Stephen Jenkison & the Wise Death Movement


MARANASATI IS A BUDDHIST TERM suggesting the need for an intentional practice of constant mindfulness of death.  It is similar to the Latin term “momento mori” which describes the Renaissance custom of including a symbolic reminder of Death within painting & poetry.

What can be said about Death?  It is at once painfully obvious and completely unknown. 

Heidegger told us that human authenticity requires us to establish a relationship with death that exceeds our superficial social identity.  However, he added that death is something more than just the demise of an organism.  We have seen bodies stop functioning.  What we have not yet seen, in his words, is our own possibility-of-the-end-of-possibilities

The activist, farmer & theologian Stephen Jenkinson has spent years advocating for a regenerative death-wisdom in Western/Global culture.  His work is detailed in the documentary Griefwalker from Canada's National Film Board, in Jenkinson's own Orphan Wisdom project & it is explored in Dying Well in a Death-Phobic Culture for London Real.

The notion of a “death-phobic" culture has to be handled with nuance.  It speaks to a truth but it does not invalidate the lived significance of transcendental intuition. 

For example, there are experiences, insights & states-of-being whose phenomenology is perhaps aptly described as immortal.  As Salvador Dali said to Mike Wallace on 60 Minutes in 1958, “I believe in death in general, but the death of Dali -- absolutely not."

There is a certain kind of ecstasy and madness and peak feeling of trans-mortality that accompanies great art, great mysticism and the sheer exuberance of a well-lived life.

Okay.  But on the other hand, we are obviously encultured to be squeamish, emotionally cowardly, about death. 

Our social habit is to marginalise discussions about mortality.  We cringe at allowing children's minds to encounter the concept of death and we have set up a system of law & commerce whereby professionals quickly whisk our corpses away from our families.  And then it is back to work for the ideal of endless progressive forward movement!   

According to Stephen Jenkinson, in his book Die Wise, this is a tragic failure to participate in the natural conversion of mortality into cultural wisdom. 

If we are not curious about our death, not interested in its many details and rich flavors, not willing to explore it with intelligence and heart -- and in view of others -- then we deprive the next generation of the data needed for a sane society.  Unless we share our death wisely, we contribute to a cycle of disengagement with reality.

Some major countries today (guess who?) do not even have the legal right to die -- let alone any contemporary wisdom for what Dr. Timothy Leary called design for dying

It seems like we are constantly bypassing the experience of finitude, terminality and morality.  In his book This Life, the philosopher Martin Hagglund explores the nihilism hidden in the notion of the infinite.  He does a fabulous (although occasionally plodding and all-too-Scandinavian) exploration of the ways in which we must take finite duration seriously as the source of value and well-being.

That seems important.

As one great historical phases of human civilization comes to an end, we need to cultivate a renewed respect for endings

A regenerative attitude, which we all know is necessary, requires a good conscience about breakdown, ending & decomposition.  In one sense, Death stands for the ethical-emotional requirement to become fertilizer and rejoin the biosphere. 

Unless, says Jenkinson, you let death break your heart, then the only other solution for our heartache is to live with less heart.  And that, he says, is what our civilization has been doing...


Check out Jenkinson's moody soft rock in the Dead Starling Session.

And if you're feeling bold, the infamous American nondualist (cult leader?) Adi Da Samraj wrote an intriguing volume, initially highly-praised by death scholar Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, called Easy Death.
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