supposed to make their life better while they continue to do what they’ve always done because in the end the only person anyone is interested in hearing from is oneself.
Gurdjieff‘s student, the writer O.R. Orage wrote: “Imagination as we use it, is simply an excess of desire over ability.” Self-help books allow for a kind of imaginary ability that turns out to be nothing more than a hybrid form of procrastination. This deluded state hovers about in the mind for a couple of weeks and then the book begins to gather dust on the nightstand.
Finally, perhaps, maybe, you get your shit together and act from some kind of gumption. Often this comes via desperation or is tied in with eleventh-hour providence. But whatever: “Yay, you’re off of your ass!”
Moving in life, doing things, takes courage and I’m fascinated by how and why humans have lost so much courage, the scale of which you can track by watching the bestseller status of various self-help and how-to books.
Or just listen to the predominate message within politics, which goes something like: “Vote for ___ and she’ll guarantee that you and your family will survive this weird post-industrial society you’re struggling to survive in.” But why must I wait for Bernie Sanders to make my life better? (I think Bernie’s great by the way — but why displace my courage and faith unto him?)
So, the point of this post isn’t to make fun of self-help books but to act as a reminder or a spirited nudge. A reminder to pay attention to the impulse to buy books (or listen incessantly to TED talks about things you should be doing yourself) that are stand-ins for your goals and the kind of focus and exertion of will required to fulfill your purpose.
What is the solution to escaping the tyranny of the how-to-self-help-yourself stuff?
Well, if I told you that you’d be in the same cycle I’ve outlined above. Instead, I’ll offer some insights and observations that seem closer to (and are germane with) the universal. These are suggestions for you to poke at and entertain in passing. Lightly. Read more
“I try to get her out of my mind as much as possible, but the damage she does to unsuspecting people in crisis situations is just atrocious.” — Gary Dufresne, Browne’s former husband
Goodbye Sylvia Browne, an individual who elevated the art in con-artistry to a level of sophistication and grandeur comparable to Picasso or Rembrandt — if such extreme fraud existed in the world of fine art.
Just hearing the news of Browne’s death made me want to light up a pack of cigarettes and throw back a couple of highballs — such was my visceral association between her gravely, grating voice and my old ardor for nicotine and whiskey.
The pain and confusion generated by Browne, in the name of New Age nitwit-ishness, is a dark taint on the entire realm of ‘alternative’ spirituality. From a recent Huffington Post article:
In some cases, she charged a police department $400 for her services.
In 2002, Browne told the parents of missing 11-year-old Shawn Hornbeck on the Montel Williams Show that the child was dead and kidnapped by a dark-skinned man with dreadlocks.
Hornbeck was found alive in 2007 and his accused kidnapper, Michael Devlin, was Caucasian and short-haired. Hornbeck’s stepfather, Craig Akers, told Anderson Cooper that Browne offered to do a more extensive psychic reading off-camera for $700.
Browne’s parade of chicanery is a strict reminder to scrutinize and yes, even doubt, a lot of the foolishness that passes for modern day otherworldly succor: Foggy notions like The Secret and other ploys that appeal to the deluded and addled.
I’ll never forget the first time I watched this clip of Browne, as it originally aired on Montel Williams‘ talk show. My heart broke for the women asking, in earnest, the question regarding her incapacitated mother’s final words.
My compassion morphed into anger when the host and his cipher broke into careless mockery following the woman’s inquiry. The segment displayed the sort of harm and trauma that occurs when con-artistry and gullibility collide.
I’m sorry for the Browne family and their loss, but I am equally relieved for those in the larger human family who will no longer be susceptible to the wiles of fraud.
Finally, I’ll repeat the sentiment shared by the actress Bette Davis upon hearing the news that her longtime nemesis, Joan Crawford, had passed:
“I was taught to speak only good of the dead. Joan Crawford is dead. Good!”