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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 opposite of depression is not happiness, but vitality, and these days, my life is vital, even on the days when I’m sad. I felt that funeral in my brain, and I sat next to the colossus at the edge of the world, and I have discovered something inside of myself that I would have to call a soul that I had never formulated until that day 20 years ago when hell came to pay me a surprise visit. I think that while I hated being depressed and would hate to be depressed again, I’ve found a way to love my depression. I love it because it has forced me to find and cling to joy. I love it because each day I decide, sometimes gamely, and sometimes against the moment’s reason, to cleave to the reasons for living. And that, I think, is a highly privileged rapture.”

This TED talk from Andrew Solomon is astounding in its honesty and depth. A necessary complement to our show on suicide.

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"When there is a great disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure."
~Pema Chödrön
"When there is a great disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure."
~Pema Chödrön

"When there is a great disappointment, we don’t know if that’s the end of the story. It may be just the beginning of a great adventure."

~Pema Chödrön

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Students with Depression Use the Internet Differently

by Susan Leem, associate producer

Cybercafe
Photo by Pedro Figueiredo/Flickr, cc by-nc-nd 2.0

Moving beyond the debate of whether Facebook or other Internet use causes depression, researchers at Missouri University Institute of Science and Technology found that students who show signs of depression clearly have different patterns of Internet use. These students are more likely to share large files, send email, and chat online. Also, they are more likely to switch from application to application in a random manner, which is thought to reflect a difficulty with concentrating, and is one marker of depression.

Researchers hope this data can be used someday to help diagnose mental disorders by unobtrusively monitoring and analyzing the Internet behavior of a wider population. It may even alert the user when their usage starts to reflect a depressive pattern.

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When I get depressed, or anything, I go ‘think of all the music I haven’t even heard yet!’ So, it’s the one thing. Imagine the world without music. Man, just hand me a gun, will you?
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Jim Jarmusch

~reblogged by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Music has always been incredibly cathartic for me, whether it’s writing my own stuff or singing other people’s music; it’s very freeing. But it did take me a long while to be able to write again because I was just too far down a deep dark hole to do anything. I had to crawl back up, get some light in and have some objectivity before I could start writing again.
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Sarah McLachlan~Sarah McLachlan

The Canadian singer talks parenting, divorce, depression, and songwriting in her interview with Spinner.

—Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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My Advent of Magnanimous Despair: Doubt and Depression Mediated Through Poetry

by Luke Hankins, guest contributor

"We Wait Bowing I" by Grace Carol BomerFor me, Advent means that God is coming into your life — is already there, in fact, has always been there, but you are about to experience that fact in an unprecedented way. I have come to view my experience of losing my faith and falling into anxiety and depression, into fear of damnation, into hopelessness, as being God’s advent into my life.

My first 25 years as a devoted member of a conservative, Protestant Christian tradition were never easy, and I had always been plagued with doubts and fears from early childhood on, but I never anticipated the traumatic loss of faith that I experienced in my 25th year.

About a year and a half ago, my doubts became unrelenting. And suddenly the only framework I ever had for understanding life and for making meaning was whisked away. This coincided with an event that sparked a year-long cycle of severe anxiety and depression unlike anything I had ever experienced. I was going through each day in terror and despair, literally shaking — for months.

On the one hand, I no longer believed in hell; on the other, I very much believed that I was destined for it because of my loss of faith and that I was experiencing only a foretaste of untold suffering in my anxiety and depression.

Read More

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Touch. Solomon on The Moth.

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Working for Speaking of Faith (soon-to-be Being) has ruined me. My life is invaded with connections that I otherwise would’ve been oblivious to. So vacations are never completely free of imaginative associations. Nevertheless, I’m thankful. It’s a gift.

A lazy Saturday afternoon. My two boys down for a nap. My wife writing. Me? Cleaning the kitchen. To enliven the mind while performing this domestic simplicity, I cue up a recent edition of The Moth podcast. And who should be the storyteller? Andrew Solomon — a former guest on "The Soul in Depression" who most recently took the stage with Krista at the New York Public Library.

Andrew Solomon on Stage for The MothIn the audio above, he tells the remarkable story of Cambodian woman he met while doing research in that country. He wanted to understand what happens when an entire nation has been subjected to a trauma. This Cambodian woman had survived the killing fields of the Khmer Rouge.

In a resettlement camp, she started a group to help shattered women refugees rendered lifeless by the horrors of Pol Pot’s regime. As Solomon tells it, she developed three steps to bring these women back to society and help them rediscover their humanity. It’s the third step that struck me and reminded me of a Quaker’s story from 2003:

“‘I would teach them the third thing: which was to perform manicures and pedicures.’ … She said, ‘You know, the worst atrocity of all that was brought by the Khmer Rouge was that half the country turned against the other half of the country. And people who lived through that period knew that they couldn’t put anything in anyone else, and they completely lost the habit of looking anyone else in half in the eye.’

