Starting Point

New to On Being? Start Here

Some best-loved shows of the last few years, some classics, and a few outliers that define us.

Illustration by Andrea Ucini.

Across the past year, and now as the murder trial of Derek Chauvin unfolds with Minneapolis in fresh pain and turmoil, we return again to the grounding insights of Resmaa Menakem. He is a Minneapolis-based therapist and trauma specialist who activates the wisdom of elders, and very new science, about how all of us carry in our bodies the history and traumas behind everything we collapse into the word “race.” We offer up his intelligence on changing ourselves at a cellular level — practices towards the transformed reality most of us long to inhabit.

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.

The ornithologist Drew Lanham is lyrical in the languages of science, humans, and birds. His celebrated books include The Home Place: Memoirs of a Colored Man’s Love Affair with Nature and a collection of poetry and meditations called Sparrow Envy: Field Guide to Birds and Lesser Beasts. Drew Lanham’s way of seeing and hearing and noticing the present and the history that birds traverse — through our backyards and beyond — is a revelatory way to be present to the world and to life in our time.

This conversation took place in partnership with The Great Northern.

She has called Brain Pickings, her invention and labor of love, a “human-powered discovery engine for interestingness.” What Maria Popova really delivers, to hundreds of thousands of people each day, is wisdom of the old-fashioned sort, presented in new ways. She cross-pollinates between philosophy and design, physics and poetry, the intellectual and the experiential. We explore her gleanings on what it means to lead a good life — intellectually, creatively, and spiritually.

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.

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.


An invitation from Krista: in June we are transitioning On Being from a weekly show to a seasonal podcast. We hope you’ll help us celebrate this threshold, and these first two decades, by sharing how you’ve made this adventure of conversation your own:

Is there a guest, an idea or a moment from an episode that has made a difference, that has stayed with you?

We’ve created a way for you to record your reflection simply — and at the same time sign up to stay on top of what’s happening next: onbeing.org/staywithus. Krista will be offering some of her defining memories, too: in a special online event in June, on social media, and more. So — please and thank you — go to onbeing.org/staywithus.

Krista interviewed the wise and wonderful writer Ocean Vuong on March 8, 2020 in a joyful, crowded room full of podcasters in Brooklyn. A state of emergency had just been declared in New York around a new virus. But no one guessed that within a handful of days such an event would become unimaginable. Most stunning is how presciently, exquisitely Ocean speaks to the world we have come to inhabit— its heartbreak, its poetry, and its possibilities of both destroying and saving.

“I want to love more than death can harm. And I want to tell you this often: That despite being so human and so terrified, here, standing on this unfinished staircase to nowhere and everywhere, surrounded by the cold and starless night — we can live. And we will.”

“Having tasted beauty at the heart of the world, we hunger for more.” These are words from Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek in his book, A Beautiful Question. It’s a winsome, joyful meditation on the question: Do cosmic realities embody beautiful ideas? — probing the world, by way of science, as a work of art. He reminds us that time and space, mystery and order, are so much stranger and more generous than we can comprehend. He’s now written a wonderful new book, Fundamentals: Ten Keys to Reality.

Vincent Harding was wise about how the vision of the civil rights movement might speak to 21st-century realities. He reminded us that the movement of the ’50s and ’60s was spiritually as well as politically vigorous; it aspired to a “beloved community,” not merely a tolerant integrated society. He pursued this through patient-yet-passionate cross-cultural, cross-generational relationships. And he posed and lived a question that is freshly in our midst: Is America possible?

The Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence — or SETI — goes beyond hunting for E.T. and habitable planets. Scientists in the field are using telescopes and satellites looking for signs of outright civilizational intelligence. One of the founding pioneers in this search is astronomer Jill Tarter. She is a co-founder of the SETI Institute and was an inspiration for Jodie Foster’s character in the movie Contact, based on the novel by Carl Sagan. To speak with Tarter is to begin to grasp the creative majesty of SETI and what’s relevant now in the ancient question: “Are we alone in the universe?”

Colette Pichon Battle is a generational native of the Gulf Coast of Louisiana. The ebb and flow of the Bayou was a background rhythm in her childhood to every aspect of life. She did not ever imagine in that childhood that she would one day be known as a “climate activist.” To be with Colette, and experience her brilliance of mind and spirit and action, is to open up all the ways the words we use and the stories we tell about the transformation of the natural world that is upon us blunt us to the courage we’re called to and the joy we must nurture as our primary energy and motivation. She is a vivid embodiment, too, 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.

This conversation was part of The Great Northern Festival, a celebration of Minnesota’s cold, creative winters.

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.