On Being with Krista Tippett

A season of big, new, beautiful On Being conversations is here. Adventures into what can replenish and orient us in this wild ride of a time to be alive: biomimicry and the science of awe; spiritual contrarianism and social creativity; pause and poetry and more towards stretching into this world ahead with dignity, wisdom — and joy.

On Being, which began on public radio, has been named a best podcast by The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Guardian, the Webbys, iHeart Radio — with more than 400 million downloads.

From Feb 2: three months of soaring conversations to live and grow with — with an eye towards emergence. Tune in now.

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Starting Thursday, February 2: three months of soaring new On Being conversations, with an eye towards emergence. The science of awe. The wonder of biomimicry. “Lean Spirituality.” What we’re talking about — and not — when we talk about mental health. “Good conflict.” Technology and vitality. Creativity. Woodworking and the meaning of life. Deeper truths and larger stories of ourselves as societies, as a planet, as humans, that at once complicate and enliven our capacity to live with dignity and joy and wholeness. And poetry, and poetry.

In the modern western world, vocation was equated with work. But each of us has callings, not merely to be professionals, but to be friends, neighbors, colleagues, family, citizens, lovers of the world. Each of us imprints the people in the world around us, breath to breath and hour to hour, as much in who we are and how we are present as in whatever we do. And just as there are callings for a life, there are callings for our time.

We inhabit a liminal time between what we thought we knew and what we can’t quite yet see. But time is more spacious than we imagine it to be, and it is more of a friend than we always know. Cracking time open, seeing its true manifold nature, expands a sense of the possible in the here and the now. It sends us back to work with the raw materials of our lives, understanding that these are always the materials even of change at a cosmic or a societal level.

We live in a world in love with the form of words that is an opinion and the way with words that is an argument. Yet it is a deep truth in life — as in science — that each of us is shaped as much by the quality of the questions we are asking as by the answers we have it in us to give. Precisely at a moment like this, of vast aching open questions and very few answers we can agree on, our questions themselves become powerful tools for living and growing.

We are fluent in the story of our time marked by catastrophe and dysfunction. That is real — but it’s not the whole story of us. There is also an ordinary and abundant unfolding of dignity and care and generosity, of social creativity and evolution and breakthrough. How to make that more vibrant, more visible, and more defining?

A special offering from Krista Tippett and all of us at On Being: an incredible, celebratory event — listening back and remembering forwards across 20 years of this show in the good company of our beloved friend and former guest, Rev. Jen Bailey, and so many of you. We offer it here as an audio experience, and we think you will enjoy being in the room retroactively. You will hear the voices of wise and graceful lives — of former guests, and of listeners from far-flung places. You may also catch references to things seen and witnessed throughout the event — including a stunning opening poem by our dear friend Maria Popova, composed of On Being show titles — which you can take in fully by viewing the recorded celebration in its entirety on our YouTube channel.

“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.

We are in the final weeks as On Being evolves to its next chapter — in a world that is evolving, each of us changed in myriad ways we’ve only begun to process and fathom. So it felt right to listen again to one of our most beloved shows of this post-2020 world. In fact, Krista interviewed the wise and wonderful Ocean Vuong right on the cusp of that turning, in March 2020, in a joyful and crowded room full of podcasters in Brooklyn. Yet what’s most stunning is how presciently and exquisitely Ocean spoke, and continues to speak, to the world we have since come to inhabit — its heartbreak and its poetry, its possibilities for loss and for finding new life.

Amidst all of the perspectives and arguments around our ecological future, this much is true: we are not in the natural world — we are part of it. The next-generation marine biologist Ayana Elizabeth Johnson would let that reality of belonging show us the way forward. She loves the ocean. She loves human beings. And she’s animated by questions emerging from those loves — and from the science she does — which we scarcely know how to take seriously amidst so much demoralizing bad ecological news. This hour, Krista draws out her creative and pragmatic inquiry: Could we let ourselves be led by what we already know how to do, and by what we have it in us to save? What, she asks, if we get this right?

The conversation of this hour always rises as an early experience that imprinted everything that came after at On Being. Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen is one of the wise people in our world. She trained as a doctor in a generation that understood death as a failure of medicine. Yet her lifelong struggle with Crohn’s Disease and her pioneering work with cancer patients shaped her view of life. Becoming whole, she teaches, is not about eradicating our wounds and weaknesses; rather, the way we deal with losses, large and small, shapes our capacity to be present to all of our experiences. That arresting notion, and the distinction Rachel Naomi Remen draws between curing and healing, makes this an urgent offering to our world — of healing we are all called to receive and to give.

