Elizabeth Lesser: Leading From Within

Updated: Sep 14, 2019

Photo Credit, Ricardo Gomez-Angel

Following the most recent presidential election, I considered beneficial ways to integrate spirituality with social action and feminine empowerment.

In its current form, our society leads us away from a harmonious existence. This is partly due to the fact that an aspect of our whole self has not been fully recognized and deemed equally valuable. The aspect to which I refer is the divine feminine consciousness.

This lack of recognition, and honoring, of the feminine perspective has led to an incredibly imbalanced society, where masculine energy dominates many parts of our lives.

One result of this imbalance, to which we now bear witness, is the beginning disintegration of certain structural elements of society. It seems as though an inherent shift of values is taking place and the grand unraveling has begun.

With this in mind, I wanted to get the perspective of someone who has been in the forefront of spirituality and leadership for more than four decades.

Elizabeth Lesser is the co-founder and senior adviser of Omega Institute, the largest adult education center in the United States focusing on health, wellness, spirituality and creativity.

Elizabeth is also the co-founder of Omega’s Women’s Leadership Center, which grew out of the popular Women & Power conference series featuring women leaders, activists, authors and artists from around the world.

Elizabeth Lesser

Here is Elizabeth’s perspective on how to integrate spirituality with social action, and the importance of the feminine narrative within circles of spiritual leadership and empowerment.

BJB: What is the importance of combining spirituality and feminism in a patriarchal culture that denies its legitimacy?

EL: We have to overcome this deep-seated resistance within ourselves towards accepting ourselves and our knowledge as valid.

I’ve made it a practice over the years to quote women and Gerda Lerna is a feminist scholar I love to quote. She talked about how to combine you inner spiritual life with feminism.

She said, “…as women we don’t trust our own experience; we defer so often to the patriarchal culture without even knowing that we’re doing it, and that as women we have to get rid of the great men in our heads and substitute for them ourselves, our sisters and our anonymous foremothers.”

That’s easier said than done and this is where spirituality really comes in.

My spiritual practice has been both meditation and prayer, but also psychotherapy, which I consider to be part of one’s spiritual path. This means going back into your childhood, and your young adulthood and figuring out the voices that are ruling your life.

Is it my authentic voice? My mother? My father? Or the culture and what it tells me about my gender, my age, my race?

I think as women we doubt the validity of our opinion because for so long it’s been trivialized and ignored.

Psychotherapy is a great practice to go in and find your authentic voice and then to strengthen it as a valid voice in the world.

Let’s say you’re in a meeting and some of men in the room are very forthright with their opinion. You raise your hand to speak and say things like, “Well, this is just my opinion and I’m sorry if it offends…” before you’ve even got the words out you’ve disempowered yourself.

As women, we value empathy, conversation, listening, and empowering other people. But in the fast pace of an office, or politics, or wherever we spend our time, those values are often run over and we don’t always stand up for what we know to be true or what we know works. It takes a lot of inner work to begin to trust yourself and speak up for yourself. Combining spirituality with empowerment can go hand-in-hand.

BJB: When you’re in the boardroom or at a professional meeting, at what point do you let go of trying to assert your perspective when it’s undervalued?

EL: This is THE question and of course it’s not an easy one to answer. It’s not a one size fits all.

I’ve had several times in my life and in my place of work, when I knew I could continue with the way things were going or stand up to the egos in the room. I’m sure many of us have felt called to do this. But we don’t all have to do it this way, there are many opportunities in life for us to stand up in courage. If you’re engaged in a spiritual practice and consistently tuning into your inner wisdom, slowly the voice inside will get stronger and you’ll know what to do.

Of course, I’m not encouraging people to do things that are dangerous for their survival. If you have worked your way up, with three kids in college and need that salary then you have to think carefully before you put those things on the line.

However, if you can be a revolutionary and can put it all on the line, then God bless you because more of us are going to need to do that. It will take some time to insert the feminine way of doing things into the power structures of the world. It will also take strategy and long term thinking.

BJB: In lieu of the masculine identity, how can we best demonstrate the power in being a clear-headed and open-hearted decision-maker and leader?

EL: I believe the world needs a huge dose of the feminine. Women need it, men need it, and structures need it. If we call the feminine that aspect of the human consciousness that thinks in terms of what’s best for everyone, and not just “the bottom line”, we dignify the values of the feminine.

All around us there is a clamoring for different structures. Whether you’re talking about race, class or gender, the structures that are in place aren’t working across any divide.

People are waking up to the idea that as we change on the inside, we’re going to have to change the outside structures as well. It will take a certain amount of going into the unknown to make small important changes and it will take all of us to do it.