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On Being with Krista Tippett is a public radio project delving into the human side of news stories + issues. Curated + edited by senior editor Trent Gilliss.

We publish guest contributions. We edit long; we scrapbook. We do big ideas + deep meaning. We answer questions.

We've even won a couple of Webbys + a Peabody Award.
"The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there."
~Robert M. Pirsig from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values 
Photo by Janine (distributed with Instagram)

"The place to improve the world is first in one’s own heart and head and hands, and then work outward from there."

~Robert M. Pirsig from Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance: An Inquiry Into Values

Photo by Janine (distributed with Instagram)

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Meredith Monk: A Twitterscript

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Meredith MonkLast Wednesday, the artist Meredith Monk joined our host Krista Tippett for a 90-minute conversation via ISDN. We live-tweeted highlights of this interview and have aggregated them below for those who weren’t able to follow along. Look for our show with her in the coming weeks, and follow us next time at @BeingTweets.

For those not familiar with Ms. Monk, she is an American composer, performer, director, vocalist, filmmaker, and choreographer who has been creating multi-disciplinary works since the 1960s. She is best known for her vocal innovations, including a wide range of extended techniques.

Also a practicing Buddhist, she is a member of the Shambala sangha. Her most recent album, Songs of Ascension, is inspired by a Zen abbot who described Songs of Ascents — songs which Jews were believed to have sung in biblical times on pilgrimages to Jerusalem and to the top of Mount Zion.

  1. For the next 90 minutes we’ll be live-tweeting Krista’s interview with composer/vocalist/performer/ Meredith Monk —@meredith_monk 1:02 PM 11 Jan
  2. "Singing was a natural kind of language for me. I read music before I read words." —@meredith_monk 1:10 PM 11 Jan
  3. "I think of the voice as a very kinetic instrument. I think of the body and the voice as one." —@meredith_monk 1:12 PM 11 Jan
  4. "Auditions are hard on the human level…I was looking for people who could sing well, and had a radiant generosity to them." —@meredith_monk 1:14 PM 11 Jan
  5. "Auditions are hard at the human level. I like to give back to people." —@meredith_monk 1:15 PM 11 Jan
  6. "I’m really trying to do something that makes the voice universal and transcendent." —@meredith_monk 1:16 PM 11 Jan
  7. "I had the revelation that the voice could be like the body. Like the spine, it could turn, it could fall…" —@meredith_monk 1:20 PM 11 Jan
  8. "I had the sensation of something ancient, primal, visceral, preverbal expression." —@meredith_monk 1:21 PM 11 Jan
  9. "As an artist so interested in uncovering the invisible, mysterious, inexplicable, things we can’t label." —@meredith_monk 1:24 PM 11 Jan
  10. "I was thinking of the voice as the messenger of my soul." —@meredith_monk 1:24 PM 11 Jan
  11. "Performing is such an amazing template of human behavior: of generosity, sensitive to the environment and to other people." —@meredith_monk 1:28 PM 11 Jan
  12. "We’re taught to be distracted and diverted from feeling the good pain as in open-heartedness of the moment." —@meredith_monk 1:30 PM 11 Jan
  13. "I wanted to spend the rest of my life making pieces about things you can’t make pieces about." —@meredith_monk 1:34 PM 11 Jan
  14. "The act of making artwork was the act of contemplating something." —@meredith_monk 1:35 PM 11 Jan
  15. "How do we spend time on this planet? How do you do work that’s of benefit?" —@meredith_monk 1:35 PM 11 Jan
  16. "Why does worship always go up? There’s this idea of heaven going up." —@meredith_monk 1:38 PM 11 Jan
  17. "In the Buddhist tradition there’s circumambulation, that’s a different form, going around." —@meredith_monk 1:39 PM 11 Jan
  18. "I love the idea of working with strings, the bowing arm is so much like the breath." —@meredith_monk 1:40 PM 11 Jan
  19. "Maybe I should’ve called it ‘Songs of Going Up and Down’" —@meredith_monk on her new work “Songs of Ascension” 1:43 PM 11 Jan
  20. "Play is something to really think about. That sense of playfulness is another aspect of being alive, awake." —@meredith_monk 1:45 PM 11 Jan
  21. "When it comes down to it, you leave love behind…the Beatles had it right." —@meredith_monk 1: 48 PM 11 Jan
  22. "If I do use words, they’re used more abstractly…The word dissolves into pure sound." —@meredith_monk on song writing 1:55 PM 11 Jan
  23. "The older I get, the simpler the work gets…the most essential is what reaches people the most." —@meredith_monk 2:00 PM 11 Jan
  24. "Curiosity is a great antidote to fear." —@meredith_monk 2:00 PM 11 Jan
  25. "All of us as human beings are part of the world vocal family." —@meredith_monk 2:04 PM 11 Jan
  26. "The human voice is the original instrument. You’re going back to the beginnings of utterance…The memory of being a human being." —@meredith_monk 2:04 PM 11 Jan
  27. "Most of my songs deal with emotion…between the cracks of emotion." —@meredith_monk 2:10 PM 11 Jan
  28. "It was like two young children just loving each other so much" —@meredith_monk on singing for the Dalai Lama 2:16 PM 11 Jan
  29. @rosannecash - Meredith Monk (@meredith_monk) loved your interview with Krista and would love to meet you! 2:19 PM 11 Jan

Photo of Meredith Monk by Jesse Frohman.

