Each Wednesday, I commute into the city to teach. It affords me the rare opportunity to relax, read, listen and think. As I travel by train for forty minutes and then walk the thirty blocks from Grand Central to Union Square, I often listen to podcasts, some that make me laugh and others that make me wonder. You could even occasionally catch me singing along to a tune on Spotify.

This is a time of year that should be met with enthusiasm and joy. Most will get one, maybe two, weeks off from work or school. Many will give and receive lovely or cool gifts. Some will spend much needed time in the company of friends and family.

Yet the lead up to this time is unusually stressful.

We look to move as many things off our work plate as possible (often shoving them onto the plates of our colleagues.) We frantically spend time online or in stores shopping if not for the “perfect gift” then for “another gift” that will signal the degree to which we care for the recipient. We stuff our calendars with social events that individually we look forward to and enjoy but collectively can leave us exhausted.

In this context, on my most recent trip, as my mind wrestled with my own longer than usual list of things to do, I stumbled upon two listening experiences that provided a much needed recalibration of priorities for the end of the year.

The first was a thoughtful and provocative discussion between David Brooks and ethicist Leon Kass on The Ezra Klein Show. While they explored big questions like “What is the meaning of life?”, it did not feel as heady or overwhelming as it may sound. Instead it felt like the kind of cool and invigorating conversation you’d like to have with your best of friends, if time and life would only allow for it.

The second was this episode of On Being, where the calming voice of host Krista Tippett met with the restorative counsel of Katherine May, author of the book, Wintering. This term refers both to the natural season and our innate need for our bodies and minds to experience a period of retreat, relaxation and restoration.

It was a beautiful, meditative conversation that makes you want to just pause and rethink how you plan on spending the next two weeks.

So if you find yourself in a store picking up a few last minute items, on a long drive to visit friends or family or just out walking your dog, consider listening to one of the episodes above or finding something else that might provide some peace and perspective during this too often crazy season.

Hope you have a healthy, happy and restful holiday season.

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