Pursuing deep thinking and moral imagination, social courage and joy, to renew inner life, outer life, and life together.

The On Being Project is a nonprofit media and public life initiative. We make a public radio showpodcasts, new ways to experience poetry, and tools for the art of livingSix grounding virtues guide everything we do. We explore the intersection of spiritual inquiry, science, social healing, and the arts.  The Wisdom app, launched in July 2021, is our newest offering: teaching, practice, and a community of accompaniment for rising to the highest callings of this moment in the life of the world.

Our New Home for Poetry

We’ve made our poetry collection more accessible and inviting. Explore all the ways poetry is manifest in our work — including interviews with poets, recorded readings with poets, episodes of Poetry Unbound, and discussions about poetry’s contribution to the common good.

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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.

In a poem brimming with love and nostalgia for winter, a poet leaves California to return to their Minnesotan homeplace, a place where winter makes sense, where sadness makes sense, where the isolation that’s at the heart of humanity can be met with a landscape that can contain it. Here, solitude is looked at with wisdom and necessity. A season can deepen the human experience. Joy finds new expressions.

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.

What if the planet were as loved as a child? Taking the story of his daughter’s fever when she was one, Craig Santos Perez reflects on everything he did — and would have done — for his daughter’s health. Her temperature rose and his love and response did, too. The temperature of the world rises, and he wonders who loves the earth enough to respond, and who doesn’t.

Standing at the edge of a desert, surveying the stars on a December morning, the speaker in this poem observes the everything of everything. He is so small; the universe is so loud and so silent. Thinking about the enormity of all this, he thinks of the smallness of the hearts of birds, wasps, moths, bats, and dragonflies — all flying things around him, suspended in space, like the earth is suspended in space. His own heart, too, echoes the universe’s noise.

On Being with Krista Tippett

December 9, 2021

Katherine May

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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.

Yeshiva students stand around in the middle of the night while firemen find the cause of the alarm. It’s a student — distressed by distressing news at home. The teachers cancel classes for the morning after. A poem can describe one thing, but point to another, and beyond the drama of this 2 a.m. scene is a question about whether the presence of God can dwell among those plagued by sadness, or whether God only dwells there.

In a taxi, a poet speaks to the driver. It’s the only taxi in town. He mentions travel, mentions Afghanistan, that he was there with the forces. She’s from Afghanistan and the conversation continues — awkward; complicated; him trying to say good things, but failing; her feeling like she should rescue him, but deciding not to. War is upended by the point of view of a person in whose country the war was fought. Underneath the action of the poem is a question about whether conversation is possible, and an appreciation for silence.

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.

Why do empty places sometimes lend themselves to reflection or contemplation? In this poem, a poet — describing herself as a nonbeliever — goes into a chapel to sit. In the corner there are some girls talking, there are stained glass windows, and the poet is at once at home in herself and far from the woman she loves. The high emptiness of the church seems to give a resting place for the emptiness she’s feeling. While there’s no resolution, the larger empty space offers a holding place for the poet.

The Civil Conversations Project

Speaking together differently in order to live together differently.

We have always grown through listening to our listeners and the world. We have been building The Civil Conversations Project since 2011. We honor the power of asking better questions, model reframed approaches to debates, and insist that the ruptures above the radar do not tell the whole story of our time.

Featured Starting Point

All Starting Points

Libraries

Our Libraries are thematic collections of writings and episodes from the On Being archive dating back to 2003. Wander the rows and scan the shelves.

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