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Of Trees, Solitude, Love, Loss, and the Stubborn Symphony of Aliveness: The Best of Brain Pickings / The Marginalian 2021

From the Stoics to the snails, by way of music, matter, and the mind.


It is an annual ritual to glance over time’s shoulder each year and reflect on what has made it most livable and worthy of living through my writing — always the clearest mirror of what irradiated and perturbed my heart and mind as our uncommon planet made its steady revolution around its common star.

Inevitably, patterns emerge that were not obvious in the moment-by-moment experience. Inevitably, those patterns reveal that however tumultuous the seasons of being might feel — and what a tempest of uncertainty and disorientation 2021 has been for all of us in the world, what a tempest of loss sudden as frostbite and slow-blooming rebirth for my personal world — the things that make life most luminous with aliveness are variations on eternal themes, impervious to our passing perturbations.

Here are the best of these eternal echoes — as usual, a composite best: a hybrid of the pieces I poured the most heart into writing and the pieces most widely read and shared by those whose hearts they touched.

Thank you for reading.

Thank you for caring.

* * *

Rilke on the Relationship Between Solitude, Love, Sex, and Creativity

Read it here.

* * *

Becoming the Marginalian: After 15 Years, Brain Pickings Reborn

Read it here.

* * *

James Baldwin on Love, the Illusion of Choice, and the Paradox of Freedom

Read it here.

* * *

The Snail with the Right Heart: A True Story of Science and Love

Read it here.

* * *

Music, the Neural Harmonics of Emotion, and How Love Restrings the Brain

Read it here.

* * *

The Antidote to the Irreversibility of Life: Hannah Arendt on What Forgiveness Really Means

Read it here.

* * *

The Ocean and the Meaning of Life

Read it here.

* * *

Richard Dawkins on the Luckiness of Death

Read it here.

* * *

Probable Impossibilities: Physicist Alan Lightman on Beginnings, Endings, and What Makes Life Worth Living

Read it here.

* * *

The Pattern Inside the Pattern: Fractals, the Hidden Order Beneath Chaos, and the Story of the Refugee Who Revolutionized the Mathematics of Reality

Read it here.

* * *

Shifting the Silence to Find the Meaning: 95-Year-Old Artist, Poet, and Philosopher Etel Adnan on How to Live and How to Die

Read it here.

* * *

The Blue Hour: A Stunning Illustrated Celebration of Nature’s Rarest Color

Read it here.

* * *

Wintering: Resilience, the Wisdom of Sadness, and How the Science of Trees Illuminates the Art of Self-Renewal Through Difficult Times

Read it here.

* * *

Love, Loss, and the Banality of Survival: Charles Darwin, His Beloved Daughter, and How We Find Meaning in Mortality

Read it here.

* * *

Of Trees, Tenderness, and the Moon: Hasui Kawase’s Stunning Japanese Woodblock Prints from the 1920s-1950s

Read it here.

* * *

The Stoic Antidote to Frustration: Marcus Aurelius on How to Keep Your Mental Composure and Emotional Equanimity When People Let You Down

Read it here.

* * *

Growing Through Grief: Derek Jarman on Gardening as Creative Redemption, Consecration of Time, and Training Ground for Presence

Read it here.

* * *

The Truelove: Poet and Philosopher David Whyte on Reaching Beyond Our Limiting Beliefs About What We Deserve

Read it here.

* * *

Trees, Whales, and Our Digital Future: George Dyson on Nature, Human Nature, and the Relationship Between Our Minds and Our Machines

Read it here.

* * *

Music and the Mystery of Aliveness

Read it here.

* * *

The Blue Horses of Our Destiny: Artist Franz Marc, the Wisdom of Animals, and the Fight of Beauty Against Brutality

Read it here.

* * *

Thich Nhat Hanh on the Art of Deep Listening and the 3 Buddhist Steps to Repairing a Relationship

Read it here.

* * *

Orwell’s Roses: Rebecca Solnit on How Nature Sustains Us, Beauty as Fuel for Change, and the Value of the Meaningless Things That Give Our Lives Meaning

Read it here.

* * *

When Your Parents Are Dying: Some of the Simplest, Most Difficult and Redemptive Life-Advice You’ll Ever Receive

Read it here.

* * *

The Art of Solitude: Buddhist Scholar and Teacher Stephen Batchelor on Contemplative Practice and Creativity

Read it here.

* * *

The Good Luck of Your Bad Luck: Marcus Aurelius on the Stoic Strategy for Weathering Life’s Waves and Turning Suffering into Strength

Read it here.


donating = loving

For a decade and half, I have been spending hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars each month composing The Marginalian (which bore the unbearable name Brain Pickings for its first fifteen years). It has remained free and ad-free and alive thanks to patronage from readers. I have no staff, no interns, no assistant — a thoroughly one-woman labor of love that is also my life and my livelihood. If this labor makes your own life more livable in any way, please consider lending a helping hand with a donation. Your support makes all the difference.


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