This SHINE podcast episode is on how by facing and preparing for death, we are able to live more meaningful and purposeful lives. We all are born and we all will die. In this interview, we speak about how to talk about death as a way to foster deeper connection, healing, and growth at work, in our communities, and at home. We address the importance of bringing awareness and meditation practices to grieve effectively. Lastly, we talk about how bringing generations together over dinner can support us to solve some of the larger problems at work and in the world. This inspiring episode will support you to live a more meaningful life with less regrets.
Death over Dinner
What happens when death is what is for dinner? Ted Talk
Reef Grief Article & coping resources
Is this how you feel? Website formed to name and witness grief in community
Book of Regrets
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Well Being Resources:
Hi, welcome to the shine podcast. My name is Carley Hauck. I’m your host, this is the fifth season of the shine podcast. I started the shine podcast as a way of doing research for my book on conscious leadership in business. And you will find interviews with scientists, researchers and business leaders on the intersection of conscious inclusive leadership, the recipe for high performing teams and awareness practices. My book debuted in 2021 Shine ignite your inner game of conscious leadership and was voted one of the best books to read in 2022. By mindful magazine, I facilitate two episodes a month of the shine podcast. And before I tell you about the topic for today, please go over to Apple podcasts or your favorite podcast carrier and hit the subscribe button so you don’t miss any future episodes.
The focus of this season is on the essentials for wellbeing. And that encompasses the intersection of our personal well being the collective well being of our workplace, and how that fosters and nurtures the planet’s well being they are all connected. I focus on well being this season, because I really want to crack the code and inspire folks to prioritize their individual well being and therefore that will transcend into the collective and the planet’s well being. And I have developed a inner game leadership assessment that I gave out to 100 different leaders last year. And the leadership assessment is based on the framework of the inner game, which is what we’re cultivating on the inside to be conscious leaders. And it shows up on the outside when we cultivated the certain qualities. And two of the nine leadership competencies that were lowest from the sample of 100 leaders were psychological and physical well being.
Therefore, that is why we are focusing on well being and if you’re curious about where your strengths and gaps are around the qualities to become a conscious leader, you can take the assessment and find out your score for free. I recently opened to the assessment tool to the public, and the link will be in the show notes.
Now onto our episode. Hello shine podcast listeners. I am here with my new friend Michael Michael HEB, who is the founder of death over dinner, drugs over dinner, and generations over dinner. He currently serves as a board advisor at the Friedman School of Nutrition Science and Policy at Tufts, and is the primary editor of COVID paper. His second book, let’s talk about death was published by Hashem in the US, UK and Australia in October of 2018. and Russia, China, Taiwan, Indonesian, Poland and Romania in the fall of 2019, and will soon be published in Finland. Wow. That’s incredible. Michael, so happy to have you here. Oh, my goodness, this conversation is going to be amazing. Can’t wait. Thanks for being here.
Of course, credit. Thanks for having me.
So to start off in the deep end, which I know you and I swimmin. Often, I’d love if you could share some of your childhood story of losing your father to dementia, and how that experience inspired a movement to support millions in gathering and holding space as we prepare for death.
Yeah, well, when I was in second grade, I didn’t know that it would inspire valiance. For one, I was very much you know, just a regular seven year old, seven year old, eight year old and my father was quite a bit older than most fathers. He was born in 1904 in the Yukon Gold Rush in a minor shed and Dawson during the the like epicenter of the Yukon Gold Rush. And so he was 72 years old when I was born, which is becoming less and less unique. I think we just found out Al Pacino is going to have another child, but at at something, but back then this was quite a surprising thing. And I think it’s a kind of an amazing thing in a challenging thing to be sold and to have a child because you don’t know how long you’re going to be around for them. But I was a bit of a surprise. And in second grade, my father was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, full blown Alzheimer’s, it wasn’t early onset, his symptoms were severe at that point, and then was put into a, a nursing home. And those were really rough years, my mother was not resourced to know how to manage our lives. Very few would be, and we lived in a great deal of chaos. And he died when I was 13.
On on Halloween, actually. And our family didn’t know how to talk about his illness, didn’t know how to talk about his inevitable death, didn’t know how to talk about our grief. And so we started really avoiding each other, which in many way was was the healthiest thing we could do. Because when you have a secret or a traumatic centerpiece to your family relationship, every time you’re around those family members, there’s cortisol and all kinds of things flooding your system. And so we really grew apart pretty quickly. And it had a lot of impact on the family structure where you know, much later and we’ll talk about death over dinner, it served as the inspiration for inspiring people to talk about death, mortality, life limiting illness, dementia, because I didn’t want anybody else to have to go through what I experienced the type of alienation, isolation, depression, confusion, anger, and the whole rainbow of emotion that I had to go through, basically alone until many mentors started to show up in my life. But the the death itself on Halloween was, was a seismic event in my life, and not for the reasons you might think.
The grief wasn’t overwhelming immediately, there was a kind of void that I felt when I woke up the morning and Halloween, and I knew that he died even though there was no one telling me so there’s just a known sense, I’d actually had the previous night woken up at 3:43am, the exact moment that his heart stopped without knowing why. And then when I woke up again, later on that day, I was very clear, like, my dad’s died, and I ended up going to school, because I wasn’t going to just hang out with my mom and my brother. That didn’t seem like a good place to go, or to be. And so I went to school on Halloween and Halloween when you’re 13 is a big deal. And I ended up going out with friends that night, I didn’t tell a single person that day that my father had died. And looking back on it, I think that was a pretty smart strategy. The realization that I had either consciously or just knew in my bones, at that time was my friend group didn’t have the ability to deal with the weight of that kind of information. Kids are much more emotionally intelligent these days than they were 30 some years ago. And so I went out with my friends on Halloween night and did the type of things that 13 year olds do. I think we TPT some houses and eggs, some cars and drink some and essentially were assholes. And this thing happened to me because I was holding this whole new reality that my my dad had died, which no one I knew could relate to. And looking around my friends and what we were involved in the way we related to each other, and really just the world. I had this sense of being separate from it and watching it almost film nicly seeing these things from a from a removed space and questioning. If we act like this, why do we relate to each other? Why is there conversation about meaning? Shit, I hope I can swear on your ad snapped to,
I can totally be yourself. Yeah,apparently it’s a sign of intelligence, I just read a recent report. But nonetheless, I felt separate from my social group. And in in that separation, I started to ask really big questions. And that is really where my spirituality took shape was in those questions, and their questions about what are we doing here? Is there something more than this? Is there a right way to live? Have people known about living connected to something larger than the cell in the past, and took a great deal of interest in poetry and Eastern spirituality and mysticism? Gnosticism a long list of question askers. And that really set me on a completely different course than I would have been happily skipping down. So really, really a big change for not not exactly the reasons you would expect, when you use the term seismic, you know, change? And I would say yes, for sure.
