Part 3: Occupy Death: Wisdom Traditions


Wisdom Tradition: Practices for Death

By Tarron Estes

Wisdom Traditions Offer Many Practices For Death

"Conscious Dying Practices For Awakening NOW!" What does this mean? Whether ancient or modern, these practices for death are experiential and transformational activities designed specifically to help us focus on awakening to the gift of presences and awareness of impermanence.

Developed by Founder, Tarron Estes, and in keeping with one of the Conscious Dying Principles to honor other’s beliefs while staying true to your own, our death doula training program introduces practices from many ancient traditions. There are four powerful, transformational activities from a variety of wisdom traditions listed below. Read them to lift your spirit or find a partner to practice together!

Atisha’s Nine Contemplations

  1. Death is inevitable and our life span is decreasing continuously.
  2. Death will come whether or not we are prepared for it.
  3. The life span for us and all living beings is not fixed.
  4. Death can come at any time.
  5. There are myriad causes of death.
  6. Our human body is fragile and vulnerable.
  7. At the time of death, our material resources are of no use to us.
  8. Our loved ones cannot keep us from death.
  9. Our own body cannot help us at the time of death.

Padampa Sange’s Final Instructions

  • Confess your faults.
  • Approach what you find repulsive.
  • Help those you think you cannot help.
  • Anything you are attached to-let it go.
  • Go to the places that scare you.
  • If you do not grasp with your mind,
  • You will find a fresh state of being.

Bobby McFerrin – The 23rd Psalm Lyrics

The Lord is my Shepard, I have all I need,
She makes me lie down in green meadows,
Beside the still waters, She will lead.

She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs,
She leads me in a path of good things,
And fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk, through a dark & dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me,
She has said She won't forsake me,
I'm in her hand.

She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes,

She anoints my head with oil,
And my cup overflows.

Surely, surely goodness & kindness will follow me,
All the days of my life,
And I will live in her house,
Forever, forever & ever.

Glory be to our Mother, & Daughter,
And to the Holy of Holies,
As it was in the beginning, is now & ever shall be,
World, without end. Amen

Maha Shavasana: A Modern Day Practice for Death ©

Be aware of any compulsion to talk, laugh, dilute or slough off nervousness or fear.  Be aware of “not knowing” and feeling helpless, either as companion or when practicing death.  Unless you are giving instructions, refrain from talking, asking, or answering questions.

Setting Up

  • Get mat, blanket and cushion and prepare a place for your partner to lie down
  • Companion places his or her cushion at side of partner where you will eventually sit vigil
  • Companion supports partner to lie down on mat
  • Companion adjusts body for comfort, hands, arms, legs
  • Come to feet, gently press shoulders, arms, hands, thighs, ribs feet toward floor, invitingbody to rest toward earth
  • Cover partner with blanket.
  • Pick up back of head, holding head at base of neck, with both hands contact and massage the occipital ridge
  • Release. This is the last touch you will do.

Companion asks each question:

“Who would you most like to say these five statements to or hear them from?”

  1. Thank you
  2. Forgive me
  3. I love you
  4. I forgive you
  5. Goodbye

Companion asks:

“Is there a being, spiritual teacher, ancestor you wish to guide you on this journey?”

  • Intend, ask, pray in your own way that this being be with each of you and guide both of you
  • Read Practice for Death
  • Be still and silent
  • Become available to any subtle energy, messages or sensations
  • Sit vigil with your partner


  • When bell rings, support partner to roll over and press to sit up
  • Hold, embrace, connect, as appropriate
  • Allow words to come as they will or not
  • Bear Witness

These are just a few of the practices that are part of the end of life doula toolkit.  If you feel called to this healing path, if you wish to sit in sacred circle with like-minded students, if you desire a livelihood in service at the end of life, we offer trainings in Boulder, Mankato, Asheville, and Vancouver.

Join Francesca in the upcoming Boulder End of Life Doula Training Beginning August 24th!

Join Francesca in the upcoming Boulder End of Life Doula Training Beginning August 24th!