On Buddhism and Dying

Prior to writing, Dying in the Land of Enchantment, I had often been quick to describe myself as a ‘godless westerner’. As an agnostic, I had never gravitated to any religion in particular. Not surprisingly, my time at Upaya’s Being with Dying retreat forced me to revisit my spiritual leanings, and a recent book signing in Detroit this past weekend. Now it’s important for me to point out that I actually don’t consider myself a Buddhist, even after my experience at the New Mexico Monastery. Rather, I feel strongly that certain tenets of Buddhism mesh well with my views on death and dying. Even so, many people are quick to assume that I am, indeed, a Buddhist. As such, I always approach meeting with religious organizations with a little bit of trepidation. I needn’t have worried about that at this last signing at Sacred Heart Catholic Church. There was a pretty good turnout, including two nuns, and honestly those gathered provided on the most stimulating discussions of any of the events I’ve yet attended on this book tour.

Roshi Joan Halifax

Perhaps part of what attracted me to Buddhism is that it doesn’t preclude you from subscribing to other religious beliefs. Indeed, many of the participants I met at the monastery in Sante Fe were, in fact, rooted in the Judeo-Christian culture, and still consider themselves to be part of that belief system (including Roshi Joan Halifax). And what I found particularly interesting in speaking to all these people from disparate religious backgrounds, was how prevalent the practice of storytelling is in each; the idea of allowing individuals to tell their own stories, whether it be at the end of one’s life or at any other point in their journey, seems to me a common thread in most religions. I was heartened to see this come up in our discussions, as embracing storytelling helps everyone, patients included, understand that their life has meaning and grants them the ability to make sense of it all.

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Travel and Care Abroad

I just returned from participating in the 7th World Research Congress of the European Association for Palliative Care. It was held in Trondheim, Norway and I had the chance to meet up with several long time friends and colleagues, as well as many international leaders in the field of Palliative Care including  Dr. Edouardo Bruera(MD Anderson) and Dr. Robin Fainsinger (Edmonton).

It was a very motivating experience, and it also helped me to appreciate how fortunate we are here in Canada to have the standards of palliative care that we do (even though our system has its faults). It’s wonderful that these events can be held so that we can learn new approaches and discuss how death is often hidden from contemporary social view and medicalized. Being able to speak with these colleagues reminds us all that those of us who are emotionally invested in our patients are going to find greater meaning in our work and job satisfaction.

( Of course I also speak a great deal about this in my book Dying in the Land of Enchantment– not to plug my book or anything- hint, hint)

In Trondheim, they are currently getting 22 hours of daylight, so getting there made jetlag a little bit trippy for me, but what a beautiful city. This is a photo of the houses on the water- beautiful. They say that Norwegian is the easiest language for a native English speaker to pick up, as it is a Germanic language with a lot of cognates, and a relatively simple verb conjugation structure. That may be, but I cannot say I picked up any of it other than the omnipresent greeting-‘Hei Hei!’  But then again I didn’t really need to learn anything else as everyone spoke near perfect English. So if you aren’t good with languages then Norway is the place to go!

Following the conference, I returned to Oslo for a week of vacation, this time staying in a neighbourhood that Expedia described as ‘trendy bohemian’ that was incredibly cool- before heading to Gothenburg, Sweden

This photo of me is at a café on Linnegatan, one of the city’s main arteries.

It was nice to have mild temperatures to sit out in. I think it was only up to 17 Celsius during the day which is very tolerable. Far better than the scorching weather Ontario was having! It is great to be back home, but I’m looking forward to another journey soon.