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Death and dying are an inevitable and pervasive feature of life, and yet we tend to shy away from the prospect of our own demise. For obvious reasons, the topic is emotion-laden, confusing, and frightening. At the same time, facing death can also be a meaningful and transformative process. In some cultures, one's death is considered to be the will of a supreme deity or the passage to a better world, and thus not a tragedy. But for many in the West, the traditional rituals and discourses around dying have gone the way of our other lost rites of passage.

Since the 1960s, psychedelic psychotherapy has become one way for people to explore the meaning of death and to attempt to come to terms with it. Some report that this confrontation allows them to live their lives more fully. In other cases, the unexpected and unsupported experience of "ego death" can be frightening and traumatic, especially given that confronting a figurative death can feel indistinguishable from the apparent death of the organism. Many experience reports feature strong images or feelings of dying or death, even though the vast majority of these explorers are not undergoing medical emergencies when they have these experiences.

Referred to sometimes in the West as Chapel Perilous, Dark Night of the Soul, or Crossing the Abyss, ego death has been considered an important milestone on the seeker's path in some spiritual traditions. Indigenous ritual use of sacred plants, as well, sometimes features a figurative death and subsequent rebirth as a shaman or as an adult member of the community. Visits to the spirit realms and communication with deceased ancestors are also common.

As the baby boomers age, the topic of death and dying has gained attention in the United States. Thanatology (the scientific study of death and dying), Death Education courses, and the hospice movement are all signs of this changing awareness, and point toward the growing desire to integrate the inevitable.

Oh, Nobly Born,
Now is the moment.
Before you is mind, open and wide as space,
Simple, without center or circumference.
Now is the moment of death.
-- Tibetan Book of the Dead