News — elizabeth lesser


On Death

“The Phoenix Process” from Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser In the wonderful New York Times bestseller Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, author Elizabeth Lesser discusses what she calls “The Phoenix Process.” She claims a phoenix must die in order for it to come back to life again. We are like phoenixes, in that we must sacrifice ourselves—we […]

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On Spiritual Progress

One of our favorite authors — Elizabeth Lesser, cofounder of the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies — helps us know how to discern if we’ve made progress on our personal spiritual path, adapted from her terrific book The Seeker’s Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure.  TEN SIGNS OF PROGRESS ON THE SPIRITUAL PATH 1. […]

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Ten Signs of Progress on the Spiritual Path with Elizabeth Lesser


One of our favorite authors -- Elizabeth Lesser, cofounder of the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies -- helps us know how to discern if we've made progress on our personal spiritual path, adapted from her terrific book The Seeker's Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure.


1. Obuntubotho. When Bishop Desmond Tutu introduced Nelson Mandela at his inauguration as the new president of South Africa, he described him as being a man who had Obuntubotho. “Obuntubotho,” he said, “is the essence of being human. You know when it is there and when it is absent. It speaks about humanness, gentleness, putting yourself out on behalf of others, being vulnerable. It embraces compassion and toughness. It recognizes that my humanity is bound up in ours, for we can only be human together.” Obuntubotho is the first sign of progress on the spiritual path.

2. The Truth Works. A disciple once asked the Buddha how he would know the Truth if he found it. “You know the Truth, because the Truth works,” the Buddha answered. When your life works better -- when drama and chaos get tiresome, and goodness and peace are your preferred companions, then you are receiving messages from the Truth. When you are naturally happier, stronger, and more deeply engaged with people and place, you can assume you are touching on the Truth.
3. In Touch With Reality. A sign of progress is when you no longer fight the nature of life. Instead, you work with it. You stop pretending that life is supposed to be a certain way and accept it on its own terms. You size up the human story and get on with living.
4. Honesty is an Aphrodisiac. It does pay to be honest. It pays in rewarding relationships. It pays in unblocked energy. It pays in passion. To stand tall in who you are, unafraid to reveal what you want and need, kind enough to tell the truth, and brave enough to bear the consequences, is a telling sign of spiritual development. 
5. Suffering is our Fear of Pain. There will always be pain in life. This is something we learn as we progress spiritually. We also learn that if we resist pain, if we fear it, then we create additional pain called suffering. Our resistance to pain stands between us and full-bodied living; it keeps us at war with our problems and from making peace with life’s dual nature. When pain arises in your life and you stand to greet it with calm curiosity, you will know that you making progress on the path. 
6. How Can I Help? If you are spiritually happy you naturally want others to be happy.  You can’t help but help. Spirituality is the gift of love. Service to others is the discipline of love.  If you reach out often to those in need, not because you should but because your heart leads you more and more deeply into the hearts of others, then keep on going.
7. Declaration of Interdependence. Are you becoming more and more aware of the interconnection of all beings, creatures, and elements Do you hold as your own Jesus’ words : “And whatsoever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me”?   Are you getting tired of the way our society celebrates the false ego’s selfish and insatiable drive to acquire and use more and more? And does that make you want to be an agent of healing?  A declaration of  life’s interdependence is a sign of spiritual progress.
8. Combine Love and Loneliness. When we progress on the path, we become more and more comfortable with the great paradox of belonging and being alone. We reach out to others for love and companionship, yet we know that the abiding love for which we long rests in our solitary relationship with God. We are generous in our compassion and help to those in need, but we also know that each person is responsible for his or her own healing. We are loved; we are alone. Both are blessings. Love and loneliness are both states of grace.
9. The Ordinary Is Extraordinary. “Just to be is a blessing. Just to live is holy,” said Rabbi Abraham Heschel. When we really feel this, without forcing, without trying too hard, then we know we’re on the right track. When we see the marvelous structure of the universe in the mundane and when we love the whole world by loving our mates and children and co-workers, then we are making progress. When we don’t need to be anyone special, but are pleased to be simply one of God’s many creatures, then we will know the joy of the extra-ordinary.
10. God Is Optimistic. Finally, look for these signs of progress on the spiritual path: a friendliness towards change and an optimistic vision of eternity. Faith in the perfection of God’s plan – even when the road is rough – can make the difference between a life of happiness and a life of bitterness. Trust in God’s goodness fuels our commitment to justice and beauty; with such faith we can move mountains, just like the spiritual heroes of all times.
Adapted from The Seeker’s Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure (Random House), by Elizabeth Lesser