And, you know, before this conversation, I did a lot of research and trying to get to know you, and different interviews and things that you have recorded. And I learned about your early meditation practice, and part of how that came to be. And I was touched, because we both started meditating, and really having these deeper questions and interest around the same time, even though I, I imagine we’re probably a similar age. And I also grew up in a family where, and still have a family where I’m keenly sensitive to emotions of myself and others, and the planet, and my, you know, nuclear family is not. And in some ways, I felt like an alien. And really kind of stuffed those for a long time, but had to find other ways and other tools to really understand myself and similar to you, like, understand, why am I here? And you know, what is the reason that I am being called to be here at this time. And, you know, when we, when we think about meditation and Buddhism, Siddhartha had a very similar journey, right? He was he was living in this, you know, Castle, not no suffering, really, except that is that his mother passed at an early age. But then he went outside of the palace walls one day and saw the four heavenly messengers, you probably familiar of this, of this table, or fable, rather, one was a sick person, an old man, a corpse, and aesthetic. And so he went on, you know, the aesthetic path to try to understand why these things happen. But we all know that we’re gonna die, like every single one of us is going to die. And we don’t know when that is going to happen. And so I wanted to bring you on because of a lot of his own inquiry around death for myself, but also, how do we use death, knowing it’s coming, knowing that in some ways, humanity is facing very grave ecological death, which we’ll go into a little bit later, to live the most meaningful life that we can right now?
Yeah, well, I mean, in many ways, we can unlock what our life’s meaning is, without that kind of rupture, without facing our mortality. And for most people, it happens in the middle of their life. This is you know, what Richard Rohr calls the second half of life and talks about and falling upward. And that that is just kind of naturally an age where people that are meaningful to us start dying. Right, some of us are, you know, gifted or cursed with a meaningful death. early in life, if you don’t embrace it, or let it embrace you or if you repress it, or run away from it, then it can be a curse. But if you do the hard work of facing, whether that’s when you’re 13, or 30, or 40, or 50, or 60, or 70. The gifts that you get are really the answers to why I’m here. It’s it’s in many ways, the strongest medicine there is and there’s a lot of talk these days and a lot of experience around psychedelic medicine, for instance, many of your users or, or listeners are experienced or curious. almost everybody’s read Michael Pollan’s book, how to change your mind, it seems.
And we talk about the strength of that medicine, right, because it allows us to connect to something larger than ourselves connect to our, our history, our traumas, some of these big questions we find in a lot of psychedelic plant medicines, experiences that are held in the right container. Death, it’s arguably more powerful, a medicine, and it’s sitting right here. Yeah, right beside us, whether we acknowledge it or not. And, and it’s a little bit easier to integrate, quite frankly, and then a psychedelic experience. And, you know, a lot of those medicines, actually kind of the core thinking around those medicines is they give us the ability to die before we die, so that we don’t have to die when we die. And this is the this was the reason that people went to Eleusis, the mysteries in in, in Greece for 2000 years, 30,000 people a year, would go to a Lusas, to drink BurgerTime beer, to have an experience where a part of themselves would die. So that they realized that life, what was important about life, what the meaning was, what they were doing there. And you know that that experience is available to all of us by turning and facing or grief or any number of things.
I agree. And I you know, just to circle back to meditation. Gosh, there’s so many, there’s so many ways that we could go because I love to have the plant medicine discussion with you as well. And I, I believe you’re very right. I think a lot of people in some ways are actually just using the medicine to escape again. And they’re not actually integrating. I mean, you’re finding this altered state of consciousness, which, frankly, you can find meditating. And I’ve done both. And there’s not a lot of difference for me personally. And only the medicine just brings me to that point faster. But I’ve done years and years and years of silent meditation. And one of the things that I’m so grateful about meditation is that Vipassana, which is coming from the Tera Vaada. And Buddhist tradition, actually learned this several years ago, on a silent retreat at Spirit Rock meditation center, it means to grieve effectively, because every moment is passing this moment right now, between you and I will never happen again, quite like this, ever. And so I’m present to it. And there’s a loss and that, here it goes. Yeah, letting it go.
Yeah, sometimes we have to be well, I think we do have to build be able to face the big D, yes, the two really come to terms with the small D’s that we face all of the time, and not grasp on to that which is constantly changing, right? Because that’s what people’s primarily, their primary complaints are really around the small days, you know, anxiety, depression, all of these things have that we suffer from on a regular basis have so much to do with dealing with the fact that things are constantly changing.
Right? Right. Yeah. Yeah. And how do we how do we practice getting, you know, little and, and to be in flow with a world that is constantly changing? Right? And so that’s why I told tell people and teach people that, you know, death is this really powerful medicine because one, you, you do want to drink from that cup, you, you will be facing the big D at some point. And you want to be present to that. And you want to be able to learn from the experience as the aperture of your life gets smaller and smaller. There’s a lot of great richness in that I’ve seen people complete a whole hero’s journey in their last hour on this planet and change things generationally, and do healing for people who, you know, their future ancestors, they’ll never meet on death’s door. Right? But not if we’re grasping. Not if we haven’t surrendered, not if we’re not present to it. And in the present moment, same thing. We’re not going to be able to have an access to the beauty of the moment, or whatever it is. It’s not just beauty, the is of the moment if grasping, flailing, reacting struggling in fight or flight or freeze, unless we have some sort of practice round.
