On Being with Krista Tippett

Wisdom to replenish and orient in a tender, tumultuous time to be alive.

Spiritual inquiry, science, social healing, and poetry.

Conversations to live by.

With a 20-year archive featuring luminaries like Mary Oliver, Thich Nhat Hanh, and Desmond Tutu, each episode brings a new discovery about the immensity of our lives. Hosted by Krista Tippett,

Learn more about the On Being Project’s work in the world at onbeing.org.


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The wonderful civil rights elder Vincent Harding liked to look around the world for what he called “live human signposts” — human beings who embody ways of seeing and becoming and who point the way forward to the world we want to inhabit. And adrienne maree brown, who has inspired worlds of social creativity with her notions of “pleasure activism” and “emergent strategy,” is surely one of these.

We’re listening with new ears as she brings together so many of the threads that have recurred in this season of On Being: on looking the harsh complexity of this world full in the face while dancing with joy as life force and fuel and on keeping clear eyes on the reasons for ecological despair while giving oneself over to a loving apprenticeship with the natural world as teacher and guide. A love of visionary science fiction also finds a robust place in her work and this conversation. She altogether shines a light on an emerging ecosystem in our world over and against the drumbeat of what is fractured and breaking — the cultivation of old and new ways of seeing, towards a transformative wholeness of living.

We are strange creatures. It is hard for us to speak about, or let in, the reality of frailty and death — the elemental fact of mortality itself. In this century, western medicine has gradually moved away from its understanding of death as a failure — where care stops with a terminal diagnosis. Hospice has moved, from something rare to something expected. And yet advances in technology have made it ever harder for physicians and patients to make a call to stop fighting death — often at the expense of the quality of this last time of life. Meanwhile, there is a new longevity industry which resists the very notion of decline, much less finitude.

Fascinatingly, the simple question which transformed the surgeon Atul Gawande’s life and practice of medicine is this: What does a good day look like? As he has come to see, standing reverently before our mortality is an exercise in more intricately inhabiting why we want to be alive. This conversation evokes both grief and hope, sadness at so many deaths — including our species-level losses to Covid — that have not allowed for this measure of care. Yet it also includes very actionable encouragement towards the agency that is there to claim in our mortal odysseys ahead.

We humans have this drive to erect barriers between ourselves and others, Luis Alberto Urrea says, and yet this makes us a little crazy. He is an exuberant, wise, and refreshing companion into the deep meaning and the problem of borders — what they are really about, what we do with them, and what they do to us.

The Mexican-American border was as close and personal to him as it could be when he was growing up — an apt expression of his parents’ turbulent Mexican-American divorce. In his writing and in this conversation, he complicates every dehumanizing stereotype of Mexicans, “migrants” — and border guards. A deep truth of our time, Luis insists, is that “we miss each other.” He offers a vision of the larger possibility of our time beyond the terrible tangles of today: that we might evolve the old illusion of the melting pot into a 21st-century richness of “us.” And he delightfully models that messiness and humor will be required.

In our world of so much suffering, it can feel hard or wrong to invoke the word “joy.” Yet joy has been one of the most insistent, recurrent rallying cries in almost every life-giving conversation that Krista has had across recent months and years, even and especially with people on the front lines of humanity’s struggles.

Ross Gay helps illuminate this paradox and turn it into a muscle.

We are good at fighting, as he puts it, and not as good at holding in our imaginations what is to be adored and preserved and exalted — advocating for what we love, for what we find beautiful and necessary. But without this, he says, we cannot speak meaningfully even about our longings for a more just world, a more whole existence for all. To understand that we are all suffering — and so to practice tenderness and mercy —  is a quality of what Ross calls “adult joy.” Starting with his cherished essay collection The Book of Delights, he began to accompany many in an everyday spiritual discipline of practicing delight and cultivating joy.

In this all-new episode, Krista engages biomimicry pioneer Janine Benyus in a second, urgent conversation, alongside creative biomimicry practitioner Azita Ardakani Walton. Together they trace precise guidance and applied wisdom from the natural world for the civilizational callings before us now.

What does nature have to teach us about healing from trauma? And how might those of us aspiring to good and generative lives start to function like an ecosystem rather than a collection of separate, siloed projects? We are in kinship. How to make that real — and in making it real, make it more of an offering to the whole wide world?

Krista, Azita, and Janine spoke at the January 2024 gathering of visionaries, activists, and creatives where Krista also drew out Lyndsey Stonebridge and Lucas Johnson for the recent episode on Hannah Arendt. We’re excited to bring you back into that room.

