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A Conversation With... Elizabeth Lesser
Co-Founder of the Omega Institute and NY Times Bestselling Author

Interviewed by Eden Kozlowski, ATH Co-Editor of Meditation

 

 
Editor’s Note from Eden Kozlowski: I SO dig this interview. Why? Simply put, it is "meaty"... the same words I would use to describe Elizabeth... she just packs a full punch of just being herself. And, read about her new initiative at the end... if you are a woman, be inspired by you!

Elizabeth Lesser

Co-Founder of the Omega Institute and NY Times Bestselling Author

Eden Kozlowski: Dear ATH readers… don’t you just love all the inspiring articles and videos presented throughout this site. And, you have landed on the meditation page to, oh yes, get more of that! This is truly the reason I am talking today with Elizabeth Lesser: meditation teacher, Co-Founder and Senior Adviser of the Omega Institute as well as a NY Times bestselling author. Her books: Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow and The Seeker’s Guide: Making your Life a Spiritual Adventure.

I knew of Elizabeth through her work at Omega and my dear friend and former college roommate, Brooke (ATH Co-Editor on Yoga), encouraged me to read Broken Open. Even though my life wasn’t “broken,” I purchased it and loved the honesty. Halfway through, oddly and amazingly AND perfectly, my life literally cracked in two.

I suddenly felt like I knew Elizabeth personally. We had many parallels as described in her book, so I decided to email her… telling her of my story, my rip, my heartbreak, my strength… just someone I could share it with who didn’t know me… not expecting any sort of reply. It was simply cathartic to write and to see how I put my situation into words. Then, to my surprise ~ I got a personal reply. I wasn’t looking for validation but what I got was more than that…

So, Elizabeth, with all that you do… how do you manage to remain personal with your many, many readers? Was my reply common place (or maybe what I wrote was so intense that it commanded attention - wink!!!)?

Elizabeth Lesser: Since writing Broken Open, I get many hundreds of emails and letters every year. Some are just kind words of thanks; others are calls for help. I feel a deep sense of kinship with my readers. I wrote the book in order to tell people that their pain is universal; that they should have no shame because they are struggling; that we’re all “bozos on the bus” at different times in our lives and its no help to anyone to go around pretending that you’ve got it all together. So, when someone takes the brave step of writing to an author and exposing his or her vulnerability, I feel honored to respond. I wrote the book just for that reason—for all of us to become more human with each other. My hope is that in my responding to a reader, that he or she might pay it forward by being there for someone else who needs to be seen, listened to, understood, loved.

Eden: Bigger picture, how do you manage your authenticity when dealing with fame or with well-known people in the healing arena who are maybe struggling with being who they say they are?

"Famousness is way overrated. It’s courage and creativity that count in my book."

Elizabeth: I love authentically creative people. Oddballs, iconoclasts, revolutionaries. I love brave people who take a stand and risk being different in their field of work or their concern for the world or in their personal life. I don’t care if that person is famous. Famousness is way overrated. It’s courage and creativity that count in my book. If that makes someone well-known and revered, that’s great. But I have a problem with people who use their fame to express superiority or aggressive authority. That being said, I also have compassion for spiritual teachers or self-help authors who are held to rigid standards of morality and enlightened behavior. Just because someone is a good writer about life or love or wisdom, doesn’t mean they are always wise, always loving. I think it’s really important for spiritual seekers to take teachers off a pedestal. Everyone is a flawed human being, even the “great” ones. And if someone claims to have no flaws, I recommend you run in the opposite direction and look for another teacher! Better yet, enjoy the wisdom from books and healers, but become your own teacher.

Eden: Why meditation for you? What was it about the practice that “hooked” you? And, what inspired you to teach?

Elizabeth: Meditation has been my best friend on the spiritual path. It never fails me. But it’s always a challenge! The premise of mindfulness meditation (the kind I practice) seems simple enough but is actually difficult to pull off. You sit, close your eyes, remain alert, and observe whatever happens—in the sounds and sensations around you, and the thoughts and feelings within you. When your mind wanders, you use the rhythmic inhalation and exhalation of the breath to return over and over to the moment just as it is. When your heart feels heavy, or your mind races, or your body tightens, you consciously relax, and return to your breath. Whatever emerges, you embrace it without judgment. You practice what the Buddhists call “unconditional friendliness” as you observe your experience. 

"When I feel helpless in my ability to do anything I can shower unconditional friendliness on the whole mess. The window opens. A fresh breeze blows in. Peace comes to visit."

If ever there were a time when my mindfulness practice was paying me back, it has been the last few weeks for me. My sister is struggling with a serious cancer diagnosis. The more I practice mindfulness at home for a few minutes each morning, the better able I am to show up fully in each season of her healing: as her hair falls out, as her appetite wanes, as she feels angry and terrified, sorrowful and frustrated. When I feel helpless in my ability to do anything I can shower unconditional friendliness on the whole mess. The window opens. A fresh breeze blows in. Peace comes to visit. Even joy.

My son, Daniel teaches mindfulness meditation to teachers and children in public school districts around the country. Here is something from a curriculum he has written for teachers: “Mindfulness is the direct engagement with the present moment, like you were bending down on one knee and literally getting engaged to this moment, and saying Yes!” I love that image: each moment arising as a marriage proposal. Will you take this moment as your one and only, through sickness and health, till the next moment arises? For me, the practice of meditation is all about saying, “Yes!”

I teach meditation because it has helped me so much. I have the kind of personality that wants to share anything that tastes good, looks good, feels good, or works. Meditation works.

Eden: You have birthed so many things… children (yours and others as a midwife), Omega, your own workshops, collective workshops, you helped Oprah produce the 10-week webinar for Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth… I know this small list barely touches the surface. But, right now, of all of your experiences, which one touches your heart most deeply?

