Class meets every other Saturday, 10/12-11/9 @ 10:00-11:30 (CT) / 11:00-12:30 (ET)

The sage Yudhisthira is asked, “Of all things in life, what is the most amazing?”
He answers, “That people, seeing others die all around them, never think that they will die.”

While sickness, old age, and death are inevitable in this life, thoughts, feelings, and discussions about them are often feared and avoided at any cost. However, the cost is dear as people allow their fears to destroy the intimacy they could have with their lives and with those they love.

In this 6-week course, we will examine how Zen practice and the Mondo Zen process can dissolve the grip that so often paralyzes us into denial and disconnection when faced with sickness, old age, and death. We will engage in death-related discussions and begin work on getting our physical, spiritual, emotional, and worldly affairs in order. We will also look very closely at death as a process – ours and others – so that we can finally “die” and live the rest of our lives with joy and grace.

Course Outline 

Death, Why Bother?
Impermanence! How do we admit and face our fears about old age, sickness, and death as well as the grief in the steady loss of … well … everything! How can we stop being afraid of fear? Through Zen teachings and the Mondo Zen process, learn about ways to open to fear and deal with whatever life brings you. 

Dying to Know
The Great Mystery and Matter of Life and Death. What happens after we die? Who dies? What continues? What concerns do we have about death and dying? And the most important question of all: How do you want to live until you die?

Your Bucket List / Kicking the Bucket
Carole King sang, “It’s too late, Baby…” but it’s not! What do you have left to do? What do you still need to say? It’s time to plan the biggest party of your life, death, er … whatever!

Course Description
  • 3 Large-group meetings online (90 minutes) including
    • Presentations
    • Teishos by Vicara Roshi
    • Small group breakout sessions
    • Whole group sharing and discussion
  • Personal reflective work
  • Creating end-of-life plans
Optional Offerings
  • Readings, videos, podcasts (some may require subscriptions to Tricycle and Lion’s Roar magazines)
  • Weekly Death Café – Small group discussions with Reishin
    • Schedule TBD by class
  • Dokusan with Vicara Roshi
  • Daisan with Reishin

Vicara Mary Connelly Roshi
Vicara Roshi has been involved in meditative practice since the early 1970s. After receiving her MSW followed by 2 years of postgraduate training in psychotherapy, she practiced as a psychotherapist until entering medical school in 1984. 

While in medical school, she began her Zen training in the Soto tradition and received Jukai from Zenkai Taiun Michael Elliston.  She was one of the founding members of the Charleston Soto Zen Center in South Carolina. After moving to Appleton, WI, Vicara began practicing yoga with Ma Dhyana in 1993 and began studying with Jun Po Roshi in 1994.  She received Jukai with Jun Po Roshi in 1998. Vicara Roshi is one of the founding members of what became Zen River Sangha in Appleton, WI. In 2002, she was designated to teach as Sensei and received Hollow Bones Priest Ordination in 2003. On December 4, 2015, she received Inka, Dharma Transmission, from Jun Po Roshi.

Vicara Roshi retired after 32 years of medical practice in 2020. Her last 12 years of practice focused on providing Integrative Medicine services to oncology patients at 2 cancer centers in NE Wisconsin. Previously, she directed the Center for Health & Healing, an Integrative Medical Center in Green Bay, WI. 

Working in partnership with those facing critical illness embodies the truth of our life as practice.  None of us can escape sickness, old age, and death. Opening and allowing this deep truth can help us face what truly needs to be seen and experience life as it is.


Reishin Denise Leong
Reishin Denise Leong has been with the Hollow Bones Zen sangha since 2005, taking jukai in 2007 and ordaining as a priest 2010. She currently serves as one of four teachers at the Zen River Sangha in Appleton, Wisconsin. 

In her retirement after forty-one years in education, Reishin has been blessed to serve as a chaplain for a local hospital since 2018. From her experiences there and as a hospice volunteer for over twenty years, she recognizes the importance and value of death awareness and accepting death as an integral, precious part of life. 

Reishin has certificates as an End-of-Life Doula from the University of Vermont School of Medicine and as a Grief Support Specialist from the University of Wisconsin. She also hosts a bi-weekly Zen Death Café online.

Faced continually with old age, sickness, and death, Reishin offers perspectives and skillful means for Zen practitioners to embrace the whole of life with equanimity, grace, and gratitude.