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Dharma Talking with Cheri Maples
» download (mp3, 12:53)
Nancy Rosenbaum, associate producer

I recently caught up with dharma teacher Cheri Maples, who appeared in our 2003 program "Brother Thay: A Radio Pilgrimage with Thich Nhat Hahn." Back then, Maples was a police captain (later an assistant attorney general) in Madison, Wisconsin. She spoke with Krista about what it means to be a compassionate cop who practices mindfulness awareness on the job.

We’ve re-aired “Brother Thay” seven times (!) since its inaugural broadcast, and noticed that people consistently resonate with Maples and her personal story. Maples was in town recently to deliver a dharma talk (PDF) so I decided to go and see what’s changed in her life since she and Krista last spoke.

Maples reflected on the surprising ways in which her life changed course after she accepted an invitation from Thich Nhat Hahn to travel together to Vietnam in 2007. The following year, the Zen master formally ordained her as a dharma teacher through a ceremony called "The Transmission of the Lamp." She is no longer employed by the state, but she’s still involved with the criminal justice system through a new organization she co-founded called The Center for Mindfulness and Justice.

Maples drew a standing-room only crowd for her dharma talk that evening. She spoke about gratitude, joy, wonder, tenderness, and mystery. Here’s something I jotted down that stuck with me: “The hell in your life is the compost of your enlightenment.”

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Books that Changed Your Life
Kate Moos, Managing Producer

Trent and I have been talking about how to discuss books on the blog. We get tons of books every week and while we look at all of them, and read some of them, I don’t think we have either the capacity or the interest for a regular book feature. But we are aware that books are a big part of the DNA of our program and website, even though we hardly ever do what is commonly considered a “book interview.”

It’s in the nature of the program to care deeply about books that matter, and to have deep respect for the textual basis of tradition. So, for us, the focus on books has less to do with what is being published recently and more to do with how they have had a deep impact, or capture a topic or a story in a way we just can’t resist.

I think of our show with Mary Doria Russell, "The Novelist As God," as an example of a program that arose out of a singular attraction to an author’s work. An exception to the “we don’t do book interviews” rule happened early in the show’s history. When Jennifer Michael Hecht’s book, Doubt: A History, had just been published, we pursued her because we thought it was just so brilliant.

Shunryu Suzuki RoshiThere are books that become so important to us they become like old friends. Or, books that we find so transformative our lives are never the same. In about 1979, I picked up a copy of D.T. Shunryu Suzuki’s slim volume, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind, in a book store and was so struck by the lines I read I bought it and took it home to read. And I’ve never stopped reading it.

At one time, I transcribed the entire book by hand into a notebook as a meditative practice. I’m not a Buddhist, but this man’s words settled in to my being to stay. Now, that paperback is missing its cover. Its pages are dog-eared, and I’ve written grocery lists and phone numbers on the flyleaves.

Suzuki, seen briefly above in the trailer from a documentary about him, was one of the major importers of Zen Buddhism to the West. What were his words that so captivated me? “In the beginner’s mind,” he wrote, “there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few.”

What are the books that have changed your life? What are the books that became your best friend?

UPDATE: We inadvertently conflated the two Suzukis, and so struck some language, replaced the video (but kept the link to the D.T. documentary), and swapped out the photo as well. Thanks to chucklief for leaving the comment below and correcting our mistake.

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Buddhist Slime Mold
Rob McGinley Myers, Associate Producer

It’s been a pretty cold, wet, desolate spring so far in Minnesota. I went for a walk the other night and it seemed more like autumn than spring, with the wind on my face and the scent of dead leaves in the air. But as I passed under a tree I suddenly noticed buds breaking out all over the branches. It felt like a tiny miracle.

I had just recently listened to our upcoming show with Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, and seeing those buds made me think of what he says about being mindful.

"When you breathe in, your mind comes back to your body, and then you become fully aware that you’re alive, that you are a miracle and everything you touch could be a miracle — the orange in your hand, the blue sky, the face of a child."

I was looking for a video to illustrate my own sense of wonder about the world coming back to life, and discovered this, which I find equally creepy and beautiful. It’s not exactly an image of spring, but it reminds me that all living things are breathing. We just have to pay attention to realize it.

(video by sesotek/Vimeo)

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