In the Media

Tessa Bielecki • Ira Byock • Joan Halifax Roshi
Netanel Miles-Yepez • Marilyn Schlitz

Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi • Mirabai Starr

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Tessa Bielecki Photo


Tessa Bielecki was (until 2005) cofounder and Mother Abbess of the Spiritual Life Institute, a Carmelite community with retreat centers in Colorado and Ireland. She studied languages for a career in international relations at Trinity College in Washington, D.C., before entering a monastery in 1967. Tessa is actively involved in Buddhist-Christian dialogues and international initiatives exploring world peace and planetary survival. She is the author of Teresa of Avila: Ecstasy and Common Sense; Holy Daring: An Outrageous Gift to Modern Spirituality from Saint Teresa, the Grand Wild Woman of Ávila; and Teresa of Ávila: Mystical Writings, and she recently recorded Wild at Heart for Sounds True and Teresa of Avila: The Book of My Life for Shambhala. She now lives alone in a log cabin in Crestone, Colorado, and is the cofounder of The Desert Foundation, a circle of friends who explore the wisdom of the world’s deserts, with a special emphasis on reconciliation between the three Abrahamic traditions that grow out of the desert, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

Dr. Ira Byock Photo


Dr. Ira Byock became involved in hospice and palliative care in 1978, during his family practice residency. At that time he helped found a hospice home care program for the indigent population served by the university hospital and county clinics of Fresno, California. Ira is a past president (1997) of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine. He was a founder and principal investigator for the Missoula Demonstration Project, a community-based organization in Montana dedicated to the research and transformation of end-of-life experience locally, as a demonstration of what is possible nationally. From 1996 to 2006, he served as director of Promoting Excellence in End-of-Life Care, a national program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Ira is currently director of Palliative Medicine at Dartmouth-HitchcockMedical Center in Lebanon, New Hampshire. He is a professor at Dartmouth Medical School in the departments of Anesthesiology and Community & Family Medicine.

Ira’s first book, Dying Well (1997), has become a standard in the field. His most recent book, The Four Things That Matter Most (Free Press, 2004), is a tool for helping people mend, tend, and nurture their most important relationships. Ira has long been a public advocate for the rights of dying people and their families. He has authored numerous journal articles on the ethics and practice of hospice, palliative, and end-of-life care. Many of these are available at the DyingWell.org website. His essays have appeared in the Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.

Joan Halifax photo


Joan Halifax Roshi is the head teacher and founder of Upaya Zen Center, a Zen Buddhist center in Santa Fe, New Mexico. A Ph.D., anthropologist, Buddhist teacher, and writer, Halifax has worked with dying people since 1970. She has been on the faculties of Columbia University, the University of Miami School of Medicine, the New School for Social Research, the Naropa Institute, and the California Institute for Integral Studies. Her books include The Human Encounter with Death (with Stanislav Grof); Shamanic Voices; Shaman: The Wounded Healer; The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom; and Being with Dying: Cultivating Compassion and Fearlessness in the Presence of Death. She founded The Ojai Foundation (an educational center), in 1979, and Upaya Zen Center (a Buddhist study center) in 1990. In 1994, she created the Project on Being with Dying as a way to train health-care professionals in contemplative care of the dying. Visit www.upaya.org

Netanel Miles_Yepez photo


Netanel Miles-Yepez was born in Battle Creek, Michigan, in 1972, and is descended from a Sefardi family of crypto-Jews (anusim, “forced” converts) tracing their ancestry from Mexico all the way back to medieval Portugal and Spain. He studied History of Religions at Michigan State University and contemplative religion at Naropa University, specializing in nondual philosophies and comparative religion. Unsatisfied with academics alone, Netanel moved to Boulder, Colorado, to become reacquainted with his family’s lost tradition of Judaism and to study Hasidism and Sufism under Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s personal guidance. Today, he is a murshid (“guide”) and cofounder of the Desert Fellowship of the Message: The Inayati-Maimuni Tariqat of Sufi-Hasidim with Reb Zalman, fusing the Sufi and Hasidic principles of spirituality espoused by Rabbi Avraham Maimuni in thirteenth-century Egypt with the teachings of the Ba’al Shem Tov and Hazrat Inayat Khan. Netanel is currently the executive director of the Reb Zalman Legacy Project, executive editor of Spectrum: A Journal of Renewal Spirituality, an advisor and editor for the Spiritual Paths Foundation and the Spiritual Paths Institute, and the author and editor of Wrapped in a Holy Flame: Teachings and Tales of the Hasidic Masters (Jossey-Bass, 2003); The Common Heart: An Experience of Interreligious Dialogue (Lantern Books, 2006); and A Heart Afire: Stories and Teachings of the Early Hasidic Masters (Jewish Publication Society, 2009). He lives with his wife, Jennifer, in Boulder, Colorado.