She said and ‘All of these women had been deprived for a long time of any occasion to indulge in the least bit of personal vanity. I brought them to my hut, and I built a special room that I would fill with steam. And it was a pleasure for them to feel beautiful. But what was really amazing for them was that, in this context, it was something that was at once very intimate and very impersonal. And they would start, because I was telling them how to do it and giving them some instruction, to handle each others’ fingers and each others’ toes. And it meant they were touching each other. And if I had told them to begin to hold each others’ hands or to have some kind of physical contact with other people, they would’ve shied away and they would have pulled back. They weren’t ready to do anything with anyone. But, in this context, they would touch each others’ fingers, touch each others’ toes, and then, because it was such a funny context, and because they felt so happy about the fact that they were, for a moment, feeling a little bit beautiful again, they would begin to laugh together. And they would begin to tell each other little bits of stories and things and that was the way that I taught them to trust again.’”

This idea of slowly finding and gently rediscovering one’s humanity through touch is powerful testimony. Testimony I had heard in another story by Parker Palmer, who also appeared in "The Soul in Depression":

"I’ll just tell that story quickly, because it’s such a great image for me. … There was this one friend who came to me, after asking permission to do so, every afternoon about four o’clock, sat me down in a chair in the living room, took off my shoes and socks and massaged my feet. He hardly ever said anything. He was a Quaker elder. And yet out of his intuitive sense, from time to time would say a very brief word like, ‘I can feel your struggle today,’ or farther down the road, ‘I feel that you’re a little stronger at this moment, and I’m glad for that.’ But beyond that, he would say hardly anything. He would give no advice. He would simply report from time to time what he was sort of intuiting about my condition. Somehow he found the one place in my body, namely the soles of my feet, where I could experience some sort of connection to another human being. And the act of massaging just, you know, in a way that I really don’t have words for, kept me connected with the human race.

What he mainly did for me, of course, was to be willing to be present to me in my suffering. He just hung in with me in this very quiet, very simple, very tactile way. And I’ve never really been able to find the words to fully express my gratitude for that, but I know it made a huge difference. And it became for me a metaphor of the kind of community we need to extend to people who are suffering in this way, which is a community that is neither invasive of the mystery nor evasive of the suffering but is willing to hold people in a space, a sacred space of relationship, where somehow this person who is on the dark side of the moon can get a little confidence that they can come around to the other side.”

If there’s one thing you do this weekend, take 15 minutes and listen to Andrew Solomon’s story. And, then, pay attention. Those connections are waiting for you to be made — and to be shared.

Now that I’m done with the dishes I think I’ll rub my wife’s feet. Well, maybe…

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Tonight! SOF Live from the New York Public Library
» chat while you watch on our SOF Live page

Wednesday, March 3, 2010 (7pm Eastern)
Celeste Bartos Forum of The New York Public Library
42nd Street at 5th Avenue
New York, NY

Starting at 6:45pm Eastern tonight, we’ll be streaming live video of a public event with Krista and and Andrew Solomon, a former guest on “The Soul in Depression,” at the New York Public Library on 42nd Street.

Solomon is one of the thinkers in Krista’s new book, Einstein’s God: Conversations about Science and the Human Spirit, which draws on her radio conversations to explore an emerging interface of inquiry between many fields of science, medicine, theology, and philosophy. They’ll be using Einstein’s self-described “cosmic religious sense” as the starting point for a discussion about its intriguing compatibility with 21st-century sensibilities. It should be a lively and fulfilling conversation.

We’d love to hear your thoughts about this conversation. Please add your comments here.

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Repossessing Virtue: Anita Barrows on Finding the Sacred in the Ordinary
» download (mp3, 15:17)
Larissa Anderson, Poetry Producer

There are many Speaking of Faith programs where I can remember exactly what I was doing when I heard the show, when I heard something resonate like a ringing tuning fork right up on my bones. "The Soul in Depression" is one of those shows, and we recently rebroadcast it. I particularly love the poetry in the program — like the Rilke poem that starts, “I love the dark hours of my being. / My mind deepens into them.”

Anita Barrows translated that poem. She’s a poet herself, and she’s got a new book of poetry out titled, Kindred Flame. I talked with her recently for our Repossessing Virtue series. During our conversation, she said we’re called now to examine how we take care of each other. And, she mentioned a Rilke poem she’s translating with her friend and colleague Joanna Macy that gives her perspective and strength.

I was also interested to hear her say Pablo Neruda is a good poet to turn to in these economic times. She brought up poems like “Ode to My Socks” and “Ode to Tomatoes.” "Ode to a Large Tuna in the Market" is another one. Barrows said Neruda helps her remember it’s in the ordinary things that we find the sacred.

