On Being with Krista Tippett

What does it mean to be human? How do we want to live? And who will we be to each other? Each week a new discovery about the immensity of our lives.

You’ll also find special episodes in this feed, including Living the Questions and The Future of Hope, in which former guests on the show choose a partner for a conversation they’ve wanted to be having and hearing.

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When time becomes history, different dynamics come into focus than the ones that are at any moment screaming for attention. The title of Gal Beckerman’s book intrigues and compels: The Quiet Before. He’s a journalist with a special interest in history and words and ideas — how ideas are passed and debated and become defining in generational time; how conversation becomes culture-shifting relationship. He attends to dynamics we don’t often take seriously enough: that every idea and discovery that changes the world begins with seeds planted over long stretches, and that this is always marked by passages that look like abject failure. Gal’s conversation with Krista offers fantastically useful insights into how our generation’s media that can scale things more rapidly than ever before can also inhibit the very ingredients that make for lasting transformation. At the same time, this lens on our world refreshes with its perspective on the way change happens, as opposed to mere disruption — the reality that our lives and actions below the radar hold the possibility of being more generative than we can measure.

It’s a piece of deep psychological acuity, carried in many religious traditions: that each of us is defined as much by who our enemies are and how we treat them as by whom and what we love. In this episode, two legendary Buddhist teachers shine a light on the lofty ideal of loving your enemies and bring it down to earth. Across a half-century conversation and friendship, Sharon Salzberg and Robert Thurman have investigated the mind science behind this virtue and practice. They illuminate how to transmute the very real, very consequential and consuming energy of anger and hatred — and why love in fact can be a rational and pragmatic stance towards those who vex us. This is a conversation filled with laughter and friendship and with practical wisdom on how we relate to that which makes us feel embattled from without, and from within.

No conversation we’ve ever done has been more beloved than this one. The Irish poet, theologian, and philosopher insisted on beauty as a human calling. He had a very Celtic, lifelong fascination with the inner landscape of our lives and with what he called “the invisible world” that is constantly intertwining what we can know and see. This was one of the last interviews he gave before his unexpected death in 2008. But John O’Donohue’s voice and writings continue to bring ancient mystical wisdom to modern confusions and longings.

Trabian Shorters is a visionary who has seen and named a task that is necessary for all healing and building, for every vision and plan, whether in a family or a world, to flourish. It’s called Asset Framing — and it works with both new understandings of the brain and an age-old understanding of the real-world power of the words we use, the stories we tell, and the way we name things and people. From everyday social media, to hallowed modes of journalistic, academic, and policy analyses, we have a habit of seeing deficits — and of defining people in need in terms of their problems. This has not only doomed some of our best efforts to failure — it leaves all of us prone to cynicism and hopelessness. What’s exciting is that what Trabian Shorters proposes is not only more effective, it is simple and straightforward to grasp. It is in and of itself dignifying and renewing. The main question you might be asking at the end of this is why, at this advanced stage of our species, it took us so long to learn to asset frame.

The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, revered Zen master, teacher, and poet, died on January 22, 2022, in his native Vietnam. Brother Thay, as he was known by his community and students, transmuted what he had experienced of chaos and bloodshed in his country and his life into an ability to speak with equal measures directness and compassion to the many conflicts and bewilderments of contemporary life. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. He was a great teacher of the wonderful practice of “walking meditation.” He taught a way of living to face suffering, fear, and violence inside and beyond ourselves and yet to become “fresh, solid, and free.” Krista sat with him for this rare conversation in the early years of this show, and it has touched many. It is astonishing to re-experience the deep, enduring wisdom this monk leaves for our world now.

Michael Pollan is one of our most revelatory explorers of the interaction between the human and natural worlds — especially the plants with which we have, as he says, co-evolved — from food to caffeine to psychedelics. In this episode of our series, The Future of Hope, Wintering’s Katherine May draws him out on the burgeoning human inquiry and science to which he’s now given himself over — the transformative applications of altered states for healing trauma and depression, for end-of-life care — and the thrilling matter of grasping what consciousness is for. This is an informative, intriguing, utterly uncategorizable conversation.

Journalist Oliver Burkeman has made a delightful and important philosophical, spiritual, and practical investigation of all that is truly at stake in what we blithely refer to as “time management.” At this time of year, many of us are making plans and resolutions — treating time as part bully, part resource — something we could fit everything we want into if only we had the discipline. This conversation is offered up to release you from that illusion. He invites us into a new relationship with time, our technologies, and the power of limits — and thus with our mortality and with life itself.

