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The Art of Dying conference series speaks to the progressive awakening of our culture to a more conscious view of our own mortality. Death and dying are topics that are discussed with increasing openness and awareness that our view of death profoundly impacts our experience of life. This conference will examine these matters from a holistic and inclusive perspective. We will engage with such essential questions as:
How can we work more compassionately and intelligently with the dying?
How can our own death and the death of those we love be faced with courage?
Does consciousness survive death and, if so, what might we expect?
How can we best prepare?
How can death become much less frightening both for ourselves and for our loved ones?
How can we develop more enlightened care for the dying even in our environment of technological medicine?
How does a community support dying, and how can ritual around dying infuse community with meaning and connection?
This is the sixth in a series addressing these and other vital issues. It brings together important innovators in the field of death and dying, palliative, and hospice care. Many have a background in modern medicine, while others speak from a more traditional or spiritual perspective. All expand our understanding of how to work best and most compassionately with the dying and of our attunement to death itself, the deepest of all mysteries. We invite you to join a wide array of participants including hospice workers, nurses, doctors, therapists, bereavement counselors, social workers, and members of the general public to explore together a profound and heartfelt approach to the great matter of life and death.
For this webinar, you will have live access to each of the conference's plenaries, as well as selected workshops and panels. See below for the full agenda!
Day 1 - October 13th, 2017
I The Tibetan Book of the Dead: Gift of Original Life Science
Robert Thurman, PhD
Why is the rigorous exploration of death so rare in human societies? The Indians and Tibetans rather uniquely created the most detailed analysis yet seen, enabling them to map a variety of possible journeys that consciousness might take past the point of death. Though this approach was originally developed in Buddhist India, Tibet made both the science of death and the art of dying general knowledge in their society, and Tibetan Buddhism can to some extent be seen as a scientific tradition because it presents its findings as hypotheses that we can study and use as guidelines for our own experiences, not as religious dogmas.
II The Needs of the Dying
Death is sometimes the result of violence, sometimes an act of nature, and sometimes the end of a long disease. Understanding the needs of the dying is foundational to giving compassionate assistance to those facing death. Best-selling author David Kessler, who has spent 30+ years working with thousands of people on the edge of death, will: speak to the goal of restoring power to the dying and their loved ones, provide up-to-date information on how to develop communication strategies, and offer insights on how anticipatory grief and cultural differences shape end-of-life experiences.
Day 2 - October 14th, 2017
I Sacred Dying: Space, Souls, and Transitions
Megory Anderson, PhD
To be able to die at home, pain free, and with loved ones nearby is what people have always wanted. The spiritual and emotional transitions that take place beside a dying person are as profound as the birth of a child, yet in our society the days before death tend to be focused on respiration, and medication (…and billable services). The Sacred Dying philosophy, developed through the experience of guiding hundreds of people through the dying process says that it’s time for us to reclaim the sacred in relation to death—through our cultural and faith traditions and through individual rituals and presence.
II The Tangled Garden of Wisdom and Grief
Stephen Jenkinson, MTS, MSW
A good death is everyone’s right. Dying is the fulfillment, not the end, of life. Our culture tends to view grief as an affliction, a trauma that requires coping and management and five stages and/or twelve steps to get over, but what if grief is the natural order of things, the way we have to love everything that is impermanent? We are far too addicted to security, comfort, and managing uncertainty; we need to learn to honor, teach, and live grief as a skill, as vital to our personal, community, and spiritual life as the skill of loving.
10:30 AM - 12:15 PM
I The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Part 1
Robert Thurman, PhD
What is the Tibetan science of death, and how can it assist us in developing a high level of skill and elegance in the “art of dying”? In this workshop we’ll explore the Tibetan approach to death and how it relates to life, since life cannot be understood without understanding death.
I Facing Death, Finding Your Life
Henry Fersko-Weiss, LCSW
As one approaches death, it is quite natural to question the meaning of life, but too often our fear of death and dying chases these questions away. When we can face death, we can unlock the key to finding meaning in our lives and living fully up to our last breath. Going a step further and actually embracing the truth of impermanence at any point in our lives has the capacity to help us stay present in the moment, live with purpose, and achieve lasting happiness. It is a paradox that accepting our mortality frees us to find our life in the truest sense.
