Thursday, November 13, 2008

Letting Go, Letting in Light: Being with Dying - Joan Halifax Roshi Talks about Life and Her New Book

A great article/interview from Wild River Review. Joan Halifax Roshi has been one of my favorite writers for years. If you haven't already, read The Fruitful Darkness.

Letting Go, Letting in Light, Being with Dying

Joan Halifax Roshi Talks about Life and Her Groundbreaking Book

" Old age, sickness and death do not have to be equated with suffering; we can live and practice in such a way that dying is a natural rite of passage, a completion of our life, and even the ultimate liberation.”

Being with Dying, by Joan Halifax, Shambhala Publications, 2008

Joan Halifax Roshi by Gary Block

"My field is dying,” says Joan Halifax Roshi, with a smile. “How we die and how we live can't be separated because factors and policies surrounding death affect the well-being of us all.”

Halifax, Head Abbess and Founder of Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and director of the Project on Being with the Dying, should know. “You could say I've been on a death trip for the past thirty years,” she adds. “Although, I'm a specialist in death, I'm also an incredible generalist.”

One might wonder how Halifax became a generalist on “a death trip.” But her journey from anthropologist to Zen master and expert on working with the end stage of life has everything to do with her quest to understand what makes us human.

With a PhD in Medical Anthropology and forty years of fieldwork in countries as varied as Africa, Mexico, Tibet and Canada, Halifax breaks new ground in her book, Being with Dying showing how the universal stages of caregiving, dying, and death, are a celebration of life.

“We should remember that only ten percent of people die quickly and painlessly,” she says. “For the rest of us, whether we are on a conscious death trip or not, we will share this process with the people we love, and they will do this with us.”

WRR: Your new book, Being with Dying, draws on thirty years of work in end of life care. What did you learn about yourself in the process of writing it?

Joan Halifax: I learned once again that writing a book is a difficult and revealing practice. Every word is a process of truth telling. One has to live with these words in the future; so being careful and self-honest is essential. One thing I do feel is that I am more at ease around the truth of mortality than I had supposed. I think being older has contributed to that, but the book certainly helped because I had to think deeply about the process of dying during the years it took to write it.

WRR: When you were four years old, you contracted a virus, which left you blind until you were six. How did it change your view of the world?

Joan Halifax: I call it my own catastrophe - where according to John Kabat-Zinn catastrophe means everything we experience including thoughts, fantasies, material possessions, illness, health, anything to do with our bodies. For me it was blindness and paralysis. I was blind until age six and was not well socialized, so I became an introvert with a personality; a one-on-one, or a one-in-a-thousand being. Since I could not see and spent much time alone, I had to learn to see beyond seeing, with my imagination. And because I was so young, my blindness was a non-tragic, but interesting time in my life.

Read the whole interview.

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