August 8, 2023

Krista Tippett | The Transformative Power of Language

Thomas is joined by Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, New York Times bestselling author, and the host of On Being, Krista Tippett. They discuss the virtues of hospitality, humility, and creativity in spirituality, and in creating spaces where deep subjects and emotions can safely emerge. Krista explains how her upbringing and work as a journalist have shown her the need for human civilization to outgrow our binary ways of thinking and have the courage to hold contradictions and complexities.

She and Thomas explore how humanity can mature and spiritually evolve, starting from within ourselves and our bodies, and expanding into an understanding of the shared traumas of our past. They discuss the continuing legacy of racial trauma that began with slavery, and how the progress of civil rights is being impeded by our collective unwillingness to fundamentally change our way of life. Krista maintains, despite the horrors of history, that “hope is not wishful thinking,” but a necessary trait of those who inspire us to transform for the better.

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“My working definition of spirituality is befriending reality in all its complexity, in its danger, in its beauty, in its contradiction.”

- Krista Tippett

Guest Information

Krista Tippett

Krista Tippett is a Peabody Award-winning broadcaster, a National Humanities Medalist, and a New York Times bestselling author. She attended Brown University and became a journalist and diplomat in Cold War Berlin. After studying theology at Yale Divinity School in the early 1990s, she saw a black hole where intelligent public conversation about the religious, spiritual, and moral aspects of human life might be. She launched Speaking of Faith — later On Being — as a weekly national public radio show in 2003. What launched on two radio stations grew to over 400 across the U.S. and has received the highest honors in broadcasting, the Internet, and podcasting.

President Obama awarded Krista the National Humanities Medal at the White House in 2014 for “thoughtfully delving into the mysteries of human existence. She has received a Four Freedoms Medal from the Roosevelt Institute, holds honorary doctorates including Yale University and Middlebury College, and was the Mimi and Peter E. Haas Distinguished Visitor at Stanford University. She has published three books: Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living; Einstein’s God, drawn from her interviews at the intersection of science, medicine, and spiritual inquiry; and Speaking of Faith, a memoir of religion in our time.

Learn more about Krista and her work at onbeing.org

Notes & Resources

Key points from this episode include:

  • The awareness that trauma is in our nervous system, and the importance of the body in resolving trauma
  • How healing the humanity of the perpetrators of violence is necessary to prevent the violent dynamics from being repeated
  • That humanity is in an ugly adolescence, but adolescents have a lot of creativity.
  • How COVID made our frailty and impermanence an undeniable reality, inspiring us to greater action and humility
  • The focus on external rather than internal formation in modern religion compared to the emphasis on ritual, text, and community in older religions
  • The othering of the natural world, and how our awakening to our exploitive relationship with nature mirrors our awakening to our country’s deeply embedded racism

Episode Transcript

Thomas Hübl: Welcome back to the Collective Trauma Summit. My name is Thomas, and I’m delighted to sit here with one of the most amazing interviewers herself, Krista. So, Krista, very warm welcome to our summit, I’m happy you joined us.

Krista Tippet: Thank you.

Thomas: You’re leading many voices through very deep conversations, and I think that’s something we both share, that relations and conversations are a means for healing or an environment for healing, and I would love … you went through so many of those conversations, and you learned a lot through them, I guess, so what’s healing when we say we have conversations? Because many people have conversations, I don’t know if they are really healing, so what makes a conversation a healing environment? Let’s start, maybe, with that.

Krista: Yeah. Well, first of all, I’m happy to be with you, I’ve been hearing about this summit for a long time, and as I said to you, I’m not an expert in trauma, but I’m very happy to offer what you think I have to offer.

I think, one thing when we speak about trauma, I do think that it’s true in the States, for example, that we think we can talk everything away, and we very much, often, resolve things kind of chin-up, cerebrally. I think we’re learning, we’re getting so much more sophistication in many fields about how so much is in our bodies, even feelings and what we haven’t identified with our bodies. I don’t think that words solve everything, I think it’s important to say that. I think there are experiences that defy words, and some of the most important experiences and insights, and even convictions that we have are beyond what words can touch, and yet there can be something so transformative. It can be a breakthrough to put words around something that we’ve never named before.