II Cultivating Moral Resilience at the End of Life
Cynda Rushton PhD, RN, FAAN
Ethical issues at the end of life can result in confusion, distress, and depletion, but cultivating moral resilience, i.e., the capacity to preserve or restore integrity in response to moral adversity, can offer us a beacon to guide us through the thorny, complex challenges and ethical conundrums that often arise as our life trajectory winds down. Cynda Rushton examines the contours of moral resilience and offers us practical suggestions for nurturing and strengthening it.
III End-of-Life Experiences and Their Contributions to an Understanding of Life and Consciousness
Peter Fenwick, MD
In this session Peter Fenwick will explore end-of-life experiences—the mental states of the dying—which are at last becoming recognized as central to our understanding of death and its significance to life. Often, there are stages in the dying process that include such phenomena as premonitions, deathbed visions, glimpses of a new, luminous realm with spiritual value, and the scientific conundrum of “terminal lucidity,” the well-witnessed fact that many with dementia exhibit a clear mental state and family recognition just before they die.
4:30 - 6:15 PM
I The Inspired Funeral
Planning for your own death, and getting acquainted with what is both traditional and newly possible in today’s end-of-life rituals is a spiritual practice that enables you to face your own mortality with courage and ultimately express your most deeply-held values. Sadly, people who postpone funeral discussions are too frequently confronted with decisions involving thousands of dollars as they hold Kleenex in their hands. This workshop describes the fascinating, often uplifting, earth-friendlier trends within today’s funeral business. Topics addressed include: how to plan a reasonably-priced, back-to-basics funeral or memorial service, the green burial movement, green cemeteries, new thinking on the burial shroud, cremation pros and cons, biodegradable caskets, blended-faith/alternative ceremonies, and more. Participants will get a glimmer of what funerals of the future might look like. This session will give therapists an updated understanding of the options available to dying patients and their families when considering how to approach questions of burial and cremation. Such considerations can help to provide comfort at an emotionally demanding time.
Day 3 - October 15th, 2017
8:30 - 10:45 AM
I Paranormal Experiences at the End of Life and After a Death
Dr. Kenneth J. Doka, PhD
This presentation will explore the paranormal phenomena not infrequently experienced during the dying process as well as by the newly bereaved, including “terminal lucidity,” near-death experiences, and extraordinary grief-related occurrences, such as feeling the tangible presence of a recently deceased loved one. Kenneth Doka will discuss the counseling implications of these phenomena and how to honor and integrate such experiences while working with the dying and those grieving after a death.
II The Shaman’s View of Death
Alberto Villoldo, PhD
According to some Andean and Himalayan shamanic traditions, after death the physical body goes back to the earth, but our essence or soul returns to the stars. These wisdom-keepers of old drew maps to guide the soul in its journey beyond death, describing the stages along the way and the challenges and opportunities the soul faced at each stage. In this session, we will explore the great value these maps created by these far-seeing cartographers of infinity, still hold for us today. This session may be of value to therapists who work with indigenous communities from Latin America in helping them understand the belief systems and practices of these communities around death and dying.
III Psilocybin and Mystical Experience Research: Implications for End-of-life Distress and Thanatology
Anthony P. Bossis, PhD, and Stephen Ross, MD
This presentation will review the results of the NYU Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety Project, an FDA-approved clinical trial that was published in the Journal of Psychopharmacology in December 2016. This trial investigated whether a mystical experience induced by psilocybin (a synthetic analog of a hallucinogenic compound found in a few species of mushrooms) might help terminally ill individuals reduce their psychological and existential distress, cultivate meaning, enhance their sense of spiritual well-being, and create greater acceptance of the dying process.
11:15 AM - 1:00 PM
I Dying Consciously: Maintaining Consciousness in the Journey of Death and Beyond
Alberto Villoldo, PhD
What happens after we take our last breath? Is there a part of us that continues, and if so, where do we go? In this workshop, we will explore how various shamanic traditions view the journey beyond death. We will begin to learn techniques used for centuries by shamans to navigate the dream-like realms one encounters immediately after death and reach the blissful domains of wisdom.