The years of pandemic and lockdown are still working powerfully on us from the inside. But we have trouble acknowledging this, much less metabolizing it. This conversation with Christine Runyan, which took place in the dark middle of those years, helps make sense of our present of still-unfolding epidemic distress — as individuals, as communities, as a species. She has cultivated a reverence for the human nervous system. She tells truths about our bodies that western medicine itself is only fitfully learning to see. This quiet conversation is not just revelatory, but healing and calming. It holds startling prescience about some of what we’re navigating now. And it offers self-compassion and simple strategies for finding ease within ourselves — and with each other — as we live forward from here.

Here is a stunning sentence for you, written by Lyndsey Stonebridge, our guest this hour, channeling the 20th-century political thinker and journalist Hannah Arendt: “Loneliness is the bully that coerces us into giving up on democracy.” This conversation is a kind of guide to generative shared deliberations we might be having with each other and ourselves in this intensely fraught global political moment: on the human underlay that gives democracy its vigor or threatens to undo it; on the difference between facts and truth — and on the difference between violence and power. Krista interviewed Lyndsey once before, in 2017, after Hannah Arendt’s classic work, The Origins of Totalitarianism, had become a belated runaway bestseller. Now Lyndsey has published her own wonderful book offering her and Arendt’s full prescient wisdom for this time. What emerges is elevating and exhilaratingly thoughtful — while also brimming with helpful, practicable words and ideas. We have, in Lyndsey’s phrase, “un-homed” ourselves. And yet we are always defined by our capacity to give birth to something new — and so to partake again and again in the deepest meaning of freedom.

Hannah Arendt’s other epic books include The Human Condition, and Eichmann in Jerusalem, in which she famously coined the phrase “the banality of evil.” She was born a German Jew in 1906, fled Nazi Germany and spent many years as a stateless person, and died an American citizen in 1975. This conversation with Lyndsey Stonebridge happened in January 2024, as part of a gathering of visionaries, activists, and creatives across many fields. Krista interviewed her alongside Lucas Johnson, a former leader of the International Fellowship of Reconciliation who now leads our social healing initiatives at The On Being Project.

There is an ecological transformation unfolding in the places we love and come from. On a front edge of this reality, which will affect us all, Colette Pichon Battle is a singular model of brilliance and graciousness of mind and spirit and action. And to be with her is to open to the way the stories we tell have blunted us to the courage we’re called to, and the joy we must nurture, as life force and fuel for the work ahead. As a young woman, she left her home state of Louisiana and land to which her family belonged for generations, to go to college and become a powerful lawyer in Washington, D.C. Then in 2005, after Hurricane Katrina made, as she has said, “a crack in the universe,” she returned home to a whole new life and calling. Colette Pichon Battle is a vivid embodiment of the new forms societal shift is taking in our world — led by visionary pragmatists close to the ground, in particular places, persistently and lovingly learning and leading the way for us all.

In her writing, it is Kate DiCamillo’s gift to make bearable the fact that joy and sorrow live so close, side by side, in life as it is (if not as we wish it to be). In this conversation, along with good measures of raucous laughter and a few tears, Kate summons us to hearts “capacious enough to contain the complexities and mysteries of ourselves and each other” — qualities these years in the life of the world call forth from all of us, young and old, with ever greater poignancy and vigor.

A special two-month season of On Being starts May 9.

Freshly curated conversations from across the On Being archive. Big new conversations and extra offerings.

To be present to the suffering and sorrow of this world from a place of love.

To accompany each other in this — and accompany the young.

To honor the fragility of being human.

To keep our capacity for joy alive as a human birthright — and as fuel for resilience.

To grasp the relationship between violence and power.

To listen to our bodies, and metabolize the distress of our collective nervous system.

To practice the power of imagination and create new worlds and new ways of living.

To take the natural world as teacher and guide as we stand before the species-level shifts we’re called to.

To nurture hearts “capacious enough” for the complexities and mysteries of ourselves and each other.

Join us.

Here are some experiences to which Nick Cave gives voice and song: the “universal condition” of yearning, and of loss; a “spirituality of rigor”; and the transcendent and moral dimensions of what music is about. This Australian musician, writer, and actor first made a name in the wild world of ’80s post-punk and later with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. He also underwent public struggles with addiction and rehab.

Since the accidental death of his 15-year-old son Arthur in 2015, and a few years later, the death of his eldest child Jethro, he has entered yet another transfigured era, co-created an exquisite book called Faith, Hope and Carnage, and become a frank and eloquent interlocutor on grief. As a human and a songwriter, Nick Cave is an embodiment of a life examined and evolved. He sat with Krista in the On Being studio in Minneapolis, and the gorgeous conversation that followed is woven in this episode with his gorgeous music.

Our built world is designed around something called “normal,” and yet every single one of our bodies is mysterious, and constantly adapting for better or worse — and always, always changing. This is a fact so ordinary — and yet not something most of us routinely pause to know and to ponder and work with. But Sara Hendren has made it her passion, bringing to it her varied vocations and gifts: being a painter and loving how art reveals truth not by way of simplicity, but by juxtaposition; teaching design to engineering students; parenting three beloved children, one of whom has Down syndrome.