There is a power of naming that is in all the great traditions. It’s in the Aboriginal song lines, it’s in the Genesis story, that somehow by giving things names they come into being. I think that’s also an experience we have internally, that when we’re not naming things, we can’t actually be present to them. It’s not true of everything, but it’s true of much. I grew up in a family that was very busily not talking about any of the important things that needed to be discussed, and yet they infused everything we did, they were in the middle of the room at all times. I think that my commitment to conversation and my love of conversation comes from this desire not to live that way, and yet I also think that the quality of a conversation is so important.

Words are incredibly powerful, and they can be used as weapons, and they can be used to simplify and dismiss, but they can also be used to elevate, and they can be used to open, and they can be generative. My passion is opening conversations that give voice to what deeply wants to be given voice to, but there’s care. It’s not just about passing words between ourselves, it’s about creating a conversational space. It’s about speaking together differently so that we may live together differently.

Thomas: Beautiful. Beautiful. So eloquent. I have also a quote that I want to read later, one that you said, but before … In your understanding, how do we create the space for a caring or compassionate, or a space at all where some things will be said that maybe wouldn’t have been said? What makes the space conducive for deep things to emerge?

Krista: I think this matter of creating a space is as important now as it ever has been. We have so many different forms and platforms for using our words, for coming into dialog or conversation, but a lot of them are—and I don’t want to use the easy language of not safe spaces. They might truly not be safe spaces, but they’re also framed … I believe so strongly that the intention that we invest in whatever we do shapes everything that happens there, and that is very much true of a conversational space. Some of the ways to talk about the qualities that make a difference, so the words to use would be, “Is it hospitable?” Hospitality is an important value to me, and I like hospitality because it’s a great virtue. It’s one of the great virtues, and also every human culture … Human cultures have this deep, deep sophisticated way of being hospitable, and many ways of being hospitable, and it’s always humanizing. It’s always embodied as much as it is any kind of attitude.

The thing I like about hospitality, too, which I think isn’t conveyed if that word gets thrown around in a superficial way, is that hospitality does not mean … You can be hospitable towards someone without knowing them, or without loving them, or even without liking them. It’s not a precondition of hospitality that you agree on everything, or that you are alike, but what it does, and I think of hospitality as really a social technology that has been developed forever in human cultures, and it is about bringing your own best self, and inviting someone else to bring their best self into the room. So that would be some of the ways I would start to think about that.

Thomas: It’s beautiful because this reminds me—you know, Abraham in the Bible, his virtue was hospitality, with his tent that was always open for everybody.

Krista: Yes.

Thomas: William and I, William Ury and I are friends so we did some courses together, and we often talk about hospitality, what’s the meaning of, the deeper meaning, the essential meaning of hospitality, that’s great that you brought it. If you say, “Okay, hospitality is one virtue,” what are other virtues that you would see that are important in your work?

Krista: In my work, well, another one that I think lives alongside hospitality would be humility, but by that I don’t mean a simplistic humility that is about debasing myself. I think that humility as a spiritual virtue in its deep sense is not about me getting small, it’s about me greeting you with a desire and an expectation that you will surprise me. It’s about wanting others to be big, and it’s about, then again, creating the space or the atmosphere presenting myself so that becomes more likely. So that does also have to do with me honoring you so that you can relax, so that you can inhabit your body.

Humility … I care very much about the wholeness of human beings, and I also am aware that a lot in our collective life … I think Western civilization and the enlightenment plays its part in this, religion has played its part in this, we’re very compartmentalized. We go to work and we show certain parts of ourselves, we’re at home and we show certain parts of ourselves. I, very much … I think you asked what are the qualities important in my work, I really care about the life of the mind. The life of the mind, and the imagination and creativity that is involved in that, that’s something that in American culture is often not invited. What I mean by that also is not a certain kind of trained intellect, and I think this is different culture to culture, but in the U.S. we’re very comfortable bringing our emotions into a space. It’s very easy and familiar to do that.

I care about creating spaces also where people can bring their ideas, and their aspirations, and yes, their ability to think critically, but also their ability to think creatively. That may not sound so special, but it’s kind of counter-cultural here, and you know I’ve lived in Germany, where you are from, and so I also know that in Germany it can be the other way. People are very free with their intellect, and it’s a more counter-cultural move to join that with what we call heart, which really the way we use the word heart, even in the spiritual traditions, is really about imagination as much as it is about feelings.

