This past summer someone, I tragically forget whom, insisted I start listening to Krista Tippett’s On Being podcast. The podcast is comprised of discussions about faith, spirituality and religion. I poked around online where I found numerous threads insisting everyone must listen to her interview with the late Irish poet, author, and philosopher, John O’Donohue. I had a three-hour bus ride from the Michigan suburbs to Detroit ahead of me so I pushed play.
As soon as it was over, I hit play again. I knew I needed to listen to it twice. It was those abundant soul piercing remarks such as, “the intention of prayer and spirituality and love is now and again to visit that inner kind of sanctuary,” and “the beauty of being human is that we are being incredibly, intimately near each other, but yet we do not know or never can know what it’s like inside another person.” I can easily quote these things because I have a note on my iPhone with all my favorite parts of this particular podcast.
Since then I’ve not only become a fan of the On Being podcast, but On Being’s additional podcasts and verticals which you can learn about here. I’m in awe of what Krista has built; her interviews about spirituality are a gift to humanity. To sit down with Krista last week and talk about her wellness, and our mutual love of kettlebells, was a treat and a half.
What do you do daily to support your wellness?
I am quiet in the mornings, before I log onto the internet, which I didn’t use to be. Part of my crazy, wildly productive days used to be making my tea, sitting down and getting on email and churning through it, ticking off all kinds of boxes. And it was a terrible way to live. So a few years ago I made a change. I don’t look at my phone. I don’t log online for about half an hour and I drink a really strong cup of black tea. I’m very finicky about how it’s made, and that’s part of my ritual. And I generally do 10, 15, 20 minutes of meditation slash prayer.
Why do you say ‘meditation slash prayer?’
I was meditating for a long time and I realized that I wanted it to be praying. I feel it’s like my spiritual mother tongue. And now I kind of do a mix.
I wrote a prayer a couple of years ago, which I kind of made my own.
And then also I sometimes do what I think of as contemplative reading in the morning. I’ll have a book, but I literally just read one page at a time. Sometimes it’s poetry, sometimes it’s spiritual writing. I’m really in love these days with beautiful writing about the natural world.
And then at some point I get to work.
Was there something in your life that caused the switch from a fast morning to a slow morning?
For many years, you know, I was building up [On Being]. And I was essentially single parenting for many years. I was doing those things at the same time and I kept pushing myself to the point of exhaustion. Then three years ago I took the first two-week vacation I’d taken in 10 years, and I realized my need of a true rest.
And so then I carved out a sabbatical two summers ago and for [On Being] this meant I had to do a lot of production in advance, but my colleagues were very supportive.
And we did it. So I took the whole summer, and I largely got offline. I got off social media completely. I didn’t do any video all summer. I didn’t watch any TV shows. And I went to a few places where I wrote and got quiet and saw friends.
As a lark on my way into the sabbatical I mentioned to a friend, ‘I am forsaking hurry this summer.’ And then it became something that I was practicing, and it was really interesting to understand that hurry is a physical sensation and realize how I was moving through the world hurrying with everything in my body. And when I stopped doing that, or when I started noticing my hurry, I began to move more slowly.
So I created this ability to be quiet, which I hadn’t had for a long time. And so when I got back from the sabbatical, I obviously didn’t have this luxury of full time quiet so I created this morning space where I could be, where I could feel my body planted in that place before I started having all these things to accomplish.
So is your definition of rest the opposite of hurry?
Well, rest is good. Rest as rest is good… But I think what I’ve learned, which I didn’t know for most of my life, is that it’s possible to be moving through my days and even getting things done and feeling rested. Not always pushing to exhaustion and getting caught in that spiral. And it does start with where you plant the day.
So what do you do weekly for your wellness?
I do exercise most days. I do hot, sweaty CorePower Yoga, which I love. I do it more restoratively sometimes and more athletically other times, but I really like sweating. And then I started alternating it with kettlebells, and that has just been this great discovery. I really love feeling powerful, and I’m in my late fifties and I realized I needed to feel that. And while I love yoga, it doesn’t quite make that strength move.
I spent most of my twenties in divided Berlin and I did a lot of saunas there. It’s a sauna culture. And right now I live in Minneapolis, and there’s this new sauna culture forming there. So weekly, at least, I’m going to be hanging out at the sauna.
What do you do monthly for your wellness?
I don’t know that I have anything that happens on a monthly basis. I am trying to build in true breaks every three or four months because I’ve just created a workplace where people have flex PTO so people can take all the time they need to get restored.
The other thing is I’m writing a book so I go away to write and one of the things I’m learning is that while that is away from my other work, it’s not rest. I mean it’s not exhausting in the same way, but it’s not actually just letting down.
And I’m learning to actually say yes when it seems prudent to say no. When it’s about letting down and getting away and getting restored. I also know that you never regret that time. You never ever say, “Oh, I wish I hadn’t taken that week or those days for myself.”
What was your spiritual childhood?
My spiritual childhood, you know, the interesting thing about that question is it, I think you answer it in different ways at different times in life.
And what I see now, when I think about it, is a few different layers and the obvious is immersively religious. Lots of church, church three times a week. And that was spiritual. And my grandfather, who was a Southern Baptist preacher, was this really formative religious character in my life. He actually modeled contradiction. I mean he preached hellfire and brimstone and God was pretty scary and heaven was actually pretty scary too.
And yet he was the funniest, most passionate, most playful person I knew. And so I think I internalized all of those things. What I thought about God, or what my spiritual life was.
My family life was really rotten. It was an unhealthy family. It doesn’t make me special. But I think I’m also aware now if I think about my spiritual life in childhood was partly absorbing those contradictions. The contradiction between saying I love you a lot, but what was being modeled of love? And I think the spiritual life in childhood, which is to say in the early parts of the human life in the world, is so much about these questions that rise in us.
It’s really, really essential questions that never really leave us. And so I think the contradictions in my grandfather, between his theology and his presence in my family, and about what love really is and how people are in relationships and, what it would mean to be safe.
I think that those were really strong things in the spiritual aspects of my childhood. They were kind of weaving in and out of all this overt theology I was getting.
Is that why you always ask your interviewees that question on On Being? Because you think it’s such a formative kind of building block upon which somebody builds their spiritual life?
Well, I do it for a couple of reasons. Most people have a great answer to that question. Its interesting. Even if their childhood was an absence of religious formation, there’s often a great story.
And I think of Robert Coles. He’s a psychiatrist who wrote this book on the spiritual lives of children. His story was about every Sunday morning his mother went to church and his father drove them to church and he stayed in with the car and read the newspaper. And so all of his questions were about what is church about? But why does Dad stay in the car?
So even in the absence or the negation of it, it’s there. But actually the reason I pose the question is because it’s a very different question from “tell me about your spiritual life now.” Which I think would make any of us freeze. It’s very intimate things like, “tell me about your sex life.”
It has the same effect. But somehow if you ask people about the spiritual life in the background of their childhood, they go to that kind of soft searching place in childhood. And I feel that it opens that part of them up at the beginning of the conversation and it plants the conversation in this soft searching part. And I really do understand spiritual life to be abundantly about questions rather than answers. And so it also gets people out of the presentational mode. You know, where we know what we know. That we get trained to walk around like that. I think that’s the more strategic reason why I ask that.