This is a conversation that will have you moving through the world both marveling at the ordinary adaptations that bodies make and asking, in Sara’s words, “restless and generative questions”: of why we organize the physical world as though vulnerability and needs for assistance are not commonplace — indeed salutary — forms of experience that reveal the genius of what being human is all about.

The ecological crisis we are standing before is at once civilizational and personal — intimately close to each of us in the places we love and inhabit, and unfolding at a species level. And as much as anyone alive on the planet now, Christiana Figueres has felt the overwhelm of this and stepped into service. She gives voice so eloquently to the grief that we feel and must allow to bind us to each other — and what she sees as a spiritual evolution the natural world is calling us to.

If you have wondered how to keep hope alive amidst a thousand reasons to despair, if you are ready to take your despair as fuel — intrigued by the idea of stepping into love and immediate realities of abundance and regeneration — this conversation is for you.

This phrase recurs throughout Clint Smith’s writing: “in the marrow of our bones.” It is an example of how words can hold encrypted wisdom — in this case, the reality that memory and emotion lodge in us physically. Words and phrases have carried this truth forward in time long before we had the science to understand it.

Clint Smith is best known for his 2021 book, How the Word Is Passed, but he is first and foremost a poet. He and Krista discuss how his various life chapters have been real-world laboratories for him to investigate the entanglement between language and the intelligence of the body — and the related entanglement between history and place. His poetic sensibility has singularly opened readers to approach a generative reckoning with American history — on whatever side of that history our ancestors stood.

Clint Smith has a way of making reckoning possible at a humanizing, softening, bodily level — in the marrow, you might say, of our bones.

You may not know Latanya Sweeney’s name, but as much as any other single person — and with good humor and grace as well as brilliance — she has led on the frontier of our gradual understanding of how far from anonymous you and I are in almost any database we inhabit, and how far from neutral all the algorithms by which we increasingly navigate our lives.

In this conversation with Krista, she brings a helpful big-picture view to our lives with technology, seeing how far we’ve come — and not — since the advent of the internet, and setting that in the context of history both industrial and digital. She insists that we don’t have to accept the harms of digital technology in order to reap its benefits — and she sees very clearly the work that will take. From where she sits, the new generative AI is in equal measure an exciting and alarming evolution. And she shares with us the questions she is asking, and how she and her students and the emerging field of Public Interest Technology might help us all make sense.

This is the second in what will be an ongoing occasional On Being episode to delve into and accompany our lives with this new technological revolution — training clear eyes on downsides and dangers while cultivating an attention to how we might elevate the new frontier of AI — and how, in fact, it might invite us more deeply into our humanity.

A wondrous, buried treasure from the 20-year On Being archive, with renowned yoga teacher Matthew Sanford. Be prepared, as you listen to what follows, to take in subtleties and gracefulness you’ve never before pondered — or tried to feel in yourself — in the interplay between your mind and your body.

Matthew has an immensely energetic physical presence. He has been paralyzed from the chest down since a car accident in 1978. But he likes to say that his experience is only more extreme, not so different, from that of everyone else. He’s written, “We are all leaving our bodies — this is the inevitable arc of living. Death cannot be avoided; neither can the inward silence that comes with the aging process.” Matthew’s intricate knowledge of that “inward silence,” which he was forced to befriend after the noisy connections which most of us take for granted were severed — it’s revelatory. So is his insistence that it’s not possible to live more deeply in your body — in all its grace and all its flaws — without becoming more compassionate towards all of life. And: if you do yoga, you will never think about what it is affecting inside you in the same way again.

Krista sat with Matthew Sanford in 2006, just after he’d published his beautiful book Waking: A Memoir of Trauma and Transcendence.

Baratunde Thurston is a comedian, writer, and media entrepreneur. He has eyes open to the contradictions, strangeness, and beauty of being human. He looks for learning happening even amidst our hardest cultural tangles. And he intertwines all of this, innovatively and searchingly, with his lifelong joy in the natural world.

The kaleidoscopic view of life and love and the world that is Baratunde’s builds and builds in this conversation Krista had with him around the edges of the 2023 Aspen Ideas Festival — towards an exuberant glimpse of how we can all be more fully human and socially creative.

In this season of On Being and those to come, we are going to train the core human questions on the emerging “generative AI.” Beyond the hype and the doom, what is this new technology calling us to as human beings? What is our agency to shape it to human purpose, and how might it bring us — literally — to our senses? This inaugural conversation with Reid Hoffman is a wide and deep beginning foundation. He and Krista venture into unexpectedly relevant places, like the nature of friendship in human life, and what it would mean to create “contained, boundaried AI” — and Reid’s use of words like “delightful” and “elevating” as qualities we can impart to this technology which, as we’re hearing again and again, is going to change everything.


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