Teaching is Learning in Public

Walker and I get a lot of feedback about the blog, both from your comments and from what you share with us in person or in other channels of communication.

Know that this process has, for us, provided a way to connect in new and substantive ways with many more people. The writing, and then reading your responses, is of infinite value as we seek to metabolize an intense and difficult experience, and to arrive at new meanings and understandings.

Some of you, reading this, will be awakened to new possibilities for yourselves in some way. Knowing this makes me deliciously happy. I (Doug) love when you share in a comment that what we’ve written inspires you or opens new possibilities for you.

But, lest I be accused of selling snake oil, I really don’t know how to do this, this dying thing. I’m (drum roll….. yes,  the rumors are true!) a first-timer. Any actual knowledge I might profess about dying hasn’t yet been fully earned. So, it’s not expertise that I am offering.

Rather, it’s my lived experience, day by day, as it unfolds. Is it not true, at the end of the day, that our fullest selves and our lived stories are what we haveLotus Reliquary full length to offer anyway?

Almost certainly, I will only get to die once. Not that I would wish cancer on anybody. More like, if I’m here, I might as well explore the unique perspective on living that is revealed by dying.

Might as well take a look around this territory. And, my oh my… what a view it is from here!

Might as well share the nuances of my own experience, such that these teachings might become a transmission between my self and your own self.

Perhaps you will decide that something different is needed for you to feel complete with your business here on Earth. Or it’s time to leave a relationship or job that is constraining for you. Or simply marvel at what life is already offering you, as tears of gratitude well up from somewhere inside and trickle down your face.

This teaching is not neatly formed, complete, or easy. Rather, the teaching is livingness itself. It is a window into how one mortal human man and his beloved partner are actively working with cancer and the dying process. We are the teaching. Talking and writing about living and dying are simply a means for taking what we are experiencing and learning, and sowing them outward in all directions, knowing they take root where they will.

Having spent over 40 years as a teacher, I find myself without a platform for the content that has come through me, especially over the last few years. I have passed on my work to others who are better-suited to carry it on.

In the space that remains, I talk out loud. I go public. I share what’s hard and what’s nice and what’s working and what I’m learning. I don’t know how else to do this. It provides meaning for me. It is a practice to wrestle coherent language out of the cognitive sludge that sometimes seems to have replaced my brain.

Yet, the life force runs strong in me. While my capacities are dwindling significantly,  this process of living with illness and imminent death also seems the most fascinating thing in my life. Death is a potent experience, and one of the very few we share with everyone.

As I sit in silence and listen, I am asked to stay present. I am asked to be curious, inquiring into my own experience. And to share this bounty out loud, with others, with whatever vehicles seem most useful and available in current conditions.

As a friend of Carey’s says, “teaching is learning in public.”

Power chair
My Hawg, from Habitat ReStore (Thanks, Charlie!)

32 thoughts on “Teaching is Learning in Public

  1. Many thanks Doug for sharing your beautiful wisdom and insights. You truly have touched our hearts.
    Sending you peace and daily prayers.


  2. ….and it bears repeating that sharing your experiences, your learnings and your teachings are treasured gifts not taken for granted. Thank you to both you and Walker for allowing so many of us who might be considered strangers to feel welcomed into your world. Your generosity and full hearts are and will be remembered gratefully and often


  3. You both teach me something new about myself with each post. But, frankly, there is nothing new about that – the learning started when I met Walker in the parking lot of GreenLife two years ago… and I expect it will last a lifetime.

    Thank you…


    Mark Collins

    “How wonderful it is that nobody need wait a single moment before starting to improve the world.” ~ Anne Frank

    Follow me on http://www.linkedin.com/in/markcollinsandcompany



  4. Your words reach deeply into me this evening and I breathe with you. Indeed, we are all learning with you. Thank you my dear friend for giving life to death, for giving words to that which cannot be described. Embracing you both in arms as big as the universe! Love, Ginny

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Doug,

    I have always been a shy learner, one who learns from reading, watching, listening, and sometimes from experimenting. Errors also have helped me.

    Your exuberance and sheer volume as a larger than life teenaged cousin fascinated and impressed me. How you have grown all of the you that I knew, on the Vineyard, or for Thanksgiving in Ithaca — into your warm, thoughtful, modest and wise outreach contains both lessons and learning. Thanks to you, I will now reflect on your gift : how to become a better public learner.

    Thank you,



  6. I love the way you are living your dying. It reminds me of my own drawing near to my death, and the marvelous and terrible lessons. Do you remember that some call the pope or a bishop or someone, “Your Imminence?” That’s my new title for you. It reminds me that, in the realm of eternity, the span of our lives in this mode are but a twinkle in His eye. And that we so often PUT the twinkle in His eye. As you do mine.


  7. Oh Doug, you are the fifth beloved person in my life, in just as many years, to suffer from terminal illness. I have learned, I believe, to support whatever needs and wishes arise during one’s final months. As you taught us, holding space for whatever shows up is the loving essence of being present. I know that you are continuing, through this blog, to live your life’s purpose. Thanks to you and Walker for sharing these intimate times with us. Your work has changed my life and revealed my life’s purpose, along with that of many others. And when the time comes to rest, know that you are still with us every day through our presence and coaching. Dinosaurs may be gone but they are sure not forgotten! ❤️


  8. Nice set of wheels you got there. Oh dear sage one, perhaps I have missed your wisdom on this particular topic and if so I apologize, do you have a ‘if I had my life to live over again…..’ that you could share?


