Elizabeth Lesser on Building Omega Institute, ADD (Authenticity-Deficit Disorder), and Seeking 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!

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, Stitcher, Castbox, Google Podcasts, or on your favorite podcast platform.

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The transcript of this episode can be found here. Transcripts of all episodes can be found here.

#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


  • Why visiting Omega Institute might feel a little like starring in your own Disney film. [07:22]
  • Who is Pir Vilayat Inayat Khan? [09:42]
  • 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? [14:08]
  • What did the prototype look like for Omega Institute, and how did Elizabeth and her co-founders decide on what to include versus exclude? [20:22]
  • What issues made the early Omega Institute pioneers rethink their intention of living communally? [29:17]
  • 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? [35:00]
  • On the exploration of ecumenical traditions and innervism. [39:52]
  • What is the movement from me to we? [44:33]
  • How would Elizabeth define “spiritual” — or does she prefer another term? [47:00]
  • 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.” [50:09]
  • What is Authenticity Deficit Disorder? [58:31]
  • 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? [1:05:32]
  • Recommendations for people going through the grieving process — especially in a culture that doesn’t really afford us time to mourn. [1:08:24]
  • The importance of, as Henk Kraaijenhof has said, doing as little as needed, not as much as possible. [1:14:30]
  • What is the origin story of Elizabeth’s latest book, Cassandra Speaks: When Women Are the Storytellers, the Human Story Changes? [1:16:46]
  • 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? [1:26:11]
  • What impact does Elizabeth hope to have with Cassandra Speaks? How does she believe that full-hearted fatherhood might save the world? [1:32:33]
  • What would Elizabeth’s billboard say? [1:37:16]
  • Parting thoughts. [1:38:17]


The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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15 Replies to “Elizabeth Lesser on Building Omega Institute, ADD (Authenticity-Deficit Disorder), and Seeking The Emotion of Illumination (#505)”

  1. Hi, could you interview someone about ADHD in adulthood pls? I just got diagnosed and am feeling lost as to where to start. Thank you.

  2. I loved this interview. Great quote that “boys can be anything girls can be” Elizabeth Lesser. I want a T-shirt. Thank you. I also loved the book “Cassandra Speaks”.

  3. Hey Tim, Tom from Odysee here. We’re big fans of your podcast and wanted to extend a welcome to sync your YouTube channel with us. There’s no extra work on your part, just sign up and authenticate at odysee.com or shoot me an email at [Moderator: email address removed here but preserved in intake form.] to discuss more. Odysee is built on LBRY, which is a decentralized blockchain that specializes in the publishing and discovery use case.

    We’ve been growing tremendously in the last few months and have lots of top tier creators onboard like Jordan Peterson, Zuby, Dr Eric Berg, and many more. Our top list can be seen at lbry.com/youtubers

    Hope to hear back!

  4. This episode reminded me of your conversation with Tara Brach – two wise women who’ve transformed their struggles and journeys into gifts for the world. Thank you for helping share their stories.

  5. There is just something about Tim’s conversations with women. Tara Brach, Elizabeth Gilbert, Brene Brown, Amanda Palmer, Samin Nosrat and now add Elizabeth Lesser. I know there are many more but these spring to mind instantly. The conversations get to a soulful place so beautifully. Thank you, thank you, thank you Tim and your guests. So many of these turn out to be exactly what I needed to hear in exactly the right moment.

  6. Another great guest and interview. I have listened to or watched several interviews with Elizabeth Lesser, and this one surfaced some new and interesting info. I loved how the interview ended with ‘be gentle with yourself’.

  7. Fantastic, among Tim’s numerous top interviews. I’m sharing it and will read several of the books. Thank you Tim and Elizabeth! **I’m sure you’ve heard this already, but important correction: Thurgood Marshall was the 1st Black Supreme Court justice.** (She knows this, too, but misspoke.)

  8. Loved this episode, and her concept of ADD. Just saw an amazing film I highly recommend: Eddie Huang’s Boogie. Timely story about Asian American families, and especially young men, told through the lens of basketball. Incredible achievement from a first-time director (I assume Eddie’s been on the show; if not, he’d be a knockout guest) and an eminently watchable story for all audiences that seems right up TF alley.

  9. What a wonderful episode. I love the all the smarty guys, I really do, but this episode with Elizebeth Lesser softened my heart and allowed air and space in my being. Execellent. Thank you both.

  10. Hi Tim, I greatly appreciated your conversation with Elizabeth. Your shows always have a way of being exactly what I needed in that moment. I’ve been fascinated for a while now on what the role of women is. I enjoy reading about how Brit Marling approaches strong female lead roles in her films. We’ve only begin to scratch the surface. Cheers!

  11. Tim, your podcast got me through the pandemic. And my job is in long-term residential care so I think that’s saying a lot. Every night, a big glass of red wine and the Tim Ferriss show helped me unload during the scariest, toughest days. Eventually had to cut back on the wine but I still love the show and I loved this episode. There was an author recommended – Henri Nouwen (fyi, not hard to pronounce, just Henry Now-when). Henri was a Catholic priest and a brilliant academic, and after holding positions at Harvard and Yale, he spent the last 10 years of his life living in L’Arche, which are intentional communities of adults with and without intellectual disabilities. I have been a part of the L’Arche communities for 10+ years. If you do read anything of Nouwen’s, you may be interested in checking out what he wrote about his time at L’Arche and the work we do. Thanks for doing such great work and enriching so many lives with your interviews!
    [Moderator: link removed to larche dot org.]

  12. Great episode – so many gems. Loved Elizabeth’s comment that you don’t have to remove every branch in the river, and Tim’s advice from a top coach he knew to do as little as necessary, not as much as possible. Another amazing interview. Thanks so much.

  13. Thank you Tim for sharing Elizabeth Lessor! Listening to her book now. She’s put into words so much gut feeling that would have taken decades to cognify. Feeling spooked, fired-up, angry and relieved all at once – how is that even possible?

    Tim, don’t know if you read these comments.

    If you do, please listen to your intro music. I love your podcast, but can’t stand the all-male-voices-except-for-one-sexy-female-voice intro. I find it to be jarringly at odds with the soul-shifting content of the interviews.

    Thank you.