For millennia indigenous people everywhere have known "how to die." Their teacher was the natural world and, over many years and many generations, they learned their lessons well. Cycles of dying and rebirth were seen everywhere: the setting and rising of the sun, the turning of the seasons, the death of the elderly alongside the birth of a new generation. Ceremonial rites of passage emerged pan-culturally as an expression of these lessons well-learned. These rites supported individuals as they let go of one stage of life—the “little deaths”—and were “reborn” into the next. And these rites supported people as they prepared for the final transition, the big Death that awaits us all.
As our modern culture has grown ever more sophisticated, we have also become ever more divorced from our natural surroundings and from ancient wisdom about living and dying. We have pushed Death away from Life, the dying away from the living—all in order to impose the illusion of control on the uncertainty of change. We have lost touch with the natural world and with our place in it as mortal animals. We have forgotten “how to die.”
Over 30 years ago, a cultural transformation—a slow rediscovery of the lost art of living and dying—began simultaneously in two different settings. In 1973, the first American hospice was started in New Haven and two years later, the first California program opened in Marin County. Also in 1973, Steven Foster began working for a government agency called "Rites of Passage” and two years later partnered with Meredith Little (also in Marin) and together they began their pioneering work in wilderness rites of passage. Thirty years later, these worlds met at Steven’s deathbed when Dr. Scott Eberle, a hospice physician, was asked to help Steven with his final rite of passage into death. In 2003, Scott and Meredith joined together as teaching partners, creating "The Practice of Living and Dying" - a new kind of curriculum that draws from both the hospice movement and the rites of passage movement.
Wilderness guide Meredith Little and hospice physician Dr. Scott Eberle are committed to promoting more understanding about rites of passage within health care, and increasing awareness about the dying practice contained in rites of passage work. Their dream is to learn what will be evoked by the dynamic juxtaposition of hospice, rites of passage, and the land we live on, that we might each be inspired to live and die more consciously amid these challenging times.