One of the advantages (some might say disadvantages) of living in the country is that cell service is at best spotty, and often nonexistent. Often, when I am driving in my car, cut off from the outside world, I remember the words of an astronaut who had been part of the U.S. mission to the moon. He said that he had deeply appreciated those moments when floating in space, unable to communicate with human beings back on Earth. In the vast silence he had heard the voice of his soul.
I feel like that astronaut on my commute from my home on one side of the Hudson River to Omega Institute’s campus on the other side. Since there are only a few spots during the journey where cell service is dependable, I generally turn off my cell phone, shut off the radio, and travel in undisturbed, out-of-touch, soul time.
One dark January evening in 2008, I left work in a blizzard. Driving along a winding Hudson Valley road, I realized that I should call my husband and let him know I was on my way home. I got to a cell service sweet-spot, and pulled over to make the call. Just as I turned on my phone, it rang.
“Hello?” I said, watching the snow swirl in my headlights.
“Hello! Is this Elizabeth?”
“Who’s this?” I asked, feeling like the astronaut drifting in outer space.
Thinking it was certainly not Oprah, I said something like, “Oh, come on!”
But indeed, it was Oprah. And sitting there at the side of the road, I began a conversation that would go on for several months and result in a project that would touch the lives of millions of people.
Oprah was calling because she had previously read one of my books, The Seeker’s Guide, and liked it well enough to have me on her radio show several months earlier. The Seeker’s Guide chronicles my many years at Omega Institute and describes a new, universal spirituality that is blossoming in America and the world. Now Oprah was thinking that I might be the right person to help her devise a curriculum for an on-line course. She had recently chosen Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth to be the 61st book in her popular book club—the first nonfiction work she had ever chosen. Because it is a serious spiritual book, Oprah wanted to help her readers take the book’s lessons and make them real in daily life. She was creating a live webinar where people from all over the world could Skype in with questions for Eckhart Tolle, creating an international learning community. This may sound commonplace today, but in 2008 it was a brand new concept.
Eckhart agreed to fly from his home in Canada to Chicago every Monday for ten weeks, to be in conversation with Oprah, illuminating the teachings in each of the ten chapters of A New Earth. “Would you like to help me create the curriculum?” Oprah asked.
I wanted to say, “Would a little league pitcher like to play for the San Francisco Giants? Would I like to sing back up for Bruce Springsteen?” Instead, I said “Of course!” Thus began my adventures with Oprah and Eckhart. For three months I flew to Chicago for several days each week. Every Monday morning Eckhart and I had what we called our “Groundhog Day” breakfasts—eating at the same table, in the same hotel, ordering the same meal, week after week. We reviewed my workbook questions for each chapter as well as the possible topics Oprah and he would discuss that evening. Then I would meet with Oprah and review Eckhart’s comments and revisions.
On Monday, March 3, 2008, at 8 pm, we went live with the first worldwide webcast. Millions of people tried to join “the largest classroom on Earth,” temporarily crashing the web in Chicago. The lucky million who got through that night experienced something absolutely revolutionary—a community of spiritual seekers from every continent, linked in real time, connecting around a sincere desire to transform their own lives so that the world might also be transformed. During the following weeks, millions more tuned in each Monday evening to participate in the one-and-a-half hour conversation between Oprah and Eckhart. (Since the launch of the webinar, more than 35 million webcasts have been viewed or downloaded on Oprah.com.) People called in from all over the globe—from Japan to Kenya, Australia to Brazil, Russia to every state in the United States. They shared challenges and breakthroughs in their relationships, work, and families. And they helped each other grasp difficult ideas and make lasting change in their lives through communicating on the message boards.
One afternoon, a few weeks into the webinar, I was minding my own business, working in Chicago, when Oprah asked me if I would be a guest host on her Sirius/XM radio channel so that we could bring A New Earth to even more people. I told her I didn’t think I was the right fit for radio since I’d never done it before, but I’d think about it.
“You’re welcome to think about it,” Oprah said, “but you have to tell me soon.”
“By when?” I asked.
“Tonight,” she said. “We’re launching it tonight, right after the webinar.”
“Tonight?? But I’ve never hosted a radio show.”
“You’ll learn,” said Oprah.
“You’ll learn while you’re doing it. And anyway, I choose people for who they ARE. Like Eckhart says, ‘You are a Human Being, not a human doing.’”
“Touché!” I laughed. “You had me at Human Being.”
Still, I was slightly terrified. I’m a compulsive over-planner. How would I know what to do? Could I represent Eckhart’s teachings in an articulate way? I’d have to make interesting banter on the fly, take live calls, and actually say things like, “Stay with us, we’ll be back right after the break.”
That night, I sat alone in the studio, listening to the voice of the producer in my headphones, watching the computer monitor for directions, ready to take off into the unknown yonder of radio-land. Right before we went live, I remembered what Oprah had said, quoting Eckhart: You are a Human Being, not a human doing. I took that wisdom into my body and came back to it over and over as I hosted many weeks of the radio show, and then went on to host other shows on Oprah’s network for a couple of years. I found my strength in my Being, and allowed my doing to come from the truth of who I am—of who we all are. Call it what you like—soul, core, essence—but beneath the fearful, chattering mind is your indestructible, eternal, powerful Being, who can serve you in everything you do, if you only listen. If you drop your shoulders down from your ears, relax your tight belly, take a sweet, deep breath, and pay attention to the inner you.
This was a life-changing experience for me to jump off the edge into radio-land with only the parachute of Being to catch me. Since then, I’ve tattooed those words into my consciousness. They serve me every time I doubt myself, every time I am challenged, every time I lose my way. I come back to my human Being, so that I can pull off my human doing with the wind of the soul at my back.
Elizabeth Lesser is the New York Times bestselling author of Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow, and The Seeker’s Guide. She is the co-founder of Omega Institute You can read her blog at www.elizabethlesser.org. View some of Eckhart and Oprah’s webinar series at www.oprah.com.