Find cultural healing in the “On Being” podcast

A young person lays peacefully with eyes closed
“On Being” focuses on social healing.
Photo by Arunima Jamwal

In the “On Being” podcast, host Krista Tippett inquires how we make meaning out of being alive in these times. The coupling of noteworthy guests with Tippett’s epicurean voice — and audio engineers who know what they are doing — makes “On Being” a delightful podcast to relish. 

Produced by On Being Studios, the show has fostered conversations about the intersections of art, spiritual inquiry, science and ultimately social healing. When I heard the studio’s name for the first time, a strong sense of familiarity came over me, as if someone had awoken a distant memory. In April, social isolation led me to interrogate how I was spending my time and energy on certain pursuits over other, arguably, more life-affirming ones. I wondered if external circumstances were ultimately responsible for this recurring state of dissatisfaction, even furtive contempt, that lives within me. Unbeknownst to me at the time, I was conducting a soul retrieval for myself, and writer Ocean Vuong’s words led me to a near-divine revelation.

On the night after my 21st birthday, I had brewed a cup of tulsi tea and was getting ready to dive into everyone’s favorite bedtime activity: an hour or two of scrolling on my phone. Spirit led me to Spotify instead of Instagram, and I saw that this new episode,  “The Life Worth of Our Breath,” had come out just that afternoon. It was recorded in front of a live audience (which is uncommon for podcasts) in early March. Tippett sat across from the iconic literary figure, novelist, professor, MacArthur Foundation fellow and poet Ocean Vuong. In response to how Noah’s Ark has influenced his writing, Vuong answers with a question soon to be prophetic: “when the apocalypse comes, what will you put into the vessel for the future?”

My tears first leaked when Tippett remarked that in the 21st century, populations around the world are realizing that preparing for “the apocalypse,” and finding our breath, life-force and animacy in the midst of immense hurt has been part of our lived experiences as (im)migrants. Vuong, a professor in the English MFA program at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, says that he learned prayer and an ethic of care from his mother much before he learned to read English. They continued to flow throughout his conversation, and the words of numerous other people featured on “On Being”, some of whom I mention below, have been sources of comfort, solidarity and strength. 

The “On Being” podcast presents a sincere and moving effort to “(relieve)whiteness of the sole burden of world-making,” as writer Bayo Akomolafe recently said. I do find that Tippett, who is a renowned media figure, sometimes frames her remarks and inquiries with language that arrests her guests within a colonial way of thinking that is statedly not theirs to own. I still appreciate that the podcast works towards transforming the U.S. public sphere by inviting some incredibly wise people such as Potawatomi scientist Robin Wall Kimmerer of “Braiding Sweetgrass” fame, the Zen priest, activist and teacher Reverend williams who authored “Being Black: Zen and the Art of Living with Fearlessness and Grace” as well as trauma specialist Resmaa Menakem, writer of “My Grandmother’s Hands: Racialized Trauma and the Pathway to Mending Our Hearts and Bodies.” 

You can listen to “On Being” episodes wherever you get your podcasts. In addition, transcripts for every episode are accessible through their website

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