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The Shift: Taking Your Life From Ambition to Meaning… by Wayne Dyer (Book Excerpt)


I recently had the pleasure of viewing an inspiring documentary titled Hasten Slowly: The Journey of Sir Laurens van der Post. Sir Laurens spent a great deal of time with the Kalahari Bushmen, collecting their stories. For me, his extraordinary insights sum up in a few short paragraphs the essential wish that virtually all human beings harbor:

The Bushman in the Kalahari Desert talk about two “hungers.”

There is the Great Hunger and there is the Little Hunger. The Little Hunger wants food for the belly; but the Great Hunger, the greatest hunger of all, is the hunger for meaning. . . .

There’s ultimately only one thing that makes human beings deeply and profoundly bitter, and that is to have thrust upon them a life without meaning. . . .

There is nothing wrong in searching for happiness. . . .
But of far more comfort to the soul . . .
is something greater than happiness or unhappiness, and that is meaning.

Because meaning transfigures all. . . .
Once what you are doing has for you meaning,
it is irrelevant whether you’re happy or unhappy.
You are content—you are not alone in your Spirit—you belong.1

(Sir Laurens van der Post from Hasten Slowly,a film by Mickey Lemle)

As is related so eloquently, “the Great Hunger, the greatest hunger of all, is the hunger for meaning.” The Shift is an invitation—both in this book and in the film of the same name—to explore the process of moving away from an aimless life to one filled with meaning and purpose.

I’ve been engaged for many years in helping people (including myself) reach their highest potential. I have now made almost 70 trips around our sun, and the one thing that stands out very clearly is that all of us want our lives to have purpose and meaning. In this book, I elucidate what seems to be required to reach a state of conscious, enlightened awareness that nurtures a life of purpose and meaning.

When the movie that this book is derived from was first released, it was titled Ambition to Meaning, yet many people were unclear about what those words meant or what the film was about. It seems that the title was a bit misleading, perhaps indicating that I’d made a documentary or just captured one of my lectures on fi lm.

During the inaugural national tour when the movie was introduced to select audiences, I expressed my view about the title’s confusion to the director and the executive producer. I said, “I love this movie; however, if I were doing it over, I’d give it a different title. I’d call it The Shift, because this term is referred to throughout the picture and is what has to take place for a person to move From Ambition To Meaning.” To my delight— and to the credit of the director and producer—within a week the film had a new title. Even so, this notion of From Ambition To Meaning wouldn’t go away.

As I contemplated how to present this essential message in a companion book to the movie, a deep meditation led me to use these four words as the book’s organizational format. This is precisely what you now hold in your hands (or have on your book reader).

All of us on this glorious human voyage into adulthood have to make some shifts, or transitions, during the trip. Hopefully, we will go beyond the first two mandatory ones and move on to those shifts in consciousness that lead to a life filled with purpose. Now what do I mean by this?

The first shift that we all make takes us from nonbeing to being; from Spirit to form; from the invisible to our corporeal world of things, boundaries, and stuff.

So, the first chapter of this book is titled “From. . . .”

In my own humble (and, I’m certain, imperfect) fashion, I attempt to define the undefinable using words and phrases that are mere symbols of that which defies description. Nevertheless, it’s what I’ve come to view as what that world of invisible Spirit, from which all things originate and to which they all return, looks like.

The next shift I portray is the shift from From to Ambition—thus, “Ambition . . .” is the title of Chapter2.  Ambition is the phase where we take on an ego self that is the opposite of the place of Spirit from which we came. Ego in this context is our false self.

These are two major and mandatory shifts that we undertake in this voyage of our humanness. Many of us reach the end of our life journey having only made those two transitions. Ambition, sadly, is often the end of the life story. In my film and in this book, I propose that there are two additional shifts available to all of us. When we proceed with them, the “life without meaning” that Sir Laurens referred to isn’t the end of the story. We can all choose to make the leap past the second shift of the ego-driven ambition.

The third chapter is titled “To . . . ,” signifying arriving at a place in our minds where we realize that we have an option to make a U-turn away from the false self and begin heading back in the direction of our origination—or what I’m calling our “Fromness.”