I mean, some of my good friends started the flow Institute’s flow Institute, Steven Kotler, and Jamie Weil. And there’s a lot of talk about flow these days and to be in flow. And I give those guys a hard time. It’s like you’re teaching people all of these great techniques, but the most important technique you could be teaching it was to deal with death and go, yeah, and they’ve incorporated some of that. And we actually hosted the first flow Institute, gathering together years before their other best seller. So there’s just a lot there. And it’s scary for people. This isn’t, I’m not saying this with the idea that you shouldn’t have apprehension or that it’s easy. But there have been a lot of people who looked at our impermanence, looked at death, looked at grief, and have lit those canyons, and lit those dark forests for us. So you’re, you’re not alone. And you will get immediate vitality, from the work that people do around this. And I know you work with leaders and, you know, one of one of the kind of most ironic slash funniest uses of death over dinner, which is a initiative I started to get people to talk about end of life and, you know, millions of people have taken part in this.
I was gonna ask you about that. Yeah. If we’ll come back to continue.
Yeah, I’ll give. I’ll let you lead me into some framing but Deloitte, Europe, one of the leading firms, when it comes to giving advice and creating strategy for the biggest brands in the world, most people know Deloitte. Yes, started using Deloitte, Europe started using depth over dinner at the beginning of their, their corporate retreats for their big clients. And yeah, and found and people were able to have conversations about what do they want to be remembered for? What do they want to have happen to their body? You know, song would be one at their funeral. If they had 30 days left to live, what would they do with it? How would they feel that that unlocks so much connection between the people that were there and humanity, way below the watermark of their strategy, or with you know, their brand, and it also unlocked a tremendous amount of creativity? Right? People feel free to try out new ideas and to play with each other’s ideas. So, you know, there’s there’s a lot, there’s a lot there in this space that has big No Trespassing signs all over it for us.
Thank you. Well, there’s a couple of questions that I have that are bubbling. I mean, first, I’d love to hear well, and even before I, I asked you a question, just my responses, you know, in my experience, working with lots of different, you know, senior people, leaders and stakeholders and various companies, business is only as good as the relationships that people are forming. If there isn’t psychological safety, trust, the ability to believe that this person has my back, and we are connected and we are connected towards something of greater purpose, people will not stay, they will not perform, they will not feel they belong, and they will not bring their best to work or that workplace. That has been my experience.
And so, I think what we are craving most, and especially since the pandemic is connection, is meaning is purpose, and how do we build that together and then align, you know, in powerful actions together. And I just think that is that is what is happening in the workplace. There is a death of the old workplace that was profit above everything else, thank goodness, but it’s slow. It’s slow. There’s there’s still a certain you know, group of leaders that are holding on to that. Lynne twist has been a huge mentor to me and wrote the foreword of my book and I remember when I first heard her speak years ago, she said we are hospice sing out. You know, these Oh, have systems and structures that will not support the new world. Because we have to embrace that, or we don’t have a path forward. And so I, I’m excited for the death let it die. But let’s hospice it out, right? Because then we can let go more effectively.
Yeah, well, I mean, the pandemic, arguably, threw a wrench in some of that, at least from the human connection side. It gave us something that we have in common to connect around, it made grief public, that made mental health public, it made that those topics went from being taboo, which we can talk about the word taboo if we want, because it’s a completely misunderstood word. But from things that were not appropriate conversations, to being very appropriate, very common conversation, especially in the millennial communities, some of us that are a little bit older, catching up with millennials and that ability to talk about things openly. But it also just, it did separate us.
And it’s hard to create deep connections in the workplace, when this is how we’re connecting when it’s just over zoom, or maybe not even zoom, it’s just over email. I hope Len is right below her very much. If you’re listening, Man, I miss you. Let’s talk soon. And I do I do really have hope that that is the direction that we’re going. Right now, this seems like we’re going a lot of different directions. So where it’s hard to know,it’s a little chaotic, for sure. Well, I want to hear more about the process of death over dinner, so you can share with our listeners of how they can engage in that, I also wanted to speak to you about how you have understood the difference between for example, sadness, and grief. Because it’s a felt experience. And, you know, there’s, there’s a lot of numbing, there’s a lot of avoiding that. And I just think that in order to really be more comfortable in talking about our own death, we have to be willing to feel the grief. So So start with that, the movement of death over dinner, the process, I’m gonna leave links in the show notes. And I have gone through the process a couple times, a couple dinners, and also have a guess, some insights that are not around that, but just even just some of the my own practices around death that I might insert in in our conversation if we have time.
I love it. Well, death over dinner came out of the well, at this point. It’s over 20 years of convening people to talk about difficult topics at the dinner table. I realized pretty early on in my career as an architect my backgrounds actually in architecture, that I didn’t need to build any new structures, I was building places for people to gather and connect. As an architect. That was the focus of my young career. And then I realized that the dinner table does that, with me needing to file a building permit or raise millions of dollars for said structure. We just forgotten how to use the dinner table. And needed to remember, we’ve remembered how, to some extent to garden and farm and put great food on the table thanks to Alice Waters in the slow food movement, all this incredible work that’s been done on the front side.
But very little has been done around what happens when they actually sit down with that beautiful food or have that famous chef cook for us. And so we don’t have a virtuous cycle. Back to the table. We have it as a kind of fetishized entertainment, almost like a Martha Stewart shot something not a oh, I want to be there having that experience. How do I get back there that richness comes from people being vulnerable, sharing stories around their lives.
