09/05/2012 11:37 am ET Updated Nov 05, 2012

Dying to Talk to You

"Could it be more ironic that young people are so highly educated in every topic except for the one -- death -- that holds the key to the entire meaning of life?" -- Sogyal Rinpoche

Most groups and organizations seem to be dying to talk to you about your wants; I want to suggest a group to you that is wanting to talk to you about dying! Not because they are morbid or have a product to sell you to avoid death; rather, they are sincerely, vibrantly alive, in part because they have begun to include the inevitability of death into their overall approach to life.

I heard Roshi Joan Halifax say that "death is a mirror in which our whole orientation to life is reflected." Is life existence? What is the meaning of life? What is meaningful in YOUR life? What is important to you? What are you doing about those elements of life that are important, that are meaningful?

Yes, death is scary. Absolutely. So much so that its become almost taboo in our culture to bring the subject of death up. And there is often suffering related to death. But there is also suffering related to life. We get sick, we get hurt, we get fired, we get broken up with, we get left behind by children who go forth, etc. Suffering is a truth that we are all familiar with.

But there is also a truth, the "good news," which far fewer of us have experienced, which is that there is an end to suffering. Not an escape, but an end. And it doesn't come at death; it comes when we face our suffering, face our fears, and address them head on, with support, and move through them.

So when was the last time "death" came up in a conversation you were having? We read about it in the news, especially on days of tragedy. We see an awful lot of it on TV and at the movies too, but when do you seriously (or not so seriously) talk about death with anyone? Often the answer is "never," until death actually strikes down or is looming over someone very dear to you (which might include yourself). And in those moments of extreme emotion its very hard to speak and think rationally and comfortingly about anything.

There is a small and growing counter-trend of people who are smiling and feasting in the face of this by attending "Death and Dying Dinner Parties." I am personally connected with one D&DDinner group based in Santa Monica, Calif. (You can find them on Facebook.)

Once a month they hold a very elegant potluck dinner with fine china and volunteers to help serve and clean. Most who come together do not know each other at the start of the evening but are strongly bonded by the end. The event is hosted by a beautiful soul named Laurel, who brings an open heart, a patient ear, and the skills to facilitate a lively discussion.

Everyone enjoys the food and the conversation, which can be quite wide-ranging -- sometimes somber but often humorous -- as long as it stays within the general field of death: your thoughts, questions and fears about it, your experience with it, the differences between animal/pet deaths and those of humans, art and philosophy that help us cope with it, perspectives on what lies beyond death, personal tales or questions about communicating with those who have died, how prepared you are for it financially, emotionally, physically, aspects of society that support or inhibit "dying well," if that is even possible, and much much more.

I strongly encourage you to check this particular group out or use Google and find something similar in your area. Maybe you have had some reaction to a death and want a safe and supportive environment to talk about it. Or maybe you get a sense that there is some wisdom in exploring this inevitability that brings up fear.

Because death is scary, but moving through that fear is liberating. It brings deeper meaning into your life, leads you to prepare for your death in a way that will minimize suffering for those around you, and it helps you to focus on your priorities now so that you can live the time you have left from your deepest source into your highest potential.

And you don't have to face it alone. There are friends and companions waiting to be made who want to explore this territory with you. All you have to do to start is to make a dinner date with them.

See you around the table.


-- db

For more by Doug Binzak, click here.

For more on death and dying, click here.