The Mindful Bard – Ten Favourite Podcasts

We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say.
Zeno of Citium, as quoted by Diogenes Laërtius

True, the Mindful Bard is normally about books, music, and film, but once in a while we’re compelled to branch out into other formats, especially in the digital age when websites, film shorts, and even games offer the possibility of inspiring artists to better and more mindful art. Who knows? You may one day see a Bard piece on the most creatively stimulating television commercials?nah, not really.

But the fact is that podcasts are such an amazing resource for creative people that I simply can’t ignore them.

It’s only been in the last year that I’ve discovered the great intellectual wasteland that comprises today’s podcast scene. I’ve also discovered what a rich resource the few good podcasts can be: both as sources of information and creative stimulation, and as a way of keeping the artist’s mind alive during boring activities. Like the radio from whose venerable origins they sprang, podcasts are a smart medium.

The podcasts I’ve included here have skirted the error of mindless rambling and joshing that only infuriates a listener who is desperate for someone to stop giggling and get to the point. The podcasters below have chosen relevant topics, discussed the most relevant aspects of those topics, and given good audio?clear and listenable?and not packed too tight with pointless noise.

After a year of searching and listening, here are the Mindful best:

The Organist

The opening monologue plays out to? you guessed it? what sounds like Aunt Winnifred ploughing away on the parlour organ. This one comes from The Believer magazine and has all the intimate intellectual ambience of midnight in an all-night café after watching the best foreign film you’ve ever seen and discussing it with your most insightful chum.

Radiolab

The trivia this crew digs up to help us remember facts we would normally consider too dry to retain in our memories (why the American constitution is so vague, for example) is extremely entertaining. I wish these folks had been my teachers in high school.

TEDtalks (audio and video)

TEDtalks has become famous enough to be satirized, the satires usually playing on the propensity of some of the talks to be full of sound and fury and signifying nothing. But this does nothing to change to the myriad wonderful and highly relevant lectures delivered by TEDtalks.

Poems Every Child Should Know

There’s no background music. The voice is like that of a grade school teacher, dry and expressionless with the occasional lilt. The choice of poems and the commentary is way over the heads of most children I know. But for some reason It’s very inspiring. From Lewis Carroll to Blake to Walt Whitman, these are poems of simplicity and significance. Keep ?em coming.

Broken Mirrors

A bit of a subgenre, dealing with things like foreign policy, economics, and terrorism but focused on such engaging details and research and recorded by such pleasant voices that it goes down like butterscotch. There’s lots of interesting fodder for your next dinner conversation to be found here.

CBC Radio: Wiretap

This is just plain genius. Jonathan Goldstein does absurd monologues and talks to friends and family on the phone. It’s Kafka light. Life won’t seem so serious after a listen, and at the same time will seem more deeply significant.

Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything

Another breeze from a world of genius, but this one contains more philosophical reflections on topics no one else seems to have the time to reflect on. Both witty and profound.

CBC Radio: Ideas

This is the top of the heap, the podcast from the lauded nightly radio broadcast of the same name. It’s amazing how this crew comes up with so many topics so deeply important to creative types and social activists. And take it from me, it really does prompt change.

Philosophy Bites

Difficult ideas from the history of philosophy, for the layperson, presented as discussions between a couple of brilliant minds. At the very least, it will simply make you feel smarter.

All in the Mind

Every artist needs to study a little psychology, period. This program cuts through mountains of new research to bring you findings that may surprise you, insights into your own quirks, and stimulating concepts. Sometimes the transcript is even provided, which is nice if you just want to read it on your smart phone.

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