In the Face of Death Conference

at Merigar West with the non-profit association Tutto è Vita (Everything is Life) on April 8, 2017

Being a Dzogchen practitioner means also and above all integrating teaching in everyday life. For this reason at Merigar we are proposing meetings or seminars on topics only apparently not closely related to the teaching, in order to compare our experiences with those of other groups or schools and make them an experience of growth. In April we organized a seminar on how to face death.

The day had some lectures and moments directly experienced by the participants, some fifty people who were interested for professional reasons (doctors, nurses) or even simply for personal reasons to acquire some tools in this special assistance through terminal illness and death.

death conference

The events of the day were led by a person with a long experience in assisting the dying: the monk Guidalberto Bormolini has been working with this topic for many decades and has made it a structured teaching course of study, at both the Universities of Bologna and Padua. Due to his great experience and expertise, he is often requested by the health service or public places like hospices, to train people who assist the dying.

Three young women, experienced in the field of thanatology, who have been working with Bormolini for a long time for the association Tutto è Vita as counselors or psychologists, contributed to the program of the day.

death conference Bormolini’s words were striking as he recounted how the perception and culture of dying, which has been alive for millennia, has greatly changed in the last 30 years in Europe and 50 in the United States. Nowadays, dying is denied and hidden as something negative. The dead are not shown to children, they are not part of our lives as they have been for centuries and in all cultures, east and west.

There are no more rituals, dying is a taboo, and even the language of those accompanying death can no longer be insightful. Bormolini reminds us that the language of nature and its rhythm, from which we have turned away in meaning and symbol, is very related to the language of dying – the sun that dies every day and is then reborn, the plants that disappear in winter, seeming to be dead and then are reborn in the spring. They are no longer images and symbols that are meaningful for us and for those who assist us to help face the moment of our death.

In just a few years, a notion, a language, a culture that made it natural and therefore easier to die, was swept away.

This profound and drastic denial has its effects on the social level: teenagers do not know death and therefore without this awareness they play with high-risk games, suicide, or homicidal aberrations with extreme attitudes. Or they create psycho-physical pathologies that arise from the negation of death.

We no longer have familiarity with death, a familiarity that, Bormolini says, does not create depression, but gives immense life energy.

This was the premise, is the premise for those who want to assist the dying.

We must rediscover the sacredness of the time before death, instead of making the useless discourses of denial and false reassurances that everyone makes, firstly the physicians, then relatives and other health professionals. While the spiritual path, which does not mean confessional, but means precisely to make sacred and aware, can lead to acceptance, it sometimes also acts as relief to symptoms, like a real painkiller. It also helps the dying to be truly dead in the Latin meaning of the word: one who has done all he has to do, who has accomplished his mission, and thus gives meaning to his death.

The tools that were proposed during the experiential part of the day were essentially of two types: various forms of meditation, a fundamental tool for Bormolini and his Florentine Community and used here to relax, to get in touch with one’s condition, and to prepare to meet the other, as a tool of personal evolution.

And then various exercises with other people in the group of participants to help us know each other, to understand how we can or cannot assist or be assisted, to learn how to use silence, how our listening ability is, our capacity for understanding, because, as Bormolini says, in communication the invisible prevails over the visible and thus we must nourish the invisible both of us and of those we want to help.

Among the instruments used there was also yoga and especially breathing, the first expression of our entry into the world and also the last. We know how in the Dzogchen community we have always used consciousness and presence as tools of evolution, and yantra yoga with its deep breathing techniques as a powerful practice. Thus we have valuable tools in our hands to use on the path to assisting the dying, making possible the tools for a resurgence of naturalness and simplicity that our world needs today when we approach death.

Pia Barilli