Pursuing deep thinking and moral imagination, social courage and joy, to renew inner life, outer life, and life together.

The On Being Project is a nonprofit media and public life initiative. We make a public radio showpodcasts, and tools for the art of living. Six grounding virtues guide everything we do. We explore the intersection of spiritual inquiry, science, social healing, community, poetry, and the arts. We’re offering ongoing special content for this moment, including conversations about race and healing, “care packages” for care givers and uncertain times, and a new way to experience poetry.

Our New Home for Poetry

We’ve made our poetry collection more accessible and inviting. Explore all the ways poetry is manifest in our work — including interviews with poets, recorded readings with poets, episodes of Poetry Unbound, and discussions about poetry’s contribution to the common good.

Experience it here.

This poem stretches the word ‘expect’ into dozens of formulations. Proceeding alphabetically through the index of the book, “What to Expect When You’re Expecting,” Katie Manning creates an exhausting list of all the expectations created during pregnancy,about rejecting some pressures and embracing others; surviving some, being knocked over by others. The humor and pace of this poem places insight alongside insidiousness.

Alex Elle complicates the idea of self-care, opening it up as community-care, as a way towards generational healing. And she’s revivifying the meaning of meeting one’s “inner child” for a new generation. Our colleague Lily Percy says she could not have survived the physical isolation of the pandemic without Alex’s writing, teaching, and Instagram presence. So Krista hands over the mic to Lily for this conversation.

The opening poem to Ilya Kaminsky’s masterpiece, Deaf Republic, is written in the voice of someone who is confessing their complacency during a time of trial. There’s a war going on, but it doesn’t affect the person speaking, so they don’t get involved. Instead they stayed outside and caught the sun. They lived happily during the war, and are now saying (forgive us). This poem leaves us wondering what it would mean to make such a confession, to ask for forgiveness, and whether it’d do any good.

Elemental human capacities like friendship and love, teaching and learning, have tremendous, constant, practical force. We don’t think of these in terms of what has given our species the grit to endure through hard times and even evolve in the long run. They’re lived social intelligence, part of the everyday, and so can be hard to see as serious amidst the high tumult of our age. But these kinds of human qualities are what sociologist Nicholas Christakis studies from his Human Nature Lab at Yale and his life generously lived. He offers a wide lens, a broad perspective, that deepens and refreshes.

Bereavement brings all kinds of pressures. This poem by Martín Espada starts off with a grief-to-do-list: a phone call, a flight, a blizzard, cremations, shipments of ashes, memorial services. After all of this — in a first stanza that builds in intensity — he needs to be reconnected with something tangible. He goes to feed birds at the park, and among the birds is a goose, like a god of the geese, who shrieks with all the emotion stored in him. This goose is like a priest of grief for Martín Espada, voicing the sounds of all that he’s feeling.

In many ways this poem can be analyzed by how it ends: by examining the contents of organic shops. Roshni Goyate looks at one such item — coconut oil for hair — and considers its long line of history in her British-Indian family. As a child, she was shamed by classmates for using coconut oil in her hair, but now it’s double the price in shops. In a cruel irony, her race and culture were both hypervisible to those who taunted her and rendered invisible by those same people who invalidated her presence and citizenship.

There’s dark matter in the cosmos, and inside us, and hidden beneath our feet. Robert Macfarlane is an explorer and linguist of landscape and his book, Underland: A Deep Time Journey, is an odyssey that’s full of surprises — from caves and catacombs under land, under cities, and under forests to the meltwater of Greenland. “Since before we were Homo sapiens,” he writes, “humans have been seeking out spaces of darkness in which to find and make meaning.” Darkness in the natural world and in human life, he suggests, is a medium of vision — and descent, a movement toward revelation.

When looking at Andy Warhol’s painting of Geronimo — a leader and medicine man of the Bedonkohe band of the Apache tribe — b: william bearheart wonders who the Geronimo of the painting is looking back at, and who is looking at it. In many ways, this poem reflects on how this piece of art depicting an Indigenous American was painted by a White person for White people. However, the poet finds connections — of pain, occupation and experience — between himself and Geronimo; and the poem challenges the centrality of the White european gaze.

A poet considers his father, and, particularly, his father’s boots. These boots could be a hammer, a prop, a weapon. But Esteban Rodríguez also remembers how his father — a sleepwalker — would walk outside at night in his underwear, wielding his boots, slapping them against each other in a kind of protective ritual. What spirits was his father protecting them from? What was he asserting about land and place, by standing guard, even in his dreams?

Letterpress art by Myrna Keliher.

The pandemic memoirs began almost immediately, and now comes another kind of offering — a searching look at the meaning of the racial catharsis to which the pandemic in some sense gave birth and voice and life. Tracy K. Smith co-edited the stunning book, There’s a Revolution Outside, My Love: Letters from a Crisis, a collection of 40 pieces that span an array of BIPOC voices from Edwidge Danticat to Reginald Dwayne Betts, from Layli Long Soldier to Ross Gay to Julia Alvarez. Tracy and Michael Kleber-Diggs, who also contributed an essay, join Krista for a conversation that is quiet and fierce and wise. They reflect inward and outward, backwards and forwards, from inside the Black experience of this pivotal time to be alive.

The Civil Conversations Project

Speaking together differently in order to live together differently.

We have always grown through listening to our listeners and the world. We have been building The Civil Conversations Project since 2011. We honor the power of asking better questions, model reframed approaches to debates, and insist that the ruptures above the radar do not tell the whole story of our time.

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Libraries

Our Libraries are thematic collections of writings and episodes from the On Being archive dating back to 2003. Wander the rows and scan the shelves.

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