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Season two of Becoming Wise is a wrap! We’re so grateful you joined us for these months of reflection and recentering. Before we go away to work on our next season, we’d love to hear from you. What did you love? How can we make the podcast even better? Go to onbeing.org/bwsurvey to tell us a little about yourself and what you’d like to hear next. Stay tuned for more episodes when we’re back with season three.

Therapist Esther Perel has changed our discourse about sexuality and coupledom with her TED talks, books, and singular podcast, Where Should We Begin?, in which listeners are invited into emotionally raw therapy sessions she conducts with couples she’s never met before. For Perel, eroticism is a key ingredient to life — and it’s more than just a description of sexuality. “It is about how people connect to this quality of aliveness, of vibrancy, of vitality, of renewal,” she says. “It is actually a spiritual, mystical experience of life.”

We must shine a light on the past to live more abundantly now. Historian Annette Gordon-Reed and painter Titus Kaphar lead us in an exploration of that as a public adventure in this conversation at the Citizen University annual conference. Gordon-Reed is the historian who introduced the world to Sally Hemings and the children she had with President Thomas Jefferson, and so realigned a primary chapter of the American story with the deeper, more complicated truth. Kaphar collapses historical timelines on canvas and created iconic images after the protests in Ferguson. Both are reckoning with history in order to repair the present.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu is one of our wisest models on the territory of reckoning with past wrongs that infuse and haunt the present. In the 1990s, he helped galvanize South Africa’s peaceful transition to democracy after decades of white supremacy as the law of the land. He tells a story of how healing and human redemption unfold from his time chairing the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which granted amnesty to those who would fully confess their crimes. “Human beings can leave you speechless, really. They can leave you speechless by the horrible things they do, but they also leave you speechless with the incredible things,” he says.

The physicist Leonard Mlodinow changes how we think about the agency we have in shaping our own destinies. As a scientist, he works with principles like Brownian motion, by which Einstein helped verify the existence of molecules and atoms. As the child of Holocaust survivors, he dances with the experience we all have: that life never goes as planned, and yet the choices we make can matter. “The course of your life depends on how you react to opportunities and challenges that randomness presents to you,” he says.

We still work with the old idea that we should check the messy parts of ourselves at the door of our professional lives. But Jerry Colonna says doing so cuts us off from the source of our creativity. “The result is that our organizations are actually less productive, less imaginative; not just poor workplaces for individuals to be, but poor places for collaboration … and spontaneity and laughter and humor.” Colonna is a former venture capitalist who now coaches CEOs. He says undoing the old model starts with radical self-inquiry and asking ourselves questions like “Who is the person I’ve been all my life?” — and that it’s only after we sort through the material of our personal lives that we can become better leaders.

Public theologian Ruby Sales opens up what it was like to be a teenage participant in the civil rights movement — including the impatience she had with religion and how she circled back, through her experiences of the movement, to a sense of the deep reason for inner life and religious groundings. The question she carries with her, “Where does it hurt?”, models new ways for us to understand one another.

Men of all ages say Richard Rohr has given them a new way into spiritual depth and religious thought through his writing and retreats. This conversation with the Franciscan spiritual teacher delves into the expansive scope of his ideas: from male formation and what he calls “father hunger” to why contemplation is as magnetic to people now, including millennials, as it’s ever been.

Naturalist Terry Tempest Williams brings meaning and direction to the grief around ecological loss and climate change. She’s a self-described “citizen writer” rooted in the American West, and she draws connections between fierce love and hard work — both in the natural world and the human world. “It all comes down to relationships, to place, to paying attention, to staying, to listening, to learning — of a heightened curiosity with other,” Williams says.

The poet Jericho Brown reminds us to bear witness to the complexity of the human experience, to interrogate the proximity of violence to love, and to look and listen closer so that we might uncover the small truths and surprises in life. His presence is irreverent and magnetic, as the high school students who joined us for this conversation experienced firsthand at the Geraldine R. Dodge Poetry Festival.

Editor’s note: This interview discusses sexual violence and rape.

Father James Martin is a beloved Jesuit writer and teacher who says desire is not selfish, but rather a path to understanding our callings in life. He believes everyone has a vocation we can find by asking: What moves me? “We all have an image of the person we want to become — more loving, more open, more free. That’s a call,” he says.

There are places in the human experience where ordinary language falls short but where poetry can find a way in. Gregory Orr has used lyric poetry to wrest gentle, healing, life-giving words from one of the most terrible traumas imaginable. On a hunting trip with his father at the age of 12, he accidentally shot and killed his younger brother. Since then, he says he has found consolation in words and story. “What’s beautiful about a poem is that you take on this chaos and this responsibility, and you shape it into order and make something of it,” he says.

Matthieu Ricard is helping us redefine happiness in a culture convinced that it’s a passive experience. The French-born Tibetan Buddhist monk reframes happiness not as pleasure but as practice that requires discipline — akin to marathon training or learning chess. He asks, “What are the inner conditions that foster a genuine sense of flourishing, of fulfillment?”

Today young people are trying to balance the question of “What do I want to do when I grow up?” with the question of “Who and how do I want to be in the world?” Physician and writer Abraham Verghese and education researcher Denise Pope argue that’s because the way we educate for success doesn’t support the creation of full, well-rounded humans. And they see the next generation challenging our cultural view of success by insisting that a deeply satisfying life is one filled with presence, vulnerability, and care for others.

Astronomer Natalie Batalha embodies a planetary sense of what “love” is and means. She says her experience searching the universe for exoplanets — earth-like bodies beyond our solar system that could harbor liquid water and life — fundamentally shifted how she thinks about the human experience on this planet. “You see the expanse of the cosmos, and you realize how small we are and how connected we are,” she says. “And that what’s good for you has to be good for me.”

Community organizers Rami Nashashibi and Lucas Johnson have much to teach us about using love — the most reliable muscle of human transformation — as a practical public good. Nashashibi is the founder of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network, a force for social healing on Chicago’s South Side. Johnson is the newly-named executive director of The On Being Project’s Civil Conversations Project. In a world of division, they say despair is not an option — and that the work of social healing requires us to get “proximate to pain.”

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