Thomas: Beautiful. I love your framing of humility is letting yourself be surprised by somebody else, that’s lovely. I think to be able to live in that surprise and not try to control the space, and be open for something completely new, that’s lovely. I like it very much. I want to read something to you, quote something that I really liked when I read it. First of all, it’s very eloquent, but I think it’s also very deep. I will read that sentence and then I’ll ask you something about it. It’s from your Better Conversations Guide, “I have seen that wisdom in life and society emerges precisely through those moments, when we have to hold seemingly opposing realities in a creative tension and interplay. Power and fragility, birth and death, pain and hope, beauty and brokenness, mystery and conviction, calm and fierceness, mine and yours.” It’s very lovely.

First of all, I love poetic ways of expressions, but it’s also deep, and it seems like that you … because I agree very much with that wisdom arises when we can be in a conversational space where there is friction or there are opposing forces, or, in other words, where there is the polarization that is a signpost of a deeper traumatization, because trauma creates all these too, and healing trauma creates presence. I’m wondering when you hear that sentence, what’s in you that wrote that, what’s the experience how you came to that sentence? Because, to me, it feels very resonant when I read it.

Krista: Thank you for reading that, that’s an important passage for me from my own writing, but it’s also one of those passages that I … there can be a magic to writing, which is for me not there 99.99% of the time, but every once in a while there is something that feels like it wrote itself and you say, “I didn’t know I knew this,” and that was definitely one of those passages. I think … Again, for me, there’s an aspect of a rebellion in what I do because I grew up in a world that wanted everything to be very clear, and there was what was right and wrong, this and that, or that, and certainties that weren’t true to the fullness of reality. I guess some of the things I’ve learned in the intervening years is that this is an inclination of our brains and our bodies, we crave certainty, and it’s understandable. In fact, our brains are working very hard to take care of us as they lead us in that direction.

And then I would say with other—that is coming to us from science—I think another scientific idea from physics that to me merges with all of that is this idea of complimentarity, that there can be different answers to the same question. There can be two completely different answers, and what that depends on is the question you ask of it. So, with Einstein, it was, “Is light a particle or a wave?” It turns out it is both, but you could only see that if you were asking the right … it depends on the question, which you answer you get of the same reality. I think actually we do this very binary … we like polarities, we like certainty, but I think this is a very deep subject.

I think that how we navigate this century, whether we have any chance of flourishing civilizationally or whether we merely survive has to do with outgrowing this binary diminishing way that we see reality and take it on. Just as you said, it’s so much … Well, so much of what is true civilizationally, collectively is also true for the individual. To be whole, to really reside in our wholeness, we have to acknowledge and somehow befriend not just that which is complex in us, but that which is contradictory, and yet all of that adds up to who we are, and all of that, if we can see it, if we can befriend it, is also our field of possibility and of potential growth.

Thomas: That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. One function of maturity, as I look at it, is exactly what you said, that we are able to hold contradictions, they don’t end without the stress of having to resolve them. It just gives space for it and that’s a very powerful quality that often gets dismissed. As you said, “I need to know what’s right or wrong. I need to eliminate one pole in order to stick with the other.” I think that’s a sign of maturity that you mentioned, like how we-

Krista: There’s a … I interviewed this Nobel physicist Frank Wilczek a couple of years ago, and we talked about this complimentarity idea, and he said something that I always carry with me. That if you’re talking about a deep truth—now, he’s talking about a deep scientific truth, but I think it’s true of a deep human truth as well—its opposite is also true. I think that if we can even think about our deepest truths and play out that thought exercise, that kind of exercise would be terrifying to our primitive brains as they’re trying to take care of us, and yet we expand when we can even momentarily take that in and let that be true, and the possibility of who we can be expands.

Thomas: Right. I see a lot in the parts where that’s difficult because I think what you are speaking to is our, let’s say, whole nature, that’s what we do when we feel integrated, but often we don’t feel integrated because the past, unintegrated history is creating symptoms all the time. That’s why we also do the summit, because I look at trauma like it’s thousands of years of history that are already traumatized, not just my personal experience that is traumatizing, but it’s a whole ocean of trauma that we have been born into, and then we are in these families, and the ancestors, and so I’m wondering how much the parts of our brain that freak out when we don’t have certainty, based on a lot of pain that is stored in our nervous system over a long period of time, that’s why that flourishing sometimes seems so hard. I’m wondering what do you think about that?

Krista: What you just said also about that, it’s in our nervous system, that’s really what I was pointing out. I think this is a new awareness we have, and what an exciting time to be alive, that we understand that, because if we understand it, then we can face it, and we can find tools to approach it, and we are finding those tools, and that’s where words alone can’t touch that, but naming that, naming that and knowing it is the path to transformation. I think in 2020, actually right before the pandemic broke out where I live, I had an interview with Resmaa Menakem, who also works with trauma, and works specifically with racialized trauma in the body. I have had some conversations about all of these across the years, about how our approach to trauma and understanding of it has very rapidly evolved—and you’re part of this—and just in the last couple of decades, which is just no time at all.

