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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.

"Ask a cloud: What is your date of birth? Before you were born, where were you?" ~Thich Nhat Hanh

For some reason, this resonates with me today. I can’t articulate why so much. Call me out if I’m getting a bit fluffy here; you may be justified.
(via trentgilliss)

"Ask a cloud: What is your date of birth? Before you were born, where were you?"
~Thich Nhat Hanh

For some reason, this resonates with me today. I can’t articulate why so much. Call me out if I’m getting a bit fluffy here; you may be justified.

(via trentgilliss)

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The more we persist in misunderstanding the phenomena of life…the more we involve ourselves in sadness, absurdity, and despair. But it does not matter much, because no despair of ours can alter the reality of things, or stain the joy of the cosmic dance which is always there. Indeed, we are in the midst of it, and it is in the midst of us, for it beats in our very blood, whether we want it to or not. Yet the fact remains that we are invited to forget ourselves on purpose, cast our awful solemnity to the winds, and join in the general dance.
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Thomas Merton, from New Seeds of Contemplation

Picked up this killer quotation from a comment on our Facebook page. People are amazing.

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Stumbled upon this beautiful prayer from Elie Wiesel (from One Generation After) in our archive this week:

I no longer ask you for either happiness or paradise; all I ask of You is to listen and let me be aware of Your listening.
I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.
I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.
As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance.
They are modest, my requests, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.
I ask you, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me: God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.
I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only beg You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.
They are modest, my prayers, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.
I ask You, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me. God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.
I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only implore You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.

The kind of quote to scribble on scrap paper and carry around in your pocket.
(Photo by Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images)

Stumbled upon this beautiful prayer from Elie Wiesel (from One Generation After) in our archive this week:

I no longer ask you for either happiness or paradise; all I ask of You is to listen and let me be aware of Your listening.

I no longer ask You to resolve my questions, only to receive them and make them part of You.

I no longer ask You for either rest or wisdom, I only ask You not to close me to gratitude, be it of the most trivial kind, or to surprise and friendship. Love? Love is not Yours to give.

As for my enemies, I do not ask You to punish them or even to enlighten them; I only ask You not to lend them Your mask and Your powers. If You must relinquish one or the other, give them Your powers. But not Your countenance.

They are modest, my requests, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.

I ask you, God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me: God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.

I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only beg You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.

They are modest, my prayers, and humble. I ask You what I might ask a stranger met by chance at twilight in a barren land.

I ask You, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to enable me to pronounce these words without betraying the child that transmitted them to me. God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, enable me to forgive You and enable the child I once was to forgive me too.

I no longer ask You for the life of that child, nor even for his faith. I only implore You to listen to him and act in such a way that You and I can listen to him together.

The kind of quote to scribble on scrap paper and carry around in your pocket.

(Photo by Tauseef Mustafa/AFP/Getty Images)

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We are not meant, in most cases, to lead separated lives…

We require, natural solitaries or not, the opportunity at times to take a companionable stroll through the deserts of our lives with others who walk the same path, in the hope that they can see the terrain for us with fresh eyes.

We need to reflect with others on the questions that plague us. We seek to discern with others who may be more wise than ourselves. We crave to know the opinions of those less involved than ourselves in the issues that face us, for fear our very proximity to them blinds us as much as it commits us…

Where we come from is a large part of who we are. It is the root of our identity, the place of our growing. It cannot simply be put down because it is not outside of us; it is inside of us — and always will be. Wrestling with the roots of us is part of human spiritual growth

- ~Sister Joan Chittister (from Welcome to the Wisdom of the World)
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The silence was broken at last by the little bell which signified the end of the morning activity. Taking hold of the basket again, I prepared to leave. But I was only fourteen and curiosity overcame me. Turning to the old woman, I asked, ‘What are you looking at?’ … Slowly she turned to me and I could see her face for the first time. It was radiant. In a voice filled with joy she said, ‘Why child, I am looking at the Light.’

Many years later as a pediatrician, I would watch newborns look at the light with that same rapt expression, almost as if they were listening for something.

…A ninety-six-year old woman may stop speaking because arteriosclerosis has damaged her brain, or she has become psychotic and she is no longer able to speak. But she may also have withdrawn into a space between the worlds, to contemplate what is next, to spread her sails and patiently wait to catch the light.