This new phase of our life journey is a return to Spirit and an invitation to the invisible Divine realm to replace ego’s dominance. We learn how to tame ego as we head To a life of meaning and purpose, nurtured by our Source of being.

The shift described in Chapter 4 is “Meaning.” As we abandon that false self and begin our return trip back to Source while we’re still alive, we live by a new set of guidelines. We discover that the laws of the material world do not necessarily apply in the presence of the Meaning that is encouraged by our shift to Source. Manifestation of miracles and newly discovered synchronicity begin to populate the landscape of life. Indeed, Meaning is what now defines all of the moments of our existence.

In my experience, unfortunately, ego’s Ambition is the final purpose of so many lives—yet there are signs we can notice that signal those two additional shifts that release us from our illusion of ego comforts. We can do an about-face and head back to the place of Spirit in a third shift. And then, in the fourth shift, we achieve a life of Meaning and purpose by rededicating our Ambition to the fulfillment of our authentic self. We can fulfill our greatest calling when we consciously undertake the journey From Ambition To Meaning. We can transform our individual lives and, as an additional bonus, influence the destiny of our sacred planet as well.

Sending love your way,
Dr. Wayne W. Dyer
Maui, Hawaii


“And your body is the harp of your soul, and it is yours to bring forth sweet music from it, or confused sounds.” — Kahlil Gibran

For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a contemplative nature. When I was a little boy, I ruminated about life with questions that seldom had concrete answers. My first attempt to understand death was when Mr. Scarf, one half of the couple who ran the foster home where my brother David and I were living, passed away.

After Mrs. Scarf told David and me that her husband had died, she handed both of us a banana as a kind of distraction from her grief. I immediately asked, “When will he be back?” Her one-word answer mystifi ed me. “Never,” she replied, wiping tears from what I perceived to be her ancient face.

I immediately went to my place on the top of our bunk beds, peeled my banana, and attempted to grasp what never meant. I imagined beginnings and endings, things like day and night ending and then beginning, and I thought of Mr. Scarf going to work and then coming home. In a rudimentary way, I recognized cause and effect, thinking about blossoms on fruit trees becoming apples or cherries. But I felt stymied by how Mr. Scarf could never come back. That totally disrupted what I knew at that age to be the natural fl ow of things. I lay on my top bunk staring at the ceiling, struggling to comprehend how Mr. Scarf could be gone forever.

Every time I thought of his never, ever coming back, I’d get a sick feeling in my stomach. My thoughts would then shift to something more palatable, something I could grasp, such as, When will we have supper? or Where is my wagon? But my naturally inquisitive mind continued pondering the mysterious and inexplicable idea of forever, and back would come a scary fluttering sensation in my stomach, which I feel even now as I write these words. Since Mr. Scarf died, I’ve written 34 books and given thousands of lectures on the essence of living a spiritual life, and I still get queasy when I recall those vivid childhood moments of trying to capture the meaning of life without a body to encapsulate it.

As I’ve pursued my writing and speaking activities over these many years, I’ve continued to be intrigued by what I call “the big questions.” I’ve studied spiritual and philosophical masters from the East and West, in ancient and modern times, who have explored—and in many cases, lived—the truths that we view as our spiritual heritage. I love to contemplate these questions that have perplexed humankind for as long as there has been recorded history (and, in all likelihood, even before that). The mystery of life remains fascinating and exciting to me. I enjoy entertaining the unanswerable, but I also feel peaceful with this conundrum.

One of those big questions is: Who am I? Part of the answer is that I’m a body with measurable characteristics. Yes, I have a name, talents, and accomplishments— but who I am also includes an intangible presence that I know is part of me. That aspect of myself doesn’t have perceptible boundaries or a visible form. One name for this nonphysical aspect is mind, with its endless array of invisible thoughts percolating within the physical body.

My personal answer to the Who am I? question is that I’m a piece of the all-creating Source known by many names, including God, Spirit, Source, the Tao, Divine mind, and so on. Even though I can’t see it or touch it, I know I’m a part of it, because I must be like what I came from—and what I came from is formless nothingness that merged into form. Therefore, I am both that invisible Spirit that is the Source of all, and simultaneously the form that’s destined to return to the invisible.