From PTSD, and I think a lot of the science started with people coming back from war, as you said, just a very widespread experience, but I think this conversation I had with Resmaa Menakem, and the way he has worked with this, this is a true addition to our sense of our racial history and our reckoning that is upon us. It’s painful to take this in, how much we have been carrying around in our bodies, and very particularly the legacy of slavery, and of just generation upon generation of trauma being inflicted in vast ways, and in constant subtle ways, and it helps … I think in this country there is this, for white people, there is this … for the whole society, there is this sense of … I think there is a sense that we came out of the 60s and 70s, and there was the Civil Rights Movement, and there was change, there was change, but then this confusion and puzzlement at … we thought we were farther along than we were, and why didn’t that stick? Why do those now appear as such baby steps?

We have so far to travel just to be who we say we are as a nation. I think that this new understanding of trauma in the body helps explain that, and it gives us a new way to work on it. Resmaa Menakem, he talks about how White bodies carry these generations of trauma, and the people who came to the United States were fleeing their own traumas, and then they did this terrible thing that human beings do, which is inflicted it on others, on other bodies.

Thomas: Exactly. Exactly. First of all, I love Resmaa’s work, and I think it’s very true and resonant. Anyway, I think trauma can only be resolved through the body, I think that’s a deep truth, as you said. First of all, I love listening to you because you transmit a deep humanity when you speak, I feel that when you speak. I think that also connects what you said much earlier on, is when words and the transmission of what we speak about are the same, then it’s not just talking about, then it’s transmitting something into the space, and that’s a completely different speaking. So when I listened to you, I felt you as a human being participate in the racial questions as you spoke about it, and I think that’s where the baby steps … really, how we embody those to really make that our reality.

When we can walk our talk, then it becomes real, and I think that’s completely true. We need to learn to embody this through the layers of trauma that are ingrained in our bodies and nervous systems. That’s very true. It’s beautiful. Because you already started to speak about it. Because one definitely vast collective trauma field is, like we are living in the U.S., 400 years of slavery or Native American genocide. If you look to Germany, I know you lived in Germany for some time, just looking at the second World War, Holocaust, a catastrophe in humanity, most probably one of the bigger catastrophes ever, and then on top of it you had split between East and West that was like a patch on a deep open wound.

I’m wondering when you … these are two, and the world is full of it, but I think that is maybe the closest to us right now, how do you see us addressing such deep wounds? How do you experience, for example, when you lived in Germany, how was your felt experience of being in a country that had a huge open wound, and then another one on top of it, the separation of East and West? I’m just wondering what was your experience of that?

Krista: Well, in that context, in the context of the wrestling with history and with trauma … When I wrote the Becoming Wise book, I’ve kind of looked inside myself, and what I’m going to talk about now is not something I was aware of when I was there, but I realized that for me, coming … I grew up in a small town in Oklahoma, a state‚in some ways this is true of every part of the United States—but Oklahoma very much was a place where people came fleeing the past, also a place that was at the end of the Trail of Tears, which is one of these horrendous traumas that is part of the history of this country. My grandfather’s family came in a covered wagon, and that’s the closest I was to that side of that story. There was also just unbelievable poverty and misery, and yet what happened in Oklahoma, and this is a big generalization, but it’s a place where history was kind of erased. It’s a place where people came fleeing history, and then we just never talked about it again. No one knew.

I never knew anybody who asked the question, “Where did your ancestors come from? Where did your family come from?” You go to other parts of the U.S., you go to other places in the world, so history was just about one layer deep, and it’s a very unnatural and unhealthy way to live. I think there was something in me that when I went to Germany, and you’re right, there’s no place where there are more dramatic layers upon layers of history and trauma, but they were all … especially I was there in the 80s, 40 years after the war, and that history, it had all been kind of brought to the surface. I think there was something for me that was riveting about that, encountering that constant, there was almost a masochistic element to it, of constantly confronting the worst thing your ancestors did. I was there at an interesting time, in an interesting … I was born in 1960, my generation … Can I ask when you were born?

Thomas: 71.

