Hope is a muscle.

GQ: On Being sometimes seems like an outlier in today’s culture, in terms of its themes: patience, civility, mystery, asking questions rather than supplying answers. Why do you think it has resonated so deeply?

And simple ones.

Or something we can implement now.

Do you have hope that we’re going to get them back on the right track?

I think that hope is a muscle. The hope that I see to be transformative and modeled in very wise people who have shifted something in their world—civil rights leaders to [social justice activist] Bryan Stevenson to [labor activist] Ai-jen Poo—it’s not [idealistic]. I don’t use the word idealism. I don’t use the word optimism. It’s not wishful thinking. It’s not assuming that things will turn out all right. It’s an insistence, looking at the world straight on as it is and rejecting the idea that it has to be that way, and then throwing your light and your pragmatism as much as your spirit at [that]. What does it look like if you don’t accept it? That’s how I think of it…

One of the criticisms that gets lobbed at these conversations is that they’re too—and I know you just said you don’t like this word—idealistic, and perhaps not as important as conversations about politics or policy. You worked in Berlin in the 1980s and you saw geopolitics up close and personal, what it can do and the effect it can have on people’s lives. And yet you still came away to have these conversations. So you seem uniquely suited to respond to someone who’s skeptical, who says, why do these conversations matter?

We have a bias—which I also inherited, it’s in our education—to take what is dysfunctional and catastrophic and frightening and failing more seriously than what works well and what is quietly flourishing. The bias is a really powerful one. We’re learning about our bodies and brains—which is an incredible frontier. They’re so mobilized by threat or fear. There’s a level at which we’re so sophisticated, and then there’s this animal creature. We don’t investigate: what is generative? This is one of the motivations for me in starting the show. The question for me in the beginning is, how can we make goodness as riveting as evil and destruction? …

In science fiction, or even at the far edges of quantum physics, you hold this idea that there are parallel universes; that there are equal realities that may be wildly divergent. Because I have trained my eyes on this, I’m looking for it, I see it. There’s a phrase that came out of a study about the incredible health benefits from an intentional practice of gratitude: Take in the good. It’s not even about getting more optimistic. It’s just saying, I’m going to attend to that. I’m going to give that my attention. Maybe that’s the spiritual practice. That has become a discipline [for me]. What we practice becomes instinctive.

Krista Tippett, excerpts from “Hope is a Muscle”: Why Krista Tippett Wants You to Keep the Faith” in an interview with Clay Skipper. (GQ, July 21, 2022)

Quiet conversations that will not be publicized

So what’s a new possibility you’re inspired by? I love your questions. You’re pushing in the really important way. Here’s what I think of: I see the disarray. I see the broken power structures. I see the damage and the pain. I also see people tending to that. At the heart of some of these national-level or community-level conflicts, there is space to move below the radar and start stitching together relationships and quiet conversations at a very human, granular level. We’re going to work on quiet conversations that will not be publicized. That feels to me like a power move in this world…

A lot of people worry about finding their calling. Do you have any advice for them? I’m very aware that in this culture, in the 20th-century world, we’ve diminished the idea of a calling to mean your job title. I think there are many callings in a life. I want people to liberate the idea of their calling from what they’re being paid to do for a living. Your calling may be something that you do that gives you joy but that you’re never going to get paid for. It may be certain relationships that you’re holding that are primary. Being a parent or being a child, being a friend, being a neighbor, the service you do in your community. It can be how you show up through your day, how you treat strangers. You can play an instrument. You can write. It’s the things that amplify your best humanity.I don’t think I have to define that, because we all intuitively know what it is. I talk so much on this show about Rilke —

I know where you’re going: “Living the questions.” Yes! The notion of living the questions in a world that is in love with answers. I’ve been reading Rilke since I was in Berlin almost 40 years ago, what I feel coming back to our world is this idea that to do justice to a question means that you cannot rush to an answer. What you’re called to do is hold the question itself, dwell with the question respectfully, and love the question. Live your way into the answer. If you hold a question, if you’re faithful, the question will be faithful back to you.

OK, what was the last thing that blew your mind? For me the last two years have been one seismic event after the other. That experience of the ground shaking beneath our feet and that happening to every person on the planet — that is what all of our spiritual traditions tell us is the reality at any given moment, and it’s what our culture gives us a million devices to deny. But there it was: We are fragile. Civilization rests on something as tender as bodies breathing in proximity to other bodies. We were reminded of that. And living in Minneapolis when George Floyd was killed. The West Coast caught fire. Our political fragmentation that we’ve been walking into for such a long time. We have a war in Europe. We pretended like capitalism triumphing would lead to a moral universe. It just goes on and on. It’s all before-and-after now.

— David Marchese, excerpts of a interview with Krista Tippett in “Krista Tippett Wants You to See All the Hidden Signs of Hope” (NY Times Magazine, July 7, 2022).  Tippett created and hosts the public radio program and podcast On Being.

