The Best Podcast Episodes of 2019

Explore the podcasts that resonated with us this year—from working with attention and focus, to the importance of reading deeply.

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At Mindful, we love podcasts. From working with attention and focus, to mindful advice to parents, to our very own Point of View podcast, here are some of our favorite ones to listen to:

The Best Podcast Episodes of 2019

1) The Ezra Klein Show

Episode: “Your attention is being hijacked. Chris Bailey can help”

Productivity, for many, means trying to wring every last drop of work out of ourselves, day after day. And this desperate need to “keep busy” can also prevent us from mindfully directing our attention. But that’s precisely Chris Bailey’s mission: The author of Hyperfocus is on a mission to shift productivity culture toward, instead, “doing the right things…deliberately and with intention.” Bailey argues that taking a more mindful approach to work is how we can sustain our focus and creative juice in the long term.

2) On Being with Krista Tippett

Episode: “The Magic Shop of the Brain: Dr. James Doty”

Most people simply don’t appreciate “the power of their intention to change everything,” says James Doty, a neurosurgeon who also directs Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. He’s talking about the scarcely understood potential of the human brain, but also about the equally miraculous power of compassion arising from it. Doty—for whom learning present-moment awareness as a teenager was transformative— considers our brains’ suppleness (that is, neuroplasticity) to hold the key to wider social transformation: “Each of us,” he says, “has the ability to change how we emotionally respond to our life circumstance and create an environment where we ultimately can flourish and give those around us the opportunity to flourish.”

3) The Fatherly Podcast

Episode: “Searching for Peace and Quiet: Can We Support Our Kids If We’re Stuck in Our Monkey Minds?”

When we find ourselves—as parents, or any other kind of caregiving role—responsible for others’ well-being, there’s the opportunity for our mindfulness practice to be transformed. That is, if we can even find the time to meditate. And if we can withstand the pressures of being imperfect people who are, nevertheless, relied upon to provide help and solutions. In these kinds of situations, we can “practice not knowing right now. Learn from it, don’t separate from it,” says Joan Halifax, Buddhist teacher and author of Standing At the Edge: Finding Freedom Where Fear and Courage Meet. She talks with humor and wisdom about specific ways to bring a grounded awareness into all of our interactions as compassionate, ethical caregivers, even with chaos around us. 

4) CBC: The Sunday Edition

Episode: “Too Long, Didn’t Read: How Online Reading is Hurting Our Brains”

Although “hurting” may be a tad alarmist, research shows the digital revolution is literally changing our brain circuits. Tufts University professor Maryanne Wolf, author of Reader, Come Home: The Reading Brain In the Digital World, describes how reading has, for centuries, allowed us to engage in “deep reading, sophisticated processes like analogy and inference,” as well as “critical analysis and empathy.” But these skills developed while our most pervasive forms of media were printed books, newspapers, and magazines. When reading on our phones, we tend to merely skim—a habit that suits whizzing through emails or Twitter, but may hurt when we want (or need) to read, say, business reports, or Steinbeck. Reading on screens doesn’t encourage taking the “precious milliseconds” required for those deep-reading processes. The brain quickly loses patience with it. For Wolf, we’ve reached “a moment of cognitive choice”: If we don’t practice reading slowly, deeply, with intention, the literary skills gained over countless generations will continue to fade. 

5) On the Media

Episode: “Uncomfortably Numb” 

Journalist and media analyst Brooke Gladstone talks with several experts about a few current events, questioning some of the ways we seek to protect ourselves from grief, helplessness, and fear. First up: conspiracy theorists. By constructing an alternate (if totally out-there) version of reality, they believe they know the world better than the rest of us. Ironically, for them, their fantasies lend “a sense of order” to the confusion of the real. Meanwhile, many climate scientists struggle with being, in a sense, on the front lines of climate change. With their acute understanding of what’s happening to our planet, their mental health can suffer even more than non-scientists’. Then, there’s the “Brexit anxiety” that two-thirds of Brits are feeling. It’s a problem doctors tend to treat as an individual medical issue—never mind that anxiety is a pretty natural response to the tense political environment. Gladstone ends on a possible antidote to all these ways of numbing ourselves to stress: Instead of numbing out, we could claim the space—physically, mentally, communally—for ourselves to simply be. It’s in claiming these pockets of freedom that we may discover cracks for the light of change to seep in.

6) TED Talks Daily

Episode: “Ella Al-Shamahi: The Fascinating (and Dangerous) Places Scientists Aren’t Exploring”

Delving into our species’ ancient history may let us understand each other more deeply. But what if key archaeological evidence exists in a no-fly zone? According to Ella Al-Shamahi, an English paleoanthropologist of Arab heritage, science suffers from “a geography problem.” Through the lens of her ordeal in reaching the Yemeni island of Socotra—where she and her team are researching some of the earliest Homo sapiens to leave present-day Africa—Al-Shamahi talks about the institutional barriers that prevent Western researchers from studying in regions deemed politically unstable. Some of these places, nevertheless, offer a great deal to learn about the climate crisis, extinction, and the human journey. Instead of having to completely avoid the unknown, she says, scientists can take measures to greatly mitigate risk when they’re on foreign soil. And by strengthening scientific collaboration across borders, she adds, it becomes more feasible to emphasize what human beings have in common on a global scale, rather than what seems to divide us.   

7) Think Again

Episode: “World Makes Mind, with Barbara Tversky”

For over five decades, cognitive psychologist and professor Barbara Tversky’s work has illuminated ways of knowing—and not knowing. Her late husband Amos helped uncover the neurological reason for “blind spots,” in cognition, and Tversky is no less of a giant in the fields of visual–spatial reasoning and collaborative cognition. Delving into the brain’s chessboard-like style of data organization, and how basketball players signal to their teammates while fooling the other team, she emphasizes our behavioral potential: “This idea that we’re one thing? No way. We’re always intention and conflict, cooperation and competition. They’re all in us.” After listening to this conversation, Tversky’s recent book, Mind in Motion: How Action Shapes Thought (Basic Books, 2019), might be a good next step. 

8) Meditative Story

Episode: “The Perfect Photograph I Never Took”

Back in 1994, photojournalist John Moore traveled to the Congo, hoping to capture the elusive—at the time, severely endangered—silverback mountain gorilla. The strongest pictures, he says, “are often a combination of preparedness and luck. You can have all of one, but without the other, the image never finds its way into your camera.” Yet despite the low odds, Moore can’t suppress a romantic goal: getting the perfect picture of a magnificent wild being. What results is truly a message for the Instagram age. In the second half of the podcast, host Rohan Gunatillake takes the listener through a guided meditation to reflect—and discover some broader truths—through Moore’s narrative. 

9) Plus: Point of View with Barry Boyce and Stephanie Domet

Point of View Podcast, Episode 12: Being Bored is A Gift: Here’s How to Use It

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Need more mindfulness in your podcast feed? On the Point of View podcast, we’re hosting meaningful conversations about community, emotional health, bias, and other real-world topics that benefit from a mindful perspective.