And now we just talked about succession when we get to a dinner table or whatever people are watching on TV. Probably 75% of the dinner conversation is happening over tables and or we’re not paying attention to the Food, you know, or being even mindful of our consumption. I started off in the corporate space, engaging people in meditation through mindful eating of chocolate. I did not do the raisin that was not going to get their attention. But I’ve I’ve always really loved just bringing people’s attention. Yes to, to food to connection to our connection to food, and therefore the greater the greater world.
Yeah, which is great work. But then we also have to connect with the people at the table. And that was the kind of soft architecture that I got really interested in, what is the history of it? What is the history of the Athenian symposium that brought together you know, Plato and Aristotle was the history of the Jewish Seder. What’s the history of the Bloomsbury group? Gertrude Stein’s tables, so the Black Panthers Sunday brunches, like, what what has been this role how people use this space, the dinner table, because we’re drawn to it naturally. It’s like the watering hole on the savanna, all different types. For food, we, we come and we get saved, save it, and then we go back to her our lives.
If we were eating together, a lot of people don’t eat together. But so I started doing dinners with incredible folks and Presidents and Nobel Prize winners and people that are living on the streets and people that are struggling with mental illness, and you name it, dinner after dinner after dinner in every country, or every continent, and so many places, so many just wild settings. It’s hard to even think about, and I’ve had to forget many of them, because there’s been too many, and having hard conversations like how do we end genocide? How do we enhance closeness? How do we end the gender gap? Then I realized that I wasn’t going to be able to reach the number of people that I wanted to reach. And I also didn’t want to just be working with leaders. I don’t believe in a trickle down model. I believe in a grassroots model, I really even think change actually happens from the ground up. And so wanted to create a social ritual that people could enact, all over the world could scale and was free very much like the Jewish Seder, actually, the ER a Shabbat dinner, but with a little bit more of a program, a theme. And so death over dinner was our answer to that. I was working with some great designers and graduate students,
I was teaching at the University of Washington, in the Graduate School of Communications and decided to teach a course entirely based around building a platform called death over dinner. And we did and now it’s become this global phenomenon. And what it is, is, it’s an invitation. First and foremost, we’re talking about facing mortality, or death, grief and people Oh, that’s great. And you say that there’s ways into this, but how well, here’s one. Like, we’re gonna give people an invitation that isn’t a thick book, it is a dinner party, and you liked dinner parties.
And so here’s the invitation, come to dinner and talk about death. And it can be because you’re grieving, because you have a loved one who has a terminal diagnosis, it could be because you have early onset Alzheimer’s, you don’t know how to talk to your family about it, but it’s gonna be more and more of us. And so we built this beautiful website and its limitation and then created scripts for people. So your intention, why you want to have the dinner, or the conversation, you select on the website, and then it auto generates the scripts and allows you to pick some homework based upon that intention. So very different scripts for somebody who’s grieving versus somebody who’s interested for spiritual or religious reasons in a conversation. And then people sit down, and they have this experience where they don’t have to think about what are the questions, it’s all laid out. And there’s a ritual in the beginning and a ritual in the end, and it works.
Good, give people some good food and some structure and have someone you know, kind of hold the space for it, lead it, you know, who is whoever is inviting the conversation? Yeah, it’s, it’s beautiful. And then I’ve only done three, you know, personally, and I, I actually invited my parents, maybe like two months ago, and they they turned me down. They said, No, we don’t want to talk about this, because we have a lot of friends that are dying right now. And it was it was too much, but I am not giving up. Because I I just think it’s so important to talk about. Yeah, I’ll just leave it at Yeah.
Well, I mean, let’s talk about that. Because if If you are lining up and saying like, Oh, I want to do I want to have that conversation, if someone’s listening to this podcast and be like, I’m interested in that, or if there’s any like, no, no, no, you know, putting their fingers in their ears. We can talk to both of those people right now. So if you are excited about it, and you’re saying, I want to have this conversation with my parents, my spouse, my best friends, my co workers, my kids, you are gonna get nose? Yep. You if you’re excited about it, you are more excited about it than many of the people in your life, I promise you. And so here’s the thing. The people in your life do want to talk about it. Yeah. But inviting them is tricky. can be tricky. It’s not tricky. Some people are just gonna be like, hell yes. And I’m gonna bring all my friends too. And some people will be like, Hell, no, I’m never gonna have this conversation. But here’s the thing. If we acted like, most people act, or at the end of life conversation, the death conversation, if we acted that way, like we do around love and work, we would never find love, and we would never have a job. So your parents said, No. But you know, how did you ask them? And you tried one way. And there are many different ways. And I think of it more of as a courtship. Right?
Well, and and just just to share a little more, I sent that to them over email, as an initial conversation. I actually, at that time, was living in Costa Rica. And we hadn’t had a deeper discussion, I had no idea that my father had a law school friend that was like literally going to be dying a week from that moment. So it was really bad timing on my end. And I went through a very deep process at the end of last year, where I spent five days in a very powerful workshop, really facing my death every single day.
So it started on a Monday, anyone Friday was dying, like it was happening. And over the course of five days, I was being told you have four days to live, you have three days to live, you have two days to live, you have one day to live, you have 30 seconds to live, what are you going to do and I was buried, literally buried, I did write my eulogy. And I have been wearing a bracelet around my wrist, it’s just a black thread. That reminds me, I’m gonna die. And it’s been so powerful and so potent.
And so you know, some of that experience I’ve been sharing with my parents. That’s the courting I suppose. And I spent my birthday with them intentionally this year. But I haven’t done in many, many years. And as part of my birthday dinner, I said, you don’t know how I want to die. And I don’t know how you want to die. And we have not talked about Advanced Directives. And I really want to know, so that I can honor your wishes. And my parents are probably going to hate that. I’m going to say this out loud. But they said we haven’t even talked about it. We don’t know. So at least I have started that inquiry. And I said, Well, I would like to be cremated. And this is where and I should probably put this in writing. Because I don’t know when that is going to happen. And I want you to know. Yeah. So that’s, that’s, that’s part of I think, what I have been dealing with it all.