Krista: 71, okay. So, see, my generation of Germans, and a little older, but you may not have experienced this like 10 years later … Otto Schily … So, I won’t, maybe, say … there are these people who were coming into respectability, and later would be kind of the official German state. What I saw in Germany was the thing that happens in every place where there’s collective trauma, is the first generation can barely speak about it, and that’s always true. There are no words, and it is not transmitted, and then it’s kind of discovered by the next generation. Then you get to this grandchildren generation, and they’re really the ones who throw up their hands and say, “You lied to us. This is so terrible.” I was there as that dynamic was playing out, so I thought people don’t remember this. They don’t remember that there were terroristic acts against bankers, and … there was this literally violent reaction against the legacy of that still alive in West German society.

It was very dramatic, and so it’s interesting to me when people now speak of Germany as this enlightened place that spent a long time learning history and reckoning with it. I also know that that was a messy, multi-chapter story, and we don’t remember it, so it’s hard work, again it’s hard work in a family, but what I want to tell you, also, is when you asked me that question, here is the memory that comes to mind. In 1985, 86 maybe, Elie Wiesel, who survived Auschwitz, who lost his family to Auschwitz, who really told the story of the Holocaust, his work, and his book Night in particular, was an offering of telling the story before it had been told as much as it has now. He came to Berlin, and my memory is that was the first time he had come to Berlin, or maybe perhaps to Germany since the Holocaust.

I was a New York Times stringer, and he asked, he was having all kinds of formal meetings, and he asked to meet with some young Germans, 20-something Germans, it was just my age. I wasn’t … I don’t know if I was in the room or if journalists weren’t allowed, but when they came out, I will never forget what he said, which is he said, “It had never occurred to me that it could be as painful to be the children of the people who ran the camps as it is to be a child of those who died in them.” That is such a huge statement for a Holocaust survivor, but that is the truth of all of our traumas, and it’s too much to ask much of the time or most of the time for the victims to have that compassion, or for the society to have that compassion.

But somehow this matter of attending to the humanity, and working to heal the humanity of the perpetrators of violence, as much as the humanity of those who are harmed, is the only way that not only that healing takes place, but that you can have transformation, so that the same dynamics aren’t repeated. That is almost, as I say, that’s almost too much to take in, and it’s not work necessarily, or obviously, that needs to be done by the people in the frontline of the suffering. But I think about American society, and we are really understanding that this punitive society that we have, that our entire way of incarceration is so flawed, and that we are just … it’s just a factory for more damage and more violence.

I think what all of this points at is one of the ways that we’re being called communally to, I want to use that language again, to grow up. I think that if our species survives 100 years from now, we have … I think we came into the 20th century, in the West especially, thinking that we were just so sophisticated, and really had almost solved all the problems. At best, we are in an ugly adolescence, but adolescents have a lot of creativity.

Thomas: That’s right. That’s right. No, I completely agree. There are so many points that you said that I could continue. First of all, I love to, again, to feel your transmission, what you radiate when you speak, and I very much resonate with what you said about the pain that descendants of former Nazis in Germany and perpetrators really feel. I saw this in many of the groups, we did large scale events on the Holocaust integration in Germany, and also Germany with Israel, and it’s exactly that. I was in rooms where descendants and concentration camp survivors were sitting in the same room, but in a sort of presence to really nakedly listen to exactly what you described right now. The touching or the tremendous amount of healing that can happen in this massive trauma field is incredible. It’s incredible. It’s exactly what you said. I experienced this many times, so it’s true, and the question is …

I also resonated with the adolescence because I really think it’s a maturation question. When we spoke before about holding contradictions, that you can do only when you’re in a state of maturity in your own development. I think that’s right.

When you take everything you shared right now, and you look at, for example, if you applied it to the States, if you look at the racial divide and the traumatization, and the structural violence that’s still happening, what’s a way, in your understanding, so what you learned through all the conversations and through your own life, how can we make a difference when sometimes it feels so hard and polarized that there’s hardly conversation happening, what’s the next step?

Krista: Well, it’s … In some ways, that German situation of knowing who the perpetrators were, and knowing who the victims were, and having to reckon with that, there was nothing simple about that, but it looks simpler than the situation we have, which is the way this violence, this violent dehumanizing way of being has been woven through all of our lives, and all of our structures, unacknowledged as such for the most part. I have a lot of humility about what I know or what I … I don’t have solutions. I think that the … There’s a bit of a, I wouldn’t call it a debate, there’s a thing that’s happening here now, where there’s a critique that a lot of the racial reckoning is happening at this individual level, and that that’s not enough. And that’s true, it’s not enough.

