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“What a time to be alive,” adrienne maree brown has written. “Right now we are in a fast river together — every day there are changes that seemed unimaginable until they occurred.” adrienne maree brown and others use many words and phrases to describe what she does, and who she is: A student of complexity. A student of change and of how groups change together. A “scholar of belonging.” A “scholar of magic.” She grew up loving science fiction, and thought we’d be driving flying cars by now; and yet, has found in speculative fiction the transformative force of vision and imagination that might in fact save us. Our younger listeners have asked to hear adrienne maree brown’s voice on On Being, and here she is, as we enter our own time of evolution. This conversation shines a light on an emerging ecosystem in our world over and against the drumbeat of what is fractured and breaking: working with the complex fullness of reality, and cultivating old and new ways of seeing, to move towards a transformative wholeness of living.

The British psychologist Kimberley Wilson works in the emergent field of whole body mental health, one of the most astonishing frontiers we are on as a species. Discoveries about the gut microbiome, for example, and the gut-brain axis; the fascinating vagus nerve and the power of the neurotransmitters we hear about in piecemeal ways in discussions around mental health. The phrase “mental health” itself makes less and less sense in light of the wild interactivity we can now see between what we’ve falsely compartmentalized as physical, emotional, mental, even spiritual. And so much of what we’re seeing brings us back to intelligence that has always been in the very words we use — “gut instinct,” for instance. It brings us back to something your grandmother was right about, for reasons she would never have imagined: you are what you eat. There is so much actionable knowledge in the tour of the ecosystem of our bodies that Kimberley Wilson takes us on this hour. This is science that invites us to nourish the brains we need, young and old, to live in this world.

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 — at once a season of the natural world, a respite our bodies require, and a state of mind. Krista first spoke with Katherine in midwinter 2020, and their conversation continues to offer a helpful container for our pandemic time: as one vast, extended, communal experience of wintering. As 2021 draws to a close — still with so much to metabolize and to carry, with an aching need for replenishment — Katherine May opens up exactly what so many have needed to hear, but haven’t known how to name.

What if the future of well-being is about “tipping the scales in the world away from fear and toward love”? And what if it’s a surgeon general of the United States, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who talks this way? Krista draws him out with his friend, the groundbreaking neuroscientist Richard Davidson. Together they carry deep intelligence and vision from the realms of science and public health, expansively understood. They explore all we are learning to help move us forward as a species. This conversation was held as a live Zoom event, sponsored by the Center for Healthy Minds.

Pico Iyer is an esteemed journalist and essayist, and an explorer of inner life — for himself and in 21st-century society. For this episode in our Future of Hope series, he draws out writer Elizabeth Gilbert and “her sense of hope based not on a confidence in happy endings, but the conviction that something makes sense — even if not a sense that we can grasp.” Pico’s questions and Liz’s answers are all the more poignant given that both of them have recently suffered deep losses. These two friends delve into what it means to retreat into smallness, and grapple with a complex understanding of hope, as the world continues to overwhelm.

Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed has been a sensation of 2020 and beyond, and now she’s launched a new podcast titled with words of hers that have become a cultural force: We Can Do Hard Things. Meanwhile her wife, the soccer icon Abby Wambach, has her own bestselling books and is hosting a new tv show – Abby’s Places on ESPN+. Krista spoke with them before they were quite so much in the public eye together, and it’s a window into the passions that brought them here. They sat together in Seattle at the 2018 summit of Women Moving Millions, a consortium of women testing the meaning and boundaries of philanthropy. And courage was the theme of the day.

Alex Elle complicates the idea of self-care, opening it up as community-care, as a way towards generational healing. And she’s revivifying the meaning of meeting one’s “inner child” for a new generation. Our colleague Lily Percy says she could not have survived the physical isolation of the pandemic without Alex’s writing, teaching, and Instagram presence. So Krista hands over the mic to Lily for this conversation.

The light at the end of the COVID tunnel is tenuously appearing — yet many of us feel as exhausted as at any time in the past year. Memory problems; short fuses; fractured productivity; sudden drops into despair. We’re at once excited and unnerved by the prospect of life opening up again. Clinical psychologist Christine Runyan explains the physiological effects of a year of pandemic and social isolation — what’s happened at the level of stress response and nervous system, the literal mind-body connection. And she offers simple strategies to regain our fullest capacities for the world ahead.

We’re increasingly attentive to the many faces of depression and anxiety, and we’re fluent in the languages of psychology and medication. But depression is profound spiritual territory; and that is much harder to speak about. This is an On Being classic. Krista opens up about her own experience of depression and talks with Parker Palmer, Anita Barrows, and Andrew Solomon. We are putting this out on the air again because people tell us it has saved lives, and so many of us are struggling in whole new ways right now.

“We are indebted to one another and the debt is a kind of faith — a beautiful, difficult, strange faith. We believe each other into being.” That’s the message the philosopher, poet, and historian, Jennifer Michael Hecht, puts at the center of her unusual writing about suicide. She’s traced how Western civilization has, at times, demonized those who died by suicide, and, at times, celebrated it as a moral freedom. She has struggled with suicidal places in her life and lost friends to it. She proposes a new cultural understanding based on our essential need for each other.

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 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.

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