Growing up in South Florida, many weekends and days off from school were spent at the Shore Club along Fort Lauderdale beach, where my dad converted a condo into his office to work from. We would play shuffleboard at the pool, swim for hours and walk down to O’Donnell’s, where some of my seven brothers and sisters and I would get apple juice and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.
One particular Saturday, I was about 11 and was walking with my dad, Dr. Wayne Dyer, along the seashell-laden beach, and a couple walked up to us, having recognized my dad from his books. They asked him what he thought of living in South Florida as they were thinking of moving down to get out of the Baltimore weather. They said they had children and wanted to know what the people and community were like down here. My dad said, “Well, what are the people like in Baltimore?” They responded by saying their neighbors were rude, people were generally miserable all the time and you just couldn’t trust anyone in Baltimore these days. My dad replied, “Well, that’s exactly what you will find here then, too.” The couple nodded their head in agreement, thanked us for our time and continued walking.
A short while later, another couple approached us and basically asked the exact same thing. They, too, said they were thinking of moving down to South Florida because the winters were just so beautiful compared to Albany, where they lived, but they wanted to know what the community was like. My dad asked them what the community was like in Albany. They responded by saying the people were wonderful, part of their hesitation in moving was how great their community was and they felt that their neighborhood provided a really warm and welcoming environment for their young children. Much to my surprise, my dad then told them, “That is exactly what you will find here.”
As we said goodbye, I was baffled by everything that had just taken place. I looked at my father and asked why one couple would find South Florida to be hostile and unfriendly and another would find it to be warm and welcoming. He explained to me—and I have never forgotten it—that what we experience in life and the way we perceive our lives are a reflection of who we are. Life isn’t happening to us, it is responding to us. He told me that when we change the way we look at things, the things we look at change. He added that it isn’t just a clever play on words—it’s a quantum truth. In quantum physics, when you observe subatomic particles, they behave differently based on who is observing them. The way you perceive the world literally alters the way the world responds to you and what your experience in life is.
For some people, this may sound really wacky, especially when explaining it to an 11-year-old. Keep in mind that I had extremely spiritual parents who taught me transcendental meditation at the age of 5, counted monks as friends and had an “Uncle Deepak.” Michael Jackson was a friend of the family, and we even took a wonderful trip to his Neverland Ranch when we were kids. My upbringing was beautiful, full of unconditional love and encouragement, but also very unique—and sometimes even a bit weird!
From a very early age, I was exposed to a different way of thinking than what was being taught to me in school. My parents pushed me to adhere to my true nature, to stand up for what felt inherently right or wrong inside of me, instead of what was popular or cool. They raised me on the idea that I was the creator of my destiny, the master of my fate and that it was God who looked out from behind my eyes as they reminded me that I was a little piece of the infinite perfection. I was told over and over again, “Serena, don’t die with your music inside of you.” My dad would explain that I came here with a purpose, something that called to me and excited my soul, and in dedicating my life to that, I would be fulfilling the highest part of me. I learned at a young age that fitting in wasn’t necessary, that sometimes rules were meant to be broken and that oftentimes, when you follow the herd, you’re bound to step in some crap!
Creating a life that I love has become my life’s mission. Recently, I graduated from the University of Miami with bachelor’s and master’s degrees in religion and international relations. Having no idea what I wanted to do after graduating, I became depressed and stuck. I felt that I had all the tools to pull myself out of this depression, but I just couldn’t help myself. I also felt that even though my parents loved and cherished me, I couldn’t offer the same type of unconditional love they felt toward me toward my own self. I had been so caught up in the idea that I was doing something important when I was a student and people respected me that when I was no longer a student and no longer accomplishing anything great, I felt that I was nothing. My identity was wrapped up in what I was doing, so when I was no longer doing anything, I felt that I was nothing.
I began to realize that you can have the greatest childhood and upbringing, or the worst, but none of it will be as important or life-altering as being able to love and accept each and every part of yourself. When I made self-love my mantra—my goal, so to speak—everything in my life started to change. Rather than condemn myself for everything that had gone wrong in my life, I began to approve of myself, and my experience of life itself changed dramatically. The self-study curriculum “A Course in Miracles” defines a miracle as a shift in one’s perception. When I changed my perception of myself, everything in my life got better. I began to focus more on health, I met a great man who is now my fiancé, and I started working on a book, to be released in June, called “Don’t Die with Your Music Still in You.”
The lesson I learned on Fort Lauderdale beach some 17 years ago has stayed with me ever since. As my dad always says, “When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” When I changed the way I looked at my life, my life literally changed. I began to focus on what was good in my life; I shifted my energy from looking for things to be upset over to looking for things to be grateful for. And sure enough, I found more and more things to be grateful for and less to be upset about. I believe that we all have the choice in our lifetime to view the world as if everything is a miracle or as if miracles don’t exist. By believing that the universe supports you, by changing your perception of the world around you, by finding love and acceptance for yourself, I know you will be on your own journey of not dying with your music still in you.
Originally appeared in the Premiere 2014 issue.