Dear friends,

When I was a boy, I taught myself gymnastics. I got a book from the library and practiced in the garden. Bruises, the occasional sprain all followed. Tumbles too. I kept going. In my early 20s, I had a colleague — a magnificent Canadian — who taught me backflips and somersaults. I gloried in the small flights of such movements. 

As years went by, I tumbled less and sat more. Hunched back. 

And — no surprise — back pain came eventually, too. Too much driving, too much sitting, not enough stretching. Where somersaults once beckoned, a yoga practice called. I resisted for a long time. I felt awkward that I was now a different weight. I accused myself. I used the accusations as excuses. I compared the ease of backbends from before with the creaks of today. I was no friend to myself. 

Anyway. Back pain continued.

Nothing prepared me for the home that a yoga practice gave. I could feel my back, and some healing aches. I could feel muscles, and memories long stored in the body, awaken. In some poses, I’d fight back tears. During lockdown, I’ve found myself weeping while in corpse pose more than once. 

Our bodies tell the truth, even when our minds are in denial. We are called to embodied practice: of stretching sore muscles, of practicing justice, of equanimity for solidarity. This is something all of our offerings focus on this week. 

The beloved teacher of Buddhist practices, Sharon Salzberg, takes us into her story of learning meditation in her On Being conversation. She thought meditation was about becoming good at it, rather than learning to let go, learning to be in her own body, with all its memories and sadnesses, with all its potential. To pay attention to your own self through a meditation practice is, she says, a way in which we can connect to others around us: the person at the check-out line, the person who hurt us, our own selves. During a lockdown year, Sharon Salzberg helps us open up, not to escape, but to equanimity.

In Poetry Unbound, Chris Abani’s poem “The New Religion” reads like a prayer to return to the exuberance of the body. Even the God in his poem wants to experience this physicality. Abani looks at how, as an adult, he has snubbed his own body, and called it virtue. No, he concludes, not virtue, but cowardice. And Lucille Clifton’s twin poems offer two stories of the body. In one, she glories in the shape of her body, round as a moon, rounder, and invites a gaze of love. And her companion poem celebrates how — in her own body — she made a survival where others did not expect survival. She, “nonwhite and woman,” invites us to come celebrate with her "that everyday something has tried to kill [her] and has failed.”

Spirituality is sometimes misunderstood as disembodied, but nothing is more bodied. Spirit comes from the word breath. In and out. To tend to the spirit is to tend to the breath. Sharon Salzberg, Chris Abani and Lucille Clifton all mark the connection between the body and the spirit; between thoughts and the body; between the body and human flourishing; between personhood and the politics of survival. Heart openers all, they call us to listen, to practice, to change, to act justly, to live well, for ourselves and others. 

Beir bua

Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound


This Week at The On Being Project

Our Latest Episode

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On Being with Krista Tippett
Sharon Salzberg
Shelter for the Heart and Mind

Caring for the world while learning kindness toward yourself. Holding to what is whole and true and undamaged, even in the face of loss. 

Listen on:
Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Our Website

Poetry Unbound

Chris Abani
The New Religion

A poem about the body, your own body specifically: having a body; feeling distanced from a body; being a body. 

Lucille Clifton
song at midnight

Two poems that celebrate strength and survival.

Listen on:
Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Our Website

Living the Questions: Live!

Living the Questions: Live, with Krista Tippett & Lucas Johnson
Monday, Oct. 26 at 5 p.m. ET
Facebook Live

The great challenges of our time hold vast open questions, all of which will still be with us the day after this election. We can turn towards them, together, and see what possibility they might open for shared life — even through disagreement, tumult, and uncertainty. Join us for an hour of reflection with Krista Tippett and Lucas Johnson, our executive director of Civil Conversations and Social Healing. More information.


Listen | Lanecia Rouse Tinsley on Makers & Mystics podcast 
Lanecia Rouse Tinsley is an abstract expressionist artist based in Houston. In this episode she speaks with host Stephen Roach about the creative process, impermanence and how art can be healing. 

Read | Bent Body, Lamb
In this essay for Image, Molly McCully Brown —whose poem "Transubstantiation" we featured on Poetry Unbound — writes of the body, disability, spirituality, and a changed relationship to Catholicism. Excerpted from her essay collection, Places I’ve Taken My Body

Read | Xandria Phillips’ Poetry 
Xandria Phillips won a Lambda Literary Award in 2020 for their book HULL, an extraordinary poetic consideration of the emotional impacts of colonialism and racism on the Black queer body.


Krista Tippett at Rural Assembly Everywhere
Tuesday, Oct. 27, 3-3:45 p.m. ET
Free livestream (must register)

Krista will speak about the challenges and promise of this extraordinary moment we inhabit at this event geared toward rural allies, neighbors, and admirers. More information.

Pádraig Ó Tuama Poetry Reading 
Sunday, Nov.1, 2-3.15 p.m. ET
Ticketed livestream (must register)

Pádraig will read from new work spanning nature, conflict, religion, memory and gift. More information.


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