DEATH: The End of Self-Improvement
(published in 2019)
This book celebrates the great stripping process of aging, dying and spiritual awakening. Beautiful, poignant, at times humorous, transcendent, messy, down to earth, refreshingly honest—the book explores death, and more importantly, being alive, through a rich mix of personal stories and spiritual reflections.
Joan writes about her mother’s final years and about being with friends and teachers at the end of their lives. She shares her own journey with aging, anal cancer, and other life challenges. She explores what it means to be alive in what may be the collapse of civilization and the possible extinction of life on earth due to climate change.
Pointing beyond deficiency stories, future fantasies, and oppressive self-improvement projects, Joan invites an awakening to the immediacy of this moment and the wonder of ordinary life. She demonstrates a pathless path of genuine transformation, seeing all of life as sacred and worthy of devotion, and finding joy in the full range of our human experience.
The book is about fully embracing death, and therefore life, whole-heartedly and relaxing into the total disintegration and loss of control that growing old and falling apart—and living and loving and being awake—actually entail. It faces the sometimes painful and often messy realities of aging and death without turning away. But at the same time, it sees the beauty in the mess and the hardship. Joan’s view of spirituality includes all of life. Hence, the book includes many things often seen as "unspiritual" or even unmentionable, everything from vaginal dryness to anal cancer. The book points to the transcendent right here in the ordinary actuality of this moment, just as it is.
Read a review by Oliver Burkeman in The Guardian (UK): HERE.
Not since reading Alan Watts 40 years ago have I experienced such clarity regarding ‘life,’ ‘death’ and ‘reality’ in a book.
-- Kat Nanshin Blehm on Facebook
Wonderful book, generous, warm and powerful. It's very moving and it feels like it touches one at a deeper level than understanding the words only. I love how the author approaches life, being in the present moment and impermanence. Really simple, all there is, is here and now, with all its beauty and vibrancy. Joan writes so well and the book is wonderful.
– K. Maxwell on Amazon UK
I started reading your new book yesterday and it is great beyond words…Your book opened up a kind of "vista" for me that I have never experienced before. It was like my 'authentic' self suddenly emerged and everything was seen through the lens of wonder and it's still happening.
– Eric Gross, author of Liberation from The Lie and Trust in Liberation
I have read all the books written by this author. They are all great. But this book is the masterpiece of all of them. Her presentation is lucid, deep, and very thought provoking about the mystery called birth and death. By this book one can prepare for death, welcome it in a mature way [rather] than get panicked by it. Joan offers a pathless path of genuine transformation. She sees life as sacred and worthy of devotion with joy in all our human experiences. And all her books reveal different shades of deeper truths in repeated readings.
--D. Justine Jeyaraj, Amazon India
This is a great book. Primarily, because Joan is a great writer. But also because she is extremely brave to live and examine life in detail and share these details for all the world to read… Although it isn't presented as such, this is a great Zen book… But it is Zen in the way Pirsig's book was Zen, while all the detail was about motorcycles and mania and familial relationships, and the way Hinton's books are Zen, while all the detail is about nature and mountains. And it is Zen in the way of Han Shan and Ryokan's work of recording the details of the everyday world in beautiful poetry… In this book, Joan goes right to the essence of heartbreak and death, illness and old age, and through her journey finds the beauty of life lived to the fullest, and is brave enough to share it in detail. There is also that of Vedanta in this book. But it is not the nihilistic denying of Maya, that is so often found in the world of Advaita. Rather it is embracing life, death, old age, illness, and all that goes along with it… And, lest one get the wrong impression, this book is not all death and sadness. There is much beauty and happiness as well, from joyful moments with old friends, to the magnificence of birds flying by the window. In short, this book is refreshing… Buy it. You will be glad you did.
-- Rodney J Owen on Amazon USA
A beautiful and pragmatic confrontation with death and other related taboo themes…
Joan Tollifson writes from a genuine human perspective embedded in a deep spiritual realization… I am particularly touched by the love arising in apparently messy and even repugnant situations, be it warm heartfelt human love or more mysterious all-encompassing unconditional love.
-- Magdalena Zajac, on Facebook
Beautiful, profound, tender, playful, serious, true. Joan’s spirit is so remarkable, her humor, and her sense of being alive and grateful. A rare jewel.
--Lenore Friedman, author of Meetings with Remarkable Women
What’s remarkable and unique to me about Joan's book is the congruence of the presentation with the teachings she offers. The story of her life, the way she unfolds and reveals the whole mess of it, from birth to death—tears, laughter and poop—perfectly models what she is teaching: the Here-Nowness of everything, beyond right and wrong, seamlessly coming and going—in and out of linear time—all of it one whole Unicity. What’s special and remarkable for me about Joan is her utter transparency and humility as a teacher, always a student sharing and acknowledging the teachings of other teachers, seeking therapy and talking about it openly, as she does her illness, fears, etc. All of it! No high horse for Joan. Just one of the gang, like me, like everyone.
--Dot Fisher-Smith, artist, poet, activist
Just got my book yesterday......riveting! I just turned 80 last month and I am astonished to finally find someone who has words for this astonishing process of aging. Thank you, Joan. It's proving to be a companion to me in this disintegration process.
– Penny Han on Facebook
The entire book was affirming and uplifting not in spite of the deaths, dire diagnoses and poop, but because of it all!