Some other big questions I’ve also wrestled with are: What happens after the death of my form? What is my life purpose? What does forever look like? Who or what is God? I don’t pretend to have definitive answers to these concerns. If great minds such as Lao-tzu, Socrates, Buddha, Rousseau, Descartes, Einstein, Spinoza, St. Francis,Rumi, Patanjali, Goethe, Shaw, Whitman, or Tennyson (among countless others) couldn’t come up with the definitive answer, then certainly I’m not going to be able to clear up all of these mysteries in one book or even one lifetime. I can only offer my own interpretation of what I’ve come to know through study, living, and my concentrated efforts to make conscious contact with my Source of being, and with what I think of as the Source of everything in this material universe.

By far, the one question that has intrigued and puzzled me for as long as I can remember—the one that transcends the Who am I? What is my purpose? What happens after death? Who or What is God? questions—is the title of this first chapter, From. Where did I come from?

For me, this has always been the truly big question.

Where Did I Come From? When I think of the events that occurred and the people that existed prior to my arrival on planet Earth in 1940, I’m intrigued by what determined my showing up at the precise time I did. Where was I before my conception in 1939? What was I doing during the 12th and 13th centuries while the Crusades were taking place?

Where was I in 2500 B.C. when the pyramids were being constructed? What or where was I millions of years ago before human beings began appearing on this planet, while the dinosaurs were roaming the earth? Contemplating questions of this nature led me to study a fair amount of the science that explained how things come into form. While I’m by no  means an expert in this area, this is what I’ve learned.

It is my understanding that quantum physics regards this fact as scientifically unassailable: that at the tiniest subatomic level, particles themselves don’t originate from a particle. This means that matter originates from something that is formless. Scientists call the formlessness that produces matter “energy.” This nonmaterial energy produced the particle that became who I am today. I think of this as a shift from energy to form, and as you read this book, I invite you to consider the shifts you’ve made to be who and where you are right now.

I think of the tiny little speck of human protoplasm that was my very first particle of humanity as being part of some kind of a “future-pull” that shifted into a fetus, and then into a baby, a toddler, a little boy, an adolescent, a young man, a mature adult, a middle-ager, and a person who has been alive for almost 70 years. All of those shifts were inherent in that originating energy that materialized as a microscopic particle and became me.

It’s beyond my ability to fathom how such a miraculous unfolding could take place in the formation of who I am as a physical being. But I do believe that it transpired independently of my ability to do much about it other than simply observe my development. I am really and truly doing absolutely nothing. It seems truer to simply observe myself being lived by this allcreating energy that seems to do nothing, and at the same time leaves nothing undone. So where did that tiny little microscopic dot that was my fi rst experience as a particle come from?

Remember that quantum physics tells us emphatically that particles do not come from particles. If we reduce that original particle to its subatomic status, it is smaller than chromosomes, atoms, electrons within the atom—and even the sub-sub-subatomic particles called quarks. Scientists have placed a quark the size of my origination point into a particle accelerator revved up to 250,000 mph and collided it with another quark.

The result? Nothing was there. It appears that nothing exists at the moment of the transition to something. Or, as I enjoy saying, “From nowhere to now here.” All that exists in the world of from is pure formless energy—no particles.

Modern physics confirms the metaphysics of Genesis, which tells us that everything came from God and it was all good. Similarly, the Tao Te Ching tells us that all being originates in nonbeing. Thus, the question of where we came from is answered similarly by physics and metaphysics. They both conclude that we originated from something that has no form, no boundaries, no beginning, and no substance. We are all essentially spiritual beings having a temporary human experience. This is our essence. This is where we come from.

We Are What We Came From

In the movie version of The Shift, I have a brief discussion with several of the characters about this key concept: Everything in the material world must be like what it came from, including each and every one of us. In the film I refer to a slice of apple pie on a plate, asking, “What is that one piece of pie like?” The obvious answer is that it’s like apple pie because it must be like what it came from. This is a familiar concept if we think of blood being drawn for a diagnostic test. A small syringe of blood provides medical practitioners with information about the entire supply of the person it was drawn from. Why? Because the sample must be like what it came from.

