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First Person: Jonathan Foust on Bringing Death Closer (Video Interview)

Jonathan, a teacher of "pragmatic Buddhism," argues for being open to those who are dying and our own mortality.

Photo of Jim Rosenberg
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Jonathan Foust is a guiding teacher with the Insight Meditation Community of Washington and a founder of the Meditation Teacher Training Institute. He is a full-time teacher of "pragmatic dharma," looking at how we take the teachings that come from Buddhist philosophy and Buddhist psychology and apply them in our lives. 

I started my conversation with Jonathan thinking we would talk a lot about Buddhist perspectives on life and death, but we ended up talking mostly about the very human, universal experience of dying. In this Challenge we have had a lot of conversation about how in our society we hold death at a distance. Jonathan shared his experience, anchored in his Buddhist practice, of what this distance costs us and what we gain when we allow ourselves to be present with death.

“I remember with my father not knowing how to support him. For a lot of us we’re projecting ourselves all over the person who is dying. So many people who are dying feel so unseen and unheard.”


“As the Buddha said, your house is already on fire. When I can remember and process that, gratitude, joy, creativity are a natural part of that expression, there is such an incredible sense of celebrating what we have.”


"When I have been present with those who have passed, it’s not that there isn’t grief, but it just feels complete because I was there. It's an extraordinary gift."


What is a provocation or insight that might inspire others during this challenge?

Are there philosophies and spiritual systems that can help point us to a new relationship with the end of life? Is part of our challenge to surface and embrace answers that are already out there but have been pushed aside?

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Photo of Chiara Pineschi

My doctor told me this week I might have bone cancer. Luckily, yesterday's analysis had positive results for me and it turned out to be nothing serious. But I am so incredibly grateful this morning, and Foust words resonate with me in an incredible way: “When I can remember and process that, gratitude, joy, creativity are a natural part of that expression, there is such an incredible sense of celebrating what we have.” Really there is the need of reminding ourselves everyday that we need to die. We will die. Just in remembering that we'll be able to live a grateful and happy life. In these days of insecurity I reconsidered much of my young life asking myself: if I die in some months, what is truly important for me? I think everyboby should bring this perspective in their life, keeping death "on the shoulder". Thanks for sharing.

Photo of Jim Rosenberg

Thank you so much for sharing your story too. I know what it is like to hear that type of diagnosis -- I'm so, so glad to hear it turned out not to be right! 

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