–Susie Kuranishi by email
A moving and wonderful and at times very funny must-read for anyone who has a deeper interest in matters of life and death - or who maybe has been touched by death in one way or another. I really recommend this book!
--Michael Peters on Facebook
Reading Death: The End Of Self-improvement is an extraordinarily beautiful adventure. One is brought into the recognition that: as we are, what we are, is enough and is okay. This is a tremendous gift. In utter forgiveness, allowing all that is to arise as it is, realizing what is beyond what is, in what is. Emptying an ostomy bag, again and again "was no longer a limitation, a disappointment, a drag, or unpleasant smelly task. It was wide open, interesting, perfectly okay, every bit as good as a beach in Hawaii or a trip to the Grand canyon. Yes I really mean that." You have arrived at what few recognize: one taste. At the root, in the core that is empty and always here, there is only love. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I look forward to the book you will dictate in satsang from the hospice as you exercise your right to die while perhaps seeming a little bit senile and very very hilariously funny.
--David Jhave Johnston, from an email
This is a very deep, authentic, informative, sometimes funny, always honest hard look at a very difficult subject for most people to talk about - or to even think about. It will undoubtedly be an all time classic on this subject. I'm not sure why but Joan's books including this one - always make me want to smile from the inside out.
--F.P. on Amazon US
I savored every bit of this gem of a book! Joan’s voice is refreshing, kind, down to earth and thought provoking. I treasured reading this book!
-- Michael Ashcraft, Amazon USA
I have read all of Joan Tollifson’s books. She is one of the best spiritual writers of our era. Her willingness to, in a sense, show the underbelly of life, that which we don’t speak of in polite conversation and to write of it with such authentic, vulnerable and poetic poignancy makes her writing so deeply moving and powerful. I have had the good fortune to have met Joan in person. Her words on the printed page are indeed an accurate reflection of her humbleness and extraordinary depth as a human being. Her life experiences, which she speaks of without holding back, and her spiritual practice rooted in many traditions from zen to Advaita, along with a keen intellect and commitment to social and climate justice provide the foundation for her insightful and inspiring writing. This latest book of hers, Death, the End of Self-Improvement (a superb title!) continues to point her readers to the beauty in the immediate intimacy of life - whatever that may be - sounds of chirping birds, sun dappling on the bark of trees in winter, a bus careening down a city street, cleaning an ostomy bag, a mother’s last days, all of it is to be embraced, and recognized, as much as we human beings can, as an opportunity for revelatory transformation. I recommend all of Joan’s books, each offers the reader an opportunity to pause and really pay attention to our lives. They invite us towards greater intimacy with life itself. Perhaps there can be no better gift than this - to really fully be with our lives.
--Rosann S., Amazon USA
I love Joan's down to earth sharing of her life and thoughts and feelings, simply and honestly, friend to friend. Bare-bones, no frills. Loved it.
--Joan North, author of Somewhere Else
A very powerful book about Life with many dimensions and gifts to share, very relevant to all of us. Joan Tollifson has had many very real challenges and losses. She is very direct and honest about the ruthless realities of living, struggles, sickness, pain, love, suffering and dying. And out of these difficulties arise incredible wisdom, insight, compassion, love, strength, courage and humor that will enable the reader's next step in life to be a little easier and a little less painful.
– Tom Thompson, The Awakened Heart Center for Conscious Living
Reading this book is a bit like reading poetry. I am immersed in the stark reality and beauty of getting old and dying.
– A.P. on Amazon US
If intimacy can be found in books, this book will help us be more intimate with life, as is. Joan has an inner integrity and writes with clarity, insight and compassion, about growing older, losing loved ones, depression and change. What I love most is her ability to discuss those aspects of life we usually gloss over, try to ignore or hide. There is no topic off limits. This book's honesty empowers us to be with what is as divine grace.
– Susan Crosswait on Amazon US
A Book of Clear Seeing. Like all of Joan's books, this one is life-affirming. Joan's warmth and down to earth wisdom permeates the book, even as she examines what it is we have to let go of as we age and various ailments may appear. To be alive and aware, or "Here/Now" as she terms the present moment, is what really concerns us and she points to the magic that is there to be discovered, despite life not always being quite how we might like it to be. A highly recommended read.
– Jenny S. on Amazon UK
A wonderful book! Joan’s writing resonates completely with me. Her spirituality is rooted in awareness of the details of our embodied lives, with presence wide-awake through physical decay and the deaths of those we love. No more spiritual seeking: just this.
– N.S. on Amazon US
Incredibly well written – clear, direct and imbued with courage and love.
-- I.J. Perry, MD PhD, by email
Death: The End of Self-Improvement had a profound effect on me. Previously, I never really ‘got' that business of Buddhist monks hanging out in those charnel grounds all night - it all seemed a bit exotic and fanciful. Thanks to your book, I sure get it now - and more. To be so immersed in the sheer tangibility of death is something we should all embrace for the sake of our wellbeing, right here, right now. Many thanks.
--David W., by email
Joan’s writing style is often poetic and sprinkled with good humour, with spiritual insights gently interwoven throughout. A captivating and heart-warming book.
--Colin W Morris, on Amazon
You can read a short excerpt at New Sarum Press. Joan talks about the book on Will Pye's TruthLover video podcast and on Rami Shapiro's Conversations on the Edge audio podcast.
The book is available on Amazon in both paperback and kindle formats. This is the easiest and best way to get it. Barnes and Noble also carries it, and you can also have your local bookstore special order it through Ingram-Lightning Source.
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