Starting Point

For the Exhausted and Overwhelmed

First — take a deep breath in. Breathe out. A brain spa and respite await.

Illustration by Andrea Ucini.

Brené Brown says our belonging to each other can’t be lost, but it can be forgotten. Her research has reminded the world in recent years of the uncomfortable, life-giving link between vulnerability and courage. Now she’s turning her attention to how we walked into the crisis of our life together and how we can move beyond it: with strong backs, soft fronts, and wild hearts.

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.

How can we keep walking forward, and even find renewal along the way, in this year of things blown apart? How can we hold to our sense of what is whole and true and undamaged, even in the face of loss? These are some of the questions Sharon Salzberg, a renowned teacher of meditation and Buddhist practices, has been taking up in virtual retreats this year, which have helped ground many — including Krista — on hard days. She teaches how to stay present to the world while learning kindness toward yourself.

“How in our daily lives are we connecting with ourselves and everything around us? Because that’s where real, energetic transformation comes from.” Feminist playwright Eve Ensler speaks of the affirming physicality of our bodies, and of finding true contentment in the lives we already lead.

We’re fluent in the languages of psychology and medication, but the word “depression” does not do justice to this human experience. Depression is also spiritual territory. It is a shadow side of human vitality and as such teaches us about vitality. And what if depression is possible for the same reason that love is possible?

Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.

Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness,
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.

Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

“Kindness” from Words Under the Words: Selected Poems by Naomi Shihab Nye, copyright © 1995. Reprinted with the permission of Far Corner Books.

This poem was originally read in the On Being episode “Your Life Is a Poem.”

Watch a poetry film version of this on our YouTube channel.