Living the Questions
How can I find my footing in a shifting world?
Krista Tippett created and leads The On Being Project, hosts the On Being radio show and podcast, and curates The Civil Conversations Project. She received the National Humanities Medal at the White House in 2014. She speaks widely and writes books including Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living. Read her full bio here.
This transcript has been lightly edited for readability.
Elena Rivera: Hi, Krista. This is Elena. I’m calling from Colorado Springs. Right now I’m thinking a lot about transitions — moving, things in life changing, friendships, all that kind of stuff — and wondering how, in the midst of beginnings and endings and everything in-between, I stay grounded and centered and find my footing in a world that is constantly shifting. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. Thanks so much.
Krista Tippett: Thank you, Elena. I’ve thought a lot over the years about how we really love this idea – our bodies and our brains need this idea – of beginnings, middles, and endings. And we tell stories that way. But, in the story of real life – it’s almost a cliché – the endings are always beginnings, and what feel like endings are middles. And I’m fascinated by how our minds struggle to take that in. Then here we are in this moment, which also happens in the true-life story —it can happen in any day, in any week – that the phone rings, that something transpires in a relationship or in a job or, in this case, in the world, that completely upends our plans and becomes not just a transition but a threshold.
One of the things that’s so stressful about this transition/threshold is that we don’t know what it’s moving towards. We never knew, in the days and weeks when this was imminently upon us, we didn’t know that everything we had planned up to then was going to shift, utterly, and that just the ordinary ways we structure our days and our life and our sense of time and space, that that was going to be disrupted.
But more than that, we know what that life was. And I think it’s clear to all of us that, given all the things that are happening, not just the illness around the virus, but all the things that have had to stop — that there’s so much that coming out of this is not going to be the same. And that’s true of things we really relied on and loved and that just felt ordinary and comforting in the shape of reality. And it’s also true of this notion of what the Greek word “apocalypse” really means. I always cite my friend, the Rev. Jen Bailey, for reminding me of this: that in the original Greek, apocalypse doesn’t mean the catastrophe; it means the uncovering. And this crisis, this virus, is uncovering a lot of things. It’s uncovering kindness and generosity. It’s uncovering things that we didn’t know we knew how to do, like cook and clean and be quiet and stay at home. It’s uncovering our physical frailty; we’ve had so many devices to convince ourselves that it’s not as true as it always is. And it’s uncovered all these holes and flaws and gaps in the web of our relationship to each other and how we have not structured our society around that.
So here we are, in a communal, collective, global transition. That’s another thing that’s different about this transition: that we’re all in transition together. And where we started, on those days when we now look back, just weeks ago, before the world changed, is different. But that unknown we’re moving into is something we share. Our vulnerability and frailty before this transition is different. And that’s also part of what’s being uncovered because of the nature of this crisis. It has made the ways in which certain people fall through cracks, in the way we structure our society, unbearable. And so I think part of the transition I’m looking at is, how do we hold onto that sense of it being unbearable and work with it and factor it into what we create together, coming out of this?
I guess what I’ve ended up doing, Elena, is reflecting on the nature of this transition. But it’s so important to say, and this lies behind your question, that transitions are the hardest things in human life. They are the most stressful experiences. Moving is one of the most stressful life experiences, biologically, physiologically, psychologically. And there’s a way in which, right now, we are all, together, moving from one reality to another that we can’t see. And so part of the work, the calling now, I think, is to stand really respectfully before how very unsettling and stressful this is.
In the last Living the Questions, when I was responding to Anna’s thought about the stress of doing nothing – or feeling like you’re doing nothing – I talked about the importance of kindness to ourselves. I think that actually bears repeating every single day, every single week, knowing that this is this incredible transition; that that is the most stressful thing. And yet, I do actually think many of us – most of us, I hope all of us – experiencing the fact that we are in this together is itself an incredible moment of growth and learning. It doesn’t take the stress away. But I do think it has a power to transform it, at least in moments.
And so maybe the thing each of us can hold onto — again, not as something that we’re going to be able to accomplish and live completely and fully and perfectly through however many months and weeks are ahead of this particular part of the transition, but to ponder in moments — is this: how does this transition become something other than mere stress? And what is it teaching me that I actually want to integrate into the person I am on the other side of this, whatever that means, at least when the unknown is less utterly overwhelming?
And to really, actively, accompany each other in holding that question – that might be a spiritual calling but also a civilizational calling for this very extraordinary transition.