Photography by Rod
Long / Unsplash
SHARE THIS EMAIL
Throughout my twenties I was in
fairly poor health. Like half of Dublin, I’d succumbed to a bad flu
virus one winter, but unlike most, I didn’t recover. For nine years I
was in a constant state of post-viral fatigue. Some doctors believed
me, others didn’t. Even the ones who did were unsure of how to help.
Eventually, a doctor discovered that my immune system was 10 times too
active. Then they had to figure out a way to help.
This is all a long time ago now.
When I hear of people living with long COVID, I remember all that
exhaustion. I wear masks and try to avoid infection. The pathway into
health was a slow one for me. I was frustrated when I was told that a
year or two of yoga would help. I wanted a pill. But it
On this week’s On Being, Krista speaks with a beloved former guest, Richard Davidson, together with Vivek Murthy. Richard, who goes by Richie, is a
neuroscientist, and Vivek is currently serving his second term as U.S.
Right off the bat, the conversation
takes questions of health to a question of well-being; Richie
remembers how his father, a businessman, would use a barter system for
people who were short on cash. “A transmission of kindness,” he calls
it; something that helps a sense of dignity is going to help a sense
of well-being too. He’s interested in how medicine can be about more
than diagnosing failures, something Vivek picks up when he notes how
he’d want medicine to also “explore the sources of
Both guests this hour have a strong
commitment to public health, research, data, and empirical testing.
Especially in a time of pandemic, they know the measures that are
often first at hand: hospitalizations, cases, deaths, school closures,
unemployment figures, and so on. But they also want to bring other
measurements into their question of healthiness in society: How is
mental health among people who are isolating? What is their sense of
connection to other people? Speaking about what a post-COVID world
might look like, Vivek shares: “one of the things I really want to do
in this job is not only help us to get through this pandemic, but to
really think more deeply about how we do better when it comes to
mental health, about how we have a broader conversation as a country
about well-being and how we reflect that, not only in the decisions we
make in our lives, but in how we design our schools, how we design our
workplaces, and what we think of as success when it comes to public
policy — not just the dollars and cents of it, but whether or not
policy contributes to a sense of well-being.”
What both Vivek and Richie are
addressing is the possibility of change: for an individual and for a
society. Richie has been at the forefront of the field of
neuroplasticity, a scientific term recognizing how the brain continues
to change and develop — whether toward flourishing or not — as our
life continues. Aware of the commodification of fear and division rife
in our world, he speaks of how important it is to pay attention to the
messages we’re internalizing. And he brings hope, noting that all
studies that explore the changing brains of adults witness that change
is possible, with small steps. Speaking about health, he mentions
attention, connection, appreciation, purpose, and love.
“How can we tilt the world toward
love and away from fear?” is one of the questions Vivek asks himself
in his public role as Surgeon General. To know that this is the goal
of public health, not just diagnosis and medication, expands the field
of health into all aspects of our public life together.
Our first episode of Poetry Unbound this week was from Donika Kelly. “In the Chapel of St. Mary’s” describes a poet, who calls herself an
unbeliever, sitting in a chapel considering all the space and light
around her. Some girls are talking in a corner, and she’s wondering
about what belief in the unseen means. She’s in a distance
relationship, and is charting space between her unseen lover as well
as other unseen things. It’s a poem that honors reflection, safety,
the changing shape of love, and time. Aria Aber’s “The Only Cab Service of Farmington,
Maine” brings us into a cab
where the poet — born in Germany of Afghan parents — wonders how to
keep a conversation going with a taxi driver, whose experience of
Afghanistan was that of war. Trying, and failing, to find a
conversation that will work between them, the poet looks at whether
any of us, caught up in such disparate imaginations of power, can find
the right language. There is no giving up in the poem. Rather, it is a
recognition that silence might be the thing that serves their
companionship, silence for reflection: one toward safety, the other
Friends, in all the ways you’re
flourishing, we wish you ongoing flourishing. In the ways you’re
seeking more, we wish you support and joy and health.
Pádraig Ó Tuama
host of Poetry
SHARE THIS EMAIL
This Week at The On Being Project
Our Latest Episode
On Being with Krista
Vivek Murthy and
“The Future of Well-being”
visionary neuroscientist with the physician/public servant. Public
health, fear, and love. Also, how to make your calendar a source of
“In the Chapel of St. Mary’s”
finds solace in a church where the empty space of a building helps her
recognize the empty space she’s feeling.
“The Only Cab Service of Farmington,
conversation between two people in a taxi — the driver had fought a
war in the country of the passenger. Should they keep
Connect With Our Social
Are you a
Muslim or Buddhist clergyperson or community leader? If so, our Social
Healing team would love to hear from you. Please connect with us.
Katt, Associate Director of Religious Life & Social
Season of Giving
this time of year is an occasion for gifting and financial giving. If
that’s you, we invite you to consider On Being. You can support our
work as a 501(c)3 nonprofit through a tax-deductible donation,
including via our giving page. Are you looking for a distinct gift idea?
Consider giving the gift of a one-year
membership to the On Being
Wisdom app. Both of these options help make On Being’s work possible.
We are grateful for the ongoing generosity and care from our community
as we accompany one another.