Elizabeth Lesser: I Want to Grow More Than I Want to Be Safe

July 22, 2014
Podcast

Insights at the Edge

Elizabeth Lesser: I Want to Grow More Than I Want to Be Safe

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More than 30 years ago, Elizabeth Lesser helped cofound Omega Institute, now one of the world’s premiere centers for the exploration of the spiritual journey. These days, Elizabeth is known as the bestselling author of The Seeker’s Guide and Broken Open, as well as a frequent collaborator with Eckhart Tolle and Oprah Winfrey. In this episode, Elizabeth and Tami converse on the role of spiritual teachers, the power of prayer, and the inevitable price of wisdom. They also talk about fear and fearlessness, as well as the strength one can find in solitude. Finally, Tami and Elizabeth discuss psychotherapy as a modern sacred practice and how it might one day become a widely accepted form of spiritual seeking. (66 minutes)

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Elizabeth Lesser is a bestselling author and the co-founder of the Omega Institute, an education and retreat center focusing on health, wellness, spirituality, creativity, and social change. Omega was founded in 1977—a time when a variety of fresh ideas were just sprouting in American culture. Modern medicine was beginning to consider the value of prevention, nutrition, and the mind/body connection. Seeds from Eastern philosophies were being planted in the West, cross-fertilizing with science, psychology, and religion, and blossoming into a new, global spirituality. World music, dance, literature, and art were influencing each other in exciting ways. And social change movements like feminism, civil rights, and environmental sustainability were changing our cultural identity and social structures.

For more than 30 years, Elizabeth's immersion in these areas has informed her work and writing. 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: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure, chronicles the uprising of a new spirituality and provides the reader with a map through the four landscapes of the seeker's path: The Landscape of the Mind, the Landscape of the Body, the Landscape of the Heart, and the Landscape of the Soul. Her second book, the New York Times bestseller Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, 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 sold almost 300,000 copies and has been translated into 20 languages.

Elizabeth speaks at events around the world on issues of spiritual growth, cultural change, and women's empowerment. She is also the cofounder of the Omega Women's Leadership Center, which grew out of the popular Women & Power conference series she created. These renowned gatherings feature women leaders, business mavericks, authors, activists, and artists from around the world. In 2011, she gave a popular TED talk at the first TED Women conference.

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 eight million people worldwide. Elizabeth is a frequent host on Oprah's "Soul Series," a weekly radio show on Sirius/XM, and a guest on Oprah's "Super Soul Sunday."

Elizabeth attended Barnard College and San Francisco State University, majoring in early childhood education. She received an honorary doctorate from the Institute of Transpersonal Psychology in Palo Alto, California in 2011. Previous to her work at Omega, she was a midwife and birth educator.

Besides being active at Omega, she spends her time writing, gardening, cooking, and being with her husband, children, grandchildren, and friends in New York's Hudson Valley. She has been active in feminist and environmental issues for years, and considers it her responsibility and honor to be part of the ongoing evolution of life on our beautiful planet.

Listen to Tami Simon's in-depth audio podcast interview with Elizabeth Lesser:
I Want to Grow More Than I Want to Be Safe »

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Elizabeth Lesser: I Want to Grow More Than I Want to B...

More than 30 years ago, Elizabeth Lesser helped cofound Omega Institute, now one of the world’s premiere centers for the exploration of the spiritual journey. These days, Elizabeth is known as the bestselling author of The Seeker’s Guide and Broken Open, as well as a frequent collaborator with Eckhart Tolle and Oprah Winfrey. In this episode, Elizabeth and Tami converse on the role of spiritual teachers, the power of prayer, and the inevitable price of wisdom. They also talk about fear and fearlessness, as well as the strength one can find in solitude. Finally, Tami and Elizabeth discuss psychotherapy as a modern sacred practice and how it might one day become a widely accepted form of spiritual seeking. (66 minutes)

Elizabeth Lesser: I Want to Grow More Than I Want to B...

