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The On Being Project

Our Relationships Are Made by the Words We Say

Gillian Gonda, a dear friend of ours and a program officer at the Fetzer Institute, posted this note on March 14th as her husband Brian was in hospice care:

“So often these days I want to be upset with time. Haven’t had enough of it with Brian, so much time left for us, so I thought (a full lifetime was the deal, right?) But, I am reminded day after day upon hearing of one tragedy or another, unexpected deaths that suddenly transport those that remain into another reality, where time is swift and unforgiving. So, now, as I watch Brian sleep, I am grateful for time that moves slow, allowing full waves of emotion to come and recede, reverberating like ripples in water. So, could it be that we are lucky? That we actually have been given time? Oof… will keep meditating on that and be more aware of each moment.”

Brian left this world on Thursday. We send our deepest sympathies and love to Gillian and her family.

From the On Being Archives

(Meredith Farmer / Flickr / None (All Rights Reserved))

Contemplating Mortality
Reflecting on Gillian’s loss reminded me of Krista’s interview with Dr. Ira Byock, a leading figure in palliative care and hospice. He says we lose sight of “the remarkable value” of the time of life we call dying if we forget that it’s always a personal and human event, and not just a medical one. He says there are four sentences that matter most — just 11 words — in our relationships with others:

“Please forgive me.
I forgive you.
Thank you.
I love you.”

What Our Columnists Are Thinking

(Brian Geltner / Flickr / Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs)

Omid Safi
What Flying Can Teach Us About Rising Above the Turbulence
If there’s one person who can tease out a metaphor, it’s Omid:

“We ourselves are the plane, we ourselves are the storm, we ourselves are the turbulence, we ourselves are the moving up and the down, we are the temporary relief, and in us too is the realm of permanent bliss and tranquility. We have to find our own heart’s pilot, not just moving up and down to navigate conflict, but to soar to that realm where we can look back at the turbulence we have risen beyond.”

A lovely read on rising above the tumult of our lives to find a place of serenity, especially from 30,000 feet in the air.

(Brian Wolfe / Flickr / Attribution-NonCommercial)

Parker Palmer
Jailbreak Into the Blossoming of Spring

“Why make a cell your home
when the door is unlocked
and the garden is waiting for you?”

Spring is in the air in Madison, Wisconsin. And these lines from Maya Spector’s poem “Jailbreak” have inspired Parker to get outside and “start planting seeds of new life!”

(Cia de Foto / Flickr / Attribution)

Courtney Martin
Mothers Are Keepers of Bodies
Checking my feeds this morning, I caught Courtney’s tweet about her most recent column:

“This week’s @onbeing column is for all my vomit catchers and my shit wipers out there. I see you.”

A tad crass, yes, but that’s what I absolutely admire about Courtney — her ability to speak plainly and keep it real. She also has a way of seeing the big picture and relating it back to our lives:

“There are so many ways that mothering has transformed me, but I often feel like there has been no more important shift than this: It brought me back into my own body after years of mostly living in my head, and it also made me responsible for other bodies in a permanent and profound way.”

(Acumen / © All Rights Reserved)

Sharon Salzberg
How to Train Your Brain to See Beyond Us Versus Them
Brain research is showing us that certain parts of the brain — the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), the hub of self-referential habits — is more active when people feel anxious or guilty. And the PCC literally contracts when activated. But when we don’t immediately activate the PCC (when we do nothing?), our brains experience a quality of expansion, which may have more advantageous long-term benefits for ourselves and our society:

“Trying to one-up the ‘other’ may activate our brain’s reward circuits in an ephemeral instant, but if we become more aware of how we are responding, habits of contraction can become less reinforcing. It’s when we take the time to stop ourselves that we can actually see the nature of our reaction. We may then be able to stop and say, ‘Oh, that doesn’t feel so good.'”

What We’re Reading and Listening To
6abc Action News
Good Samaritan Honored for Breaking Up Fight Pays Tribute to Mother
The video of Ibn Ali Miller talking two teenage boys out of fighting was utterly inspiring. Watching his speech while being honored at an Atlantic City council meeting is even better. Absolutely moving, and a testament to mothers everywhere.

BBC Radio 4
Actress Noma Dumezweni Reads Wordworth’s Daffodils
To watch her fingers move while reading is an utter thrill. And it adds so much to the experience. Just watch and listen for a single minute of ecstasy.

Fast Company
Radio Host Krista Tippett on the Elements of Wisdom
We don’t tend to do listicles or how-tos at On Being, but I have to admit that it was immensely helpful to see these “five truths for leading with insight” laid out so discretely:

  • Politeness isn’t always productive.
  • There’s no such thing as meaningless work.
  • You can’t separate work and life.
  • Warm is not weakness.
  • Everything needs time.

Our Guest Writer of the Week

Courtney Seiberling sits with her father. (Courtney Seiberling / © All Rights Reserved)

Courtney Seiberling
When Things End, There’s a Magic To It All

We received this blind submission from an educator living in Los Angeles. I like the flow of her writing and her penchant for storytelling. It seems right to close out this week’s Letter from Loring Park with Ms. Seiberling’s words on life and death, mystery and memory:

“As I remembered, something started to happen. My dad came to me. Instead of in the stiff earth, he appeared in a Neil Young song on the radio. Rather than beneath a glossed stone, he showed up in the way I preferred my coffee. Today, he’s often a nudge of encouragement for everything that is possible or a reminder of all that isn’t. Things end. But something else always begins. There’s a magic to it all.”

Thank you for all the generous criticisms and lovely affirmations. We welcome your feedback at any time. You can reach me at [email protected] or via Twitter. My handle is @trentgilliss.

May the wind always be at your back.


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