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Your Sacred Self, by Wayne Dyer

My first exposure to Wayne Dyer’s self help approach came with seeing my mother reading a copy of Your Erroneous Zones. Being a teenager then—the book was first published in 1976—I likely dismissed it as one of those “naughty” books that I wouldn’t have a use for for years. When I did finally read the book, it was with the bulk of Ayn Rand’s literary corpus already consumed; and from that context, Dyer’s observations and ideas were very helpful. I didn’t expect that standard to be upheld in Your Sacred Self: Making the Decision to be Free, but I was hopeful—and the subtitle was irresistably alluring to me.

I agree with Dyer on this much: being free is, to a very large degree, a matter of choice. Many of us choose our cages and handcuffs from among various institutions’ offerings, and then complain loudly about them to whoever will listen. Some of us are so stridently shouting “I can’t!” that we cannot even see a possibility for success. We argue for our limitations, we cling to our ideas—even as we hope and dream, we lock ourselves in to a narrow perspective where those dreams will never be able to take flight. Yet what Dyer seeks to liberate us from is not the brainwashing of schools and states and churches; it is the tyranny of the ego.

From the second page of the book, one knows that the Wayne Dyer who wrote Your Sacred Self is not the same Wayne Dyer who wrote Your Erroneous Zones, if only because he describes spirituality as “an attitude toward God”. Later in the book, he does state that he has become a Christian, and clarifies that one needn’t similarly follow the carpenter to be spiritual; but he seems to subtly look down at those who have not chosen the same path as he. More disappointingly, Dyer seems to have swallowed simplistic, absolutist thinking regarding sex and sensuality, addiction, and related topics. Such activities and desires are uniformly cast as “toxic” and therefore undesirable; there is no hint of the reason-oriented perspective found in Your Erroneous Zones and Pulling Your Own Strings. The cognitive emphasis of those volumes has vanished, to be replaced by homage to Christian strictures, apparently as viewed by a more fundamentalist orientation.

The bogeyman of Dyer’s tale, the bane of our existence, is one’s ego, as is made plain from the story the foreword relates. Yet what is the ego? The question remains unanswered for nearly half the book, when Dyer begins to explain his perspective:

I look upon the ego as nothing more than an idea that each of us has about ourselves. That is, the ego is only an illusion, but a very influential one. ....

The ego is a mental, invisible, formless, boundaryless idea. It is nothing more than the idea you have of your self—your body/mind/soul self. Ego as a thing is nonexistent. It is an illusion. Entertaining that illusion can prevent you from knowing your true self.

As I see it, ego is a wrong-mindedness that attempts to present you as you would like to be rather than as you are. [pp. 176–177]

Later, Dyer lists seven “primary ego characteristics”; among these are “ego is your false self” and “ego is insane”. Note that in this depiction, the ego cannot be good, cannot be a force for self-improvement or greater compassion. And some people say that Freud’s view of the psyche was overly fatalistic! Dyer’s thesis hinges on the concept of a sacred self that we must release from the ego’s grip upon our minds, and develop the “authentic freedom” that “comes from transcending the ego and knowing God” [p. 189]. Yet many of the criticisms he levels against the concept of ego apply equally to the sacred self or god—or any of a number of other abstract concepts.

I tried to find value in Your Sacred Self, if only because of the enormous benefit I gained from two of Dyer’s earlier books. Some of what he says does resonate: many people are too invested in their egos, their presentations of self to the world and its many petty competitions. Yet none of that is unique to Dyer, nor is it better presented by him. Even though I am questing for spiritual enlightenment and understanding, his very narrow perspective on the subject feels as much a straitjacket as does his attitude toward ego.

Ultimately, I concluded that the reason-based perspective Dyer employed in his previous work has been completely supplanted by a run-of-the-mill faith somewhat clumsily clothed in a bit of New Age fabric. For any others hoping to find more rationalism in the self-help field, I can only say that I don’t know where it can be found. I would not recommend hoping or waiting for a resurgence in Wayne Dyer.

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