I extend this logic to myself and you as well. Since I didn’t come from my parents, it isn’t a logical conclusion to state that I must be like they are. Since I didn’t come from my culture, my religion, or anything in this world, it isn’t necessarily so that I must be the same as my surroundings or my society. But since I did come from an invisible energy Source that some call God, or Tao, or Divine mind, then I must be like what I came from. My conclusion about my origination is that I came from Spirit, and my true essence is that I am what I came from. I am a Divine piece of God. I am first and always a spiritual being inextricably connected to my Source of being.

Robert Burns summed this up poetically in his poem “New Year’s Day,” written in 1791:

The voice of Nature loudly cries,
And many a message from the skies,
That something in us never dies.

That which is formless cannot be destroyed. The formless aspect of all beings exists in eternity, impervious to beginnings or endings. The truth seems to be that our essence is eternal, and it is only the physical body that appears to come and go in a cycle of birth and death. What we call birth and death are actually as inseparable as two sides of a coin, or daytime and nighttime. The question Where did I come from? is really only addressed to the I that is the physical body. But that physical aspect originated in nonbeingness.

We are exactly like the great Tao or God, and we have the freedom to make choices. Some of our choices cause our link to Source to become contaminated and rusty. One of those lackluster choices is believing that the expression of God through our physical self is an endpoint, or the ultimate, rather than an opportunity to choose how to express this gift. In this manner, we edge God out, and create an ego-driven life. The great lesson in this philosophical journey is to recognize our primary identity as a spiritual being who is eternal and therefore impervious to both birth and death.

Our physical self is an expression in the form of the energy of our spiritual essence; our real self is the loving observer of our sensory experiences. In order to fully harmonize with that essential nature, we must be dedicated to expressing its energy and be fully aware of the sacred choice we’re making. For some, that will mean becoming more like God while temporarily housed in their body; for others, it will be creating godlike expressions of beauty, purpose, and wisdom in form.

The human voyage in bodily form is barely a parenthesis in the eternity of our real self. When the parenthesis closes, we’re fully reimmersed in Spirit sans the materialized self. We’re on that round-trip that Lao-tzu refers to in his famous line from the 40th verse of the Tao Te Ching: “Returning is the motion of the Tao.” In the film version of The Shift, I quote from the T. S. Eliot poem “Little Gidding”:

We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we startedAnd know the place for the first time.

But before we shed our physical body and complete this return trip, we can begin to understand our original nature by making an effort to be more like what we imagine our Source of being to be.

One way to conceptualize this is to imagine looking through a viewfinder that provides a clear picture of creative Source. Through these lenses, we see how it thinks, feels, and behaves. This view of our Source gives us a clearer view of our own true self.

Understanding the answer to Where did I come from? involves, more than anything else, attempting to live from a perspective that’s in rapport with our original nature. We must become more like the spiritual nature of our origin. By recognizing the expression of Divine consciousness that is our physical being, we in turn make the choice of how to express that Divine spirit.

How Spirit Appears to Be

So often our physical world doesn’t seem to be very spiritual, in spite of our having originated from spiritual essence. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow expressed this dilemma in his poem “A Psalm of Life”:

Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.

The poet speaks of your life and mine as something beyond the physical, which he describes as dust. We are all something other than what we identify with our senses. There’s no such thing as a grave for our essential essence—our spirit—but we may disregard and thus lose touch with it. In fact, that’s a pretty common situation for all of us during different periods of our lives when we choose to put our physical self in charge.

I love how another of my favorite poets, Rabindranath Tagore, was able to describe in two short lines what he thought was our most important spiritual lesson:

God loves to see in me, not his servant, but himself who serves all.

The important questions we should be asking ourselves are: Am I like God now? Am I getting closer? Am I there yet?

If our true essence is Spirit, and we believe that is where we come from, it seems to me a simple task to reconnect to this authentic part of ourselves. One way to do this is to shift our thoughts and actions to the ways in which we imagine creative energy thinks and acts when its energy materializes in form. We need to be more like Spirit appears to be. Since this is what we came from, our Divinity is our destiny, regardless of how we’ve neglected it over the years. God or the great Tao, which we are all a part of, simply waits patiently for us to be like it is. I imagine that the all-creating Spirit, if indeed it had any wants for us, would want us to realize that.