 

wasn’t just matter, but that it was actually alive…

Ms. Tippett:  I know that “landscape” is a really pivotal word for you that you use, not just in describing the natural world, but an important word in talking about how human beings know themselves and move through the world. I haven’t been to precisely the place you’re from, but I think the west coast of Scotland, the west coast of Ireland, it is this completely unusual, this wild, raw, bleak beauty. But talk to me about how you have come to understand landscape as something that forms each of us.

Mr. O’Donohue: Well, I think it makes a huge difference, when you wake in the morning and come out of your house, whether you believe you are walking into dead geographical location, which is used to get to a destination, or whether you are emerging out into a landscape that is just as much, if not more, alive as you, but in a totally different form, and if you go towards it with an open heart and a real, watchful reverence, that you will be absolutely amazed at what it will reveal to you.

And I think that that was one of the recognitions of the Celtic imagination — that landscape wasn’t just matter, but that it was actually alive. What amazes me about landscape — landscape recalls you into a mindful mode of stillness, solitude, and silence, where you can truly receive time.

—  John O’Donohue, “The Inner Landscape of Beauty” in On Being Krista Tippett (August 31, 2017)


Notes:

Oh, that is absolutely gorgeous, grass wind and pine wind.

Sometimes you trip into something, something that is so big, and so right (this Sunday morning), that you don’t want to soil it by sharing a few excerpts. (But I’m going to do it anyway, of course.) I urge you to listen to Krista Tippett’s entire 51 minute interview with Gordon Hempton where the conversation is sprinkled with Hempton’s nature recordings. Hempton is an acoustic ecologist, a collector of sound all over the world. You can find the entire transcript and audio recording here: “Silence and the Presence of Everything.” I’ve shared a few passages below:

________

“OK. So I get out of my car, all right? We’ll still hear the pinging of its engine. We’ll hear other cars and other visitors, and we’ll hear the “beep-beep” of our modern world as people are locking their cars and the rustling of our artificial fabrics against our bodies. Some people will be chattering away on cell phones. But then the sound of my backpack goes over my shoulders, and we head off down the trail. And no more than 100 yards along these tall, tree-lined, ferned path with moss drapes that add sound-deadening to the experience, we’ll hear the call-off twitter of a Winter Wren, this very high-pitched twittering sound that might be coming from 100 feet away…And then we’ll hear further away the sound of the Hoh River that drains the Rain Forest echoing off the far side of the valley…And if we were taking this hike in the fall, we would hear the bugling of the Roosevelt elk… Up close, it’s actually quite a guttural, adrenalin-filled assertion of what it means to be male and wild. But when you hear this experience from a couple of miles away, isn’t that amazing? When you’re in a quiet place, your listening horizon extends for miles in every direction. When you hear an elk call from miles away, it turns into a magic flute as the result of traveling through this place that has the same acoustics as a cathedral. […]

Yeah. Oh, grass wind. Oh, that is absolutely gorgeous, grass wind and pine wind. We can go back to the writing of John Muir, which he turned me on to the fact that the tone, the pitch, of the wind is a function of the length of the needle or the blade of grass. So the shorter the needle on the pine, the higher the pitch; the longer, the lower the pitch. There are all kinds of things like that, but the two folders where I collected, I have, oh, over 100 different recordings which are actually silent from places, and you cannot discern a sense of space, but you can discern a sense of tonal quality, that there is a fundamental frequency for each habitat. […]

But I found the sound that I enjoyed most was the sound of the silence in the volcano. The measurement of decibels actually goes into the minus point, but there still is a sense of presence, of where you are. Then once you get over the rim of the volcano, you begin to pick up what I call the mantra of the islands, and that’s the distant beating of that drum called the Pacific Ocean. […]

We’re about to enter into a giant driftwood log. It’s a Sitka spruce log, the same material that’s used in the crafting of violins, and it has a special property where that, when the wood fibers are excited by acoustic energy — in this case, it’s the sound of the ocean itself — that the fibers actually vibrate. And inside, we get to listen to nature’s largest violin. […] [Read more…]

We want to be called to our best selves. We long to figure out what that would look like.

krista-tippett-becoming-wise

I’ve traveled a long way since my early life in Oklahoma— far enough to know that I might be accused of taking this virtue of hope too far. So be it. My mind inclines now, more than ever, towards hope. I’m consciously shedding the assumption that a skeptical point of view is the most intellectually credible. Intellect does not function in opposition to mystery; tolerance is not more pragmatic than love; and cynicism is not more reasonable than hope. Unlike almost every worthwhile thing in life, cynicism is easy. It’s never proven wrong by the corruption or the catastrophe. It’s not generative. It judges things as they are, but does not lift a finger to try to shift them. I experience the soul of this moment— in people young and old— to be aspirational. This is something distinct from ambitious, though the two may overlap. I’d say it this way: we want to be called to our best selves. We long to figure out what that would look like. And we are figuring out that we need each other to do so. This listening for the calling, and the shining, fragile figuring out, are tucked inside the musings I hear from young people as much about how they want to be and who they want to be as about what they want to be.

~ Krista Tippett, Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living

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