Best of 2016: Most Listened-To Podcast Episodes

Thursday, December 29, 2016 - 5:30 am

Best of 2016: Most Listened-To Podcast Episodes

Happy holidays to you!

Exciting news this week at Loring Park! The Atlantic chose On Being as one its top 50 podcasts of 2016. As 2016 comes to a close, I present you with On Being‘s best podcasts of the year — as determined by you, our listeners. If you have some long road trips ahead of you or need to take an hour away from family for some sweet salvation during holiday gatherings, here’s a list to accompany you…

1 The Conversational Nature of Reality
David Whyte

David Whyte shared a deep friendship with one of the spiritual geniuses of our day (and a past guest on our program), the late John O’Donohue. Whyte is a philosopher and poet who believes in the power of a “beautiful question” amidst the drama of work as well as the drama of life — amidst the ways the two overlap, whether we want them to or not.

One listener, Janaki, a professor of medicine who specializes in the treatment of HIV/AIDS, submitted this lovely reflection after listening to the podcast:

“This week was the first week of my new life as an independent woman, not defined by my marriage, and learning to figure out who I am, possibly for the first real time in my life (better late than never). It’s scary, but so far it’s not as bad as I anticipated, and particularly the poem ‘Vulnerability’ hit close to my recent experience. As always, thank you.”

2 Choosing Curiosity Over Fear
Elizabeth Gilbert

Elizabeth Gilbert is best-known for her memoir, Eat Pray Love. Through the disorienting process of becoming a global celebrity, she has reflected on the gift and challenge of inhabiting a creative life. Creativity is about choosing curiosity over fear, she says, and it’s something accessible to us all and good for our life together:

“I think curiosity is our friend that teaches us how to become ourselves. And it’s a very gentle friend, and a very forgiving friend, and a very constant one. Passion is not so constant, not so gentle, not so forgiving, and sometimes not so available.”

3 The Magic Shop of the Brain
James Doty

How do the brain and the heart talk to each other? What does compassion mean in the body and in action? How can we reshape our lives and perhaps our species through the scientific and human understanding we are now gaining? The brain surgeon James Doty investigates these types of questions through the discipline of science and through his own personal journey.

One listener, Kristin Schnurr, found comfort in Doty’s approach to suffering and the kindred spirits who listened along to this conversation:

“The circumstances in the world today bring me so much heartache and worry. Dr. Doty reminded me that even a smile can help the world become more peaceful. When the suffering of others feels so overwhelming it is helpful to know that all I can really do is to keep practicing compassion. To know that Dr. Doty and most of the listeners see circumstances, and feel their thoughts the same as me is helpful, too. I don’t feel so alone and hopeless.”

4 Anatomy of Gratitude
David Steindl-Rast

Brother David Steindl-Rast, now 90, has lived through a world war, the end of an empire, and the fascist takeover of his country of Austria. I affectionately think of him as the guru of gratitude (His TED Talk has been viewed more than five million times!), a practice that’s key to human well-being. It was an honor and a great privilege to be able to visit Brother David in his native homeland in the Austrian Alps. In this conversation recorded in Gut Aich Priory monastery in St. Gilgen, he speaks of mysticism as the birthright of every human being, and of the anatomy and practice of gratitude as full-blooded, reality-based, and redeeming:

“I don’t speak of the gift, because not for everything that’s given to you can you really be grateful. You can’t be grateful for war in a given situation, or violence, or sickness, things like that. So the key when people ask, can you be grateful for everything? No, not for everything, but in every moment.”

5 The Myth of Closure
Pauline Boss

Pauline Boss, a family therapist who coined the term “ambiguous loss,” says that there is no such thing as closure. The concept is a myth we need to put aside; it leads us astray. She offers practical, useful wisdom for the complicated griefs and losses we all experience in life — and how we best approach the losses of others:

“We have to live with loss, clear or ambiguous. It’s OK. And it’s OK to see people who are hurting and just to say something simple. ‘I’m so sorry.’ You really don’t have to say more than that.”

If you have a few moments, I encourage you to read listeners’ reflections posted in response to this conversation. They are loving and kind, and filled with stories that just might resonate with your own experiences.

From everybody on our team, I’d like to extend our deepest gratitude to you. We are all so grateful for the trust you show us by listening to our interviews, reading our columnists (and this newsletter!), and attending our live events. Time is at a premium these days, and we appreciate you spending a part of your day with us.

We welcome your feedback, critical or otherwise. Please tell me how I’m doing. The best way to reach me is at

May the wind always be at your back!


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was the founding executive editor of On Being Studios.


Share Your Reflection


  • Tom Tischer

    In my daily life is my own conversations with myself and God.

    I don’t believe in luck but I do believe in making that which presents to Me positive.

    I have choices to act in response to life; Both act and react to each thought or feeling. I chose to see in high definition color images when I am right with the world. When I want change, I tend to be in black and white and seeing still photos over and over again.

    My culprit is resistance to what is. I need to keep conscious of the present and let the past move out of sight. I am happiest when I am helping others and feeling appreciated too.

    For me, Kindness First (Love in action); Listen Deeply(that we might be aware of the truth); Choose Supreme Happiness Daily(Godly Grace and Peace), all make for a good quality of life for me.

    No matter what my circumstances, the way I proceed determines my being.

    Disease states seem to carry with them varying degrees of attitude by those dealing with them: MS is one dramatic case.

    Magical Magnifying mind continues to challenge my psyche.