But, as a white person, I also think that, and Resmaa would say this too in his own way, that I think there’s work, and this is less sexy than the kind of racial encounter that is the obvious step. The less sexy, and just as necessary thing, is for white people to get together with other white people and figure out how we transform ourselves. But what I mean by that is there’s a lot of … actually, I would use the word bigotry of some white, well, of white people over against each other. I don’t categorize myself as a liberal or progressive, although a lot of the world I live in looks like that.

The thing I’m worried about right now is a sense of superiority among people who lose nothing by calling themselves anti-racists, and sacrifice nothing by professing solidarity, when what is called for is that we start questioning really basic decisions we make about where we live, and what we buy, and where we send our children to school. When it starts being about that matter of the future you start planning for your child, that’s where the rubber meets the road, that is existential. I actually believe that one of the things white people are doing in this country now is feeling a little bit better about themselves sometimes, because those white people are even worse, but I think we’re standing on pretty level ground. I think that those of us who call ourselves anti-racists and lead comfortable lives, even if we’re out at protests, are on pretty level ground with people who are waving Confederate flags in terms of our complicity with the way we’ve been living. This is generations ahead of us that we have to take this apart.

I think we have to start inside ourselves. I actually think meaningful social change always has an inward component, and when it doesn’t, it’s not … it doesn’t stick. I think there is an inward component, and there is a pragmatic cultural component, but I can’t … I don’t have any kind of big prescription for anybody else.

Thomas: That’s already so much. There is so much. The various things in the last two questions that you spoke to we could expand into a book. There’s so much in there that you said, so what does it mean to come as anti-racists and then to continue living my life pretty much the same way, and what does it mean to, in a way, declare solidarity and elevate myself, and lose the eye to eye level because I think these things are very, very important, I think. All the ways that help me not to feel the situation that we are in, those are all ways of compensating, these are all ways of … What can be used as ways of compensating can also be used to go really deep, but when I go really deep, it will be recognizable, but not because I say it, because it changes my life.

I think that’s very important, what you mentioned, that what really supports me to feel the situation that we are in, because I don’t think that there’s any kind of change, and you said it beautifully, as long as we don’t have the internal change, the external change won’t stick. That’s what we saw in history over and over again, and I deeply believe that it’s true, but I also believe that as long as I’m not able to feel something, I won’t make the change necessary. It needs to become …

Krista: That’s what happened in 2020, and in particular with the killing of George Floyd in my city of Minneapolis, where I live now. I think, not those exact circumstances, but what happened to George Floyd has happened before, and in fact it’s happened since. But I think that we had almost all, all at the same time just been softened by that virus, setting us down on the ground of reality and making our existential frailty and finitude, just forcing us to an awareness of that, that we most of the time succeed in not taking in. I think what happened there, the horror of it, and the complicity of it was felt, and I want so badly … My greatest fear about the period ahead, as we get vaccinated, is that we lose that, we let that scar over and we stop letting ourselves feel it, and we stop letting it drive us. But I do think enough of us want to be true to what we were given to see and to do, and also that we have to know that this was generations, centuries in the making, and it’s going to be generations in the remaking.

Thomas: Beautiful. Beautiful. I think, given the latest virus resurging, the surges that are coming up, and also what we see right now with the climate, I think that what you speak, the two virtues that you spoke to at the beginning, hospitality and humility, I think the virus also made us a little bit more humble to see that our lives are not just that safe, and given, and successful. It showed us the impermanence of things. Also, we will need a lot of more hospitality amongst each other in order to go through the time that’s coming, also with the … you see all the climate changes. I think that’s very beautiful, what you said about that it made us a little bit more vulnerable and open to really let something go in, and feel it. I think that’s beautiful. How can … Since spirituality, and a deeper spiritual internal anchor is important, can you speak a little bit to how that’s important in meeting those questions? Does this have any relevance in meeting racism or-

Krista: Yeah.

Thomas: Why didn’t it express that stronger in the last centuries?

Krista: Yeah, I’m so fascinated and committed to supporting the connection between inner life and outer presence in the world, and I’m really so disinterested in disembodied spirituality and a lot of our … Again, in Western cultures these are other compartments, we’re either acting or we’re going inside, we’re doers and we’re making things happen, and we actually get much more training for that. We get lots of formation for our external presentation, our exterior action, and how we make our way through the world. Internal formation has been treated like an optional thing.

