Esalen Institute recently announced its second online course, What’s Death Got to Do with It? Embracing Aging, Dying and Death as a Path to Living. The six-week course ($450 for those who book by April 17, $580 after April 17) runs May 17 to June 25 and includes two hours a week of live, online instruction plus a one-hour weekly Q&A session. The course is available as a stand-alone or as a prerequisite to a Death Doula Certification from Esalen Healing Arts.
In 2019, The Global Wellness Summit named Dying Well, defined as the “death positive movement,” one of its top wellness trends for the year. In a practical application of the idea, Esalen and its instructor for this course, Reverend Bodhi Be, a collaborator of the late American spiritual leader, psychologist, and author Ram Dass, will guide students in finding ways to apply the truth that death is natural and the inevitability of all humans, thus enhancing appreciation for their own lives, the lives of their loved ones, as well as members of their community.
At a time when the world is reeling from the first global pandemic in more than 100 years and the loss of more than 500,000 lives in the U.S. alone, the topic could not be more relevant. While the Death Doula Certification is ideal for hospice workers, grief counselors, nurses, in-home caregivers, and more, the initial course in the online series from Esalen is appropriate for anyone who thinks they can benefit from exploring the topic more fully.
“COVID has reminded us to make peace with our lives and to take care of unfinished business in relationships,” says Be. “It is the kind of subject that Esalen has taken on clear-eyed and honestly through the decades and rightly takes the lead in discussing today.”
Key takeaways from the course include:
- A deeper connection to what is most important
- Gaining a better relationship with aging
- More self-acceptance.
- The end to procrastination
- How to live with a broken heart
- Deepening your relationship with yourself and others
Reverend Be will bring his experience as a minister, hospice worker, funeral director, green burial expert, and coffin maker to lead the discussion and inspire a change of perspective—and perhaps even livelihood— for students.
Even though global statistics show that before COVID, fewer than 100 people died around the world every minute, according to the Global Wellness Institute, in recent decades, death, particularly in developed nations, has become intensely sterilized, hidden, lonely, and scary. Until the early 20th century, people died at home surrounded by loved ones. Western medicine has since made it a coldly clinical affair in a hospital or nursing home. The funeral industry took over the management of our dead, keeping it all at arm’s length from loved ones, while our avoidance and aversion to the dead and dying only grew. With a decline in formal religion, communal healing rituals got lost, as well.
As the founder of the Doorway into Light nonprofit on Maui, Be feels it is his mission to continue Ram Dass’s work of the conscious and continuous, which was integral when the duo created Doorway into Light loving and compassionate care of dying people. He believes the recent Death Positive Movement was started by Baby Boomers, who he explains “have changed everything they touched.” Now that their parents and some of their friends are dying, they’re rethinking the process altogether.
“In restoring aging, dying, grieving, and death back to their rightful places in the community and conversations, we become a more balanced, healthy and vibrant community,” says Reverend Be. “We reclaim the work of caring for the dying as community building and sacred work.”
Students in Esalen’s new course will dive deep into the following ideas:
- Grief as the “sister of love.” Removing ourselves from death (touching or saying goodbye to loved ones) bypasses the natural process of grieving.
- Mourning is grieving out loud among your people. Reaching out to your community when going through the death of a loved one and letting them see the authentic you is a supportive and empowering act.
- Death needs better P.R.
- While so many people spend the last few months of their lives searching for a miracle cure or denying what’s happening, time could be better spent saying goodbye to the people they care about.
- It is amid an increasingly death-denying society that elders, the natural wisdom keepers of a community, are turned into the “elderly” and often pushed aside for conversations driven by a youth worshipping and anti-aging culture.