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It’s pretty intriguing to follow poet Naomi Shihab Nye’s idea that most of us actually “think in poems” whether we know it or not. Rarely, as she points out, do you hear anyone say they feel worse after writing things down. That, she says, can be a tool to survive in hard times like these, to anchor our days and to get into a conversation and community with all of the selves that live on in each of us at any given moment — “your child self, your older self, your confused self, your self-that-makes-a-lot-of-mistakes.” We also hear her read her beloved poem “Kindness” and tell us the story behind it.

In so many stories and fables that shape us, cold and snow, the closing in of the light — these have deep psychological as much as physical reality. This is “wintering,” as the English writer Katherine May illuminates in her beautiful, meditative book of that title — wintering as at once a season of the natural world, a respite our bodies require, and a state of mind. It’s one way to describe our pandemic year: as one big extended communal experience of wintering. Some of us are laboring harder than ever on its front lines and also on its home front of parenting. All of us are exhausted. This conversation with Katherine May helps.

Underpinning all the great challenges of our time there is the human drama, the human condition. And as we move beyond 2020, we turn to Mary Catherine Bateson to help us understand the puzzle of being ourselves, of rising to our best capacities and gifts, in all of our complexity and strangeness. She is the daughter of the great anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, and she is a linguist and anthropologist herself.

Music is a source of solace and nourishment in the best of times and the hardest of times. It has been for so many of us in this year of pandemic, and Cloud Cult is on every playlist Krista makes. Craig Minowa started the band in 1995. Its trajectory was cathartically changed the day he and his wife Connie woke up to find that their firstborn two-year-old son, Kaidin, had mysteriously died in his sleep. The music that has emerged ever since has spanned the human experience from the rawest grief to the fiercest hope. We welcomed Craig and the whole Cloud Cult ensemble to On Being Studios in Minneapolis, for conversation and music, in 2016.

James Baldwin said, “American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it.” Imani Perry embodies that prism. For the past few years, Perry has been pondering the notions of slow work and resistant joy as she writes about what it means to raise her two black sons — as a thinker and writer at the intersection of law, race, culture, and literature. This live conversation was recorded at the Chautauqua Institution.

Sylvia Boorstein says spirituality doesn’t have to look like sitting down and meditating. A Jewish-Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, Boorstein says spirituality can be as simple as “folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in [your] family even though you’ve had a long day.” And she insists that nurturing our inner lives in this way is not a luxury but something we can do in the service of others — from our children to strangers in the checkout line at the grocery store.

A rabbi and parent, Sandy Eisenberg Sasso wants us to think about how we might teach our children’s souls, not just their minds. She says nurturing the spiritual lives of our children is the work of understanding for ourselves “what really matters in life, what’s precious, what’s more important than earning a living and going through our daily routine.”

Neuroscientist Richard Davidson is one of the central people who’s helped us begin to see inside our brains. His work has illuminated the rich interplay between things we saw as separate not that long ago: body, mind, spirit, emotion, behavior, and genetics. Richard is applying what he’s learning about imparting qualities of character — like kindness and practical love — in lives and in classrooms. This live conversation was recorded at the Orange County Department of Education in Costa Mesa, California.

The topic of the day was “courage,” with two singular, admired women (who happen to be married to each other): soccer icon Abby Wambach and writer/philanthropist Glennon Doyle. Abby is an Olympic gold medalist and World Cup champion. Glennon entered the American imagination with the label “Christian mommy blogger.” Now she ignites millions of followers through initiatives like “Love Flash Mobs,” as she says, “to turn heartbreak into action.” What follows is a conversation about courage that is both serious and playful, as it turns up in their lives apart and together — from addiction to social activism to blended family parenting.

“I think of this as the wisdom of young adulthood and of the teenage years: You have this sense of urgency about what is possible.”

On nurturing the voice and agency of young citizens — and the importance of fostering intergenerational friendships.

Living the Questions is an occasional On Being segment where Krista muses on questions from our listening community.

Jean Berko Gleason is a living legend in the field of psycholinguistics — how language emerges, and what it tells us about how we think and who we are. She has helped to illustrate the remarkable ordinary human capacity to begin to speak, and she’s continued to break new ground in exploring what this may teach us about adults as about the children we’re raising. We keep learning about the human gift, as she puts it, to be conscious of ourselves and to comment on that. For her, the exploration of language is a frontier every bit as important and thrilling as exploring outer space or the deep sea.

“I grew up a witness,” Mike Rose writes, “to the intelligence of the waitress in motion, the reflective welder, the strategy of the guy on the assembly line. This then is something I know: the thought it takes to do physical work.” In all our debates about standardized testing and the information economy, the value of learning to work and the future of liberal arts education, we may risk too narrow a view of the way the physical, the human, and the intellectual blend in all kinds of learning and in all work that matters. Mike Rose’s expansive wisdom could enlarge our civic imagination on big subjects at the heart of who we are — schooling, social class, and the deepest meaning of vocation.

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