The following piece is adapted from Elizabeth
Lesser's book Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow
We're all bozos on the bus,
so we might as well sit back
and enjoy the ride.
One of my heroes is the clown-activist, Wavy Gravy. He is best known for a role that he played in 1969, when he was the master of ceremonies at the Woodstock festival. Since then, he's been a social activist, a major "fun-d" raiser for good causes, a Ben and Jerry's ice cream flavor, an unofficial hospital chaplain, and the founder of a children's camp for inner city kids. Every four years he campaigns as a candidate for president of the United States, under the pseudonym of Nobody, making speeches all over the country, with slogans like "Nobody for President," "Nobody's Perfect," and "Nobody Should Have That Much Power." He's a seriously funny person, and a person who is serious about helping others. "Like the best of clowns," wrote a reporter in The Village Voice, "Wavy Gravy makes a big fool of himself as is necessary to make a wiser man of you. He is one of the better people on earth."
Wavy (I'm on a first-name basis with him from clown workshops he's offered at Omega) is a master of one-liners, like the famous one he delivered on the Woodstock stage: "What we have in mind is breakfast in bed for 400,000;" and this one, on why he became a clown: "You don't hear a bunch of bullies get together and say 'Hey, let's go kill a few clowns.'"
But my all-time favorite Wavy-ism is the line above about Bozos on the bus, one he repeats whenever he speaks to groups, whether at a clown workshop or in a children's hospital. I have co-opted the phrase and I use it to begin my workshops, because I believe that we are all bozos on the bus, contrary to the self-assured image we work so hard to present to each other on a daily basis. We are all half-baked experiments-mistake-prone beings, born without an instruction book into a complex world. None of us are models of perfect behavior: We have all betrayed and been betrayed; we've been known to be egotistical, unreliable, lethargic, and stingy; and each one of us has, at times, awakened in the middle of the night worrying about everything from money to kids to terrorism to wrinkled skin and receding hairlines. In other words, we're all bozos on the bus.
This, in my opinion, is cause for celebration. If we're all bozos, then for God's sakes, we can put down the burden of pretense and get on with being bozos. We can approach the problems that visit bozo-type beings without the usual embarrassment and resistance. It is so much more effective to work on our rough edges with a light and forgiving heart. Imagine how freeing it would be to take a more compassionate and comedic view of the human condition - not as a way to deny our defects-but as a way of welcoming them as part of the standard human operating system. Every single person on this bus called Earth hurts; it's when we have shame about our failings that hurt turns into suffering. In our shame, we feel an outcast, as if there is another bus somewhere, rolling along on a smooth road. Its passengers are all thin, healthy, happy, well-dressed and well-liked people who belong to harmonious families, hold jobs that never bore or aggravate them, and never do mean things, or goofy things like forget where they parked their car, lose their wallet, or say something totally inappropriate. We long to be on that bus with the other normal people.
But we are on the bus that says BOZO on the front, and we worry that we may be the only passenger on board. This is the illusion that so many of us labor under- that we're all alone in our weirdness and our uncertainty; that we may be the most lost person on the highway. Of course we don't always feel like this. Sometimes a wave of self-forgiveness washes over us, and suddenly we're connected to our fellow humans; suddenly we belong.
It is wonderful to take your place on the bus with the other bozos. It may be the first step to enlightenment to understand with all of your brain cells that the other bus - that sleek bus with the cool people who know where they are going - is also filled with bozos - bozos in drag; bozos with a secret. When we see clearly that every single human being, regardless of fame or fortune or age or brains or beauty, shares the same ordinary foibles, a strange thing happens. We begin to cheer up, to loosen up, and we become as buoyant as those people we imagined on the other bus. As we rumble along the potholed road, lost as ever, through the valleys and over the hills, we find ourselves among friends. We sit back, and enjoy the ride.
Excerpted from Broken Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow by Elizabeth Lesser
to The Spiritual Adventure
ELIZABETH LESSER is the co-founder of Omega
Institute, the United States’ largest adult education center
focusing on health, wellness, spirituality, and creativity. She
is the New York Times best-selling author of Broken
Open: How Difficult Times Can Help Us Grow and The
Seeker's Guide: Making Your Life a Spiritual Adventure (both
from Random House). For more than 30 years Elizabeth has worked
with leading figures in the fields of healing, spiritual development,
and cultural change. Her work at Omega has included leading the
organization, developing its curricula, teaching, and writing
the yearly Omega catalog, a reference book that describes the
work of some of the most eminent thinkers and practitioners of
For many years, Elizabeth spearheaded Omega’s popular Women and
Power conferences, renowned gatherings featuring women leaders,
authors, activists, and artists from around the world. In 2008
she worked closely with Oprah Winfrey and Eckhart Tolle in the
creation of a ten-week online seminar based on Tolle’s book, A
New Earth. The “webinar” was viewed by millions of people worldwide.
Since then, she has appeared several times on The Oprah Show and
Oprah.com webcasts, and is an ongoing host on Oprah Radio, a weekly
show on Sirius/XM.
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, chronicles the
uprising of a new spirituality that she participated in and researched
through her work at Omega. Her second book, Broken Open, 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 been translated into 16 languages.
Ms. Lesser attended Barnard College and San Francisco State University.
Previous to her work at Omega, she was a midwife and birth educator.
She has been active in environmental issues for many years in New
York State's Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains, where she lives
with her husband. She is the mother of three grown sons.
About Omega Institute for Holistic Studies
Founded in 1977, Omega
Institute for Holistic Studies is the nation’s most trusted
source for wellness and personal growth. As a nonprofit organization,
Omega offers diverse and innovative educational experiences that
inspire an integrated approach to personal and social change. Located
on 195 acres in the beautiful Hudson Valley, Omega welcomes more
than 23,000 people to its workshops, conferences, and retreats
in Rhinebeck, New York and at exceptional locations around the
Conversation with Elizabeth Lesser by Marianne Schnall
to The Spiritual Adventure