Elizabeth Lesser on Building Omega Institute, Intentional Communities, ADD (Authenticity Deficit Disorder), the Value of Grief, and the Emotion of Illumination (#505)

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“We really began to be tired of ourselves teaching this technology of inner awakening to the same people over and over. It’s like, how many times do you have to wake up in the morning? You’re awake. Do something.”

— Elizabeth Lesser

Elizabeth Lesser (@ElizabethLesser) is a bestselling author and the co-founder of Omega Institute, the renowned conference and retreat center located in Rhinebeck, New York. Elizabeth’s first book, The Seeker’s Guide, chronicles her years at Omega and distills lessons learned into a potent guide for growth and healing. Her New York Times bestselling book, Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, has sold almost 500,000 copies and has been translated into 20 languages. Her third book, Marrow, chronicles the journey Elizabeth and her younger sister went through when Elizabeth was the donor for her sister’s bone marrow transplant. Her newest book, Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes, reveals how humanity has outgrown its origin tales and hero myths. Elizabeth has given two popular TED talks and is one of Oprah Winfrey’s Supersoul 100, a collection of a hundred leaders who are using their voices and talent to elevate humanity.

She co-founded Omega Institute in 1977—a time when a variety of fresh ideas were sprouting in American culture. Since then, the Institute has been at the forefront of holistic education, offering workshops and conferences in integrative medicine, meditation and yoga, cross-cultural arts and creativity, ecumenical spirituality, and social change. Each year close to 30,000 people participate in Omega’s programs on its campus, and more than a million people visit its website for online learning.

Please enjoy!

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#505: Elizabeth Lesser on Building Omega Institute, Intentional Communities, ADD (Authenticity Deficit Disorder), The Value of Grief, and The Emotion of Illumination


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What was your favorite quote or lesson from this episode? Please let me know in the comments.


Want to hear another episode with someone who endeavors to awaken the best in the human spirit? Listen to my conversation with Buddhist monk and meditation teacher Jack Kornfield in which we discuss hang gliding, monk training in Thailand, unpleasant mystical experiences, the difference between compassion and empathy, lovingkindness meditation, and more.

#300: Jack Kornfield — Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy in the Present



  • Connect with Elizabeth Lesser:

Website | Twitter | Facebook | Instagram


Note from the editor: Timestamps will be added shortly.

  • Why visiting Omega Institute might feel a little like starring in your own Disney film.
  • Who is Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan?
  • Coming from an atheistic background, how did Elizabeth find herself on a spiritual path when she first encountered Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan, and what did he help her discover?
  • What did the prototype look like for Omega Institute, and how did Elizabeth and her co-founders decide on what to include versus exclude?
  • What issues made the early Omega Institute pioneers rethink their intention of living communally?
  • How was the curriculum safely and legally aligned with the tagline of “awakening the best in the human spirit” during this time, and how were teachers selected?
  • On the exploration of ecumenical traditions and innervism.
  • What is the movement from me to we?
  • How would Elizabeth define “spiritual” — or does she prefer another term?
  • Elizabeth talks about sharing a “soul marrow transplant” with her sister Maggie, and how she discovered a particularly poignant needlepoint slogan after Maggie’s death that she’s adapted to her own meditation: “Do no harm and take no shit.”
  • What is Authenticity Deficit Disorder?
  • In my own experience, it’s not always an answer that helps us unburden ourselves of what Rumi called an open secret, but the act of asking. Does Elizabeth agree?
  • Recommendations for people going through the grieving process — especially in a culture that doesn’t really afford us time to mourn.
  • The importance of, as Henk Kraaijenhof has said, doing as little as needed, not as much as possible.
  • What is the origin story of Elizabeth’s latest book, Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes?
  • Does Elizabeth believe an impulse toward aggression is inevitable in women who acquire power? If so, can it be mitigated to avoid the abuses exercised by many men in power? Why do people in power tend more toward the fight or flight school of thought over tend and befriend?
  • What impact does Elizabeth hope to have with Cassandra Speaks? How does she believe that full-hearted fatherhood might save the world?
  • What would Elizabeth’s billboard say?
  • Parting thoughts.