I’ll just share one other piece of that. I want to bring it back to you, Michael. But I wasn’t planning on sharing this. But it’s so interesting. Yesterday, I was flying back to California from Florida from visiting my my family, my parents, and we were approaching Albuquerque. And they were crazy winds like the plane is rattling and it was just like it was it was crazy. And I’m like, Oh, my gosh, I have not reviewed the emergency protocol. Okay, the 510. Net didn’t actually go through it at the beginning. Sometimes they do sometimes they don’t. And I thought okay, what, what if you were to die right now? You know what that feels like? You have gone through the experience.
And I just allowed myself to feel it. I was actually buried in the sand. I was I was in the sand. They left me there for an hour. And when they came to get me during this five days, I didn’t want to come out Michael. I felt so at peace. I felt so held by the Earth just the weight of her on me. And so many people had very different experiences. They couldn’t wait to get out. It scared the hell out of them. But I reminded myself of that embodied acts experience if if this were to happen, this is what you know, in your body that death is and it was, it was wonderful. I didn’t have I didn’t have fear and I was able to transport myself back in that place on the plane yesterday as it’s rattling and shaking and Okay. Okay.
And well, let’s imagine your parents, yeah, that would have had very different experiences being buried for one, they wouldn’t have gone to Costa Rica to die off and five days. But they have maybe like an anxious attachment relationship to it. Or an avoidant perhaps. And, you know, there are these, you know, we can take, we can use attachment styles for debt too. And going straight up to somebody who is so avoidant. And, you know, putting your finger right on the nose of it is going to be, you know, can can be a thing that has them seize up, right, of course, of course, you know, and this isn’t just to you this is to people are listening, because you’re not, you’re no, I love, you’re using this as a teachable moment. And frankly, I have not shared what I just shared with you, I think with only three people. But now here we go. Like, yes, it’s been buried.
But yes, there there is a there is avoidance, there is anxiety. And it’s unknown, of course.
Yeah. But there’s a way in. So, you know, similarly with courtship, and with a job that you really want, you get creative. And you think about that person. Right? What what are they interested in? Does your mom love Tuesdays with maurey? Perhaps? No, didn’t love the movie? Does you know, do they watch dramas that haven’t includes our true crime? Or, you know, like, there’s, there are ways in and a legacy legacy might be away? And what do you want to be remembered for? Let’s get way out, you know, and what stories from your life, we want to make sure that your grandchildren know that that is a death conversation.
There’s a lot of things that yes, I agree, don’t present as much as like, your advanced care directives, and what happens to your body when you die. Right there, there are things that are a little bit more adjacent, where people can open up and before you know it, you’re gonna get all of their wishes. It’s an unfurling. Because they’ve been, you know, we’re in a society that denies it. And, and is obsessed with it. So we have an unnatural, we have this very unhealthy relationship to it, we’re obsessed with that. Death is central to all the top TV shows, books, clickbait it’s everywhere. But but our own is, is a real challenge for some people. And the other thing is we can experience it. Right? So it’s one of those human experiences that we’ll never have, why? Until we have it. And so, it’s not something that we can imagine ourselves in. And we also think we’re gonna have that other bias in our brain that has it that we’re an exception to the rule. We all think we’re an exception to the rule. Not gonna happen to me. Yeah. You know,
that’s just baked in. And so there’s a lot but I love that you’re trying, and I’m confident that you’re gonna find
I am pretty persistent. But yes, it’s about right timing. And so I appreciate that you used my example as a teachable moment, but I there’s so many different places we could go. I’d love to, you know, end on on two questions. One is, how have you maybe found the distinction within yourself but also happen to be in conversation with with folks around the difference between sadness and grief?
Well, the thing is, grief is is not one thing. You know, sadness, it has a certain tonality to it. Grief is all of all of the colors all of the sounds of the emotions so you can be a grieving and being laughing. You can be ecstatic and grieving you can be grieving and be horny you can be grieving and be devastatingly depressed. You can be grieving and be inconsolable. You can And all of this is included in grief, grief is is not singular in that way. And, you know, sadness, I’m not an expert on sadness. I mean, then I’m Sam a little bit more expert on grief. And one of the things that I know to be true about grief is one, it’s not linear. There, there are no stages.
So many people think that Elisabeth Kubler Ross determined the five stages of grief, what Elisabeth Kubler Ross did was create the five stages that happen when we come to terms with our own death. That’s what that is. That’s what the stages of grief, as we call them, were originally written as she suggested that it might work for grief. And then she retracted it. Some people have taken her suggestion and made careers on it. And the culture has had a bonanza around this idea of grief, having five stages, it doesn’t, it’s for ever, grief doesn’t go away doesn’t mean that it’s always awful. But the fact that the person is gone, and that whole, that shape of that person will always be in your heart.
But the the way to heal that, if that’s even the right word, or the way to orient around that is not to try to get back to normal. Or to forget about it or reintegrate into society. It’s to honor them. It’s called continuing bonds theory. And it’s actually the healthy way of grieving. And a lot of countries do this very well, Mexico, India, Japan, where they elevate their relationship to the loved one as opposed to repress it. Right? This, this is going to be with you forever. Turn the beautiful part on and some of the sadness, sadness can be beautiful, poignant, leads to some amazing things inspires us to get in motion sometimes, but elevate that person in your life, build an altar, have some remembrance, turn their body, you know, their cremated remains into things like parting stone or a diamond or have some way where they live in your everyday life is the is the way forward with grief, even though we talk about it in such unhelpful ways.
Thank you. Well, and I and my experience with any feeling, you know, the more that we witnessed it, and we witnessed it in community or even with one other person, and in some ways, we’re shining the light on it. And it has that opportunity to heal and transform. And that’s I think some of what you’re doing with this conversation is we’re taking it out of the ground, so to speak. We’re giving it life and a chance for people to talk about it and therefore grieve together and heal together.
