Rank #1: Brené Brown — Strong Back, Soft Front, Wild Heart
“When we’re our best selves with each other, I don’t think that’s what’s possible between people; I believe that’s what’s true between people.” A wise thinker and writer, and a sought out teacher by leaders in many fields, Brené Brown is turning her attention ever more to how we walked into the crisis of our life together and how we can move beyond it. Our belonging to one another across every social divide, she says, can never be lost. But it can be forgotten.
Rank #2: John O'Donohue — The Inner Landscape of Beauty
No conversation we’ve ever done has been more beloved than this one. This 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.
Rank #3: Martin Sheen — Spirituality of Imagination
The renowned actor as you’ve never heard him before. He has appeared in over 100 films, including Apocalypse Now. He’s best known on television as President Bartlet in The West Wing. But Martin Sheen, born and still legally named Ramón Estévez, has had another lesser-known life as a spiritual seeker and activist. He returned to a deep and joyful Catholic faith after a crisis at the height of his fame in mid-life. He’s been arrested over 60 times in vigils and protests. “Piety is something you do alone,” he says. “True freedom, spirituality, can only be achieved in community.”
Rank #4: Bessel van der Kolk — How Trauma Lodges in the Body
Human memory is a sensory experience, says psychiatrist Bessel van der Kolk. Through his longtime research and innovation in trauma treatment, he shares what he’s learning about how bodywork like yoga or eye movement therapy can restore a sense of goodness and safety. What he’s learning speaks to a resilience we can all cultivate in the face of the overwhelming events — which, after all, make up the drama of culture, of news, and of life.
Rank #5: Gordon Hempton — Silence and the Presence of Everything
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.
Gordon Hempton is the founder of the One Square Inch of Silence Foundation, which recently expanded to become Quiet Parks International with the mission to “save quiet for the benefit of all life.” His books include One Square Inch of Silence: One Man’s Quest to Preserve Quiet, co-authored with John Grossmann, and Earth Is A Solar Powered Jukebox: A Complete Guide to Listening, Recording, and Sound Designing with Nature. He’s also produced more than 60 albums of vanishing natural soundscapes. Despite a dramatic loss in hearing in recent years, he’s been able to release a collection of soundscapes called Global Sunrise: The Musical Sounds of Dawn and a podcast, Sound Escapes.
Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org. This interview originally aired in May 2012.
Rank #6: James Martin — Finding God in All Things
Before Pope Francis, James Martin was perhaps the best-loved Jesuit in American life. He’s followed the calling of St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit order, to “find God in all things” — and in 21st-century forms. To delve into Fr. Martin’s way of being in the world is to discover the “spiritual exercises” St. Ignatius designed to be accessible to everyone more than six centuries ago. Also his thoughts on the “un-taming” Christmas.
Rank #7: The Soul in Depression
We’re fluent in the languages of psychology and medication, but the word “depression” does not do justice to this human experience. Depression is also spiritual territory. It is a shadow side of human vitality and as such teaches us about vitality. And what if depression is possible for the same reason that love is possible?
Rank #8: Thich Nhat Hanh, Cheri Maples, and Larry Ward — Being Peace in a World of Trauma
The Vietnamese Zen master, whom Martin Luther King nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize, is a voice of power and wisdom in this time of tumult in the world. We visited Thich Nhat Hanh at a retreat attended by police officers and other members of the criminal justice system; they offer stark gentle wisdom for finding buoyancy and “being peace” in a world of conflict, anger, and violence.
Rank #9: Ellen Langer — Science of Mindlessness and Mindfulness
Her unconventional studies have long suggested what neuroscience is now revealing: Our experiences are formed by the words and ideas we attach to them. Naming something play rather than work — or exercise rather than labor — can mean the difference between delight and drudgery, fatigue or weight loss. What makes a vacation a vacation is not only a change of scenery, but the fact that we let go of the mindless everyday illusion that we are in control. Ellen Langer says mindfulness is achievable without meditation or yoga. She defines it as “the simple act of actively noticing things.”
Rank #10: David Isay — Listening as an Act of Love
“The soul is contained in the human voice,” says David Isay, founder of StoryCorps. He sees the StoryCorps booth — a setting where two people ask the questions they’ve always wanted to ask each other — as a sacred space. He shares his wisdom about listening as an act of love, and how eliciting and capturing our stories is a way of insisting that every life matters.
Rank #11: Paulo Coelho — The Alchemy of Pilgrimage
The Brazilian lyricist Paulo Coelho is best known for his book “The Alchemist” — which has been on the New York Times bestseller list for over 400 weeks. His fable-like stories turn life, love, writing, and reading into pilgrimage. In a rare conversation, we meet the man behind the writings and explore what he’s touched in modern people.