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The Seeker’s Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure

Omega Institute for Holistic Studies


Excerpt from "Broken Open" by Elizabeth Lesser - Bozos on the Buss

BookCover-BO-ELesserWe’re all bozos on the bus,
so we might as well sit back
and enjoy the ride.
—Wavy Gravy

One of our favorite chapters from Elizabeth Lesser's wonderful book Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow is "Bozos on the Bus", excerpted below.  We hope you're happy as we are to just be another bozo on the bus.

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. Since then, he’s been a social activist, a major “fun-d”-raiser for good causes, a Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream flavor, an unofficial hospital chaplain, and the founder of a camp for inner-city kids. Every four years he campaigns as a candidate for president of the United States, under the pseudonym Nobody, making speeches all over the country with slogans like “Nobody for President,” “Nobody’s Perfect,” and “Nobody Should Have That Much Power.” He’s a seriously funny person, and a person who is serious about helping others. “Like the best of clowns,” wrote a reporter in The Village Voice, “Wavy Gravy makes a big fool of himself as is necessary to make a wiser man of you. He is one of the better people on earth.”

Wavy (I’m on a first-name basis with him from clown workshops he’s offered at Omega) is a master of one-liners, like the famous one he delivered on the Woodstock stage: “What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000”; and this one, on why he became a clown: “You don’t hear a bunch of bullies get together and say, ‘Hey, let’s go kill a few clowns.’”

But my all-time favorite Wavy-ism is the line that opens this chapter, about bozos on the bus, one he repeats whenever he speaks to groups, whether at clown workshops or in children’s hospitals. I have co-opted the phrase, and I use it to begin my workshops, because I believe that we are all bozos on the bus, contrary to the self-assured image we work so hard to present to each other on a daily basis. We are all half-baked experiments—mistake-prone beings, born without an instruction book into a complex world. None of us are models of perfect behavior: We have all betrayed and been betrayed; we’ve been known to be egotistical, unreliable, lethargic, and stingy; and each one of us has, at times, awakened in the middle of the night worrying about everything from money, kids, or terrorism to wrinkled skin and receding hairlines. In other words, we’re all bozos on the bus.

This, in my opinion, is cause for celebration. If we’re all bozos, then for God’s sake, we can put down the burden of pretense and get on with being bozos. We can approach the problems that visit bozo-type beings without 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. Every 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. Its passengers are all thin, healthy, happy, well-dressed, and well-liked people who belong to harmonious families, hold jobs that don’t bore or aggravate them, and never do mean things, or goofy things like forget where they parked their car, lose their wallet, or say something totally inappropriate. We long to be on that bus with the other normal people.

But we are on the bus that says bozo on the front, and we worry that we may be the only passenger onboard. This is the illusion that so many of us labor under—that we’re all alone in our weirdness and our uncertainty; that we may be the most lost person on the highway. Of course we don’t always feel like this. Sometimes a wave of self-forgiveness washes over us, and suddenly we’re connected to our fellow humans; suddenly we belong.

It is wonderful to take your place on the bus with the other bozos. It may be the first step to enlightenment to understand with all of your brain cells that the other bus—that sleek bus with the cool people who know where they are going—is also filled with bozos: bozos in drag, bozos with secrets. 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. As we rumble along the potholed road, lost as ever, through the valleys and over the hills, we find ourselves among friends. We sit back, and enjoy the ride.

Excerpted from Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser Copyright © 2004 by Elizabeth Lesser. Excerpted by permission of Villard, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow

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The Omega Institute for Holistic Studies