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The On Being Project

The Persons We Want to Become, Qualities We Want to Leave Behind

The two pieces that bookend this Letter reached hundreds of thousands of readers this week. They touch on something deep within us that speaks to the persons we strive to become and the ambitions we try not to be overtaken by. And in between are others who show us the way to do so…

(Scott Norris / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved)

“It’s not easy to subdue the inflated ego and loose the adventuresome soul. But whenever we can do so, it saves us grief and serves the world well.”

Trying to answer the existential question of worth is inevitable, it seems to me, but flawed. Parker Palmer pens a beautiful column on the question we need not answer and the ultimate definition of love — with the poetic words of Czeslaw Milosz as his guide.

Billy Mills raises his arms at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo.

“The number one objective of my Olympic pursuit was to heal a broken soul.”

Remember the actor Robby Benson? He played Billy Mills in Running Brave. Well, it’s the real Billy Mills who kicks off our newest podcast, Creating Our Own Lives. The 1964 Olympic gold medalist’s triumphant story is moving, heartbreaking, and redemptive. He touches on so many themes: cultural exclusion, perseverance, suicide, tradition, family, success — but it’s a mystical story as he crosses the finish line that speaks to a deeper truth and will leave you verklempt.

(Sarah Hackney / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved)

Building on the idea of journeys…

“The beauty of the Camino for me has been that you could put technology aside and leave the world back home. In its place, you immerse yourself in solitude, the kindness of strangers, fellowship, and conversation with your fellow travelers.”

The Camino de Santiago is a well-trodden path for pilgrimage and silent reflection with other wayfarers. But with the increasingly ubiquitous presence of Wi-Fi, is it encroaching on the aspects of what makes the adventure special?

President Theodore Roosevelt and John Muir stand on an outcropping overlooking Yosemite National Park. (Public Domain Work)

“We are so distracted by things (primarily to buy) and the busy chatter of living. We forget the glory. We forget the stuff of deeper life.”

Glory and beauty are co-opted by our magazines and our catalogues. Jackson Culpepper with a photo essay that de-glosses the primordial glory of the natural world to find the stuff of deeper life.

Diana Matar is a photographer and an astute observer of the human condition. Her new exhibition, Evidence, explores her father-in-law’s disappearance and how it’s possible to “render the void”:

“Like the silent spaces between notes in a musical score, the silence of a disappeared man or woman creates a sound, often deafening, which is unable to be ignored. It asks the question, what remains?”

I am not a rap aficionado, but I do love poetry. And I adore learning about rhyming schemes. After watching Estelle Caswell’s stellar deconstruction of some of the greatest rappers’ complex and “lyrically dense” rhyme patterns, I have a whole new appreciation for the craft. I think you will too.

“Grief and gladness, sickness and health, are not separate passages. They’re entwined and grow from and through each other, planting us, if we’ll let them, more profoundly in our bodies in all their flaws and their grace.”

This is how Krista leads into her beautiful exchange with Matthew Sanford on the inherent grace and resilience of our bodies in the face of trauma. An innovator of adaptive yoga, he knows things about the human body through his own experience with physical trauma, which left him paralyzed from the waist down when he was a teenager:

“Your body, for as long as it possibly can, will be faithful to living. That’s what it does.”

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(Anastasia Higginbotham / The Feminist Press / © All Rights Reserved)

Using a Anastasia Higginbotham’s new children’s book, Death Is Stupid, as a scaffolding, Courtney Martin makes a case for kids teaching adults how to work through grief and death in better ways:

“Ask them your questions. Treasure the things they left behind. Look for them in peculiar places. Because while death, the ultimate end, is inevitable, remembering lasts.”

(Leo Hidalgo / Flickr / Some Rights Reserved)

After a lifetime of learning and loving and losing, Omid Safi shares five practical lessons about the problematic idea of success:

“I’d like for us to learn to have a more generous and kind understanding of what it means to have a successful life, one that is not about individual accumulation of goodies, but actually about the transformation of communities. It’s bathed in humility. And it’s practical.”

Oh, and you must watch his commencement speech at Colgate University. It’s the talk we’ve been waiting for. It’s funny and brilliant!
Thanks so much for reading. Until next week, please feel free to contact me with any advice, criticism, feedback at [email protected], or via Twitter at @trentgilliss.
May the wind always be at your back.

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