Dear Women For One Community,
Happy January 2013 – the year of new beginnings! We have some heart-opening stories coming your way this month and next. We are also beginning to accept Youtube videos for sharing your stories. Please check out our SHARE page for details.
Today, I am honored to present one of the most visionary women of our time, Elizabeth Lesser. Elizabeth is the co-founder and senior adviser of Omega Institute, the largest adult education center in the United States focusing on health, wellness, spirituality and creativity. Additionally, she is the author of Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow and A Seeker’s Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure. My heart burst open with gratitude when I reached out to Elizabeth and received a response the same day. Her wisdom, practical advice and poetic writing pierces my heart while, at the same time, expanding it with a new awareness and knowing that we are all truly in this shared experience of reality together. Please enjoy the interview and share with your friends!
Wf1: What is your personal definition of the authentic self? What tools do you use to move into your authentic self?
Elizabeth: The Greeks believed that each child was blessed at birth with a personal daimon (what the Romans called your genie)—a personal spirit guide, a golden thread connected to one’s brightest purpose and ultimate destiny, what some call your authentic self. The job of the adults in that child’s life—parents, teachers, mentors—was to help the child make contact with and trust the inner daimon; to discover and follow one’s own genius. Certainly, the Greeks and Romans understood that a parent must teach a child how to navigate society, how to be safe, how to treat other people with respect, how to develop healthy habits—but it was not the role of the parent to unduly influence that child’s sense of self, or to over-direct his steps in the world.
Most of us were parented and socialized in such a way that by the time we reach adulthood, our authentic selves are so covered over with shoulds and shouldn’ts that we often don’t know where to look for our daimon, our genie, our genuine golden self. In fact, the whole notion seems questionable. Is there really such a thing as an “authentic self” an “essential me”? I think there is; I know there is. Perhaps it is damaged or suppressed, but it can be healed and liberated. I have personally experienced this. After years of trying and failing and trying more and succeeding by fits and starts, I know that when you get everything else out of the way, your authentic nature will rush in and fill the confines your being. It will spontaneously and fully guide your steps and fulfill your every moment.
Easier said than done! It’s actually the work of a lifetime. It’s what the spiritual path is all about. It requires help. Some of that help takes the form of healing wounds and clearing away misconceptions about who you are: psychotherapy is good for that. Other helpful tools are meditation for quieting the mind and taming the ego (that pesky shadow self who wants to control the world and everyone in it.) And then the real work begins! The daily commitment to being genuine in everything you say or do. The courage to be innocent and vulnerable, to express who you are in a world that wants you to conform, to be fearless and loving toward those whose own genuineness is so blocked that they will want to judge yours. To know with all your brain cells that the authentic self is indestructible because it is essence and essence is eternal.
How will you know your authentic self when she arrives to greet you? You’ll feel a sense of at-homeness, a lack of pretense, nothing over-produced, a wholeness. You’ll know her as the “genuine article”—like an organic apple or a one-of-a-kind couture dress. Unique, different, imperfect, yet exceptional. That is your true nature.
Wf1: What led you to a life of sharing your wisdom? How were you inspired to serve others?
Elizabeth: For a mysterious reason I will never fully understand, I was drawn to seek wisdom from others at a young age. I was 19 when I went looking for a spiritual teacher, but I felt the urge to understand the deeper side of life even as a child. My earliest memories are of waking up in the middle of the night at age 4 or 5, terrified about the prospect of death, afraid that my awareness of being might end with the demise of my body, wanting desperately to find someone who might know more than I did about such things. I was raised in an atheist home, so there was no one there to turn to with my questions. When I was a child, God was dead. I was raised in a family and a culture that were hooked on Science and Progress, and suspicious of spirituality and introspection. And so, when I left home and struck out on my own, I looked for and found brilliant teachers and comforting guides who helped me probe the universal questions and find abiding answers. Because they have been such blessings in my life, I wanted to pay their wisdom forward and help others in any way I could on their own journeys.
Wf1: What methods do you use to nurture your soul and your body?
Elizabeth: I believe soul nurturing happens holistically—body, mind, heart and spirit. You can find ways to awaken and heal in any of the “landscapes” of human life—the landscape of the body (exercise, good food, rest, yoga, strength training, walking, being in nature, sex, body image work, deep sleep); the landscape of the mind (meditation, stress reduction, anxiety relief, visualization, mantra and music healing, and anything else that quiets the mind so that other forms of perception can arise); the landscape of the heart (psychotherapy, friendship, dream work, relationship and intimacy healing, parenting coaching, art and myth, learning to value and develop emotional intelligence); and the landscape of the spirit (prayer, sacred space, ritual, spiritual community, intuition training, and spending time with teachers and guides who have gone a few steps ahead into other realms and have beautiful words and inspired visions to share.)
Wf1: Your book, Broken Open is completely aligned with Women For One’s vision of encouraging women to share their story and to learn from it while inspiring others. There are so many beautiful words and lessons throughout your book. Can you speak about the “Bozos on the Bus Effect”?
Elizabeth Lesser’s words from Broken Open: One of my heroes is the clown-activist Wavy Gravy. He is best known for a role that he played in 1969, when he was the master of ceremonies at the Woodstock festival. This is Wavy’s quote: “We’re all bozos on the bus, so we might as well sit back and enjoy the ride.” If we are all bozos, then for God’s sake, we can put down the burden of pretense and get on with being bozos. We can approach problems that visit bozo-type beings with the usual embarrassment and resistance. It is so much more effective to work on our rough edges with a light and forgiving heart. Imagine how freeing it would be to take a more compassionate and comedic view of the human condition – not as a way to deny our defects but as a way to welcome them as part of the standard human operating system. Ever single person on this bus called Earth hurts; it’s when we have shame about our failings that hurt turns into suffering. In our shame, we feel outcast. as if there is another bus somewhere, rolling along on a smooth road…When we see clearly that every single human being, regardless of fame or fortune or age or brains or beauty, shares the same ordinary foibles, a strange thing happens. We begin to cheer up, to loosen up and we become as buoyant as those people we imagined on the other bus…We sit back and enjoy the ride.
Wf1: We love that you work with quotes to inspire and teach. Do you have one quote that you currently resonate with the most or that you think describes where you are at this stage of your life?
Elizabeth: “It is not fair to ask of others what you are not willing to do yourself.” ― Eleanor Roosevelt
I find the older I get, the more aware I become that the only person I have influence over is myself. How it’s my job to live up to any spiritual or moral values that I may want the world to live up to. And on top of that, what really matters is one’s presence—not one’s words or even one’s deeds. Rather—who we are in each moment is what has the traction to make a difference. What shines through…. Like Gandhi talked about being the change we want to see in the world.
Wf1: You have worked with so many healers and spiritual leaders. What is the common trait (if they have one) that you perceive that each of them possesses?
Elizabeth: The courage to be real. The dignity to walk the talk. The commitment to be true to one’s deepest and most simple inklings of wisdom and kindness and grace.
Wf1: What are three words or phrases (a piece of advice) that you would most like to share with our community?
Elizabeth: Be the change.
Wf1: Thank you Elizabeth, for your courage and vision to be that change for our world. I am honored that you took the time to answer our questions. I want to end with one of many favorite quotes of mine from your book that feels like a prayer for all of us to break open:
Elizabeth’s quote from Broken Open:
“May you listen to the voice within the beat even when you are tired. When you feel yourself breaking down, may you break open instead. May every experience in life be a door that opens your heart, expands your understanding and leads you to freedom.”
With Great Respect and Love,
Kelly McNelis Senegor
Women For One