What does grateful living have to do with death and dying? They are two sides of the same coin, one inextricably informing the other. Awareness of our mortality can heighten our ability to live into the exquisite preciousness of life, and living each moment as the gift that it is, informs our experience of the approach of life's end with the challenges, heartache and profound opportunities that lie therein. The following is a list of books that we have found illuminating, inspiring or provocative. It is a list in progress so please feel free to share your recommendations.
When Breath Becomes Air (2016)
by Paul Kalanithi
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. And just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a neurosurgeon at Stanford working in the brain, the most critical place for human identity, and finally into a patient and new father confronting his own mortality.
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The Divine Art of Dying: How to Live Well While Dying (2014)
The Divine Art of Dying explores the unique moment when seriously ill people choose to turn toward death. Combining personal stories with solid research on palliative and hospice care, it provides a well-integrated look at the spiritual dimensions of living fully when death is near. Filled with insights from the world’s great wisdom traditions along with references from literature, movies, and current culture, it helps identify the life decisions the dying one and his or her loved ones must make, and what their caregivers can expect.
Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End (2014)
by Atul Gawande
Full of eye-opening research and riveting storytelling, Being Mortal asserts that medicine can comfort and enhance our experience even to the end, providing not only a good life but also a good end.
Being with Dying (2008)
by Roshi Joan Halifax
Through inspiring and practical teachings, Buddhist teacher Joan Halifax provides a source of wisdom for all those who are charged with a dying person’s care, facing their own death, or wishing to explore and contemplate the transformative power of the dying process.
Breaking the Drought (2007)
by Stephen Levine
Here are poems of the heart that speak directly to our spirit today. Anyone who reads them will be quickened and touched. Both timely and timeless, these visions of grace are like nectar to the soul.
Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals (2004)
by Thomas Moore
When it comes to spiritual growth, we humans are solar-seeking beings; eager for the bright lights of clarity and the bliss of illumination. Paradoxically, we all need to walk through the shadow of the dark night in order to discover a life worth living.
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times (2000)
by Pema Chödrön
The beautiful practicality of her teaching has made Pema Chödrön one of the most beloved of contemporary American spiritual authors among Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike. A collection of talks she gave between 1987 and 1994, the book is a treasury of wisdom for going on living when we are overcome by pain and difficulties.
The Grace in Dying : How We Are Transformed Spiritually as We Die (2000)
by Kathleen Dowling Singh
Right from the start Kathleen Dowling Singh proclaims: “Dying is safe. You are safe. Your loved one is safe. That is the message of all the words here.” True to her promise, Dowling Singh walks us through the final stages of death with complete honesty, yet she manages to quell the ultimate fear of dying. Speaking of the “Nearing Death Experience,” Singh has discovered a sequence of phases or qualities that signals when a dying person is entering the final stages of spiritual and psychological transformation. She names them as relaxation, withdrawal, radiance, interiority (a time of going inward), silence, sacred, transcendence, knowing, intensity, and perfection–all of which she explains in great detail. A hospice worker and worldwide lecturer, Dowling Singh is being touted as the next Kubler-Ross. Time will tell. One thing is for certain: this is an astonishingly intelligent and engrossing book about consciously surrendering our bodies and our egos to death.
Who Dies?: An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying (1989)
by Stephen Levine
This is the first book to show the reader how to open to the immensity of living with death, to participate fully in life as the perfect preparation for whatever may come next. Levine provides calm compassion rather than the frightening melodrama of death.
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