More than 30 years ago, Elizabeth Lesser helped cofound Omega Institute, now one of the world’s premiere centers for the exploration of the spiritual journey. These days, Elizabeth is known as the bestselling author of The Seeker’s Guide and Broken Open, as well as a frequent collaborator with Eckhart Tolle and Oprah Winfrey. In this episode, Elizabeth and Tami converse on the role of spiritual teachers, the power of prayer, and the inevitable price of wisdom. They also talk about fear and fearlessness, as well as the strength one can find in solitude. Finally, Tami and Elizabeth discuss psychotherapy as a modern sacred practice and how it might one day become a widely accepted form of spiritual seeking. (66 minutes)

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What Does It Mean? A 4-Step Guide for Understanding Yo...

How often have you had an unusual encounter with an animal and immediately wondered, “What does it mean?” 

Perhaps you saw an owl in daylight. Or you kept noticing images of elephants everywhere. Or maybe a huge spider appeared right in front of you on the sidewalk. 

If you’re like many shamanically-inclined folks, the first thing you’ll want to do in these situations is google what that animal “means”. 

I understand the temptation, but please—hold off!

The universe and spirit have many ways of communicating with us, including animal messengers. And the universe does not play by a set of pre-existing rules. The messages each animal carries will be unique to you, and no book or website can tell you the full meaning of your encounter. 

The same is true of power animals—spiritual helpers in animal form who share their gifts and medicine with us. While a bit of research can certainly be helpful, if you dive right in to other people’s interpretations, you’ll be more likely to miss important elements of your personal relationship with your power animal.

Animal messenger or “normal animal doing normal things”?

I can hear it now . . . Sometimes a bird is just a bird. It doesn’t have to mean anything.

That’s true. Not everything has to mean something. 

But I have to be honest—one of my biggest pet peeves in spiritual communities is dismissing others’ experiences in this way. 

Because the truth is, the universe is always communicating with us. Who are you to say what does or doesn’t have meaning for another person?

The great advaita scholar Richard Miller, PhD, once spoke to this in a training while teaching us about the art of welcoming. As he explained, it’s too exhausting to keep trying to figure out which parts of life are trying to tell us something and which parts are so-called “normal life”, so he has the practice of “welcoming everything as a messenger”. 

This practice of welcoming is a beautiful way to fall deeper into relationship with all of life. Every sensation, emotion, encounter, or insight can provide an opportunity to open to and learn from spirit.

If this sounds overwhelming, not to worry. This doesn’t mean you need to go through life looking at every little thing as a symbol to decipher or every animal as a messenger bearing life-altering news. Instead, it means that spiritual guidance is always available to us. To access this wisdom:

  • Relax. You don’t need to overwhelm yourself by seeing every little thing that happens as a critical message. You will notice what you need to notice.  
  • If something does catch your attention, even if it’s something very common and “normal”, trust your intuition and recognize that you are noticing it for a reason.
  • You can also set an intention to receive a message from a spirit via the natural world. Bring your awareness into your heart, send your request to spirit, and then open your awareness, letting your attention wander and draw you to your answers.
  • Finally, once something does call your awareness, use the process outlined below to discover the meaning and messages it holds for you.

When to Pay Attention

Many teachers share that for an animal to actually mean something, rather than be a simple sighting, it must show itself to you four times. For example, let’s say you see a hawk on a walk, then on TV, then hear the word “hawk” in a conversation, and then find a hawk feather.

Still others will note that if an animal is behaving in an unusual way, it could very well carry a message for you.

If either of these happen, definitely pay attention.

And if you only see a normal animal doing normal things, but feel that there is a message for you, trust that too.

Maybe the Message is Love

Sometimes when our attention is drawn to something in nature—a beautiful flower, an animal sighting, or an unusual cloud—we’re receiving a blessing. In this case, you don’t necessarily need to go through the process below. Simply receive your hello from spirit and know that the “message” is love. 

Your 4-Step Guide

So, when you encounter an animal—whether a messenger in nature or an actual power animal—what are you to do? How do you figure out what the message is? How do you know what gifts your power animal carries?

Here’s the process I recommend for understanding your animal messengers and power animals. This is based on years of working with my own animal spirit guides and those of my clients.

Step 1

Journey to the spirit of the animal and ask them to teach you about themselves and your relationship. (If you don’t have a journey practice, Sandra Ingerman’s course, Experiencing the Shamanic Journey, offers a wonderful introduction to the practice.)

If the animal in question is one you’ve encountered in ordinary reality, you might like to ask:

  • Are you here to share a message with me, or are you appearing to bring my awareness to a new power animal relationship? Or both?
  • What is the message you bring me?

