Two young adults sit together on a rocky overlook into a valley,

facing one anotherPhotography by Brooke Cagle / Unsplash


Dear friends,

There’s a photo I have of me as a child. Every now and then I look at it, falling into some kind of communication with that younger me. Mostly, I find myself giving advice. 

I seem to center on advice about how to get through: keep reading, keep running, keep that particular friend — they’ll last a lifetime. I give warnings, too — leave that group, keep your silence. It’s a peculiar thing to do, a kind of poetry of time, speaking back to a child who was about to face a future that has already happened. Talking to that boy is a kind of self-compassion, a kind of parenting, a way of telling a story back to myself. It’s a strange comfort. I only do it once or twice a year, but those times bring me into a conversation that I cherish, and the conversation is a balm. I find that with this passage of time, I’m able to face the things I was never able to face then. It helps. 

Our On Being episode this week is in two parts: the first half is a revisiting of the 2013 conversation between Krista and Bessel van der Kolk, renowned psychiatrist and trauma psychiatrist, and author of The Body Keeps the Score. The second half of this episode was recorded a few weeks ago: Krista and Bessel reconnect to consider how trauma, pain, resilience, body-knowledge, and wisdom can be brought into current conversations about politics, polarization, the pandemic, and societal fracturing. It’s a conversation marked both by ageless truths and deep insight into contemporary circumstances. 

Toward the end of the conversation, Bessel says: “I hope that a year from now we actually have a better sense of putting all these weird pieces together, because … we are all living in a very confusing world right now, something that we have never faced before, in living memory.” In a way, he’s helping to give advice for the here-and-now, knowing there’ll be a time in the future when we will look back at today with insights we may not have access to right now. Bessel’s wisdom about how to be present in times of stress comes with many practical reminders: it is good to be grounded in the body; the human being is a profoundly resilient creature; networks of close friends can make all the difference; understanding is only one part of responding to a trauma because a trauma is an event experienced in the body, therefore a whole-body response is what’s needed (hence his interest in yoga as part of whole-person healing). 

This hour explores other avenues of help, too: medication, self-compassion, and the benefit of being “still enough to have an alternative experience.” Bessel points out that serious pressures of now — politics, ecology, and pandemic — are all crises of the structures of our togetherness: whether they’re good enough; whether they’re wide enough. They’re clearly not, and this conversation between Krista and Bessel is honest about the present moment, while also shaping hope for the creative resilience of people to attend to the information these crises are bringing and make better containers for togetherness: things that will serve us, and reflect our deepest intuitions about community, solidarity, and safety. 

Our Poetry Unbound episodes also center on the experience of looking back: in “Blunts,” Major Jackson recalls a time when he and his friends were on a street corner, smoking, sharing stories of what they wanted to be when they were older. Unbeknownst to himself, he tells his friends he wants to be a poet. And so we are now in a poem written by a grown man about how he as a young boy knew something of what would keep him going. Elizabeth Bishop’s extraordinary poem “Sestina,” too, is a recollection of a childhood, a childhood filled with difficulty and grief and isolation. In a poem that repeats six particular words at the end of its lines, she looks back on her childhood, almost marveling at the things that kept her going despite the difficulties and changes she was facing, and is about to face.

Friends, as we process these years individually and in groups, we wish you the timeless wisdom that incorporates friendship, the body, time, and story as we continue to search together for what can help in the here-and-now in order to heal and change. 


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
Bessel van der Kolk
Trauma, the Body, and 2021

The psychiatrist and trauma specialist, with practical help and unique wisdom on what’s been happening in our bodies and our brains.

Listen on:
Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Our Website

Poetry Unbound
Major Jackson

Some friends smoke at a street corner of a city, wondering about their futures;, but wondering, too, about who they are. 

Elizabeth Bishop

Using the form of sestina — coming from the Italian for “six” — Elizabeth Bishop reflects on her complicated childhood using six repeated words.

Listen on:
Apple Podcasts
Google Podcasts
Our Website


What Rhymes with Ireland? Poetry, Peace, and Troublemaking

November 17th 6pm EST 
Free online event

Pádraig Ó Tuama, host of Poetry Unbound, is giving a reading of his own work at Fordham University in New York City. The night will consider poetry of Irishness, migration, reckoning, and peace. Due to covid concerns, in-person attendance is for Fordham folks only, but online registration is free and open to all.

Journey Into the Common Good

July 1-11, 2022
Isle of Patmos, Greece

And now for something completely different: Krista and Pádraig will be leading a 10-day salon on the Greek Island of Patmos next July, together with musicians Rhiannon Giddens, Franceso Turrisi, and former On Being guest Joe Henry. Wow. Organized by Good World Journeys. Some partial scholarships are available. Everything you need to know, including how to register, can be found here.


Play | Sayonara Wild Hearts

When I think of the knowledge our bodies hold, I immediately think of our near-universal desire to move to music and rhythm. So I was absolutely delighted to recently play (and dance along to) Sayonara Wild Hearts. The game is an auditory and sensorial delight billed as a “pop album video game” that tells the story of a young woman dealing with heartbreak through utterly dazzling, tarot-inspired images and beautiful, crisp pop songs. The game is super easy to pick up, takes about 90 minutes to play, and is available on iPhone in the app store!
Gautam Srikishan, Producer, On Being Studios

Read | The Politics of Trauma

Staci K. Haines, somatic innovator and cofounder of generative somatics, explores somatics with a social analysis in this offering. She believes that individual trauma healing and social change are interdependent and explores ways to more fully live into that understanding as healers and humans. Haines connects somatics into the moment we are in and maps a path into what’s next. 
Lillie Benowitz, Pastoral Engagement Associate, Religious Life & Social Healing

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