By Jan Booth, MA, RN, NC-BC

Having been part of the early years of the hospice movement, I’m heartened by the emergence of a new leading edge of end-of-life care. These emerging models may be a sign that Americans are moving towards a tipping point in our cultural conversation about death and dying. Big shifts and transformations are shaking things up. The new growth of innovation is moving from the edges of our culture, but not yet mainstream. Whether the new models are drawing from older wisdom or from fresh thinking, the central theme appears to be the returning of death to its place in the cycle of living and dying and to its place in the center of our families and communities. People are finding creative ways to bring death more into the light of day, bringing with it a sense of naturalness and familiarity. I clearly see a re-calibration away from the direction of modern techno-medical dying, moving instead towards dying as a meaningful developmental stage of life.

To engage with issues of aging, living with advanced illness and dying often places us on the margins – as these are the edges of our culture’s comfort zone. With our strong cultural orientation towards youth, achievement, materialism and a “can-do” spirit, reflections and intentional preparation for frailty and diminishment – let alone death – are edgy topics. In spite of that, there seems to be much interest in a different approach to the last part of our lives. I see two central themes that shape this emerging ‘forward edge’ of how we die – understanding death and dying from a deeper place of wisdom and engaging with fresh and innovative thinking about death. Some inspiration rests solely in an exploration of collective human wisdom or wisdom traditions within spiritual study, and some of the fresh thinking results from a contemporary mindset of the 21st century. The overlap is found in new innovations that draw from accumulated human wisdom. The fifteen sessions of The Art of Dying Integrative Thanatology Certificate Program represent innovative thought and wise practices for our times.

I’ve heard people say that it’s hard to define wisdom, but you know it when you hear it. When I conceive of wisdom, I draw from the deep well of past experiences, shared human knowledge, spiritual truths that have evolved through millennia and a perspective that is big enough to hold life’s challenges and paradoxes. Wisdom comes slowly, from contemplation and a mind that develops awareness. It also emerges slowly through our experiences – from the ups and downs we’ve weathered, from accumulated lessons learned, or even from the innocence of children who speak without pretense. It is the core that spiritual and religious traditions have in common. And it draws heavily from values of love, compassion, fairness, balance and personal transformation.

It is to this place of wisdom that many people go when searching for answers about dying:

Are we more than our physical bodies?

What is the meaning of suffering?
How do I hold the pain of grief and loss?
What’s the purpose of my life?
What happens to me when I die?
What are the best practices for dying without fear and isolation?

I have noticed that many people who want to open up the cultural conversation about death and dying are drawn to exploring wisdom traditions, spiritual insight and studies of consciousness. It’s not easy to find this kind of conversation within our institutions of religion and learning. This search for new ways to explore death is part of the re-calibration of the how we die in modern times. We look for something that gives a bigger picture or a sense of context for our suffering, our pain, our grief. A kind of learning that centers on our humanity and our sense of ‘being in this together.’ A body of knowledge that points towards the possibility of meaning within mystery, even if it’s not seen or understood in the present. These explorations of meaning and insight are part of the path forward in facing our mortality and venturing into challenging conversations about dying.

Many of us have ‘heard a call’ to be a more conscious presence for others at the end of life. At The Open Center’s Art of Dying Institute, we are creating a place to explore, deepen and develop ourselves to more fully respond to that call. Through compelling virtual sessions, readings and videos, deep conversations in small groups, creative journaling and experiential practices, our certificate course will build your capacity to be a grounded and compassionate presence for yourself and others. Come join us, and be part of this movement to profoundly transform how we die – and how we care for each other – in modern times.

Jan Booth MA, RN, has worked as a nurse for many years at the intersection of quality of life and end of life, as a hospice/palliative care nurse and as an end-of-life coach and educator. She serves as faculty for the International Nurse Coach Association and the Conscious Dying Institute, and is the author of Re-Imagining the End-of-Life: Self-Development & Reflective Practices for Nurse Coaches.

Jan Booth is the Integrative Thanatology Certificate Training Facilitator. She will offer student support, counsel, community building ideas and creative collaborations. She will develop assignments and practices throughout the program including mid-term and final assignments. The facilitator will also be available for online/telephone advice and mentorship as well as creating opportunities for group meeting and creative collaborations outside the class—including study groups.

For complete information on the next session of the training scheduled to begin on October 8th, 2021 click HERE.

© 2020 New York Open Center, Inc. Terms & Conditions | Privacy Policy