Swiss Café Mortel (Death Cafe): Let’s talk Death

Swiss Café Mortel (Death Cafe): Let’s talk Death

Opposite of life, Indian Sages have said, is not death.  But “not living”.  If you know who or what “you” are, death will be a continuation of life, albeit in a different dimension.

Osho once said :

Life and death are one — one phenomenon, one energy. Life is the manifestation of that energy, and death is again relaxation. Life is coming to a form, and death is moving again into the formless. The end and the beginning meet. Life is not separate from death, death is not separate from life — they meet and mingle. Even to say they meet is not right because the mind immediately brings: “If there is a meeting then there must be two.” It is not a meeting, it is one phenomenon.
Cremation Pyres burning at the Manikaran Ghat
Cremation Pyres burning at the Manikaran Ghat 

New initiates onto a Spiritual path in India, have over many millenia been sent to the Cremation grounds.  To see death.  To get accustomed to death.  Understand that death is real!  For most of us, it happens to someone else, not us.  That is why in most societies, death talk is not a “nice subject” to discuss.  Specially not in a public place as a matter of practice!  Not by accident, but by design.  Manikaran Ghat, on the banks of Ganga in the oldest city of the world Varanasi, where hundreds and thousands of dead bodies arrive to be cremated is one place where many on the Spiritual path spend time at.  Sadhguru explains the importance of Manikaran Ghat in very profound terms:

Another name for Kashi is ‘Maha-smashana’ which means ‘Great cremation ground’ and the central point, the core of Kashi is Manikarnik, where at least one corpse will always be burning. The point is that a necessary atmosphere was created for those who died and for those who were burnt there because people were looking at life and death as a means of rising beyond the elemental play, the elemental hive created in the form of individual body and the cosmic body. If anybody penetrated these seven layers, for sure he would have risen – he would be beyond the play of five elements.

Death Cafe or Café Mortel model was developed by Jon Underwood and Sue Barsky Reid, based on the ideas of Bernard Crettaz, an eminent Swiss sociologist.  He has turned the famous European cafe into a place to discuss… death over coffee.   The pioneers say the following about what a Death Cafe is:

A Death Cafe is a group directed discussion of death with no agenda, objectives or themes. It is a discussion group rather than a grief support or counselling session.

This is done ‘to increase awareness of death with a view to helping people make the most of their (finite) lives’.    The only rule is –

no prescription:

no topic, no religion, no judgement.

The first cafe was held at  in the Restaurant du Théâtre du Passage, Neuchâtel, Switerland.  After that the cafe and its discussion of death went across many places and continents.

Does looking at death and knowing that you are a mortal help one understand life itself?  Sadhguru, an Enlightened Master emphasizes the need for such an awareness while living:

For me personally, I have seen death from a very early age.  As much as it is sad and signifies the end of one’s relationship to a physical form, it is also a great teacher.  Death of someone very close leaves a void.  Grieving I maintain happens for the void in us, as opposed to the “feeling bad” for the one who has departed.  We extrapolate what is true to us in physical terms to the realms that go beyond physical – given our presumption that death is a bad thing, skulls, blackness, darkness and horror all leading us to that conditioning.

For all we know, post death experience may actually be full of bliss based on one’s “non-physical structure”.  After all, those who have experienced death and come back to tell us how it feels like have some remarkable things to say quite unanimously.  Here are some of the common experiences of the Near Death Experience people:

  • A sense of peace, well-being and painlessness. Positive emotions. A sense of removal from the world
  • An intense feeling of unconditional love and acceptance
  • Receiving a life review, commonly referred to as “seeing one’s life flash before one’s eyes”
  • Receiving knowledge about one’s life and the nature of the universe

If death does give us that elusive experience of well being, peace and love, then why is it talked about only in horror movies and by morbid people?  Given the promise of post death of world, it should have been talked about by those who were the happiest!  For, they are most likely closer to the feeling of well being and happiness / bliss, than the morose.

One can probably say that the “Ghosts” have given death a rather undeserving and uncharitable reputation.  It is because of the darkness and negative connotation that no one – in his or her right mind, wants to discuss death.

If Cafe Mortel can be a success, then this little social experiment coming from the most beautiful places on planet, Switzerland, may restore the glory to death and its discussion that it so richly deserves!  It is the beginning of awareness!

Image Source for Featured Image: Flickr (Logsofwood forthe funeral pyres at the Manikaran Ghat, by Amardeep Singh)

Image Source for Manikaran Ghat from Flickr

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