In one of Long Now’s most moving talks, Ostaseski began: “I’m not romantic 
about dying. This is the hardest work you will ever do. It is tough. It’s sad 
and it’s messy and it’s cruel and it’s beautiful sometimes and mysterious, but 
above all that, it’s normal. It’s a boat we’re all in. It’s inevitable and 
intimate.“ He said that people think it will be unbearable, but they find they 
have the resources to deal with it, and “they regularly — not always — develop 
insights into their lives in the time of dying that make them emerge as a much 
larger, more expansive, more real person than the small, separate self they’d 
taken themselves to be.”

That is one message that dying gives to living. “Reflection on death,” he said, 
“causes us to be more responsible — in our relationships, with ourselves, with 
the planet, with our future.”

Ostaseski summarized the insights he’s learned from the dying as “five 
invitations to be present.” 1) Don’t wait. 2) Welcome everything, push away 
nothing. 3) Bring your whole self to the experience. 4) Find a place of rest in 
the middle of things. 5) Cultivate don’t-know mind. For 2), Ostaseski quoted 
James Baldwin: “Not everything that can be faced can be changed, but nothing 
can be changed that is not faced.” An example of 4): a woman who was panicking 
at her difficulty breathing was encouraged to try resting in the moment between 
breaths, and there she found the handle on her panic and relaxed into the 

Ostaseski ended with a story. One day at Zen Hospice in San Francisco he was in 
the kitchen reading a book called Japanese Death Poems. A tough old lady from 
the streets named Sono, who was there to die, asked him about the book, and he 
explained the tradition of Japanese monks to write on the day of their death a 
poem expressing the essential truth discovered in their life. He read her a 
few. Sono said she’d like to write hers, and did, and asked that it be pinned 
to her bedclothes when she died and cremated with her. She wrote:

Don’t just stand there with your hair turning gray,
soon enough the seas will sink your little island.
So while there is still the illusion of time,
set out for another shore.
No sense packing a bag.
You won’t be able to lift it into your boat.
Give away all your collections.
Take only new seeds and an old stick.
Send out some prayers on the wind before you sail.
Don’t be afraid.
Someone knows you’re coming.
An extra fish has been salted.

                         — Mona (Sono) Santacroce (1928–1995)

                                                                —Stewart Brand <>

Note: For the video and audio of the talk, go here 
<>   For a 
linkable version on Medium, with photos of Sono, go here 

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