2:30 - 4:30 PM
I Caring for Our Dead: Grief, Remembrance, and Sacred Ritual
Olivia Bareham, Amy Cunningham, Megory Anderson, Jeanne Denney
How do we care for our dead in a way that is compassionate, dignified, and sacred? What is the role of grief in creating a good death? What do our ancestors tell us about death and the journey of the soul? How do rituals help us support the dying and connect with the dead?
Webcast programming subject to change
Robert Thurman, a Professor of Indo-Tibetan Buddhist Studies in the Department of Religion at Columbia University, President of Tibet House U.S., and President of the American Institute of Buddhist Studies, which is dedicated to the publication of translations of important Tibetan artistic and scientific treatises, is the author of many books on Tibet, Buddhism, art, politics, and culture, and is a Vajracharya (Vajrayana Buddhist priest) in HH the Dalai Lama’s ecumenical order of Tibetan Buddhism.
Megory Anderson, founder of the Sacred Dying Foundation, an organization designed to bring sacredness to the end-of-life experience, is a theologian, educator, liturgist, and author of the books Sacred Dying: Creating Rituals for Embracing the End of Life and Attending the Dying.
Stephen Jenkinson, a “spiritual activist,” author, ceremonialist, and farmer with degrees from Harvard (Theology) and the University of Toronto (Social Work), is a leading figure in transforming approaches to grief and dying in North America. He teaches internationally and is the creator and principal instructor of the Orphan Wisdom School, founded in 2010.
Cynda Rushton, the Anne and George L. Bunting Professor of Clinical Ethics and Professor of Nursing and Pediatrics at the Johns Hopkins University Berman Institute of Bioethics and School of Nursing, is Co-Chair of the Johns Hopkins Hospital Ethics Committee and Consultation Service and has also served as a teacher and collaborator in Upaya’s Being With Dying Professional Training program and as core faculty in G.R.A.C.E. along with Roshi Joan Halifax since 2001.
Peter Fenwick, a neuropsychiatrist known for his studies of end-of-life phenomena and epilepsy, is a senior lecturer at King’s College London, a consultant at the Institute of Psychiatry, and the co-author (with his wife, Elizabeth) of The Art of Dying, which describes his research into the reported experiences of the dying and their caregivers around the time of death in hospices in the U.K. and Holland.
Kenneth J. Doka, a Professor of Gerontology at the Graduate School of The College of New Rochelle and Senior Consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America, is an expert on grief and grieving and lectures worldwide on the topic. A prolific author and editor, he serves as editor of HFA’s Living with Grief® book series, its Journeys newsletter, and numerous other books and publications.
Alberto Villoldo, a medical anthropologist who has studied the shamanic healing practices of the Amazon and Andes for more than 25 years, founded the Four Winds Society, which offers extensive education in the philosophy and practice of energy medicine in 1984. He also directs the Center for Energy Medicine in Chile, where he investigates and practices the “neuroscience of enlightenment.”
Anthony Bossis, a clinical psychologist and Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine who also maintains a private psychotherapy practice in NYC, was Director of Palliative Care Research, Co-Principal Investigator, and a session guide for the now-famous NYU Psilocybin Cancer Anxiety Study and is Project Director for the NYU Psilocybin Religious Leaders Study.
Stephen Ross, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at New York University (NYU), Principal Investigator of the NYU Psilocybin Cancer Project, and Director of the NYU Psychedelic Research Group, is also Director of the Division of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse at Bellevue Hospital and Director of Addiction Psychiatry at NYU Tisch Hospital.
Olivia Bareham, a certified death midwife and home funeral guide and celebrant, holds degrees in Education, Natural Theology, and Sacred Healing, and is founder of Sacred Crossings, The Institute for Conscious Dying, and Family-Directed Funerals. Olivia also facilitates The Art of Death Midwifery training program, now offered to students worldwide.
Amy Cunningham is a progressive funeral director and owner of Fitting Tribute Funeral Services. She specializes in green burials in cemeteries certified by the Green Burial Council simple burials within the NYC- Metropolitan area, home funerals, and cremation services at Green-Wood Cemetery's crematory chapels. She maintains a lively blog on funeral planning called TheInspiredFuneral.com.
Jeanne Denney, a somatic psychotherapist, hospice worker and educator who works to help people embrace a life which includes death, has spent years both at bedsides and in classrooms while contributing pioneering ideas to the fields of Somatic Psychology and Thanatology.
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