An inspiring example of this is found in The Quiet Mind: Sayings of White Eagle:

Your personal contribution towards the great plan for the evolution of man is to dwell continually upon the love of God; to look always into the light and so train yourself to recognize God’s goodness working through everyone else.

I don’t believe that God is concerned with whether or not we show our love by building magnificent edifices for worship, by attending services, or through practicing rules laid down by religious organizations. It seems to me that if God were to speak to us, the message would simply be to love each other and offer reverence rather than enmity toward all of life.

The journey we’ve undertaken that has led us to this moment in this body encompasses something I’m calling “From.” We come from something, somewhere, somehow; and it’s a mystery to our little human minds, which tend to think in cause-and-effect ways. My conclusion is that if we’re here now, there must have been a before, and certainly there will be an after.

I do, however, acknowledge the possibility that there’s no before, no after, and no timeline. Everything may indeed be complete and all happening at once with no time, no space, no befores, and no afters.  But I can’t write from that perspective because my little human mind wants to make it all somewhat logical and comprehensible.  Therefore, I’ll describe “how Spirit appears to be” two distinct journeys.  The first is the journey from formless pure Spirit into form, and the Second is the journey from a subatomic particle to birth.


The Shift—a companion book to the movie of the same name—New York Times best-selling author Dr. Wayne W. Dyer illustrates how and why to make the move in your life from ambition to meaning. Such a shift eliminates our feelings of separateness, illuminates our spiritual connectedness, and involves moving from the ego-directed morning into the afternoon of life where everything is primarily influenced by purpose. Purchase The Shift and watch the movie online for FREE (Hurry, offer expires March 10) from Wayne Dyer and Hay House! You can also enter to win a trip to MAUI for Wayne Dyer’s Mastering the Art of Manifestation weekend workshop, October 23-24, 2010. Additional Details: http://promos.hayhouse.com/theshift/

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7 Responses to “The Shift: Taking Your Life From Ambition to Meaning… by Wayne Dyer (Book Excerpt)”

  1. Thank You Dr. Dyer. As always, you have delivered the information in a peaceful, gentle manner.
    Thank You for all your teachings and wisdom.
    It is my honour to learn from you.
    In Peace and Light to All
    Dorothy Biagioni

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  2. Harpal Dadi says:

    Thank you Dr. Dyer. I have read a lot of your books. Curently I am reading Change your thoughts Change your Life. Would love to meet you in person.

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  3. As always, Wayne, you have taken us all to a new level — thank you for all of the magnanimous contributions you have given to the world. I have read everything you have ever written and because of you — I grow!

    With loving gratitude,

    Diane Leonard

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  4. Modisawame Balone says:

    Thank you Dr Dyer,i believe that you are doing a tremendous job

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  5. Dot says:

    I am a 71 year old woman who has been following your evolution from the time of your first “self help” book to the inspiring work you are doing now. I have always loved to write and to teach, but fear holds me back. I want, more than ever, to be you when I grow up and am heading out now to buy The Shift. Thank you.

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  6. Maria Luisa says:

    Gracias Dr Dyer coincido con usted totalmente. Nuestro origen debe ser divino porque de qué otra forma podríamos explicar tantas maravillas que ha hecho el ser humano. Dios nos necesita para manifestarse El mismo entre nosotros. Y desde luego nuestro paso por la tierra es una oportundad para nuestro Espíritu. Debemos regresar a CASA al terminar nuestra Misión. Pero Dios nos da la libertad para elegir y mucha gente se queda en esta vida sin reconocer su ESENCIA y pierde, entonces, la oportunidad de REGRESAR. Tal vez nuestro Espíritu tiene más de una oportunidad para viajar entre los humanos, pero siento que para ello, es necesario, primero, REGRESAR A CASA.

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  7. I’m sure it was Lester J. Pourciau who stated the following -There is no monument dedicated to the memory of a committee.

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