Now, in previous generations, even 50 or 100 years ago, religion was not perfect, and in most human societies there have always been these places of spiritual formation. Even if there was a lot to reject in that, there were things that were given, there were rituals, and there were texts, and there was community, and there were spiritual mentors. And in a very short period of time, in some of the world, you suddenly, all at once really, have new humans coming into the world with absolutely no spiritual formation, not even anything to reject. That’s also been part of the spiritual path in the religious … an interesting religious life, what do you question? I think that when you look at the 20th century, and if you look at the Civil Rights Movement, for example, the people who led that, who changed the world, had such profound religious underpinnings, also they were visionary.

Martin Luther King Jr. was a minister, he was a Christian minister, but he was also … took as his mentor Thich Nhat Hanh and Gandhi, and Howard Thurman, who was really kind of the chaplain, the theologian of Civil Rights Movement we’ve forgotten, but this incredible figure who feels more like a 21st-century figure. He went to India, he was one of the first African-American visitors to India that they had experienced, and he was changed, and he helped bring that lineage into the Civil Rights Movement. But then, as they succeeded, laws were changed, and there was this 20th-century equation, that if you change the laws, you change the society, but I think we didn’t change ourselves, and laws can be unmade, and we’re seeing that in very literal ways. It’s not that there wasn’t progress, and none of the Civil Rights elders who are still with us would say, “There wasn’t progress,” but a lot of progress has been rolled back.

Somebody like Bryan Stevenson will say, “There’s an argument that mass incarceration is what slavery became. It’s the continuation of that impulse, and that essential dehumanization.” That system is also dehumanizing people of every color that it come in contact with, it dehumanizes our entire society. So I think … I just kind of went off on a tangent, but I’m just saying I think that we don’t bear in mind this connection between inner and outer life at our peril. When I’m talking about interior life that is part of the context for me—and that is not to say that there is not work we do that is interior;I think we have our contemplative practices help us get grounded inside ourselves.

Obviously, I haven’t talked about this so much in public, but I actually think meditation and mindfulness, and Buddhism, that these traditions are part of the key to whether we grow up, as we’ve been talking about, and they’re not the only way to be spiritual. There’s something happening in progressive circles now, and in Silicon Valley where I spent some time a couple of years ago. The ways that human beings are spiritual, and practice religion, and make contact with what is transcendent, and honor mystery, and honor the question of who we will be to each other, which is to me as much what our traditions at their best pursue as who God is, it’s who we will be to each other. You mentioned the environmental crisis, I also think that we, in modernity, have made, of the natural world, an other.

Thomas: Exactly.

Krista: Therefore, we are exploitative and violent and disconnected, and so that reconnection is not … it has its kinship with the racial awakening.

Thomas: Very much.

Krista: I had just said something really complicated all over the board, but my working definition of spirituality is befriending reality. This kind of circles all the way back to where you and I started, befriending reality in all its complexity, in its danger, in its beauty, in its contradiction. Our traditions give us ways—and not just our religious traditions, the tradition of psychology, some of our sciences—give us ways to meet and navigate, and unfold, and live gracefully with that fullness.

Thomas: Beautiful.

Krista: It is every bit as much interior as it is exterior, right? It is that, a whole.

Thomas: Right, it’s so lovely to listen to you. I really enjoy, it’s … like balsam. It’s nice, very nourishing. I, again, deeply resonate with two things you said, like a lot of things that you said originally, but I think the importance of the inner spiritual dimension in many of the change impulses that we saw in history that really made a difference, and I think that’s still undervalued how many genius people or people that really brought about change also had a deep spiritual anchor in themselves. That realigning with that mystical or mystery inside of us is the engine to bring change, especially when it’s hard.

The other one I also want to underline, that how we made from nature an other, I think it’s the same thing, like how we are disconnected from our bodies—because my body is the planet, and if I can’t feel my body, I have to other nature. I think that was a very profound sentence you said, beautiful. I completely agree, also, with the way you look at the importance of the spiritual impulse. I like the phrase “befriending reality,” it’s really nice, it’s a lovely definition, beautiful.

I see the time, our time here … I could listen to you much, much longer. I really enjoy the conversation, it’s so deep, and it’s beautiful to see where you’re coming from, and also what you transmit when you speak is beautiful. Is there anything that, before we wrap up, is there anything that you think is important to add to the conversation about your work, about collective trauma, about how we meet those realities right now, or how we befriend the realities that are estranged?