Right. And you know, this idea of the word taboo, we’ll just talk briefly because I think you have one last question. But taboo is not doesn’t mean forbidden. What it actually it’s a comes from a Polynesian term, taboo, Tipu. And what that that was referred to places that were sacred places that you have to like, we know for some reason, we know that a burial ground and you know, an Indian or Native American or indigenous burial ground, that we know, for some reason is taboo. Why do we know that? Because that’s actually true. It’s a sacred place. That’s one of the things that was identified as taboo or taboo is a holy place, a sacred place where we actually have to cleanse ourselves or prepare ourselves or being a different state of mind, to go into that space. And that’s a rich and meaningful space. Taboo is actually an invitation. It’s an invitation and but it’s not the regular Friday, your regular Tuesday, it is, I’m going to do I’m going to prepare myself when people go into a mosque, they cleanse themselves. You know, there is there’s something about this, that we’ve forgotten that, yes, we can talk about the hardest things we can talk about trauma. We can talk about sex, we can talk about, you know, history of abuse, we can talk about anything gender, politics, we you name it, if we prepare ourselves properly, and create the right container. There’s nothing that’s off limits. It’s when we don’t take the care to do that, that we run into difficulty
I agree. Thank you. So in the topic of death and grief, and this is something that has taken a lot of my heart and mind space and continues to. And I think I’m not alone in this, you know, what’s happening with our planet, and the extinction of species, and all of the reports that have been coming in for a long time around what is happening with the warming of our planet, and especially the most recent reports, there is an ecological death that is happening. And I think that it is overwhelming for many people to even really look at and feel, feel the grief around the species that are gone for good, and that will be gone. But also, I don’t feel like we’re prepared with the skills and the resources to navigate what is coming with the fires, with the migration that is going to be happening across our world of people of beings. And I just feel curious, does ecological death or grief come up at all, in these death over dinner conversations? And how can we inspire people to start talking about it, and prepare, skillfully to talk about it? Because we need to talk about it? Because we can’t avoid it? It’s here.
Yeah, and, you know, I think one of the things that we do is weaponize our own grief around this our own urgency as opposed to create space for people to that’s inviting to be able to have their own experience of grief around the natural world. Right? A lot of us have had that experience. And we’ve been we can’t believe that others haven’t, you know, has woken up to it. Right? Wake up and notice. Wake up and notice is not how I want to be woken up. That doesn’t work. I try I have a 14 year old if I come in and shake her or throw water on her or tell her all of the things that she hasn’t done or shouldn’t be doing. No, that’s not how we want to wake somebody up to this. You know, a good morning, I love you. You know, can I? Can I get your coffee? Would you want toast? Or do you want a croissant? Do you want fruit for breakfast? Right? Like, this morning, I gave her some of those choices. She was so touched, she was like, I would love a coffee. She didn’t even drink it. But justit’s through love.
Of course, you’re loving, it’s tender. And a gentle is about creating space. If you do want people to start to see the world in some way that resembles your way of seeing. Right? One you don’t know if they’re gonna have the same experience and come to the same conclusions. But until you invite somebody in to look at it themselves and feel it. You’ve already told them that they’re not allowed unless they have a certain set of experiences generally are a certain kind of fire under them to make change is the only way you can be a ticket holder into this conversation. Right this.
So you know, there’s an incredible book called The Persuaders that just came out. And now Anons going to destroy his last name that is about the right and the left, and how we need more on ramps into these these movements. And I highly recommend that to anybody. But
I would also put a little little plug that in my book, I have also created some practices for how to navigate the deep grief and feelings around this. And also, you know, I started experimenting with this practice many years ago when I was teaching at Stanford and I’d, I’d bring the students out into the grass. And I’d ask them to tell me what they loved most about nature, and what they really got from nature. And from that love. What are we willing to fight for? Right?
What just like anything, you know, like our family, our friends, if we love something enough, we care for it. We want to protect it and I think that that is I believe the most palpable way into the conversation and to feel the heartbreak around what’s happening and you know, a lot of it we have caused, and then we have a choice of what actions we’re going to take because pa I couldn’t believe we can we can reverse it right? There’s there’s 100 ways to reverse this. But it requires a certain level of activation of all of us.
Yeah. And then, you know, we did create a dinner model called Earth to dinner, which was in partnership with the Paris accord. And the earth in Paris movement in the UN was one of our partners, and we got 1000s of people to have conversations about climate change. But I’ll leave you with one story. Because it’s, it hasn’t asked Yeah, what what evolved from that? Yes. But feel free to feel free to leave the story as well.Yeah, I mean, that. That was, it was incredibly powerful. And I got to work with Jack Black, which was fun. And one of those famous like internet famous cats, I can’t remember his name.
But nonetheless, the, the story I’ll leave you with around it, because I still think it should happen. And I was in Iceland, and got inspired by the glacial melt in Iceland. And, you know, the fact that we are, we’re very action oriented, when it comes to those people that are working on climate change, action is really the currency. And I realized that there’s a step before action, which is great that we’re missing.
And so started working on a project to build a table out of the glacier and got, like, the leading ice sculptor in Iceland, to we went out into tests and took, can we cut a table out of the glacier. And then we have the arc at angles, one of the leading sustainable architects in the world cetera to design the table. So the arc angles, gonna design the table, and then how we were started to form this dinner around it. And Bjork said yes, and Sigur Ros was coming. And the president of Iceland was involved. And all of this was happening. And the idea was, okay, we’re going to build this table out of ice, and we’re going to have a dinner on it that we’re going to film and then leave it for people to come visit it while it melts. But the dinner itself was called the goodbye glacier dinner. And the idea very simply was, you know, let’s read this together. Let’s talk about a world without ice and how that makes us feel. Let’s talk a world of burial without glacier. Let’s talk about the sixth extinction, that we’re in the middle of let’s have these conversations from what are we going to miss? How is that going to feel? Which is something that’s not politicized?
