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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
Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound
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This Week at The On Being Project
Our Latest Episode
On Being with Krista
Andrew Solomon, Parker Palmer, Anita
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.
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.
This Movie Changed
Finding hope, compassion, and
possibility in one of our most complicated relationships — the one
between mother and child.
Work With Us
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
and Belonging: A Conversation with Pádraig Ó
February 17, 4:00 PM
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.