Frank Ostaseski knows death. Not in a metaphorical or figurative way, but through concrete presence. Frank has held hands, laughed with, cried with and learned from those who were welcomed in the doors of the Zen Hospice Project during their final days on the planet. As you will soon find out, he honors them through magnanimous storytelling and wisdom from the depths of experience. Frank is a sought-after Buddhist teacher who co-founded the Zen Hospice Project in 1987 and founder of the Metta Institute in 2005 to train countless healthcare clinicians and caregivers and building a national network of educators, advocates and guides for those facing life-threatening illness. If that weren’t enough, he’s been highlighted by Oprah Winfrey, Bill Moyers and H.H. the Dalai Lama. And Frank was gracious enough to share his teachings and presence with us on Contemplify. Using his life-altering book, The Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, as a launchpad we delve into Frank’s story, his mentor Stephen Levine, the power of the five invitations themselves, how those facing death became his greatest teachers, what he learned from the monsters in his son’s closest and so much more. Buy the book, read this book (if you’re in a book club, consider delving into it and using these discussion questions).
Michael Perry is a roughneck contemplative. A term that I am hoping he will half smirk at in self-recognition from his deer stand. We got together to talk about his latest book, Montaigne in Barn Boots: An Amateur Ambles Through Philosophy, a book that mind you, made me deeply reflect on my own life and laugh out loud while reading in crowded public spaces. A combination that doesn’t happen as often as I would like. So I wondered, what would a conversation with Michael Perry be like? Perry falls into the category of conversation partner that I admire, one who can belay between foolish laughter to gut-punch vulnerability in the span of a couple minutes.
As a music lover, for me to hear the connection between Mike Perry, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Justin Vernon and Phil Cook made me giddy. To learn that Justin Vernon and Phil Cook were once a part of Perry’s band was more than my ears could take. And this is just the tip of the conversation. Mike and I delve into how a kidney stone got him interested in the philosophy of Michel de Montaigne, why one might hesitate when they write an entire chapter about shame, the known and unknown seasons of marriage, and multitude of moments where Perry makes me snicker like a schoolboy. So pick up this book, Montaigne in Barn Boots, if you also like to philosophically bob and weave between laughter, tears and sighs of recognition. Or perhaps just like the term, roughneck contemplative.