“Dying is much more than a medical event. It is a time for important psychological, emotional and spiritual work – a time for transition. To a large extent, the way we meet death is shaped by our habitual response to suffering, and our relationship to ourselves, to those we love, and to whatever image of ultimate kindness we hold.” - Frank Ostaseski
Frank Ostaseski is a Buddhist teacher, international lecturer and a leading voice in contemplative end-of-life care. He is the Guiding Teacher and visionary Founding Director of Zen Hospice Project
, the first Buddhist hospice in America, in San Francisco. He has sat on the precipice of death with more than a thousand people and trained countless clinicians and caregivers in the art of mindful and compassionate care. His work draws on his many years of Buddhist practice and 15 years at the bedsides of people dying of cancer and AIDS. He is the former Spiritual Teacher-in-Residence at the Esalen Institute.
From his decades working with dying people and those who are dealing with the death of loved ones, Frank has recognized that we must “go toward what hurts”
: “When confronted by such harsh realities in life, or even some small discomfort or inconvenience, our instinctive reaction is to run in the opposite direction. But we can’t escape suffering. It’ll just take us by surprise and whack us in the back of the head. The wiser response is to move toward what hurts, to put our hands and attention gently and mercifully on what we might otherwise want to avoid.”
Frank is the author of the Being A Compassionate Companion audio series and The Five Invitations: What the Living Can Learn From the Dying
, which was published earlier this year. The Five Invitations
has been described as “an exhilarating meditation on the meaning of life and how maintaining an ever-present consciousness of death can bring us closer to our truest selves. The Five Invitations
show us how to wake up fully to our lives. They can be understood as best practices for anyone navigating a life transition, coping with loss or serious illness or a personal crisis; they guide us toward appreciating life’s preciousness. Weaving together pragmatic tools, real life stories and ancient wisdom, Frank helps us discover how an awareness of death can be a valuable companion on the road to living well, forging a rich and meaningful life free of regret.”
Frank has lectured at Harvard Medical School, the Mayo Clinic, Wisdom.2.0 and teaches at major spiritual centers around the globe. His work has been highlighted on The Oprah Winfrey Show, featured by Bill Moyers in his PBS television series, and honored by H.H. the Dalai Lama. In 2003, he was named one of America's 50 most innovative people in America by the AARP magazine.
In 2004, Frank created the Metta Institute
to provide innovative educational programs and professional trainings that foster compassionate, mindfulness-based care. A primary project of Metta Institute is the End-of-Life Practitioner Program that Frank leads with faculty members Ram Dass, Rachel Naomi Remen MD, and others.
Frank has served as a consultant to several healthcare organizations, NGO's and foundations including Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Fetzer Institute and others. He also leads workshops that explore individual relationship to suffering and death, emphasize a mindful and compassionate approach to caring for the dying, and offer pragmatic methods drawn from our direct experience.
Join us in conversation with this wise teacher!
Five Questions with Frank Ostaseski
What Makes You Come Alive?
Serving others. Nothing special really. Just simple human kindness.
Pivotal turning point in your life?
When my son Gabe was about to be born, I wanted to understand how to bring his soul into the world. So I signed up for a workshop with Elisabeth Kbler-Ross. I'd sit quietly in the back of the room and learn by watching the way she worked with people who were facing death or grieving tragic losses. Sometimes the anguish in the room was so overwhelming that I would meditate in order to stay calm. One rainy night shaken by the suffering I witnessed I collapsed to my knees in a mud puddle and started to weep. Elisabeth came along and picked me up. She said, "You have to open yourself up and let the pain move through you. It's not yours to hold." Without this lesson, I don't think I could have stayed present, in a healthy way, with the suffering I would witness in the decades to come.
An Act of Kindness You'll Never Forget?
A dying patient who threw me a surprise birthday party. He insisted on using money from his meager government check. He wanted to hire a stripper to jump out of a fake cake, but the nurses talked him out of that idea. He settled for balloons and a real cake.
One Thing On Your Bucket List?
Don't believe in bucket lists
One-line Message for the World?
Turn Toward Suffering with Love