Illustration of a figure sitting on a piano key with a bed of

flowers growing in between

Illustration by Hoi Chan/ All rights reserved


Dear friends,

Years ago, I worked with a woman from Finland. She’d spent her teenage years dreaming of moving to Dublin, and now here she was. Somehow, though, the self she thought Dublin would make her was not showing up. Dublin had been such a yearning for her that she’d piled hopes of who she could be into geography: when I get there I’ll find it easier to make friends; when I get there I’ll find it easier to leave Helsinki behind; when I get there I’ll get over that thing that I can’t get over. 

Anyway, we were talking, and she was telling me that Dublin wasn’t all her dreams had made it out to be. 

We never became close friends; we were just pleasant acquaintances. I’ve thought about her for years, though. She’d moved to Dublin only to realize it wasn’t the place she’d dreamt it’d be. I still remember the way she described how the future and home she’d imagined was being unimagined in her. It had been hard, she said, but she didn’t regret it. 

So much of life is a process of becoming attached — to a person, a thing, a place, an idea — and then learning to deepen the wisdom of that attachment. Our guest for this week is Stephen Batchelor, a co-founder and faculty member of Bodhi College, and author of many books exploring secular approaches to Buddhism, as well as his most recent, The Art of Solitude. He has been intrigued by the big questions of life for much of his life: he speaks about doing poorly in school because he couldn’t understand why the teachers weren’t asking the questions about “what it’s actually like to be a person, from the inside?” 

Stephen and Krista reference various languages where the word for “solitude” is the same as the word for “lonely.” English is fairly unique in the concepts that separate solitude from loneliness. Stephen Batchelor considers being alone as a source — a source of inspiration, imagination, of creativity. Or, to make that last sentence more accurate, he considers that being alone can be a source of these great things, depending on how the experience of being alone is approached. 

In this hour of conversation, Stephen and Krista discuss Buddhist philosophy, secular humanism, Rilke, the Skeptics, Nelson Mandela, and Stephen’s great inspiration, Michel de Montaigne, the mid-16th century French aristocrat and philosopher. In considerations of relationships, ethics, art, and friendships, they consider “the art of being alone with oneself” — a direct rendering of Die Kunst, mit zie selbst allein zu sein, the title of the German translation of Stephen's book. 

Michel de Montaigne noted that the “greatest thing in the world is to know how to be yourself,” and spoke too of the “soul’s capacity to keep itself company.” Such concepts are, we know, filled with human projections: a person sits to meditate and enjoy the pleasure of their soul’s company, but within half a minute is flooded with everything they’re carrying with them, inside themself: their concerns, pains, anxieties, demands, and responsibilities. Stephen Batchelor is wise about the reasons for learning this art of aloneness. Of course, it helps a person in their own life, and in the life of their family and friendships, and their spiritual path, too. But it also informs the ethical life of a person: the world is full of demands, full of competing markets vying for our loyalty. Making an ethical decision may be helped by a capacity to engage with the echo of those inner voices, but not in such a way as to engage with those voices only. We will get things wrong, Stephen says; therefore, we must learn to think and reflect well in order to learn, to consider, to notice, and to try again. 

In a pandemic era where social isolation, distance, and aloneness have been uppermost in news cycles, workplaces, places of religion, exercise, and transport, it is helpful to take a deep dive into the wisdom of aloneness. This conversation with Stephen Batchelor is a kind and wise invitation into our own solitude, and we wish you all the support and calm and joy along the way as you keep your self company. 


Beir bua, 

Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound


P.S. In your podcast feed this week, you’ll also notice the trailer for the new season of Poetry Unbound. The first episode airs on Monday, September 27th, with new episodes every Monday and Friday.



News From the Wisdom App Adventure

One of the great values of becoming a full member of the Wisdom app is having access to our monthly Practice Space, a supportive environment for members across the globe to gather and build muscle around particular pieces of wisdom, together. 

Our second Practice Space will be held on Monday, September 27th. This time, we’ll explore the relationship between grief and hope — turning to the “Grief Is a Companion to Hope” session featuring Joanna Macy, from the Hope Is a Muscle course, to guide us. 

Become a member by Monday, September 27th to receive an invitation. Visit the Wisdom app page on our website to learn more and invest in membership. Or, sample the first few course sessions for free by downloading through the app store on your phone. 

Read Krista’s note about why this project and why now.


This Week at The On Being Project

Our Latest Episode

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On Being with Krista Tippett
Stephen Batchelor
Finding Ease in Aloneness

The Buddhist teacher on the art of solitude, drawing on teachers across the ages, and from monasticism to marriage.

Listen on:

Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Our Website



Then. Now. Now Then? A Conversation with Naomi Shihab Nye & Pádraig Ó Tuama
Sunday, October 3, 2021
2pm CDT / 3pm EDT
Free Online Event

Listen in as renowned poets, Naomi Shihab-Nye & Pádraig Ó Tuama deeply reflect on where we find ourselves as a people and a planet. Hosted by Compassionate San Antonio. 


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The On Being Project
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