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The Omega Institute's Elizabeth Lesser on "Broken Open" and Personal Transformation, Part Two

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Welcome back for the second half of my interview with Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of the Omega Institute.

Elizabeth by Elizabeth Lesser

You give new meaning to the expression "go with the flow." Should we be able to fix ourselves, by ourselves? And what is the role of the teacher or guide? Is that just one more crutch so that we avoid taking the responsibility to fix ourselves?

People don't think twice about having someone help them fix their computer or car, or they don't question going to the doctor when they feel bad, or to the gym when they want a trainer to help them get strong or lose weight. But when it comes to psychological or spiritual help, there's a general squeamishness. There's a cultural bias against paying someone to help us figure out things like relationships, purpose, feelings, grief. But there's this idea that we should be able to figure these things ourselves, or ask a friend, or just take a brisk walk and get over it!

There is nothing wrong with getting expert help when dealing with life's difficult challenges. It is not a sign of weakness or a lack of responsibility. In fact, I think it's the wise choice to seek help when we need it. Therapists, healers, coaches, counselors, spiritual guides can be a godsend when the going gets tough (and in all of our lives we go through challenging phases and stages.) Of course, it's important to find someone who is kind and genuine and skillful--someone who knows when you have learned what you came to learn and helps you move on.

Good point. You talk about "spiritual activism" in your book. What is it and how does one practice it?

Spiritual Activism sounds like an oxymoron, right? We think of spirituality as something internal, inactive, silent, sacred. We think of activism as noisy, angry, worldly. How could they ever work together? But it is actually an old concept, and some of the most influential change agents throughout history were spiritual activists. Think of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple to protest what he saw as corruption. Or Joan of Arc being a sacred warrior. Remember that Ghandi was able to change the course of history in his country by forcing the British army to leave India through the power of Satyagraha, or the spiritual philosophy and practice of nonviolent resistance. And Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in this country--a minister who took Ghandi's principles to heart and turned an entire nation around to embrace civil rights.

And the list goes on--Mandela, Mother Teresa, Jane Goodall, the Dalai Lama--all people whose motivation to do good for the world comes from their belief in a higher power. In fact, those whose impulse to serve humanity comes from their faith in God, or soul, or whatever they call their belief, are able to make a deeper and more lasting impact for the greater good. I think it is because they have a deep patience, a faith in the goodness of the world, a peacefulness. As Ghandi said, "We must be the change we want to see in the world." It's a lot easier to follow a leader whose very being is in consort with the message he or she is promoting. That's what spiritual activism is about--linking up your life with your word.

Based on your definition of spiritual activism, it sure sounds like The Network of Spiritual Progressives whose conference I attended earlier this month. There are a lot of people out there working for the greater good. Anything else you'd like to add, Elizabeth?

Final words? Here are a few:

It's hard to stay positive and hopeful these days. It seems that there's so much suffering--the oil spill, global warming, wars, genocides, illness, poverty. What's to be positive about? But I think it's important to stay hopeful. Not head-in-the-sand positive, but fully present and at the same time full of hope. Hope breeds happiness in everyone we touch. And happiness breeds kindness. So how do we do this? We've been terribly educated in this department.

You might be surprised to think of yourself as poorly educated. Relative to most humans throughout history, the people reading this interview probably represent a vastly more educated group than most folks. But here's the thing. Our education has been seriously lop-sided. It's taught us how to function on the surface of our days--how to read and calculate, how to succeed in a career, how to drive a car, how to figure out our taxes --all very good things to know for sure.

But certain things were left out, like how to relax into and enjoy the texture of life on earth as a human being; how to make wise life decisions; how to get along with each other; how to keep our hearts open especially when they hurt; how to love and forgive ourselves; how to live with purpose and meaning; how to let go--of our children, of people we love, of our own bodies as we age; how to see beyond this world into other realms of reality; how to ponder the great mysteries of existence and death with a fearless spirit.

I didn't learn that in school. Did you? Not having this education has not only diminished our personal lives. Every problem in the world can be traced back to two people ill-prepared to know how to live together, to know how to take care of each other, how to live lightly and consciously on this earth. So doing spiritual practice and healing psychologically is not only something healthy for ourselves. It is also significant for the people in our lives, and for our whole human and non-human family. Your own healing contributes to the whole.

That reminds me of the advice we get every time we board a plane: put your oxygen mask on yourself before you try to take care of others. Healing the world begins within ourselves. Your book, Broken Open , is a great way for us to explore that process. Thank you so much for talking with me, Elizabeth. It's been a pleasure.


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Joan Brunwasser is a co-founder of Citizens for Election Reform (CER) which since 2005 existed for the sole purpose of raising the public awareness of the critical need for election reform. Our goal: to restore fair, accurate, transparent, secure elections where votes are cast in private and counted in public. Because the problems with electronic (computerized) voting systems include a lack of (more...)

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Lesser takes the view that it is only a cultural s... by Josh Mitteldorf on Tuesday, Jul 6, 2010 at 10:44:37 AM
is our only way out of the mess we're in.For those... by Daniel Geery on Tuesday, Jul 6, 2010 at 4:30:10 PM


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