Elizabeth: I am the mother of three sons and now I am a grandmother. Even though I love writing and teaching and working at Omega, I have been neglecting everything these days because I am madly in love with my two little grandsons. It borders on obnoxiousness! I just want to be with them and to help my son and his wife create a strong foundation for their new family members. I figure that I’ve done a lot in my life and now its time for the next generation to do their thing. I like helping younger people get a foothold on life’s journey. I enjoy moving into this new phase. So, if the question is what touches my heart the most these days, then the proof is in where I choose to give my energy—my two little grandsons. But that’s not to say that all sorts of other things don’t make me highly enthusiastic!

Eden: What is on your plate right now that you would like our readers to know? (list or promote anything here... seminars, books, etc, etc)

Elizabeth: I have helped start a new initiative at Omega called The Omega Women’s Leadership Center—The OWLC.  The OWLC is Omega’s way of supporting what we believe to be one of the great hopes of our times: the empowerment of women all over the world. People often ask me why I am so committed to empowering women. My answer is that while some empowered women will end up resorting to the old, fear-based, power-over style of leadership, research shows that there is indeed a female style of leadership that is more inclusive, less combative, and more communicative. I believe that when a critical mass of women joins men in the leadership arena (and by leadership I mean anything you do that involves taking a stand, making a difference, singing your own true song), there will be a better possibility of the eradication of violence as a way to solve anything. That we will see the creation of policies that help women and men balance the needs of family, children, and work. That the careful stewardship of the Earth will become a priority.

Eden: I send my gratitude to Elizabeth for this time; for all that she has done to further peace/connection/healing and for her spirit. Let’s conclude with this line from Broken Open…

“I pray that we choose to go into the abyss willingly and that our fall is cushioned by faith—faith that at the bottom we will be caught and taught and turned toward the light. I pray that we don’t waste precious energy feeling ashamed of our mistakes, or embarrassed by our flaws. After years of teaching, I know only a few things for sure. One is this: We are chunks of dense matter that need to be cracked open. Our errors and failing are chinks in the heart’s armor through which our true colors can shine.”

Shine on, everyone!

 

 

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More about Elizabeth Lesser


Elizabeth Lesser is the co-founder of Omega Institute, the United States’ largest life-long learning center focusing on health, wellness, spirituality, creativity, and social change. She is the New York Times best-selling author of Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow and The Seeker’s Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure (both from Random House). For more than 30 years Elizabeth has worked with leading figures in the fields of healing—healing self and healing society. Her work at Omega has included leading the organization, developing its curricula, teaching, and writing the yearly Omega catalog, a reference book that describes the work of some of the most eminent thinkers and practitioners of our times. 

For the past ten years, Elizabeth has spearheaded Omega’s popular Women and Power conferences, renowned gatherings featuring women leaders, authors, activists, and artists from around the world. She is the founder of the Women’s Leadership Center at Omega. In 2008 she helped Oprah Winfrey produce a ten-week online seminar based on Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth. The “webinar” was viewed by more than 2 million people worldwide. Since then, she has appeared several times on the Oprah Winfrey television show and Oprah.com webcasts, and is an ongoing host on Oprah’s Soul Series, a weekly radio show on Sirius/XM. Ms. Lesser is also a frequent presenter at conferences nationwide, including the 2010 TEDWomen Conference.

A student of the Sufi master, Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan since 1971, Elizabeth has also studied with spiritual teachers and religious scholars from other traditions, as well as psychological practitioners and healers. Her first book, The Seeker’s Guide, chronicles the uprising of a new global spirituality that she participated in and researched through her work at Omega. Her second book, Broken Open, is a guide for anyone going through a difficult time. Its real life stories inspire the reader to use adversity for inner growth. Broken Open has been translated into 16 languages.

Ms. Lesser attended Barnard College and San Francisco State University. Previous to her work at Omega, she was a midwife and birth educator.  She has been active in environmental issues for many years in New York State's Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains, where she lives with her husband. She is the mother of three grown sons.

About Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

Founded in 1977, Omega Institute for Holistic Studies is the nation’s most trusted source for wellness and personal growth. As a nonprofit organization, Omega offers diverse and innovative educational experiences that inspire an integrated approach to personal and social change. Located on 195 acres in the beautiful Hudson Valley, Omega welcomes more than 23,000 people to its workshops, conferences, and retreats in Rhinebeck, New York and at exceptional locations around the world. Learn more at: www.eOmega.org.

 


 

About the Interviewer


Eden Kozlowski's passion is to move people into the calm and peace of their being and help them take responsibility for their work, life and health.

She 
is founder/CEO of her dynamic meditation/mindfulness-based company out of Akron, Ohio USA – Just Be, LLC as well as a contributor to The Huffington Post and Co-Editor on the Meditation page at All Things Healing. Formerly an advertising creative director and VP out of Atlanta, Georgia, Eden now speaks, teaches, presents, facilitates anything and everything regarding meditation/mindfulness. Practicing since the year 2000, she started as a six-year student of Dr. Neala Peake’s (Co-Founder of ATH). She currently holds weekly classes, retreats and private sessions in person and via skype as well as in mindfulness and stress management at corporate, health and educational facilities.


See her interviews on ATH with 
Dr. Judith Orloff, psychiatrist and NY Times best-selling author; Sona Mehring, Founder and CEO of Caring Bridge; Elizabeth Lesser, Co-Founder of the Omega Institute; and Sarah McLean, the "face of mainstream meditation."

 


Contact:
edenk@allthingshealing.com
justbemeditation@gmail.com
Website: justbemeditation.com
Blog: The Huffington Post
Facebook: www.facebook.com/JustBeMeditation
Twitter: @JustBeMeditate

Akron, OH USA

 

 

 

 

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