Alright, that’s just like, how’s it gonna feel? No, full stop. Not now, I want you to make sure you recycle. And you can’t wear those, you know, you can’t wear fur, or you can’t do this, or you can’t eat this, or there’s no need for you know, let’s just grieve. And so and then unfortunately, the idea was so popular that a friend of mine decided to build a whole festival around this and a thought leadership festival. And it got way too big and fancy. And then the whole thing exploded.
But the the reason we were doing it in the first place was the goodbye glacier dinner, and the goodbye glacier table. And so it still hasn’t happened. And maybe somebody is
listening. Maybe someone will listen and they’ll say, let’s start. Yeah, I love it. Okay, if you want to do it, I’m up for it. Michael’s up for reach out. That was your story. Beautiful. Well, I know you have as I shared at the beginning of introducing you, you have a couple other movements, generations over dinner, and that feels like a wonderful opportunity for people of all different ages to come together towards talking about some of these big conversations that were hospice sing out to create something new.
Yeah. So yeah, generations over dinner, I’ll just be briefly partnership with Chip Conley, Chip Conley, the founder of modern elder Academy, and I’m sure he’s been talked about maybe he’s been on this podcast he has and chip has a new book, and he’s going to be on it again.
So I am very inspired by Chip and his work at modern elder Academy and the emphasis on intergenerational wisdom sharing. Yes, this idea that a modern elder is as as curious as they are wise. And that it is about sharing, as as well as being you know, just that curiosity, that desire to learn.
And that’s the hallmark of what we need an elders right now. We’re also age, we have an age apartheid, if you will. Don’t know if we can Bandy around the term apartheid. So I apologize if that’s offensive. But we have a divisiveness and separation around age we do not know, people of different ages, generally speaking, we are not age diverse, in our country are really very much around the world is one of those American ideas that has been exported, to really just spend your time around people same age and not live with people of different ages, etc. And so we decided to create another social ritual that is generations over dinner.
And that’s a challenge to see how many generations you can get at a dinner table. And these dinners are happening all over the world as well, there have been already to seven generation dinners, not of the same family, but the generations like boomers, greatest silent millennia, we’ve gotten all seven living at tables, or people have I haven’t even done it, people got inspired by it. And they’re like, we’ll do it. And two of those dinners, one in Australia, one in the US have happened. And they’re these dinners happening of work, mentioned that there were a lot of enterprise or workplace has the most intergenerational opportunity, for sure.
Right. And, in many ways, the most generational division. So Chevron, Uber and LinkedIn are three companies that have taken on generation over dinner and are using it at scale. But the project that I’m most excited about you, we talk to you most excited about, and it’s like, I get pretty excited about death, obviously. But this work with generations that we’re doing in senior living, uh huh. The most the thing I’m most excited about. So there’s, I don’t know the percentage, there’s a lot of us that are in senior living, and a lot of people that we love. And I had this realization one day that senior living, whether that’s assisted care, independent living, etc, represents the largest and most concentrated reservoir of wisdom on the planet. And it’s just sitting there and we are not tapping it. And we are not in conversation with it. And, you know, my mom, neighbor, and her senior living establishment is former governor Barbara Roberts, the first female governor of Oregon, who’s unbelievable human being, no one goes to see her her family does, but she should, she would mentor people all day. And so we started working with senior living and was like, Sure if if we bring you generations over dinner, and also bring you the young people or you just open your doors to young young folks or people in the middle age one, you’ll get more people who want to live in or work in senior living.
But the loneliness epidemic that’s happening at the oldest and the youngest, can be cured. And so now we’re in like, 1000, Senior Living. Oh, I love hearing that. Well, my parents live and Valencia lakes, which is in Sun City, Florida, which is a quite a large 55 and older retirement village. And I was just spending a lengthy visit with them. And one of the things and I’m, I’ve always been an old soul, I have always had people in their 60s. In my life, I’m I’m in my early 40s. But I would go to the fitness center, this is just kind of a fun story. And I’d have lots of folks that I would just interact with, and they would just want to come up and give me wisdom.
I saw a little lady, you know, like, like this, this man that was 90, which I wouldn’t have known. He’s like, don’t stop moving. Like, okay, I’m not planning on it. And then this, this other man who was 66. But I want to respect their desire to share and it was it’s beautiful, but you can’t really get a workout in.
But I love that. I love that, Michael, this conversation has been so meaningful. I just really appreciate how you have just started the conversation literally in so many important areas and your service. And I hope that we will be able to continue to converse, and I’m just very passionate about helping you amplify all these incredible movements. So thank you
know, thanks for having me. And to those listening out there. It’s all available. It’s all free. Kind of never charged for any of these initiatives. So grab them, enjoy if death isn’t the topic or psychedelic drugs had the topic that you’re interested in generations over dinner is kind of for everybody.
It is and all these links will be in the show. My notes, and Michael is also on LinkedIn. And he’s got a website. And he’s got a fabulous TED Talk. So all these all these links will be in the show notes, Michael, thank you again.
Thanks so much talk soon.
Hey, folks, thanks so much for listening to this wonderful conversation with Michael and I are on the intersection of grief and death. And therefore, how we want to fully live our lives. I wanted to share a few more thoughts and prompts, and resources, so that you could engage in this deeper inquiry around life and death for yourself when you’re ready. And I’ll start off with this, there is always a cycle of birth and death, and all things it’s part of life. And nothing endures but change. And accepting this reality has the potential to transform the dread of dying into joyful living. I started working with cancer patients in my early 20s.
