There are some commonalities sewn into the foundation of the human experience:

we are all subject to changes we’d rather not be subject to; we all have the capacity to love and to hate; we all suffer and we all desire freedom from suffering; we are all born and we will all die, and furthermore, so will everyone we know and care for.

But such universal commonalities do not denote a universal capacity to experience or to understand, and our dying is a ripe example of this.

Here in the modern Western world dying is seen as a pathological affliction, an enemy, seen as a thief come to steal our loved ones and our loved life away from us, off to oblivion. We hide from death in our everyday lives, if we can. We don’t talk about it, we don’t think about it—or if we do we medicate those thoughts away—we don’t live each day as though we understand the reality that there is no guarantee that this morning isn’t the last morning we will awake to, or the last morning someone we love will awake to.

Yet despite our best efforts to go on as if death were only a thing in the future, something never now and something that can wait to be seen and held, eventually death finally burst through the door and then becomes right now and then what? Are our dying days the right time to start figuring out what our dying means? And what could it mean in a culture where it is the enemy of life and not the other side of our birth, as important and impactful as birth to those around us? And if it isn’t our dying we are faced with, then how, why, what, where, who do we look to in order to understand how to show up to the dying of someone we love?

Where are we with our dying as a culture? Why don’t we have wisdom for these questions? Why do we have evasion, antagonism, loss, and trauma as the primary language around dying in our culture? What, if any, are our options for something different and how do we call it into our living and our dying every day?

Today’s guest is a man with a propensity to contemplate these questions and a long history of being on the front lines of what he calls “the death trade”.

Welcome, Stephen Jenkinson to Adventures Through The Mind.

Stephen teaches internationally and is the creator and principal instructor of the Orphan Wisdom School, founded in 2010. He holds a Master’s degrees from Harvard University (Theology) and the University of Toronto (Social Work). Stephen is also the author of numerous books including Die Wise: A Manifesto For Sanity And Soul, and the subject of the feature-length documentary film, Griefwalker.

He joins us today, here on Adventures Through The Mind, to offer some breadcrumbs of wisdom about dying and the impact modern culture has had on our capacity to die well.

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Episode Breakdown

  • A society gone wrong.
  • A case for wisdom.
  • What it means to die well.
  • Designer dying, euthanasia, and choosing not to die at all.
  • What your dying means beyond you.
  • Our greatest fears around dying.
  • Looking back to move forward.
  • Grief is not to be mastered.
  • The nature of mystery, and things mysterious, and the end of good luck.
  • Choosing to die hope-free.

Relevant Links

The Orphan Wisdom School

The Orphan Wisdom School is for anyone with a desire to be useful to those who will inherit an endangered and often dangerous world. It is for those who have an instinct and a desire to be an ancestor worthy of being claimed. It is for those wishing to learn something of the skills of grace in a graceless time, of mentorship and fierce and exemplary compassion. It is for elders in training. (Stephen Is The Primary Instructor)

Die Wise: A Manifesto For Sanity And Soul (book)
Griefwalker (documentary)
Nights of Grief & Mystery (music/storytelling/audio)

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