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Confessions Of A Non-Joiner

The Gazette-Times | September 2006

I forget who it was who once said that their tombstone would read “She was not a joiner,” but I can certainly identify with that sentiment. I do not participate in clubs, sports, political groups or organized religion, not to say I lack opinions or passion for any of those items, but because by nature I don’t care to affiliate myself with large groups of like-minded people. I prefer keeping my assemblies dinner-party sized.

That does not mean I don’t understand why people seek such affiliations nor do I dismiss the benefits of community, which range from emotional support to creating social change. I do volunteer work, I occasionally take community classes, and on rare occasions I’ll even participate in a protest or two.

But in general, I have always shied away from such activities, preferring to keep myself independent of most groups, which, as a journalist, is often a wise decision, because it helps remove appearances of bias.

My mother tends to be of this nature, too, I suspect years of highly repressive Catholic school in the ’50s and ’60s had something to do with it. But in the past few years, she has become passionately fond of a group of inspirational speakers such asCaroline Myss, Deepak Chopra and Sylvia Browne. Her bookshelves have expanded to include tomes with titles such as Perfect Health, and Anatomy of the Spirit.

Because these readings, and the CDs and DVDs that accompany them, have provided her with a lot of emotional benefit, I have listened without judgment to her enthusiastic recounting of the knowledge she’s gleaned from these writers. However, I did not expect to personally participate in any sort of self-help event until I found myself sitting at the Portland Expo Center on a Monday night, having volunteered to accompany my mother to a seminar by Dr. Wayne Dyer, as my father was working and could not attend.

The room was packed with about 1,200 attendees, mostly middle aged, mostly female, although there was a sprinkling of younger audience members. Having never read his books or seen him on PBS, I felt completely out of my element. The only way I knew Dyer had come on stage was by recognizing his face from the billboard outside.

His style was a mixture of motivational speaker, comedian and evangelist, especially during a moment when an audience member enthusiastically threw their pack of Pall Mall cigarettes on stage in an effort to show their commitment to quit smoking by simple mental determination.

Dyer’s message boiled down to a simple formula. Believe positive things are on their way, and they will be. While he frequently quoted from philosopher Lao-Tzu’s famous text, the Tao Te Ching, he also peppered his talk with personal anecdotes, from growing up in an orphanage to raising eight children.

The audience responded with roars of appreciative laughter, and during a moment when Dyer had them meditate to a version of “Amazing Grace,” not a few tears.

The tradition of sitting at the feet of a sage is a long and illustrious one, but I wondered if being crowded together by the thousands to hear a booming, projected voice had quite the same effect. But then I began to realize that every attendee in the place was clutching a book written by Dyer, and it struck me that their spiritual epiphanies were not happening now, as he spoke, but had been private revelations through individual contemplation of his words and stories.

It was beginning to make more sense.

They weren’t here to become enlightened as much as they were here to celebrate, and perhaps soak in a little of the charismatic aura of the man who meant so much to them.

He was so popular, it took three attempts for me to finagle my mother to the front of the crowd so she could have one of her books autographed.

Those attempts gave us plenty of opportunity to see Dyer interact with his fans on a very personal level, as his charisma and ability to respond enthusiastically and empathetically to every person who approached him was evident. In fact, it reminded me strongly of the way I saw President Bill Clinton work a crowd at Portland’s Waterfront Park after the floods of 1996. That same intensity, direct gaze and intangible charm seemed to emanate from Dyer.

And while I didn’t come away with new insight, it was evident that getting a hug and a smile directly from Dr. Dyer himself had done a world of good for my mother, and that was exactly my intention when I volunteered to accompany her. On all accounts, the night was a success, even for a non-joiner like me.

Reprinted with permission