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Depression and Me

Krista Tippett, Host

We’re putting our show about depression on the air again this week. It’s been over two years since it has been broadcast, and, as always with rebroadcasts, we went in and refined and hopefully made it better. But this is essentially the show we created six years ago, which people discover all the time online.

Some have told us it has helped keep them alive. This kind of effect of our work is humbling and amazing beyond words. But in every way this show is unusual. It is more personally revealing for me than anything else we’ve done. I feel vulnerable knowing it will be out there in the ether again in coming days.

In my journal this week, as in the program script, I “disclose” that when we first created this program I took the making of it as an occasion to walk with some trepidation back through the spiritual territory of despair. I have a bit of the same sense now, airing it again, because that dark place seems a bit closer to me this February than I’m happy to admit. It’s a long, cold, depressing month in a frankly depressing moment in time, and I’m very tired.

As I prepared for those interviews years ago, and conducted them, I worried that peering down into that abyss again — even in memory, or vicariously through conversation with others — might send me into it. It did not. It was a clarifying, strengthening experience; one that made me grateful to be at a remove where I could in fact learn from depression rather than be enveloped by it. But I will stress here — as much for myself as for anyone reading — that we are not in a place to find spiritual enlightenment when we are in the throes of this illness.

Just in recent weeks, I had a new conversation with Parker Palmer, in which we both found wisdom on economic depression in some of the ways he had talked to me about clinical depression all those years ago. But hearing this show again right now, I’m personally most held and strangely comforted by Andrew Solomon and especially Anita Barrows’ insistence that emerging from depression — “healing” if you will — doesn’t mean leaving darkness behind. It means being aware and whole enough to accept dark months and dark times as expressions of human vitality.

Those of us who have struggled with depression live imprinted with its reality — and the terrifying possibility of its recurrence — ever after. It is a gift, albeit an uncomfortable one, to live on this side of health where I can accept darkness as a companion, not a teacher when it is as close as this, yet an essential thread of the life that is mine.

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Touching Soles

Trent Gilliss, Online Editor

A newborn's foot. (photo: Shelley Gilliss)One of the most difficult aspects of working at Minnesota Public Radio is that I often don’t get a chance to listen to public radio on the weekdays, especially during working hours. Thanks to a new baby boy, I was actually able to listen to a documentary on Alzheimer’s disease by a colleague and former producer at SOF, Brian Newhouse.

It’s a wonderfully crafted piece that’s full of facts and figures and scientific experts discussing the problems and approaches to treating and curing the disease. But, the part that sang to me, is a follow-up interview with a man in his 40s who describes the way he communicates with his wife now that he is home-bound:

"In essence, she’s sort of lost that engaging partner that she used to have. But what we do do is we will, you know, I’ll have her lay on the couch, and I’ll rub her feet and so we communicate a lot through touch now. So there, there are moments of grace, and there are, there are gifts in, within Alzheimer’s that, that you have to, you don’t want to leave those behind as you’re struggling with some of the darker realities of the disease."

His sentiment transported me down the whooshing tunnel to a story Parker Palmer told to Krista in our show on depression:

"There was this one friend who came to me, after asking permission to do so, every afternoon about four o’clock, sat me down in a chair in the living room, took off my shoes and socks and massaged my feet. He hardly ever said anything. He was a Quaker elder. And yet out of his intuitive sense, from time to time would say a very brief word like, ‘I can feel your struggle today,’ or farther down the road, ‘I feel that you’re a little stronger at this moment, and I’m glad for that.’ But beyond that, he would say hardly anything. He would give no advice. He would simply report from time to time what he was sort of intuiting about my condition. Somehow he found the one place in my body, namely the soles of my feet, where I could experience some sort of connection to another human being. And the act of massaging just, you know, in a way that I really don’t have words for, kept me connected with the human race.

What he mainly did for me, of course, was to be willing to be present to me in my suffering. He just hung in with me in this very quiet, very simple, very tactile way. And I’ve never really been able to find the words to fully express my gratitude for that, but I know it made a huge difference. And it became for me a metaphor of the kind of community we need to extend to people who are suffering in this way, which is a community that is neither invasive of the mystery nor evasive of the suffering but is willing to hold people in a space, a sacred space of relationship, where somehow this person who is on the dark side of the moon can get a little confidence that they can come around to the other side.”

In an upcoming show for December 20th, Jean Vanier, the founder of L’Arche, echoes the idea that physicality is more than just a manner of expressing emotion. It’s a way of connecting with other humans and fostering compassion and kindness within ourselves.

Now, as a father of two boys under the age of two, these stories help me recognize what I know is vital in my relationship with them, especially a 2-year-old. When Lucian is frustrated and all my other methods of diversion (i.e., talking about Curious George, showing him the moon, kissing his belly…) have failed, a simple gesture of kissing his feet or gobbling his toes makes him laugh or even coo. We begin again.

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