Rank #12: This Is Your Brain on Sex
Anthropologist Helen Fisher explores the biological workings of our intimate passions, the brew of chemicals, hormones, and neurotransmitters that make the thrilling and sometimes treacherous realms of love and sex. In the research she does for match.com and her TED Talks that have been viewed by millions of people, she wields science as an entertaining, if sobering, lens on what feel like the most meaningful encounters of our lives. In this deeply personal conversation, she shows how it is possible to take on this knowledge as a form of wisdom and power.
Rank #13: Louis Newman — The Refreshing Practice of Repentance
The High Holy Days create an annual ritual of repentance, both individual and collective. Louis Newman, who has explored repentance as an ethicist and a person in recovery, opens this up as a refreshing practice for every life, even beyond the lifetime of those to whom we would make amends.
Rank #14: Elizabeth Gilbert — Choosing Curiosity Over Fear
Her name is synonymous with her fantastically best-selling memoir “Eat Pray Love.” But through the disorienting process of becoming a celebrity, Elizabeth Gilbert has also reflected deeply on the gift and challenge of inhabiting a creative life. Creativity, as she defines it, is about choosing curiosity over fear — not to be confused with the more familiar trope to “follow your passion,” but rather as something accessible to us all and good for our life together.
Rank #15: Adam Grant — Successful Givers, Toxic Takers, and the Life We Spend at Work
The organizational psychologist Adam Grant, who many know from his New York Times columns, describes three orientations of which we are all capable: the givers, the takers, and the matchers. These influence whether organizations are joyful or toxic for human beings. His studies are dispelling a conventional wisdom that selfish takers are the most likely to succeed professionally. And he is wise about practicing generosity in organizational life — what he calls making “microloans of our knowledge, our skills, our connections to other people” — in a way that is transformative for others, ourselves, and our places of work.
Rank #16: Gordon Hempton — Silence and the Presence of Everything
Silence is an endangered species, says Gordon Hempton. He defines real quiet as presence — not an absence of sound, but an absence of noise. The Earth, as he knows it, is a “solar-powered jukebox.” Quiet is a “think tank of the soul.” We take in the world through his ears.
Rank #17: Jonathan Sacks — The Dignity of Difference
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is the former Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and one of the world’s deep thinkers on religion in our age. He’s just released a new book, “Not in God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence.” In this intimate conversation with Krista, he speaks about how Jewish and other religious ideas can inform modern challenges. Rabbi Sacks says that the faithful can and must cultivate their own deepest truths — while finding God in the face of the stranger and the religious other.
Rank #18: Pauline Boss — The Myth of Closure
The family therapist who created the field of “ambiguous loss” — loss without closure. Complicated grief: parents, divorce, addiction, dementia, aging. “You love somebody. And when they’re lost, you still care about them. You can’t just turn it off.”
There is no such thing as closure. In fact, Pauline Boss says, the idea of closure leads us astray. It’s a myth we need to put aside, like the idea we’ve accepted that grief has five linear stages and we come out the other side done with it. She coined the term “ambiguous loss,” creating a new field in family therapy and psychology. She has wisdom for the complicated griefs and losses in all of our lives and for how we best approach the losses of others.
Pauline Boss is professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota. She is the author of “Loss, Trauma, and Resilience: Therapeutic Work with Ambiguous Loss,” “Loving Someone Who Has Dementia,” and “Ambiguous Loss.” She has also pioneered a global online course with the University of Minnesota called “Ambiguous Loss: Its Meaning and Application.”
Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org.
Rank #19: Sylvia Boorstein — What We Nurture
Sylvia Boorstein says spirituality doesn’t have to look like sitting down and meditating. A Jewish-Buddhist teacher and psychotherapist, Boorstein says spirituality can be as simple as “folding the towels in a sweet way and talking kindly to the people in [your] family even though you’ve had a long day.” And she insists that nurturing our inner lives in this way is not a luxury but something we can do in the service of others — from our children to strangers in the checkout line at the grocery store.
Sylvia Boorstein is a founding teacher of Spirit Rock Meditation Center in Woodacre, California. Her books include “That’s Funny, You Don’t Look Buddhist” and “Making Friends with the Present Moment.”
Find the transcript for this show at onbeing.org.
Rank #20: Mary Catherine Bateson — Composing a Life
Life as an improvisational art, at every age. This idea animates the wise linguist and anthropologist Mary Catherine Bateson, whose book “Composing a Life” has touched many. Since her childhood as the daughter of the iconic anthropologists Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, she’s had an ability to move through the world as both an original observer and a joyful participant. Now in her 70s, she’s pondering — and living — what she calls the age of “active wisdom.” She sees longer life spans creating a new developmental stage for our species.