The geese court, and rose bushes unfurl new leaves on bare canes. Death seems to have left with winter, but that is not so. “Death is always with us, in the marrow of every passing moment,” says Issaquah resident Frank Ostaseski. “She is the secret teacher hiding in plain sight, helping us to discover what matters most.”
Frank is the author of The Five Invitations, which weaves together pragmatic tools, real-life stories, and ancient wisdom to help us discover how an awareness of death can be a valuable companion. Drawing on his years of experience companioning the dying, he invites us to:
- Don’t wait
- Welcome everything, push away nothing
- Bring your whole self to the experience
- Find a place of rest in the middle of things
- Cultivate a don’t know mind.
Frank and his wife Vanda Marlow have lived on Issaquah for three years now, although Vanda has had a boat on South Forty for many years. At first, Frank wasn’t sure he would take to houseboat living. “I live a fairly public life and was concerned that I would not have the privacy that I often crave at home. After all, we live quite cheek by jowl on the docks,” he says. “But I find that we are very respectful of each others’ privacy yet ready to lend a hand when needed. Like the other day when we helped the neighbors fish out their cat that had fallen into the drink.” Some of you might have seen Frank in his wetsuit taking a plunge on hot summer days. He adds, “My inner 12-year-old couldn’t be happier jumping off my own back deck to swim around the lagoon.”
Frank loves the way houseboat dwellers greet each other in recognition and with kindness. Perhaps sharing this floating world gives us insight. “On the docks each home is completely unique, individual, discriminated for the others,” he says. “At the same time, we all float on the same water, come up and down on the same tides. My sense is that there is a respect for difference yet an appreciation of our common ground. Which, in our case, is the ever changing environment that we live in and share together. Somehow when we are close to the precariousness of life we come to appreciate its preciousness.”
Frank has a long history of service. He is the co-founder of the Zen Hospice Project in San Francisco and founder of the Metta Institute, which offers training on compassionate end-of-life care. He has sat by the bedside of about one thousand dying patients as well as confronted his own mortality after suffering a heart attack. Honored by His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Frank was named one of America’s Fifty Most Innovative People in 2003 by the AARP. A Buddhist teacher and an international lecturer, he has been featured on the Bill Moyers PBS series On Our Own Terms and The Oprah Winfrey Show, among other programs.
Frank is not romantic about dying. “It is hard work. Maybe the hardest work we will ever do in this life,” he writes. “It doesn’t always turn out well. It can be sad, cruel, messy, beautiful, and mysterious. Most of all it is normal. We all go through it.” The five invitations, he says, have helped him cope with death and to live a life of integrity.
His book has universal appeal, beyond adherents to Buddhism. He writes,
To imagine that at the time of our dying we will have the physical strength, emotional stability, and mental clarity to do the work of a lifetime is a ridiculous gamble. My book is an invitation—five invitations, actually—to sit down with death, to have a cup of tea with her, to let her guide you toward living a more meaningful and loving life.
You’re Invited: Two Readings
Frank invites his “salty sea dog friends” to two upcoming book events: He will give a reading at 1 p.m. Saturday, April 1 at Book Passage in Corte Madera and be in conversation with Stewart Brand, another well-known dock resident, at 7:30 p.m. Monday, April 10 at the SF Jazz Center.
post by Jennifer Gennari