Krista: Well, I’ve really enjoyed this, too. I might just say that I think … I’ve been noticing this language of trauma kind of taking its place in our midst. Some of the qualities of very young humans now, which can be really uncomfortable for institutions and workplaces, there is this intolerance for what has been, not just been tolerated, but kind of built in to this expectation of terrible things happening and people just getting on with it, which really has happened in the everyday, and in dramatic ways, and again more subtle ways.

What young people … It’s just so interesting to me, it’s like we have this generation that is born that just suddenly has this … We’ve made ourselves so numb for such a long time, and it’s like this generation born without that numbness, and resistant to being trained into it, and probably kind of extreme in their sensitivity, too. It’s a reaction to something that’s been wrong, and more than an irritant to something so skewed in the way we’ve been living. I do think that somehow this naming, and this embracing what this is, and then delving into it, and this summit is one of those places that’s happening. I really do think it’s one of the most important things that’s happening in our midst, and we will see how it teaches us, and how we change.

Thomas: That’s beautiful. I also love what you said now, it’s just underlinings of things that I really like, but I think that they are really key elements of that collective healing process, is also that the process is teaching us where it’s going, and to be open to that kind of feedback loop. That feedback loop can only land in us when we are not numb, but when we feel it, and I think being guided by the process is another amazing virtue, I think, for the process. You gave the participants of the summit access to your new app. Do you want to just say a few words why and what’s [crosstalk]?

Krista: Yes, I can’t believe that I have an app. We’re talking right as this is just out in the world. It’s not something I ever aspired to, and it came along, and it sounds so cheesy, The Wisdom App, but I found it an amazing platform to … I’m in a bit of a different role in the app, I’m drawing on my conversations that I’ve had across the years, and I’m always in them as a learner, and then I’m in the app … This is course-based, and the first course is on hope as a muscle, and I think hope is, a reality-based vibrant hope is a quality of every person I’ve ever admired. It is a quality of admirable lives, and wise lives, and yet there are a lot of stereotypes about … there are simplifications of what hope is. It’s not wishful thinking. This is not an empty idealism, it has real world consequences. It’s about our presence inside ourselves, and it’s about our presence to the world. It’s everything we’ve been talking about.

And I found this …I get to be in the app both as a learner and teacher, and it’s an offering that … it really is the offering that’s come out of this year for me, and for On Being. It’s very much coming out of this phenomenon you and I have been speaking of, about how do we stay true to what we’ve been given to learn. It’s so hard, and the work ahead is so long. I think it asks and invites us not just to be engaged in big change, but to change the way we move through our days in all of our interactions, and yet we’re … none of the great virtues, we’re not called to any of the great virtues to do them alone. That’s such a survival of the fittest, 20th century, it’s such an American thing. I’m not called to save the world, I am called to accompany you, and to ask for accompaniment as I try to be a better human being. So that’s what this experience is about.

We’re calling it a community of accompaniment, and we are going to create experiences for people to come together, but what I mean by that, also fundamentally, is if we create these sessions where we learn from people who live like this, and in a very granular way what are the ingredients of that. It’s a different ingredient from Bryan Stevenson or Jane Goodall, or Ai-jen Poo, or Brother David Steindl-Rast, but we’ve taken what are the ingredients and then this beautiful thing we’re learning through science, what you practice you become, and that’s also true of qualities of character. So what if we all start practicing these qualities of character at the same time where we live, and have that kind of community of accompaniment, that’s how the world changes. It’s never been top-down until the very end. And in this world, in this 21st-century world, we have to look at ourselves and each other, the people beside us.

Thomas: Beautiful. Lovely. That sounds amazing. Also, how hope is a way of living, and it’s not a reductionistic form of denial of our lives, but it’s the way we are connected to our inner engine and that spreads hope, that’s beautiful. Krista, it’s amazing. As I said, I would love to continue much longer but-

Krista: Yeah, I hope we’ll meet in person one of these days, but the technology is miraculous.

Thomas: Miraculous. How could we ever have this, we are 6,000 miles apart? Most probably it’s amazing, and actually it’s amazing how much we can feel each other, and I feel what you are saying, it’s amazing.

Krista: Yes, I agree.

Thomas: It’s amazing. So thank you so much, it was really, really deep, and I enjoyed every moment listening to you.

Krista: Well, blessings. As I said, I’m honored to be here, and this is a really important forum, so thank you.

Thomas: Yeah, thank you.