Hand reaching toward its shadow

Photography by Sirisvisual/ Unsplash


Dear friends,

A number of years ago, I was leading an interfaith gathering in Belfast. I wanted this series of meetings to be friendly, but also seriously engaged. I got up early every Thursday morning for the months of our meeting, made home-made brown bread, and brought it, piping hot, along with good butter, to the room where our meetings would happen. 

There’s something about the smell of fresh bread that meant everyone started with a scent of warmth. We spoke about the bread — the harsh process of harvesting, the heat of baking, and the pummelling of kneading — and asked what it’d mean to let the bread be a symbol for how we’d gather. Over the course of our meetings, we did argue, we did push back against each other, but the metaphor seemed to work. We started every week with bread, and that warmth supported deep disagreement. Recipes were exchanged. People brought their home-made jams.

Years later, I was passing the Islamic Centre in Belfast. I heard my name being shouted out. The center leader had spotted me walking by. I went to his office where he took his sandwich in his hands and ripped it apart. “I loved that ritual,” he said. Then he told me he’d improved my recipe. 

The On Being episode this week is a conversation between Krista and Priya Parker — conflict mediator, group facilitator, and artist of gathering. The show opens and closes with each referencing their family: family habits of poor listening, or conflict avoidance. Priya quotes a mentor of hers, Randa Slim, who says that “90% of what happens in the room happens because of what we’ve done before.” And it is these “rooms” — gatherings where three or more people are gathered — that are the particular focus of Priya Parker’s work. 

What happens when a group of people gather? Whether it’s for a pool party, a work meeting, or a political meeting? Anything can happen is the answer, and Priya’s approach toward gatherings is extraordinary. For her, she sees the role of host as one of “generous authority” where much responsibility rests on their shoulders: for offering warm welcome, curating small pop-up rules and rituals that can help the room function according to its purpose, and helping to facilitate introductions and impasses in a way that deepens understanding and heightens the value that difference creates in the room. 

Priya brings a helpful and critical lens to words like “unity,” noting that unity can sometimes imply uniformity. For her, this word is too static. Rather, she strives to help facilitate rooms where people can be altered: where ideas can change; where learning can happen. 

Rather than asking questions that elicit predictable answers, Priya Parker hones in on questions that elicit innovative — or even complicated — answers. And we are in a time where complicated answers will be needed. As we emerge from a pandemic, instead of just asking, “is it safe to get back to work?” Priya offers questions like: What is lasting from remote working? What does it facilitate? What frustrates you about it? What have you invented that’s working? What do we need to invent now? She is wise about being both prepared and present, two simple words that hold enormous possibility within them. Her book — The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters — is aptly titled. In this fascinating and wide-reaching conversation, we hear how gathering is an art; an art to be tended, practiced, honed, and honored. 

Poetry Unbound is back this week! We’re delighted to offer you poems on Mondays and Fridays from now until mid-December. Our first episode explores the poem “All Bread” by Margaret Atwood. Ending with bread as a thing to be shared, this poem begins by speaking of the darkness of earth, the carcasses and dung of animals that nurture the earth from which the harvest grows. Bread, in this poem, has the salt taste of the hands that kneaded it. A symbol of sharing, yes, but also of long hard work. Jacob Shores-Argüello’s poem is our second episode. In it, young cousins experience grief. Spontaneously they create a ritual, a “Make Believe” — the title of the poem. They pretend to be bears and burrow into the side of a mountain, seeking rest, or shelter, or escape. Their imagination demonstrates the powerful need for ritual at the heart of the human condition. Theirs was playful, fantastical, and functional. 

Friends, in all your gatherings this week, we wish you the wisdom of ritual, heart-opening openings, generous hosting, and rich exchange. Our gatherings can be so fruitful, even with everything we carry. In moments of strain, we wish you pause, and truth, and unexpected words. 


Beir bua, 

Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry Unbound



News From the Wisdom App Adventure

From Krista: How to Practice the Wisdom “Pause”?

This is the second of an occasional FAQ from Krista. 

Q: I see three parts to each session of the Hope Is a Muscle course: Wisdom Practice, Pause, and Conversation. Are they all “equal” and essential? How do they work together?

First, if you’ve been in the app for a little while, you may notice that Part 2 used to be called the Reflection and is now the Pause — a gesture familiar to this community. This app platform is stretching and teaching us and we continue to ask how to make it more hospitable and intuitive. We’re grateful for the comradeship and guidance of those in this from the beginning with us.

As I last wrote in this space, the 10-15 minute Wisdom Practice is the beating heart of the app experience. If you choose to focus on that alone, committing to once or twice a week or some other rhythm, letting it work its way into your mind and your heart and your days, that is the course. When you listen or read or fast forward all the way through to the end of a Wisdom Practice offering, you also unlock a “Question to Live” and an “Integration Step” on your app screen. These are tools for taking the focused invitation for living that the Wisdom Practice closes with, deepening it as an intention to be carried around and set in action in ordinary time.

Part 2, the Pause, is support for ritualizing that move. It is a short (2-4 minute) meditative, grounding listen if you’d like, for all the days before you move on to the next Wisdom Practice. You can make it part of prayer or meditation time you already set aside. Or listen in the morning as your coffee brews or your tea steeps (a favorite “contemplative” time of mine). You could even listen to this on a walk or on your commute, if travel is part of your day.

Finally, think of Part 3 — the Conversation module — as extra credit, an optional deeper dive into context and the life and mind of a teacher I’m walking alongside, when a particular idea really intrigues you.  

You can sample the first course — Hope Is a Muscle — by downloading from the app store on your phone. Become an invested member directly in the app or through the On Being website, where you can also learn more about our Fair Pricing.

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
Priya Parker
Remaking Gathering: Entering the Mess, Crossing the Thresholds

The conflict resolution strategist and artist of gathering. Physical or virtual, reinventing the “how” of coming together — and the “why.”

Listen on:
Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Our Website


Poetry Unbound

Margaret Atwood
"All Bread"

Margaret Atwood considers the things contained in the bread that we eat: earth, salt, nutrients from dead things, heat, hunger, skin, and sharing. 

Jacob Shores-Argüello
"Make Believe"

The fantasy world of a child in the face of grief shows the power of imagination, and the ways we find necessary escape during times of strain. 

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. 

Reading Rilke: Four Writers’ Journey With Rilke

Sunday, October 10, 2021

3pm CDT / 4pm EDT

Free Online Event

Join Pádraig Ó Tuama and American poet Laura Reece Hogan together with Australian writer Stephanie Dowrick for a conversation about Rilke’s poems, hosted by the award-winning Rilke translator, scholar, and poet Mark S. Burrows. Each will read and talk about poems that have influenced their lives and work, probing what Rilke called “words ripening in the silences.”


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The On Being Project
1619 Hennepin Ave
Minneapolis, MN 55403
United States