Dying & Living
A five-day summit featuring dozens of presenters exploring the themes of death, mortality, grief, and loss.
This gathering is centered around the theme of Dying and Living. Our world is going through challenges, upheaval and confusion. Some see this moment as an evolutionary threshold. Death feels closer. False beliefs, obsolete structures, and ideas of separateness are falling away. This crisis has forced us to perceive life on a planetary scale. Perhaps we have entered a bardo-like collective state in which everything is shown to us more clearly as it is, which brings up tremendous pain and grief that we are called to meet.
“A new world will be born in blood and pain, just as we are.”
— Joanna Macy
Mystics of all traditions have pointed to death as one of the ultimate teachers. It is through the contemplation of, and the surrender to death that we come to fully embrace, not only life, but reality itself. On our spiritual journey, we may come to recognize that birth and death are more than two opposite poles; they are the very dance of our shared reality. Unperceivable to us in its absolute totality, reality takes the shapes of all that is experienced: the subject and the object, the thought and the thinker, the perceiver and the perceived, the personal and the impersonal. Death is the unveiling part of this dance: the sacred dissolution that returns all seemingly separate things to the totality. Each form revealing itself as emptiness, each personal expression revealing its impersonal intelligence, each cycle of life and death a blossoming of consciousness. Living a life in this recognition—that Samsara is Nirvana—is the longing at the heart of all mystical paths. Thus reclaiming the blessings of death—death as ally, death as wisdom, death as guru—is part of the work of our time.
“Death is our friend precisely because it brings us into absolute and passionate presence with all that is here, that is natural, that is love.”
— Reiner Maria Rilke
Scientists all agree that there is no definable boundary between life and death; we can’t tell exactly just when life begins, or when it ends. Moreover, the now is but an ever-renewing, bubbling, churning cycle of birth and death, decay and regeneration. Before you finish reading this paragraph, millions of cells in your body will have died and been replaced. From galaxies to atoms, everything constantly births, dies, and transforms. We are made of elemental stardust, and to stardust we return.
Modern society conditions us to believe in conquering every limit, down to the ultimate one—death. But for indigenous cultures all over the world, the law of life is the exact opposite. As Stephen Jenkinson says in Lost Nation Road: “it is the limit that gives us the opportunity to practice being human.”
In the West, death is a taboo carefully shrouded within plush mortuaries and well-groomed cemeteries. Our culture is obsessed with youth, with new beginnings, exciting development and expansions, new partners, new jobs, new homes… and has perfected its denial of the dying processes. We no longer know how to be with transitions and endings. We are deeply disconnected and fearful of those liminal spaces, in which the objects we have attached to—including our own bodies—begin to fail and in which old structures and belief systems crumble and no longer support us. Yet those transitions, in which the old has not fully died and the new has not yet emerged, are the very womb out of which every cycle of life arises.
The contemporary spirituality we are exploring at SAND embraces the absolute and the relative, celebrates beginnings and endings, acknowledges that we are here to love and to lose. There is no light without shadow, no life without death, no love without grief.
Some of what we will explore:
- What does the current crisis show us about dying and living?
- How do we live when the planet’s future is uncertain?
- What do the different spiritual traditions teach about living and dying?
- How to share the sacred work of grief and loss?
- How can we care for those who are dying?
- How can psychedelics prepare us for death?
- Which greater cosmological, planetary, evolutionary cycles are we part of?
- How are stars and galaxies born, how do they die?
- What does biology say about the cycles of life and death?
- What is the science on near death experiences?
- What does the investigation of “past lives” memories teach us?
Join our journey as we share knowledge, wisdom and experience, explore how to embrace loss, trust the wisdom of disintegration and welcome the unknown that awaits us at the next corner, in life as in death.