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Pauline Boss coined the term “ambiguous loss” and invented a new field within psychology to name the reality that every loss does not hold a promise of anything like resolution. Amid this pandemic, there are so many losses — from deaths that could not be mourned, to the very structure of our days, to a sudden crash of what felt like solid careers and plans and dreams. This conversation is full of practical intelligence for shedding assumptions about how we should be feeling and acting as these only serve to deepen stress. 

In this “spiritual book club” edition of the show, Krista and musician/artist Devendra Banhart read favorite passages and discuss When Things Fall Apart, a small book of great beauty by the Tibetan Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön. It’s a work — like all works of spiritual genius — that speaks from the nooks and crannies and depths of a particular tradition, while conveying truths about humanity writ large. Their conversation speaks with special force to what it means to be alive and looking for meaning right now.

“Imagine yourself alone on this planet. Would anything be the same?” Jennifer Michael Hecht is a poet, philosopher, and historian who wants to change the way we talk to ourselves and each other about suicide and staying alive — starting with her insistence that we believe each other into being. “Sometimes when you can’t see what’s important about you, other people can.”

Editor’s note: Given the focus of Jennifer Michael Hecht’s work, this episode briefly touches on the topic of suicide.

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.

“The incredible ripple effect of being at peace with our vulnerability in any situation is that it means that you have to develop compassion for yourself.”

On how vulnerability can bring us closer to ourselves and each other.

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

“However seriously we must take what’s happening in the world and what the headlines are reflecting, it is never the full story of our time. It’s not the last word on what we’re capable of. It’s not the whole story of us.”

On seeking hope and joy in troubling times.

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

We’re fluent in the languages of psychology and medication, but the word “depression” does not do justice to this human experience. Depression is also spiritual territory. It is a shadow side of human vitality and as such teaches us about vitality. And what if depression is possible for the same reason that love is possible?

“A dysfunctional family is any family with more than one person in it.” Mary Karr has a captivating ability to give voice to what is funny in life’s most heartbreaking moments. She is beloved for her salty memoirs in which she traces her harrowing childhood in southeast Texas — with a mother who once tried to kill her with a butcher’s knife and her own adult struggles with alcoholism and breakdown. Mary Karr embodies this wryness and wildness in her lesser-known spiritual practice as a devout Catholic — an unexpected move she made in mid-life.

Stay. That’s the message that philosopher, poet, and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht puts at the center of her unusual writing about suicide. She’s traced how the history of Western civilization has, at times, demonized those who commit suicide, and, at times, celebrated it as a moral freedom. She has struggled with suicidal places in her life and lost friends to it. As a scholar, she’s now proposing a new cultural reckoning with suicide, based not on morality or on rights but on our essential need for each other.