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Life Arts    H1'ed 6/30/10

Omega Institute's Elizabeth Lesser on "Broken Open" and Personal Transformation

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My guest today is Elizabeth Lesser, who co-founded the Omega Institute thirty years ago. This personal growth retreat center pioneered many approaches that have since become a part of modern life. Welcome to OpEdNews, Elizabeth. In 2005, you wrote Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow. Y our book harnesses the power of stories - of others and your own - to demonstrate this principle. Did you find it difficult to expose yourself so thoroughly to your readers?

Elizabeth by Elizabeth Lesser

Yes, I did find it difficult. I like to say, "The book made me do it." Having read more spiritual and self-help books than is probably legal, I have come to value books where the author talks about his or her own struggles and victories along the way. Spirituality and personal growth are, well"personal. And without a storyline, spiritual writing feels dry to me, and preachy, and it doesn't grab me or give me much traction in my own life. If you read the ancient texts, you realize that the most important teachings are given through parable, through human story. So, when I set out to write Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, I decided to write about the subject through the stories of people I knew--people who had been in my workshops, heroic people who had suffered great loss, everyday people who were going through big changes.

But after only a short time of writing, I realized that if I was really going to help my readers learn "how difficult times can help us grow," I was going to have to tell my own story, because that is the story I know the best. Therefore, that is the story I could deconstruct to demonstrate some of the common pitfalls and terrors one confronts during difficult times, as well as the strategies and philosophies that can lead one out of the woods and into the light, into a happier, bigger, bolder, and more generous life. So, I gathered up my courage and wrote about the dark times of my own life as a way of shining a light for others.

The hardest aspect of memoir is that it involves writing about not only oneself, but also about the people in one's life. My children, my parents, my husband, my ex-husband, my friends: none of them asked to be characters in my book. I showed them early versions and changed parts if they wanted me to. I changed some names of people. I stayed true to the story but left some parts out that might offend or hurt. Still, I am sure I caused discomfort for some of the folks in my life. But I did it for a reason that I still feel clear and good about.

Your opening sentence - "How strange that the nature of life is change, yet the nature of human beings is to resist change" - captures the essence of our inner conflict and why personal transformation is so hard. Often, we change only because not changing is even more painful, more awful. Can you describe for our readers the story behind the title of your book?

The first story in my book, Broken Open, is about an experience I had when my first marriage was crumbling. I was a young, frightened, idealistic woman, the mother of two little boys, and the idea of divorce was terrifying to me. I came across a quote from the author Anaïs Nin: "And the time came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom."

I used those words like a life raft that carried me through the stormy changes that divorce brought. As long as I trusted that the pain I was going through was going to help me break open and blossom, I was OK. And as I have gone through life, I have found that every change--even the most difficult ones--can be catalysts for blossoming. The hard times in my life--the loss of my parents; big changes at work; children growing up; aging--have all brought with them opportunities to blossom, to taste more wisdom and freedom. But we have to want to blossom; we have to work hard to break open. It doesn't just happen on its own. Big change and difficult times can make us bitter and depressed if we blame others or wallow in self-pity or victimhood. I wrote Broken Open to help people find inspiration and tools for turning hard times into opportunities for growth.

Have you found that all cultures resist change or is this a particularly Western phenomenon?

Resisting change is by no means a Western phenomenon. Rather, it is a universal, cross-cultural phenomenon that has dogged human beings since our ancestors first became aware of their own mortality. You can find stories, songs, poems, novels, parables, fairy tales, and myths from every culture and every era that address our discomfort with loss, change, and death.

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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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