Life and death at the UnMonastery



A while ago I met an acquaintance at an airport. We have some friends in common and since our time at university together he has gone on to build something quite remarkable so I had been following his journey.

We had not met in a long time. Well, not sat down and had a conversation at least. I asked him how things were. And we had one of those conversations of rare honesty. His father was very unwell, dying. I asked him if he was getting any support and he told me how strange it was that no one really wanted to get into the subject. How utterly alone he felt. I told him that in my parents’ culture, mourning was a communal experience. That when a family member died, for the next fourty days friends and neighbours would share the reponsibility of bringing food to the homes of those who had lost a loved one. And ensure they were never alone. I remembered my own grandmother’s funeral, how loud and busy an affair it was with women wailing.

I mentioned having visited the British Museum for an exhibition on the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead. How strange I found the absence of death in our contemporary culture, almost as though it were banished to a parallel world. We spoke of how wish for death and wish for life may well be intertwined. Where does it go when banished from the public sphere? How does the absence of rituals to deal with it affect our behaviours and our spiritual resilience in the face of adversity? Especially for those who are not religious?

This article brought back that conversation. This time I would like to give it some serious reflection. If ever there was an opportune time, the building of the unMonastery might be it…

Acting out death in South Korea suicide prevention school
Young People and Grief in Digital Spaces
JUS: Design for vulnerability


Thank you Nadia, moving post.

I’m not sure there’s much I can say in response, death afterall being stripped for the most part from my own cultural vocabulary. But I wanted to share something Illich writes in Tools for Conviviality, that perhaps offers a route out… maybe…

"Radical monopoly exists where a major tool rules out natural competence. Radical monopoly imposes compulsory consumption and thereby restricts personal autonomy. It constitutes a special kind of social control because it is enforced by means of the imposed consumption of a standard product that only large institutions can provide.

The control of undertakers over burial shows how radical monopoly functions and how it differs from other forms of culturally defined behavior. A generation ago, in Mexico, only the Opening of the grave and the blessing of the dead body were performed by professionals: the gravedigger and the priest. A death in the family created various demands, all of which could be taken care of within the family. The wake, the funeral, and the dinner served to compose quarrels, to vent grief, and to remind each participant of the fatality of death and the value of life. Most of these were of a ritual nature and carefully prescribed-different from region to region. Recently, funeral homes were established in the major cities. At first undertakers had difficulty finding clients because even in large cities people still knew how to bury their dead. During the sixties the funeral homes obtained control over new cemeteries and began offering package deals, including the casket, church service, and embalming. Now legislation is being passed to make the mortician’s ministrations compulsory. Once he gets hold of the body, the funeral director will have established a radical monopoly over burial, as medicine is at the point of establishing one over dying."

In today’s community call, I made the suggestion that one approach to LOTE tracks, might be to write out short briefs for component elements that you’d like to see built upon during the weekend, this suits best the unMonastery track. The idea being; I can think of a ton of things that the unMonastery needs but no one is taking the lead on - within EdgeRyders there are many skilled facilitators that would likely be happy to facilitate an open ended discussion on these subjects, without having to give structure.

At LOTE1 Smari, scheduled a session called “can the internet build big things”, a lot of people turned up, Smari didn’t have anything other than the title to structure the session - but it turned into one of most fruitful sessions I attended at the conference. In the race to organisation LOTE3, we shouldn’t over administrate, well placed concepts with collective momentum will be built in the moment, not prepped months in advance.

Perhaps ‘Life and Death in the unMonastery’ will be one of those kernals for discussion.


There is a striking difference in reaction to death and social rules of how we deal with ones who faces it. Sometimes you would hear something like “Aw, her brother just died, may be she needs to be left alone”. In other cases neighbors will show up, cook food and sit around all day. But this becomes rare. I can’t decide what I prefer: left alone and be looked after at the same time.

Same with our own death - taboo. I’m a closet mortal myself.

When sex is a taboo fucking loses in quality. I suppose the censorship over our own mortality might make death more difficult than it already is.

I’m not sure how we can experiment with the narratives of death in the unMonastery. The funny thing is that as long as you try to deconstruct the contemporary death censorship you considered a bit of a freak.


I’m training for that!

I am a long-distance runner, and I appreciate the importance of training: to prepare a marathon, start by running 10 kms, then move on to 12 etc. For now, I am training by facing my own growing old; staying in touch with the signs of age as they appear. It is strangely empowering, just like running 15 K and measuring up to the yet unattainable 42K of a full-length marathon. :wink:


42k? Upskilling for immortality (o__o) !


left alone and looked after

can be had together … it’s a king of giving that few people know to be in as givers and receivers

maybe that is something we can practice with death and dying and eventually cary over into life?


edge of life

My conscious relationship with death originally revolved around wanting to prepare for death … I’d like to be able to die well.

But there has been an interesting side effect: I’ve semi-consciously been inquiring into what death is and consequently what life is … and that has taken me to far out places. Reflecting on life has disintegated many assumptions some of which were causing me pain and suffering. When such assumptions disappeared I found myself in an unknown place (still pretty much where I am) … and this unknown place has opened up fascinating questions which I am happy to say I don’t have answers to. I have also picked up a new skill here … not looking for answers but rather being attentive to when they appear.

In many things I feel that I live close to the edge. This is one of the places where I feel I am beyond the edge. A place of doubt, confusion )for the mind), trust, faith … a place where I am less a navigator and more a flower (as in moving in a current). Such shifts in awareness are constantly clawing at pillars of my consciousness.

  • I am able to speak more openly with people who live in VERY different mind/heart sets.
  • I am less resistant to that which I don't know and less deluded by answers that satisfy my mind.
  • I am more in surrender than in control.
  • I experience less fear, less stress.
  • I am better at being alone without being lonely.
  • I am amused where once I would be angered.
  • I am more at peace being silent.
  • I find it easier to express myself - directly and honestly.
  • I find it harder to experience importance.
  • I have hope - I can see light in places that were very dark.

death is a rich topic … and doesn’t have to be / shouldn’t be dark :slight_smile: