Illustration of two nervous systems in company with each other

Art by Stasia Burrington/All Rights Reserved


Dear friends,

I have a friend who makes a playlist to help him get through the night. He stitches podcast episodes into an eight hour stream, presses play, turns it down low, and lies down.

It fulfils two functions, he says. It’s like the ambient noise lots of people use to help support sleep. But also, he says that when he wakes up in the middle of the night, he knows he’s in the company of voices that he trusts. He chooses podcasts that are not shouty, that are not dealing in outrage, but that explore mystery and meaning. He’s been having a hard time, and the nights are tough. He can barely hear the voices, he says; but he knows that the murmur from the corner is a murmur of curiosity. It helps him breathe, he says.

What do you do to help? To help what?, you might ask. To help you… now… a year into a pandemic… with noise of vaccinations and new waves and policies coming from all directions… a year that has continued to uncover so much that was already wrong: systemic injustice, violences, disparities.

Our On Being episode this week is an interview with Dr. Christine Runyan. She's a U.S. Air Force veteran, a clinical psychologist who believes that psychology and mental health care should be at the front-end of medical care, rather than at the end of lengthy referral processes. Her insight about the body’s response during stress is extraordinary. From her, we hear that stress affects the nervous system, and that a year like the one we’ve had is a year of stress. Finding ways to name what’s going on will be vital to our capacity to respond well as this next year progresses, she says.

Christine Runyan brings critique to some medical measurements being employed to talk about our realities in this past year. Responding to public voices using medical diagnoses to speak about how people are responding to the pandemic, she says: “It is such a medical lens. It’s such a lens of pathology. And I don’t think it actually captures what I’m saying, which is, this is a very normal, in fact predictable, human experience, given the conditions that we have.”

With this perspective, Krista and Christine talk about memory lapses, episodes that feel like depression, hostility about masking/non-masking and other regular experiences for many this past year. Christine provides an extraordinarily supportive containment in her shared wisdom; a containment that says, What is happening to you is okay. Here are some things that might help. Among the things that may help, she suggests exhales, background music, body-work, placing your feet firmly on the ground, evoking curiosity, and savoring. What we notice can be as ordinary as the way the light catches the curtains. “And so we actually have to put some effort in towards noticing that which is neutral or pleasant; in fact, if we can really notice, most things that are even neutral become pleasant, because they become fascinating,” Christine Runyan says.

In a year where we worry that our very breath has become a danger to each other, Christine praises medical professionals: “No amount of sophisticated technology can do what health professionals have done these past few months — offered care with uncertain evidence, sat with the dying, comforted family members from afar, held one another in fear and grief, celebrated unexpected recoveries, and simply showed up… No one has been trained how to keep regular life afloat at home and anxiety at bay, while working day after day with a little known biohazard.”

This conversation is a balm, not because it glosses over the pressures of the last year, but because it speaks to them. It makes a space between the stress and the story of the stress, and allows perspective. Listen to it, listen to it again, savor.

This week’s episode of This Movie Changed Me features host Lily Percy speaking with Shea Serrano about Gregory Nava’s Selena, a biopic about the life and career of Tejano music sensation Selena Quintanilla-Pérez. Starring Jennifer Lopez as Selena and Edward James Olmos as Selena’s father, the movie explores what it means to have a dream, to follow that dream, and the difficulties — from family, expectations, resistance — along the way. For Shea Serrano, once he became a parent, Selena offered him a new way of thinking about his role as a father. Edward James Olmos’ character in the movie is a former musician himself, who encountered terrible discrimination, and who then, when his daughter followed in his tracks, projected all his fear onto her. The movie is, in many ways, an exploration of what it’s like to learn to notice your fear, to name it, to step away from it a little, and to not give in to letting fear control the expectations you have for — or put on — those you love.

In both On Being and This Movie Changed Me we are considering what it means to see, name, live with — and even work with — the very understandable fears of a life. In all our considerations this week, friends, we wish you courage, and breath, and continued health.


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

Christine Runyan
"What’s Happening in Our Nervous Systems?"

Pandemic brain and “skin hunger.” How our bodies have been trying to care for us. Strategies for bringing our conscious selves back online.

Listen on:
Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Our Website


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This Movie Changed Me

Shea Serrano

The enduring inspiration of a Tejano music icon, with wisdom on parenthood and the importance of dreaming big.

Listen on:
Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Our Website



Recommended section image: image of Nuns and None's "The One

Year Mark" header image; Nomadland movie poster; screenshot from

Zildjian Live Youtube video

Read | The One Year Mark: Ritual and Accompaniment Through the Pandemic Portal
This resource guide, created by Adam Horowitz and Nuns & Nones, offers starting points, questions and experimental prompts to process all that we have lost and are emerging into during this pandemic year. As they write in their guide, “Unlike a traditional rite of passage, no one is holding this container for us. But, any one of us can create moments of ritual and reflection in our own lives and communities, with the goal of emerging on the other side of the pandemic with deeper courage, compassion, and commitment.”

Watch | Nomadland
Last month Chloé Zhao made history when she won the Golden Globe for Best Director for her film Nomadland — she is only the second woman to earn the award after Barbra Streisand for Yentl in 1984. And this week’s Oscar nominations make her the first Chinese woman ever nominated in that same category. I am normally the first person to say that these awards are meaningless garbage, but this time around I am celebrating the recognition of a filmmaker who, with Nomadland, has created one of the most intimate and emotional movie experiences since Debra Granik’s 2018 masterpiece Leave No Trace. Watching it at home, I grieved for the loss of my local movie theater. The movie’s landscapes — and Frances McDormand’s powerful performance — demand a big screen, and the safety of a room full of strangers witnessing … alone, together. — Liliana Maria (Lily) Percy Ruiz, Executive Producer

Watch + Listen | Zildjian LIVE! – JD Beck (Featuring DOMi)
JD Beck is a 17-year-old drummer who has a uniquely-defined style that is the envy of drummers twice his age. Even with a pared-back drum kit, he creates a sound that is almost electronic, like a drum machine. He’s so at one with the drums when he’s playing — he’s definitely “breathing through his eyelids” — that the separation between himself and the instrument evaporates. And as he shows in this video, where he is performing to a room full of drummers who are geeking out as they watch him, his musical genius is a reminder of the pure joy that music can bring. — Chris Heagle, Producer/Technical Director


In the Shelter Book Launch
March 25, 2021
Online Event
Pádraig is thrilled to launch the North American edition of his book, In the Shelter: Finding a Home in the World, with Broadleaf Books on Thursday, March 25th at 8pm EST. Krista will be joining Pádraig for a chat along with other friends dropping in to talk poetry, theology and conflict. The entire event is free and will last about an hour.

Healing Our City (of Minneapolis) Virtual Prayer Tent
Daily at 8 am CST
Online Event
The coming trial of Derek Chauvin is surfacing fresh pain and fear. The Center for Leadership and Neighborhood Engagement has launched an online version of the community prayer tent that was a wonderful presence last summer. As their website states, “From this tent we will go out into our neighborhoods and into the daily lives of people who long for welcome, safety, and belonging." All are invited — whoever you are, wherever you are in the world — to join by Zoom or Facebook for reflection followed by your form of prayer, silence or meditation. This is currently planned for every morning at 8 am CST for the coming months and Krista will be leading a reflection on an upcoming day.


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