Cal Calavera (aka Lynne Conrad Marvet, sacred clown and Co-Director of Nalanda West) gets the message about mortality.

"Dying Well, Sacred Rituals
and Caring Communities" at Nalanda West

On the weekend of March 8 – 9, Seattle's Nalanda West held a conference on the ever-present subjects of death and dying. Speakers and panelists from five religious traditions shared their wisdom on the central theme of "Dying Well." The conference focused on giving individuals and caregivers a deeper understanding of the death and dying process as experienced by people of diverse ethnic and spiritual traditions.

During the two-day event, presenters offered diverse perspectives, gave demonstrations, and led exercises illustrating how ritual and community can ease the challenges faced during illness and at the end of life. Presentations by highly motivated professionals were lively and offered in good humor, engaging participants actively in the otherwise somber subjects of death and dying. Though the program was specifically tailored to health and spiritual care providers, a large portion of the audience consisted of others who shared a heartfelt interest in the presented topics.

Volunteers distribute emergency cash vouchers

"Singing my relatives home," performed in Lakota by Jaime Rosario, a Native American of Boricua Jibaro Taino heritage.

The program included two panel discussions that engaged the audience in dialogues addressing the fear and grief that accompany the death and dying process. The Dzogchen Ponlop Rinpoche, Jamal Rahman, Rabbi Ted Falcon, Ramona Ahto, and Sister Betty Schumacher represented the Buddhist, Sufi Muslim, Jewish, Native American, and Christian perspectives, respectively, on the "Interfaith" panel.

As part of the "Personal Journeys" panel discussion, chaplains, hospice workers, community leaders, and a palliative care physician told stories from their professional experience. Audience members also shared their experiences and were offered methods to help themselves and others cope with the reality of death.

One of the inspirational highlights of the conference was Saturday evening's interfaith celebration of sacred music and performance, "Celebrating Life, Honoring Death: An Evening of Impermanent Entertainment." Performers from several traditions and spiritual backgrounds reminded everyone of the common bonds that console, inspire and unite us all in the web of life. Native drumming, story-telling, sacred clowning and Celtic piping led up to a grand finale by the rollicking Total Experience gospel choir that inspired everyone to join in a heart-filled rendition of "Amazing Grace."

This second of Nalanda's conferences on "Dying Well" was highly inspirational and incredibly informative. Those professional caregivers who attended said that they were not only encouraged, but completely re-energized by the presentations and activities. Others in attendance noted how such programs can help people transform their fear of death into acceptance and deepen their practice of compassion. ⊕

For more information about Nalanda West programs, please visit

Contributor: Koro Kaisan Miles
Photos: Sentientseven