Welcome back for the second half of my interview with Elizabeth Lesser, co-founder of the Omega Institute.
You give new meaning to the expression "go with the flow." 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. It is human to hold on to what we know and to fear the unknown. Knowing that we share that tendency with all of our human brothers and sisters is comforting: We're not alone in our fears; it's hardwired into the human organism. There are people who have overcome their resistance to change whose lives can serve as an example of hope. Their wise counsel can help us release some of our own resistance and even gain a spirit of adventure toward the changing nature of life.
Should we be able to fix ourselves, by ourselves? And what is the role of the teacher or guide? Is that just one more crutch so that we avoid taking the responsibility to fix ourselves?
People don't think
twice about having someone help them fix their computer or car, or they
question going to the doctor when they feel bad, or to the gym when they
trainer to help them get strong or lose weight. But when it comes to
psychological or spiritual help, there's a general squeamishness.
cultural bias against paying someone to help us figure out things like
relationships, purpose, feelings, grief. But there's this idea that we
be able to figure these things ourselves, or ask a friend, or just take a
walk and get over it!
There is nothing wrong with getting expert help when dealing with life's difficult challenges. It is not a sign of weakness or a lack of responsibility. In fact, I think it's the wise choice to seek help when we need it. Therapists, healers, coaches, counselors, spiritual guides can be a godsend when the going gets tough (and in all of our lives we go through challenging phases and stages.) Of course, it's important to find someone who is kind and genuine and skillful--someone who knows when you have learned what you came to learn and helps you move on.
Good point. You talk about "spiritual activism" in your book. What is it and how does one practice it?
Spiritual Activism sounds like an oxymoron, right? We think of spirituality as something internal, inactive, silent, sacred. We think of activism as noisy, angry, worldly. How could they ever work together? But it is actually an old concept, and some of the most influential change agents throughout history were spiritual activists. Think of Jesus turning over the tables in the temple to protest what he saw as corruption. Or Joan of Arc being a sacred warrior. Remember that Ghandi was able to change the course of history in his country by forcing the British army to leave India through the power of Satyagraha, or the spiritual philosophy and practice of nonviolent resistance. And Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. in this country--a minister who took Ghandi's principles to heart and turned an entire nation around to embrace civil rights.
And the list goes on--Mandela, Mother Teresa, Jane Goodall, the Dalai Lama--all people whose motivation to do good for the world comes from their belief in a higher power. In fact, those whose impulse to serve humanity comes from their faith in God, or soul, or whatever they call their belief, are able to make a deeper and more lasting impact for the greater good. I think it is because they have a deep patience, a faith in the goodness of the world, a peacefulness. As Ghandi said, "We must be the change we want to see in the world." It's a lot easier to follow a leader whose very being is in consort with the message he or she is promoting. That's what spiritual activism is about--linking up your life with your word.