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~Rachel Naomi Remenfrom Kitchen Table Wisdom

Remembering this little glimmer of grace every time the sun peeks through this hazy shade of Minnesota winter. Her unedited conversation with Krista Tippett is marvelous. Listen generously. 

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By inaction one can become the center of thought, the focus of responsibility, the arbiter of wisdom. Full allowance must be made for others, while remaining unmoved oneself. There must be a thorough compliance with divine principles, without any manifestation thereof. All of which may be summed up in the one word “passivity.” For the perfect man employs his mind as a mirror. It grasps nothing: it refuses nothing. It receives, but does not keep. And thus he can triumph over matter, without injury to himself.
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ZhuangziZhuangzi (Chuang Tzŭ), from Lionel Giles’ Musings of a Chinese Mystic

The idea behind the Taoist sage’s language is appealing, but I’m not sure I fully grasp its meaning — or that I fully buy into it. Perhaps someone could help me better comprehend it?

(via trentgilliss)

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The Vulnerability of Listening

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

"Listening entails vulnerability. Listening requires a willingness, even a longing, to understand another."

A few weeks ago, our very own Krista Tippett stopped by the offices of Huffington Post in New York City to tape this short feature. The result: "Two Minutes of Wisdom with Krista Tippett."

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Hands through the Ages with Poetry and Photography
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Immediately when I saw this photograph by Touhami Ennadre, this poignant moment in our interview with Joanna Macy came to mind:

"I’m looking at my hand right now as we talk. It’s got a lot of wrinkles because I’m 81 years old, but it’s linked to hands like this back through the ages. This hand is directly linked to hands that learned to reach and grasp and climb and push up on dry land and weave reeds into baskets, and it has a fantastic history. Every particle and every atom in this hand goes back to the beginning of space-time. We’re part of that story."

Her magic manifested itself in the way that she so fully imbibed the words and sentiment of Rainer Maria Rilke. She drank and released them with new imagination and her own being. There must be something about being a translator that requires one to give oneself over so fully to the poet she’s sharing with the world; when Macy does it, you grow with her and that intimacy transports us to another dimension.
So, seeing Ennadre’s photos only became more profound and cosmically coincidental when I clicked through from the front page of Ennadre’s site and discovered this quote from Rilke:

Works of art are born of those who confront danger, who go to the limit of an experience, to a point beyond which no human can go. The farther one adventures, the more distinctive, the more personal, the more unique a life becomes.

[h/t Destin a Terre]

Hands through the Ages with Poetry and Photography

by Trent Gilliss, senior editor

Immediately when I saw this photograph by Touhami Ennadre, this poignant moment in our interview with Joanna Macy came to mind:

"I’m looking at my hand right now as we talk. It’s got a lot of wrinkles because I’m 81 years old, but it’s linked to hands like this back through the ages. This hand is directly linked to hands that learned to reach and grasp and climb and push up on dry land and weave reeds into baskets, and it has a fantastic history. Every particle and every atom in this hand goes back to the beginning of space-time. We’re part of that story."

"Hands of the World 2"Her magic manifested itself in the way that she so fully imbibed the words and sentiment of Rainer Maria Rilke. She drank and released them with new imagination and her own being. There must be something about being a translator that requires one to give oneself over so fully to the poet she’s sharing with the world; when Macy does it, you grow with her and that intimacy transports us to another dimension.

So, seeing Ennadre’s photos only became more profound and cosmically coincidental when I clicked through from the front page of Ennadre’s site and discovered this quote from Rilke:

Works of art are born of those who confront danger,
who go to the limit of an experience,
to a point beyond which no human can go.
The farther one adventures, the more distinctive,
the more personal, the more unique a life becomes.

[h/t Destin a Terre]

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We don’t have to schedule a trip to the monastery to enjoy the benefits of stopping for bells of mindfulness. We can use many ‘ordinary’ events in our daily lives to call us back to ourselves and to the present moment. The ringing of the telephone, for example: many of my students pause to breathe in and out mindfully three times before they pick up the phone, in order to be fully present to themselves and to the person calling them. Or when we are driving, a red light can be a wonderful friend reminding us to stop, relax, let go of discouraging thought patterns and feel more space inside.
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—Thich Nhat Hanh, from his interview in Friday’s Huffington Post.

