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Dear friends,

I keep thinking about the word spirit, how it comes from the Latin spirare, and how spirare can mean breath as well as spirit. And I keep going through entries in etymological dictionaries to find words that are related to spirare, spirit, breath. There are so many: inspired, expired, dispirited, inspiration. That Latin word is possibly also connected to the Lithuanian word pyškëti, with implications of making noise, and a Sanskrit word picchorā meaning flute, or pipe. 

Breath. Enlivenment. Spirit. Noise. Pipe. Evidence of life. 

And there’s more: aspire; conspire; and of course, spiritual. To be spiritual is to breathe. To breathe is to be spiritual. Spirit is a sign of life.

Words matter, and this week’s On Being episode considers that most important of words: depression. Krista interviews three wise people — Andrew Solomon, Parker Palmer, and Anita Barrows — about the spiritual experience  of depression. This conversation is 18 years old, but the wisdom in it is timeless, and the sharing of it now, a year into pandemic, is timely. 

Their conversation is one that is based on the lived experience of depression: Krista speaks about her own experiences with depression, and all three of the guests also speak of theirs. And it is not caught up in the questions of causations or cures; they are not advocating one treatment over another.

Depression, we hear, is both a spiritual and physical experience. Things happen in our bodies when we are depressed: sleeplessness, fear, lack of concentration. Things happen in the spirit, too: it can feel like breath is shallow. Dispirited, it seems, might be a word that’d describe this experience. It can feel, at its worst, like the opposite of breath, like your spirit is being suffocated.

For Anita Barrows, the experience of depression was spiritual because it was — eventually — a  quietening experience from which she learned. Even writing this, I’m aware of the dangers of talking about depression as a learning experience. Those of us who survive it do learn; it’s true, we do. Those who don’t, don’t. We know that, too. Andrew Solomon speaks eloquently to this, quoting a friend of his who said to him: “It’s a very narrow-minded idea that comes out of religion, that all suffering has a purpose. Suffering is just suffering. And after you’ve been through the suffering, perhaps your relationship to the world is changed, and perhaps it isn’t; but suffering shouldn’t be glorified.” 

So often depression is spoken of as a word that ends a conversation, or leads to an entirely predictable conversation: causes, cures, diagnostics… all of which have their proper places. What I admire about this conversation is that the four people in it — Krista, Andrew, Parker and Anita — each speak their own experiences of depression: the landscapes of mind, spirit and self that they live with. How do we help each other when we are in a depression? Each of them offer insight into what helped, and what didn’t. 

We’re releasing a new episode of Living the Questions this week too, a shorter conversation between Krista and Parker where, in light of their previous conversation about depression, they wonder about current events in our society. In On Being, Parker tells the story of a friend of his who, while he was in a deep depression, came to Parker and did not offer hollow words, but instead rubbed his feet. The tenderness and touch of that moment was at once consoling, but also embodying. So Krista asks Parker, now, “What’s our communal equivalent of rubbing each other’s feet”? It’s a beautiful moment between them, and one that asks seriously how we approach each other when we know that diagnoses and fixes can often deepen the isolation and distance we feel around each other. 

And, we’re thrilled that this week sees the first episode of the final season of This Movie Changed Me. Host Lily Percy speaks with writer Kyle Turner about what it was like for him watching Greta Gerwig’s Lady Bird. The movie displays a difficult relationship between a mother and her daughter; how they try to learn to love and help each other, how this oscillates between possible and impossible. Watching Lady Bird, Kyle stifled his sobs. Lily and Kyle talk about how non-perfect relationships, too, have their wisdom, that the soul grows through complicated relationships where love can flourish, even when love is tough. Small gestures of reaching out — sometimes they’re clumsy; sometimes they work. 

Our three episodes this week invite us to look deep and learn, especially into parts of our lives — personal, interpersonal and communal — that can be difficult to consider. In all of these conversations we are held together by love. Each episode speaks of the power of loving relationships, love of self, and public love to hold us. 

 

Beir bua, 

Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound


 


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This Week at The On Being Project


Our Latest Episode


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On Being with Krista Tippett

Andrew Solomon, Parker Palmer, Anita Barrows
"The Soul in Depression"

The profound spiritual territory of depression. And why “depression” is one of the most inadequate words in our vocabulary for this human experience. 

Listen on:
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Living the Questions

Living the Questions

Parker Palmer
"What’s our communal equivalent of rubbing each other’s feet?"

Krista catches up with her friend in 2021. A companion to this week’s On Being on the soul in depression. Plus, Parker learns to use QuickTime.

Listen on:
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This Movie Changed Me

Kyle Turner
Lady Bird

Finding hope, compassion, and possibility in one of our most complicated relationships — the one between mother and child.

Listen on:
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Spotify
Our Website

 


Work With Us


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We're excited to share three current job opportunities. We're hiring a Senior Producer for On Being, Associate Operations Manager, and an Executive Assistant to Lucas Johnson, EVP of our Civil Conversations & Social Healing team. Detailed job postings can be found here

 


Events


Borders and Belonging: A Conversation with Pádraig Ó Tuama
February 17, 4:00 PM CST
Digital livestream

In celebration of the release of Pádraig latest book, Borders and Belonging: The Book of Ruth: A Story for Our Times (co-written with Glenn Jordan), The On Being Project’s Religious Life and Social Healing team invites you to join Pádraig and Ben Katt for a conversation exploring how the ancient biblical story of Ruth speaks to themes of belonging, community, law, and faithfulness. 

 

 

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