Interfaith conference to teach how to 'die well'

An interfaith conference in North Seattle will help people who are facing death to build a caring community - that includes their loved ones - to prepare for the journey.Leaders from diverse faiths - including Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, Islam and Native American spirituality - will gather at Nalanda West, 3902 Woodland Park Ave. N., this weekend, Saturday, March 8, and Sunday, March 9."It brings together people from different traditions and backgrounds and gives an opportunity for an exchange of ideas on preparing for the journey," said Lynn Conrad-Marvet, co-director of Nalanda West. A SUPPORTIVE COMMUNITYFear of death and dying goes beyond formal belief systems, as does the fear of our own reactions to it. The subject could easily lead to a three- or four-day discussion, and after the last conference, people asked for a focus on building a community around people facing death.Death transcends specific belief systems, according to Nalanda West Center's Carol Stamaty, who added, "We need to have a community supporting us - for the person who is dying and for the people around us." To die well, one must live well, according to Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, founder of Nalanda West, in the book "Mind Beyond Death": "Could it be that because we don't know how to live fully, or live well, we are afraid to die?"He adds that to transform our fear of death and overcome it, we must encounter death instead of denying it."What is important to me personally is that the community understands this wisdom," Conrad-Marvet said, drawing from her own experience comforting a person who passed away. "We can provide an atmosphere of relaxation, rather than panic. Letting go can help us face it and ease the transition."Stamaty said in the Tibetan Buddhist community, it is important to be together with people who have some sense of openness and are willing to participate in the process. A sacred ritual is very important, regardless of the tradition, "It is very important to me that my community gathers to honor my memory," Conrad-Marvet said. "We can reflect on our own impermanence and rejoice in our own being. Different people have different traditions, but birth and death are community events. One of the things the community is so afraid of about death is that we are going to 'catch it.'"Their experience confirms that the loving support of caring communities can do much to lessen the pain of critical illness and dying for all the people involved."The person I was attending told me, 'I know how I got in here, but how do I get out?' And he chuckled," Conrad-Marvet said. "Another point of having this conference is that I may not feel like another person having the experience. Everyone grieves in their own way, and in our culture, everyone expects things to move along on a time frame."GRIEVING AS A CULTUREThe Dying Well conference will offer members of the public the opportunity to engage with chaplains, hospice professionals and spiritual leaders. Participants include: * The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, spiritual director of Nalandabodhi*Ramona Ahto, outpatient counselor for United Indians of All Tribes Foundation* Rabbi Ted Falcon, co-founder of Bet Alef Meditative Synagogue*Brother Jamal Rahman, co-minister of Interfaith Community Church* Sister Betty Schumacher, pastoral associate at St. Jude's Parish*Moderator Andrew Holecek, founder of the Forum on Living and Dying.Each speaker will present the wisdom of his or her own tradition about death and dying, and the whole group will share contemplative exercises and "personal journeys" - real-life stories of compassion in action.Stamaty said the conference will explore what different cultures accept about grieving. The conference also will help survivors answer the question, "Now that the funeral is over, what do I do?""When we're grieving, we may make the people around us uncomfortable with our grief - and that grief, like death, might make us go somewhere we won't come back from," she said. "Having a community around you that understands that all things change can help grieving people wind up being comfortable."The Dying Well conference runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 8, and from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. on Sunday, March 9. On Saturday evening, there is a special interfaith celebration called Celebrating Life and Honoring Death: An Evening of Impermanent Performance, with music, performances and sacred clowning from 7 to 9 p.m.The cost to attend is $175 for both days; the rate for a single day is $100. A 10-percent discount on all prices is available to family caregivers, patients, students and seniors. To register, visit, or call (877) 263-4477.AN INTERNATIONAL NETWORKNalanda West was established in 2003 in Seattle as the headquarters for Nalandabodhi, an international network of study and meditation centers in North America, Mexico, Europe and Asia; and for Nitartha International, an educational center dedicated to non-sectarian studies of the science of mind. Related organizations include Nitartha Institute, an annual program for advanced Buddhist studies, and Bodhi Magazine, the leading quarterly journal providing insight into Vajrayana Buddhism. ( the Light columnist John Livingston is a resident of the Ravenna neighborhood. He can be reached at[[In-content Ad]]