I greatly appreciate Marianne Schnall’s line of questioning here. She could’ve gone philosophical on us, but she didn’t. She’s seeking advice on how to better understand and operate in this frenetic, always-connected world we live in. How do we vacation and relax? How do we prioritize our relationships with people and our electronic gadgets? These are real questions we are all struggling with in the most ordinary of ways. Which reminds me of this quote that I almost featured:

"Relationships are like a forest: it takes a long time to build up precious trust, but one really thoughtless act or remark can be like a lighted match that destroys everything."

Trent Gilliss, senior editor

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Writing as Compassion

Kate Moos, managing producer

William Maxwell treats his personal material as if it were history. It is one part memory, one part research and one part hearsay but one hundred percent compassion. Compassion in my mind is an admixture of feeling and sustained attention with regard to others. Compassion is the absence of cruelty. Compassion is steady and relaxed—allowing patience where we may not have any for ourselves. Compassion is acceptance of what you didn’t realize or can’t understand. Compassion is not attainable without process—going through the various methods of drafting. Each one provides you with another perspective, another point of focus. Each method provides more ingredients to the approach that helps the content to stand on its own so that the writer can leave it behind them.
—Nancy Beckett

Skyping into a Writing GroupMost Wednesday nights I’m at the kitchen table staring into my laptop screen at a living room full of women. It’s my writing group, which is presided over by Nancy Beckett, an incredible playwright and writing teacher in Chicago. My admiration for her insight, depth, and crazy, mordant Irish wit never evaporates.

Everyone else assembles in her apartment for our three-hour sessions; I Skype in from St. Paul.

This week we read an excerpt from the great editor and writer William Maxwell’s creative nonfiction, and, as is the drill each week, Nancy gave us her deeply insightful lesson, a portion of which I cite above.

What I love about this work is that it goes past how to string sentences together, though there is that. It reminds me why I write. As Nancy would say, “People write because they can’t help themselves.” I write in order to know. I write in order to be changed.

(photo above: Tina, one of the group members, reads from her novel-in-progress.)

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The brain is plastic and continues to change, not in getting bigger but allowing for greater complexity and deeper understanding.
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—Kathleen Taylor, a professor at St. Mary’s College of California, as quoted in "How to Train the Aging Brain."

I rather enjoyed this observation and the additive notion of our brains growing older and not just simply deteriorating. And, by regularly jarring our brains with a “disorienting dilemma” (which I hope we accomplish with the many voices on SOF), we can probe and add to that depth and interconnectedness of knowledge.

Trent Gilliss, online editor

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Wisdom Comes at 65
Trent Gilliss, online editor

Last winter I paid a hefty fine to the Minneapolis Public Library. I couldn’t let go of several photography books, including a pair by Andrew Zuckerman: portraits of beautiful animals — two- and four-legged forms — supple and lithe in their stillness, majestic in simplicity, unpretentious and vulnerable.

Ravi ShankarI intended to share some of these images then; I’m glad I waited. This video from Wisdom: The Greatest Gift One Generation Can Give to Another shares the ideas and profundity of those who have lived a life worthy of furrows and ridges. A few of my favorites touching on themes of work and love, conflict and resolution:

You can’t get to wonderful without passin’ through all right.
—Bill Withers, musician

Love something. I think we’ve got to learn love something deeply.
—Andrew Wyeth, artist

The human being has a need for dignity just as like water, like air.
—Wole Soyinka, writer

If you’re willing to offer your life for it, you might actually get something done.
—Bernice Johnson Reagon, activist

If everyone takes care of their own area, then we won’t have any problems.
—Willie Nelson, musician

You don’t stop doing things because you get old. You get old because you stop doing things.
—Rosamunde Pilcher, writer

I get sillier as I get older. I don’t know what wisdom means.
—Judi Dench, actor

…who I am, and what I need, these are things I have to find out myself.
—Chinua Achebe, writer

(photo: Andrew Zuckerman)

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Wise Words from the “Old Ones” of New Mexico

by Trent Gilliss, Senior Editor

There’s a certain amount of serendipity that offers itself to any person who works on SOF. But I have to be open to it, to be able to acknowledge that chance connection or a life lesson is often garnered during a pause rather than while railing to meet a deadline. This is my pause.