If you’ve received a power animal, whether from a power animal retrieval or another means, you might like to explore some or all of the following questions:

  • What medicine do you carry? 
  • What gifts would you like to share with me? 
  • How may I carry your medicine? 
  • What areas of life can you help me with?
  • Why are you appearing in my life now?
  • Are you a new power animal, or have you been with me for sometime?
  • May I have an attunement to your energy?
  • What name may I call you by?
  • How may I nurture our relationship?

Step 2

After you’ve done your journey or meditation, think about any pre-existing ideas or knowledge you already have about this animal. This process can provide many clues as to how the animal will support you.

Ask yourself:

  • What is my immediate reaction to this animal? Am I excited, fearful, surprised?
  • What symbology or associations do I think of first? 
  • Are there any stories or myths that come to mind?
  • What character traits do I personally connect with this animal?

Then, reflect on what your answers might mean for either a message or the unique gifts a power animal might share with you.

Step 3 

Once you’ve finished this personal exploration, it’s time to learn more about your animal in ordinary reality. Try to find out:

    • What do they eat?
    • Where do they live?
    • What is their social nature? Family dynamics?
    • What unique features stand out about this animal? 
    • When are they most active? Quietest?
    • What are their biggest threats? 
    • What do you find most fascinating about this animal?

Ask yourself how the following information might help you understand either the message or your power animal’s gifts. 

Step 4

Finally, go ahead and look up existing ideas about your power animal might mean. Even though we don’t want to fill our minds with other people’s and cultures’ ideas first, this information can be helpful. 

As you explore, pay attention to a few things:

  • What feels right and relevant? Where do you get an immediate hit or “ah-ha” moment?
  • What doesn’t feel right or relevant? Not everything you read will relate your personal relationship.
  • Does the animal have any particular meanings within your own ancestry? What about within other cultures you feel especially connected to?*

*Make sure to explore a variety of cultural mythologies at this stage, as each might have quite different interpretations of your animal. For example: In North America, many indegenous tribes associate the owl with death. Yet in Greek and Roman mythology, the owl was a bearer of wisdom. Though in China the owl was viewed as an ominous creature, the Japanese considered the owl to be a sign of good fortune. 

At this stage, I’ll encourage you to avoid the spirit guide websites out there—in my experience, many of them seem to exist just for profit and do not have the depth of meaning you can find in a book, such as Ted Andrew’s Animal Speak, Jamie Sam’s Medicine Cards, or Sounds True’s own The Book of Beasties by Sarah Seidelman. If you’re looking online, visiting sites that detail mythological or symbolic associations from more academic perspectives can be useful.

Receiving messages from spirit through the natural world is a gift that has been bestowed on humanity since the beginning of our species on this planet. Be gentle with yourself as you learn to read the signs and deepen your relationship with the natural world. It is your birthright. 

And, while the steps outlined here can initiate your journey into understanding your power animal, getting to know your power animal and its gifts is a lifelong journey. Revisit each of these steps often, and make sure to nurture your relationship with your power animal just as you would with a beloved friend.

If you’d like help discovering who your power animal is, be sure to check out Sandra Ingerman’s 6-week course, Experiencing the Shamanic Journey, which begins on September 8, 2020.

In this course, you’ll learn how to take a shamanic journey and meet one of your power animals! 

You can learn more about this wonderful course with Sandra here.

Juniper Stokes is an intuitive healer and spiritual teacher. She helps others activate and tune into their own intuition, healing abilities, and connection with spirit through private sessions, classes, and workshops. (And yes, this includes Power Animal Readings.) In touch with the spirit realms from a young age, Juniper has trained in wide variety of healing traditions, including Sandra Ingerman’s Two Year Shamanic Teacher Training program and Samahita’s Pranayama Teacher Training, to name a few. Juniper also writes behind the scenes at Sounds True and regularly leads guided shamanic journeys for Sounds True’s Shamanic Path Facebook page, which currently has nearly 30k members. In addition to her spiritual teaching and healing, Juniper is a clinical aromatherapist, herbalist, and flower essence practitioner. Her healing products, including a line of spiritually-infused botanical perfumes, will soon be available in the Alchemessence Apothecary.

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