It has ever and always been true, David Whyte reminds us, that so much of human experience is a conversation between loss and celebration. This conversational nature of reality — indeed, this drama of vitality — is something we have all been shown, willing or unwilling, in these years. Many have turned to David Whyte for his gorgeous, life-giving poetry and his wisdom at the interplay of theology, psychology, and leadership — his insistence on the power of a beautiful question and of everyday words amidst the drama of work as well as the drama of life. The notion of “frontier” — inner frontiers, outer frontiers — weaves through this hour. We surface this as a companion for the frontiers we are all on just by virtue of being alive in this time.

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.

Few books have been more eagerly passed from hand to hand with delight in these last years than Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass. Krista interviewed her in 2015, and it quickly became a much-loved show as her voice was just rising in common life. Robin is a botanist and also a member of the Citizen Potawatomi Nation. She’s written, “Science polishes the gift of seeing, Indigenous traditions work with gifts of listening and language.” An expert in moss — a bryologist — she describes mosses as the “coral reefs of the forest.” Robin Wall Kimmerer opens a sense of wonder and humility for the intelligence in all kinds of life we are used to naming and imagining as inanimate.

A few years ago, Krista hosted an event in Detroit — a city in flux — on the theme of raising children. The conversation that resulted with the Jewish-Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist Sylvia Boorstein has been a companion to her and to many from that day forward. Here it is again as an offering for Mother’s Day — in a world still and again in flux, and where the matter of raising new human beings feels as complicated as ever before. Sylvia gifts us this teaching: that nurturing children’s inner lives can be woven into the fabric of our days — and that nurturing ourselves is also good for the children and everyone else in our lives.

Pádraig Ó Tuama is a friend, teacher, and colleague to the work of On Being. But before that was true, Krista took a revelatory trip to meet him at his home in Northern Ireland, a place that has known sectarianism and violent fracture and has evolved, not to perfection, yet to new life and once unimaginable repair and relationship. Our whole world screams of fracture, more now than when Krista sat with Pádraig in 2016. This conversation is a gentle, welcoming landing for pondering and befriending hard realities we are given. As the global educator Karen Murphy, another friend of On Being and of Pádraig, once said to Krista: “Let’s have the humility and the generosity to step back and learn from these places that have had the courage to look at themselves and look at where they’ve been and try to forge a new path with something that resembles ‘together’ … Right now we should be taking these stories and these examples and these places and filling our pockets and our lungs and our hearts and our minds with them and learning deeply.” And that’s what this hour with Pádraig invites.

The visionary, next-generation organizer Ai-jen Poo says this of Tarana Burke: “There are just so many layers of hope that she brings to the world and to people like me, to survivors, to all kinds of communities.” Ai-jen and Tarana are the conversation partners for this episode of The Future of Hope. And what a conversation it is. We listen in on a brilliant friendship that has powered and sustained two extraordinary women who are leading defining movements of this generation that call us to our highest humanity. Ai-jen spoke with Krista in 2020 for our episode, “This Is Our (Caring) Revolution,” and is back as host for this conversation. She has been long ahead of a cultural curve we are all on now — of seeing the urgent calling to update and transform not just how we value the caregiving workforce of millions, but how we value care itself as a society. Tarana founded the ‘me too.’ Movement. What you are about to hear is intimate, revelatory, and rooted in trust and care. It’s also an invitation to all of us, to imagine and build a more graceful way to remake the world.

You probably know the outline of the Exodus story and its main characters: Moses, the Pharaoh, the burning bush, the plagues, the parting of the sea. And, in another realm of the power of story, the words “let my people go” and the arc of liberation from slavery have inspired people in crisis and catharsis across time and cultures. Call it “myth” if you will — as the Greek Statesman Solon said, myth is not something that never happened. It’s something that happens over and over and over again. Avivah Zornberg walks us through the Exodus story that is relived in the Jewish Passover and resonates through Easter. She is a modern-day master of midrash — the ancient Jewish art of inquiry for discovering the deepest of meaning in and between the biblical lines. What can look simple on the surface, as she reveals, is a cargo of hidden stories that tell the messy, strange, redemptive truth of us as we are and life as it is. Krista and Avivah Zornberg had this lovely, intimate conversation in the early days of this show, in 2005.

“Prayers are tools not for doing or getting, but for being and becoming.” These are words of the late legendary biblical interpreter and teacher Eugene Peterson. At the back of the church he pastored for nearly three decades, you’d be likely to find well-worn copies of books by Wallace Stegner or Denise Levertov. Frustrated with the unimaginative way he found his congregants treating their Bibles, he translated the whole thing himself and that translation has sold millions of copies around the world. Eugene Peterson’s literary biblical imagination formed generations of pastors, teachers, and readers. His down-to-earth faith hinged on a love of metaphor and a commitment to the Bible’s poetry as what keeps it alive to the world.

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