Marilyn Schlitz photo


Marilyn Schlitz, Ph.D., is president of the Institute of Noetic Sciences and senior scientist at the Geraldine Brush Cancer Research Institute at the California Pacific Medical Center. Trained in medical anthropology and psi research, Marilyn has published numerous articles on cross-cultural healing, consciousness studies, distant healing, and the discourse of controversial science. Marilyn has conducted research at Stanford University, Science Applications International Corporation, the Institute for Parapsychology, and the Mind Science Foundation; she has taught at Trinity, Stanford, and Harvard universities, and has lectured widely, including talks at the United Nations and the Smithsonian Institution. She serves on the Editorial Board of Alternative Therapies, is the leader of Esalen’s Center for Theory and Research Working Group on Distant Healing Intentionality, and is on the Scientific Program Committee for the Consciousness Center at the University of Arizona, Tucson. Visit www.noetic.org

Mirabai Starr photo


Mirabai Starr is an adjunct professor of philosophy and religious studies at the University of New Mexico and a certified grief counselor. She has studied a wide variety of religious traditions, including Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Sufism, and Christianity, and is a critically acclaimed translator of the Spanish mystics, St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila. Her translations include The Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross, and Interior Castle and The Book of My Life by St. Teresa of Avila. She is also the editor of a series of devotional books from Sounds True: St. Teresa of Avila, Saint Francis of Assisi, Saint Michael the Archangel, Saint John of the Cross, Our Lady of Guadalupe, and Hildegard of Bingen. Visit www.mirabaistarr.com

Reb Zalman photo


Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, better known as Reb Zalman, was born in Zholkiew, Poland, in 1924. Raised largely in Vienna, his family fled the Nazi oppression in 1938 and finally landed in New York City in 1941, settling in Brooklyn, where he enrolled in the yeshiva of the Lubavitcher Hasidim. He was ordained by Lubavitch in 1947. He received his master of arts degree in the Psychology of Religion in 1956 from Boston University and a Doctor of Hebrew Letters degree from Hebrew Union College in 1968. He taught at the University of Manitoba, Canada, from 1956 to 1975 and was professor of Jewish Mysticism and Psychology of Religion at Temple University until his early retirement in 1987, when he was named professor emeritus. In 1995, he accepted the World Wisdom Chair at Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado, and officially retired from that post in 2004.

Throughout his long career, Reb Zalman has been an unending resource for the world religious community. He is the father of the Jewish Renewal and Spiritual Eldering movements, an active teacher of Hasidism and Jewish mysticism, and a participant in ecumenical dialogues throughout the world, including the widely influential dialogue with the Dalai Lama, documented in the book, The Jew in the Lotus. One of the world’s foremost authorities on Jewish mysticism, he is the author of Jewish with Feeling: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Practice (Riverhead Books, 2005) and A Heart Afire: Stories and Teachings of the Early Hasidic Masters (Jewish Publication Society, 2009). Reb Zalman currently lives in Boulder, Colorado, and continues to be active in mentoring his many students the world over. For more information, visit www.rzlp.org.

Why it matters to have new conversations about “dying well”...

Tessa Bielecki (p 120-121): I think there is a big difference between relieving suffering and escaping from suffering… It is our task to relieve it wherever we see it. Sometimes we can, and sometimes we can’t; suffering is a profound mystery that we cannot measure; we cannot figure out. We are not in control of it. It is another kind of dying not to be able to help someone relieve their suffering.

Dr. Ira Byock (p 54): Talking about the full dimensions of hospice and palliative care, human caring through the end of life, represents a shift that needs to occur in our society and culture’s approach to the end of life. It is a shift from seeing dying solely as a time of misery and suffering, a shift toward understanding that dying is a part of full and even healthy living, and a time of remarkable opportunity.

Dr. Ira Byock (p 128): We can’t change the fact that we are prone to illness, injuries, terrible suffering, and death. But we can try to leave nothing left unsaid or undone in any given day. This makes joy possible in the face of loss and impending death.
(see Forgiveness exercises).

Joan Halifax Roshi: (p133): One Zen teacher joked, “Enlightenment is an accident, and practice makes you accident prone.” It kind of hedges your bet. As with the Tibetan yogis, there are many stories of Zen masters who went into the yoga asana (meditation posture) and just left the body, while leaving a death poem to their students. I feel quite open to this possibility. Of course, from the Buddhist perspective, death is the greatest opportunity for liberation; there is no other moment in our lives that has more potential for experiencing complete freedom than the moment of our death. Since I have witnessed on several occasions this miracle in others, as a support to a dying person, I want to live accordingly.

Dr. Marilyn Schlitz (p 126): I think if we can begin to “story” together around this issue, it is going to make a difference. For we provide some predictability in our lives through story. I think if we can own the value of this conversation in our “storying” together and begin to see the transformational capacities in storying collectively, we could shift the whole future of medicine, not only in America, but throughout the world.

Dr. Marilyn Schlitz (p 129): As I have been listening and thinking about the end of life during this dialogue—and having been with a number of people as they were dying—I have realized it isn’t always “the death” as much as “the leaving behind” that is so difficult. And so this idea of preparing yourself and others is important.

I have a young son, and it scares me to think of leaving him alone—it scares me to the very core of my being. And yet, there are things I can do—again, working with this idea of control and predictability—to help prepare for that possibility. And I need to do it now; after all, I’m not ill, I’m in good form and have good cognitive ability, so I need to prepare the path so that at least on the material level, he is taken care of.

Mirabai Starr (p 240): Grievers are recreating themselves from the inside out. They need their clergy to bear witness to this sacred process, rather than to direct it according to their own unconscious fears and dogma. The spiritual leader may know from experience that the griever is going through a significant spiritual passage and that she will grow as a result, but he needs to keep this image in his own heart as he holds a safe and quiet place for the griever’s own journey to unfold.

Reb Zelman (p 9): Coming to terms with one’s mortality is important work, especially for elders today; if we, as elders, don’t come to terms with our mortality, we aren’t going to do the eldering work that is necessary for the health of the planet. We’ll just “get old,” wasting years in a protracted dying, “killing time” while we could be living and giving what we know back to the planet. (See Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s A Voice for the Planet in “Exercises for Facing Our Mortality” on page 168.)


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