The remarkable Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town and Nobel Laureate died in the closing days of 2021. He helped galvanize South Africa’s improbably peaceful transition from apartheid to democracy. He was a leader in the religious drama that transfigured South African Christianity. And he continued to engage conflict well into his retirement, in his own country and in the global Anglican communion. Krista explored all of these things with him in this warm, soaring 2010 conversation — and how Desmond Tutu’s understanding of God and humanity unfolded through the history he helped to shape.

Acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton collects sounds from around the world. He’s recorded inside Sitka spruce logs in the Pacific Northwest, thunder in the Kalahari Desert, and dawn breaking across six continents. An attentive listener, he says silence is an endangered species on the verge of extinction. He defines real quiet as presence — not an absence of sound but an absence of noise. We take in the world through his ears.

Here we are in a religiously-infused season — and in a world in which more and more of us experience ourselves to be religious nomads, misfits, even refugees. This deep reality of our life together is often simplified in analyses of the decline of traditional religious identity, of the rise of the spiritual-but-not-religious. Yet there is abundantly, alongside all of that, a rising theological and liturgical searching, a passionate calling towards service that echoes the heart of the great traditions. This is nowhere more true than around the boundaries of Christianity. And no person has given more winsome voice to it than Rachel Held Evans, who died suddenly at the age of 37 in 2019. Now her dear friend, journalist and preacher Jeff Chu, has midwifed her unfinished last book, Wholehearted Faith, into the world. He’s Krista’s wonderful conversation partner this hour — articulating a spacious understanding of God and grief, searching and belonging, for this changed world Rachel did not live to see, but speaks to still.

The esteemed writer Jane Hirshfield has been a Zen monk and a visiting artist among neuroscientists. She has said this: “It’s my nature to question, to look at the opposite side. I believe that the best writing also does this … It tells us that where there is sorrow, there will be joy; where there is joy, there will be sorrow … The acknowledgement of the fully complex scope of being is why good art thrills … Acknowledging the fullness of things,” she insists, “is our human task.” And that’s the ground Krista meanders with Jane Hirshfield in this conversation: the fullness of things — through the interplay of Zen and science, poetry and ecology — in her life and writing.

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.

Jane Goodall’s early research studying chimpanzees helped shape the self-understanding of our species and recalled modern Western science to the fact that we are a part of nature, not separate from it. In honor of the publication of her 32nd book — The Book of Hope: A Survival Guide for Trying Times — we’re re-releasing her beautiful conversation with Krista over Zoom from pandemic lockdown. From her decades studying chimpanzees in the Gombe forest to her more recent years attending to human poverty and misunderstanding, the legendary primatologist reflects on the moral and spiritual convictions that have driven her, and what she is teaching and still learning about what it means to be human.

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.

When Krista interviewed the psychiatrist and trauma specialist Bessel van der Kolk for the first time, his book The Body Keeps the Score was about to be published. She described him then as “an innovator in treating the effects of overwhelming experiences on people and society.” She catches up with him in 2021 — as we are living through one vast overwhelming experience after the other. And The Body Keeps the Score is now one of the most widely read books in the pandemic world. His perspective is utterly unique and very practically helpful — on what’s been happening in our bodies and our brains, and how that relationship can become severed and restored.

How to embrace what’s right and corrective, redemptive and restorative — and an insistence that each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve done — these are gifts Bryan Stevenson offers with his life. He’s brought the language of mercy and redemption into American culture in recent years, growing out of his work as a lawyer with the Equal Justice Initiative based in Montgomery, Alabama. Now the groundbreaking museum they created in Montgomery has dramatically expanded — a new way of engaging the full and ongoing legacy of slavery in U.S. history. Krista draws out his spirit — and his moral imagination.

Where to turn to find my place of standing when it feels like the world is on fire? This question surfaced in a public conversation Krista had just a couple of years ago with Pádraig Ó Tuama and Marilyn Nelson, two poet-contemplatives. Pádraig weaves together social healing, poetry, and theology. Marilyn is a lyrical excavator of stories that would rather stay hidden — yet as she coaxes them into the light, they lead to new life. This conversation is a pleasure and balm, and a reminder that the ruptures and unease and reckonings of what we call “this moment” were all before us before the pandemic. Pádraig and Marilyn’s offerings are beyond wise, and distinctly tender and powerful for this now.

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