While writing an entry on Robert Coles’ book, The Old Ones of New Mexico, for our particulars page for “The Inner Lives of Children,” I re-read a profile about Señor and Señora Gallegos, owners of a small rural market known simply as “The Store.” I was looking for quotes on the relationship between children and their grandparents. What I discovered were threads of wisdom for living a virtuous life as a businessperson during these economic times.

Our series on the spiritual and moral aspects of the economic downturn is called "Repossessing Virtue." Perhaps we here got that title wrong. Perhaps virtue isn’t a matter of ‘possession’ at all but a series of tiny, indiscrete moments of character that emanates from within. You can no more own it than you can cage an electron. In my bones, I know that Señor Gallegos understands this better than most:

"The people near here like to come by every day. Some mothers send their husbands to the store each morning before breakfast. No wonder I have to be ready for them; they expect me to know by heart what they will be asking for. And why not? After all these years I’d be of no use if I couldn’t predict what my customers want and need. Still, with age one has to think a little harder. So, about six-thirty I am picturing the men, and looking at the shelves to see that I have what they’ll come for. Usually they don’t even have to talk much when they enter. I look at them and go for the milk or some cereal or some cans—and of course, I have the doughnuts near the coffee. They put the money for the doughnuts in the glass jar; that is separate. The rest I ring up.

"We charge more than the big markets in the city. We must. We don’t get to buy at the low prices a chain of stores can make the wholesale people set. Maybe one day there will be no stores like ours left. I apologize all the time to my customers. I tell them that if they would only drive twenty miles, they could do better. I know that some storekeepers like me have a fine time bleeding their customers—the people who can’t travel or are in a hurry for something. But it is not in me to run that kind of business. I am too old to do a dance because I squeezed an extra nickel here, and a quarter there, out of some neighbors of mine. I would have nightmares, thinking of what they wished me: a long stretch in Hell. And I would belong there!

"The older I become, the more I think of others. Have I been a good husband and father? Will my friends think well of me when the casket with me in it moves down the street toward the cemetery? What will my cousins and my nephews and nieces and neighbors and customers think when they stand there and see me put to rest: ‘He is a scoundrel who took away from the poor and cheated people by touching the scale with his hand and raised prices far beyond what was fair?’ or ‘He did the best he could, and tried to be honest, and had a smile on his face most of the time?’ I cannot say for sure; maybe I have been more thoughtless and rude than I will ever know. When God gives you the extra time he has given me, it may be because he expects you to examine yourself very closely, and think about what you have done wrong. I know that when I was younger I worried about money: I wanted there to be some for our old age. Back then I thought: If we live to be sixty-five, or seventy, we will be lucky, and we will no doubt be weak and so our son will have to run the store all by himself. But we lived longer, and here I am, still opening the store, so that my son can have a decent sleep, and see his children off to school.

"I didn’t grow rich; nor will my son. He would like to make more money, I know. He resembles me: he is torn between the desire to make money for his wife and children, and a great loyalty to our customers. How can you take more than is due you—especially when you know you are lucky to have the store and live comfortably as you do, and many of your customers aren’t at all in the same shoes? I have no answers; I wish everyone in the world had enough to eat, good clothes, and a roof that doesn’t leak over their heads. I tell our priest all the time that it is no joy, taking money from people who don’t have much, and who work so hard for the little they do have. He slaps me on the back and tells me that it is not me or Señora Gallegos or our son who are the enemies of the poor. He tells me about other stores he knows of, from his past work: the owners are politicians, and they push the people around and take every cent they can get. I feel good, hearing him speak well of me, but I still worry: God must know that I have had my moments of greed.

"There have been people I have not liked, and they have pushed me hard: Why do you charge such high prices? Why do you try to bleed us? I have tried to answer: it is trying and lonely running a store like this one, and if I give everything away, I will have to beg myself, rather than run the store. But I can hold firm; no one will knock me down, not when I think I am in the right. Sometimes I feel ready to fight; and sometimes I have said to myself, ‘Take all you can get, because they are the mean ones, and they will only respect a man who is as mean as they are.’ And you know, that is true: there are people on this earth who have contempt for a man who tries to be generous; he is seen as a fool, or up to some clever trick. That is God’s way—to put many different kinds of people here, and let us all prove ourselves to him."

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