Sounds a little scary.
Death itself is no laughing matter. Why do you think that in our culture there is a strong collective resistance toward the natural: aging, illness and death? Yet deep inside there is a universal awareness and a global apprehension of death that influences us.
Is this sort of work for everybody?
No. There are some that I would discourage from participating. Anyone diagnosed by a physician with Major Depressive Disorder, severe anxiety disorders, Personality disorders, and trauma are a few examples.
Are you afraid of dying?
I am afraid but to a much lesser degree than, say, five or ten years ago. But you see, it isn't all about getting rid of our fears. It's about courage to face the inevitable. The raw existential truth for you and me is this: No matter what diet you take on, how often you exercise or how positive you think, you WILL grow old, be tagged with a terminal illness, and die. To live content with this truth in mind is in my book the ultimate true courage.
Why is Conversing with Death geared for professionals?
We are all going to die, professional and lay alike. Yet many--and I feel pretty safe to say many--who work in healthcare, mental health or as clergy do not have an ongoing reflective and relational relationship around their own dying, In addition, while we are trained to work with psyche, we cannot evade the influence of cultural phobias. I've seen it with my own eyes. Some very good and dear professionals who work effectively with chronic or terminally ill patients could not even enter a funeral home. And I can safely say there are counselors and psychologists that shun the topic altogether.
What's the benefit of Conversing with Death?
If practiced, CD has a number of things to offer us. First, our relationship to death changes. When it does, we tend to take life less for granted. CD aligns itself with the universal search for happiness and meaning. Second, CD provides us with an awareness of death that helps us prioritize what is really important, which, in turn, influences our level of compassion for self and the world. Third, by working around our own existential angst we can carefully bring clients deeper into their own, which, I believe, has contributed to some of their reported problems.
Dying is an art, like everything else. I do it exceptionally well. I do it so it feels like hell. I do it so it feels real. I guess you can say I've a call. --Sylvia Path
What exactly is Conversing with Death?
Conversing with Death (CD) is a method of processing mental and emotional experiences that I observed many times over during my fifteen years of working in hospice as clergy. This method accesses the imagination, which, in turn, can lead to independent and pre-linguistic archetypal themes about death in the unconscious.
What does that processing consist of?
Two central themes come to mind. First, there is the epistemological framework. CD begins with the honest and certain prediction: We are going to die. The average 29,200 day lifespan in the U.S. is the starting point for creating a meaningful life (i.e. living compassionately, promoting self-care, etc). Second, I developed imaginary and simulated exercises that come somewhat near to the dying process as I observed it in hospice for fifteen years as chaplain. These exercises primarily awaken a personal but yet universal or collective felt-sense of mortality or, as I like to call it, last breath awareness.