And it informed me at an early age on the preciousness of life, I’d also had a meditation practice for probably a couple years before that journey of working with cancer patients. So I was already informed on how important being here for the present moment is. And I saw a lot of the patients that I was serving go through incredible changes when they knew they were about to die. I also saw some people that didn’t have a chance to really pivot and had regrets on their deathbed. And last year, I knew that I needed a deeper reset for myself. And I took about 10 weeks sabbatical in Costa Rica, which is a place I’ve been going to for about 10 years. And I spent the first month in silence. And I have spent a lot of my life in the last 1314 years in silence. So I’d been getting myself ready to take a month, in some ways, because I had taken two to three weeks a year for many years. And it was incredibly nourishing for myself.
And after I came out of silence, I prepared to die. Essentially, I had already decided to do a workshop with a teacher and a guide that I respected. And I shared a little bit about my experience with Michael, in the interview that you just listened to. But I had five days to live and die. And there were lots of very potent exercises that I did in preparation. And it was a real embodied experience. So much so that at the very end of the week, I was buried. And it gave me a lot to think about on how I wanted to live my life and what had the most urgency right now. And what came through were some really life changing insights. And I have as much as I can really try to orient my life around those insights into actions.
And so one of the biggest aha was for me, when I knew I was about to die was I needed to invest in home, I needed to have a place to die. That was a place I felt safe, where I had loved ones where I had community where I deep roots. And I didn’t have that. And I am cultivating that now I lived in the Bay Area for a lot of my adult life and because of how expensive it is, and because of some of what I chose to do during those many years, I couldn’t invest in a property. And I frankly put the work of helping clients and companies above my own well being and my own happiness.
And I wrote a book for almost four years. So there was a way that I was sacrificing my self in support of a purpose that I believed was more important. And that has really shifted I am no longer willing to make those same types of sacrifices for for the rest of my life. Because life is short, isn’t it? And I think many people have been going through those same kinds of changes and acknowledgments over the past couple of years with the pandemic. And so as a result of facing my own death, I put some actions in place So that might be inspiring for you to hear. So I chose to spend three weeks with my parents in May, to nurture more connection really have meaningful time with them in these years where they’re still healthy and able, and a lot of my life I have lived in California, and my family’s in Florida, and it was incredibly sweet and tender. And I’m so grateful for it. And I hope that we will all have more time like that to connect, and get to know one another.
There are ways that I know my parents now that I didn’t know when I was a teenager, or even in my early 20s. And I think there are ways that they’re getting to know me, as well. I have also recently moved to a community where I am really excited to invest more time and energy, in community in play in friendship, and belonging. And I’m holding greater boundaries around what is my right work, and what do I need that supports me to do that right work in a way that is balanced. So these are just some of some of the things that I have been putting into play. And frankly, one of the things that is also driving this greater motivation is that based on the warming that is occurring in the planet, and not knowing what is going to happen with our planet, and not really knowing how humanity is going to show up in this time, I know it’s going to be hot, how hot it’s going to be is up to us.
And based on that there will be more adaptations, there will be more floods and fires and smoke and scarcity of water and resources. And therefore, in order to really enjoy my life, in addition to the My deeper purpose, to help solve some of these big problems we have created. I don’t want to miss out on the beauty that is here.
Speaking of the intersection of grief, and ecological death, I wanted to share with you some practices that I wrote about in my book that I think will be really helpful for you, if you like me, are also looking for those tools and resources to help you navigate what is here, what is coming. And so in chapter nine of my book, there is a practice. There’s a couple practices actually one of them is turning emotional upset into inspired action.
And I do believe that by having greater emotional resilience, we will have greater climate resilience. So allow yourself to just listen in to this excerpt from my book. I presented at Planet home in 2019, which is a gathering of changemakers scientists, Hollywood activists and musicians who are bringing greater awareness to climate problems as well as their solutions. During planet home, I led the participants of my workshop through a hike in nature in the Presidio of San Francisco. I invited those on the hike to notice what they love about Nietzsche, and based on that love what feelings arose when they thought about the Amazon burning, the glaciers melting, and the massive amounts of species dying every day.
People shared deep grief, anger, fear, uncertainty and hope. Embracing the discomfort allows us to inform ourselves about how we want to act in service of the earth. So hearing that, I invite you to go out in nature once a week, and walk barefoot on the ground. Listen to the earth. Allow yourself to feel the nourishment from your connection to nature. And notice your love and appreciation of your surroundings. Let yourself feel all the feelings that arise about the destruction of our planet. And if the feelings are too much to bear, drop down to the earth with your hands and knees and let the earth hold some of your fear grief and rage. Yell if you have to let the emotions release from your body. You don’t need to hold them in. From a deep place of feeling. Ask yourself how do I want to show up in service of To the earth, and then whatever answer arises, follow it. This will help you to stand in your commitment to be a good steward of this planet.
And a couple of prompts for you, in addition to that practice before we end. When we think about using death as a catalyst to live a more meaningful life, there is another book that could also be helpful for you. There’s so many, but this one came to mind.
So Daniel Pink, an author that I respect, wrote a book about regrets. And he spoke about the five most common regrets that people had in life. So here they are, one, I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me to. I wish I hadn’t worked so hard. Three, I wish I had the courage to express my feelings. For I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends, five, I wish that I had allowed myself to be happier.
So in thinking about this conversation, what you’ve heard for me from Michael, if you’re curious how you will start your journey to use death as a way to live a more meaningful and purposeful life. If you enjoyed this episode, please give me a five star review helps so much and then other folks can find the shine podcast, share with friends, family colleagues on LinkedIn, we are all in this together and sharing is caring.
Are you seeking a catalyst to increase trust in your team upskill your leadership create a flourishing culture. I am your person. These are my areas of genius. And I love solving problems creating strategy, enrolling stakeholders related to these topics. And I’ve had incredible results with amazing companies. Reach out to me on LinkedIn, and book a consultation. I would love to help. I have some incredible interviews coming in the rest of this podcast season so make sure you subscribe to the shine podcast. Additionally, there’s a lot of resources in the show notes around some of the pieces that Michael and I spoke about. Thanks so much for listening. And until we meet again, be the light and shine the light