  9. Reading today made me wonder if you’d be interested in seeing the film I made, “Living While Dying”. I filmed 4 friends who had terminal illnesses- we are all learning together. I was called to make a film, as you’ve been called to share this blog. –as we continually challenge ourselves to be present to what is. The movie trailer is at http://www.livingwhiledying.org


  10. you’re looking great in that chair Doug! I’m serious when I say that. I love the expression on your face 😉
    thanks for learning in public. love, Diane


  11. Doug, your wry expression of meaning lands on me regularly, and I feel what seems your growing freedom with it.
    I also want to thank you for the ‘teaching is learning in public’ piece. That will stick with me.

    I have my 93 year old father in law in my house right now, well into cognitive and physical decline, and their consequences. An old school retired steel mill worker, he’s handling his process by never making contact, not engaging or talking. I am continually confronted by what I hope to never become. You showing there is also aliveness and vitality in dying is a brilliant contrast, and invaluable for me to witness. I thank you for it.


  12. Doug, I have always felt
    Grateful to you for a kind look and a affirming remark. We were on a small plane (maybe Hickory tub), heading somewhere with Outward Bound. This was about 1987. I had just recently met Margaret Baxter at the Everglades and was swept inexorably into her uncannily familiar orbit feeling completely confident I had met my soulmate and life partner. I kept it quiet as it seems inconceivable that she could ever be interested in return. But oh how it flared through every iota of my being. You and I were sitting next to each other, friendly, but not close friends. As the engines rocked and rolled I turned to you and said I met the woman of my dreams, the woman of my life your eyes lit up in shared pleasure. Then I hesitantly said her name: boss lady, ice queen,, beautiful, respected and admired. Me, grunchy course director/instructor. Your look was kind, but not kindly. You said YES! I felt my confidence swell. I don’t remember much else and I would be surprised if you did.

    But here we are. 29 years together and two wonderful kids. A life of joy and fun.

    Thank you Doug. I mean to point out your DEPTh. Your sensitivity. Your kindness. Your encouragement. You are a
    Natural life sharer

    I read your post and usually cry. Walker, whom I have not had the pleasure of meeting seems amazing. My love to you both.

    Thank you friend. You have been sharing your soul every day in big ways and small and I am grateful for a bumpy plane ride of exposure to your being.

    Margaret and I send love. And thanks for the tiny push that helped me keep moving toward my destiny so many years ago.

    Mary Decker


  13. Your ongoing description of and reflection on your experience of dying has been an extraordinarily rich gift to me, Doug. It has enriched my own experience of living and of knowing you. I am so grateful. Stay on a while longer. I will miss you terribly.


  14. I have not commented before because I don’t know you personally, but I’ve heard about you two for years from a good friend and artist who lives near Boone and knew you from long ago. I’ve been following your blog for a few months now and your recent post about comments prompts me to tell you how much the thoughts you and Walker have posted on your journey have meant to me. I’m particularly inspired by your curiosity and deconstruction on the experience you’re having. And while I’m sure there are dark times, your overall approach is something I aspire to achieve.


  15. I mean this with all the love in the world – you are a BADASS, Doug! 🙂
    Thanks for your fearless sharing and endless curiosity. You provide a window into experiences we all will see one day. Much love.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. Doug,
    You have been a teacher for all these years, and absolutely are still a teacher. I thank you for your wisdom, your transparency, your clarity, and your courage to put yourself out there.
    I have been a volunteer at hospice and a grief support group facilitator for years now, and I am not hesitant to hold people while they are dying and/or grieving. And yet, I am learning from reading your blog that there is so much more for me to learn about the deeper levels of the dying and grieving process. I hear myself saying “Doug is bringing the dying process to life”. A surprising combination of words, and yet, you are teaching something we all benefit immeasurably from learning. I know I will be very much more present for those around me, as a result. Thank you so much, Doug!


  17. Great new ride there Doug! How will we keep up with you now!
    Also want to thank you and Walker again for sharing your authentic selves with us.
    From my experience of being with a spouse who was actively facing the process of dying, I recognize the presence that calls you both into each poignant moment. I never felt so alive than when I watched Bruce take his last breath after telling me that he loved me. Many say that life is a wonderful gift. I add that dying with peace and gratitude is the ultimate reward for a life lived with compassion and honesty.
    Thank you Doug and Walker for sharing your strong foundation of love so that we all can witness it.


  18. I have learned from my every interaction with you–you are providing such insight, modeling and depth to this experience, indeed, we will all share in our own ways. So much love to you! (The Toenails!! Love your grandson without even knowing him directly…)


  19. Dear Doug,
    One of the most important lessons you taught me was to find comfort and joy in being a beginner. I carry that with me to the NH Senate, to being a grandparent, and everywhere I go. When I am frustrated by not knowing the best solution or path, I can hear your voice, and I try to enjoy all that goes with being a beginner. And now you are a beginner at dying. I guess everyone is. Thank you for such (typical) generosity in sharing your journeys. I shall never forget all the gifts you have given and are giving to us all. Love and hugs to you and Walker, Martha H


  20. Dear Doug,
    For me, your willingness to share the process you’re going through is not so much an example of how to die well, but how to live well. Your posts inspire me and remind me to really live, with heart and mind wide open, each moment I’ve been gifted. You are fully alive.
    With deep appreciation for your generosity,


  21. What I hear so clearly is you saying, again, do not miss this living, this life because you think you should be doing something else, somewhere else, with someone else. If you can do it from there, on the glide path strewn with distress and pain and love and incapacity and love, I can. I love the way you keep reminding us that your experience is not you. Thank you.


  22. Doug and Walker,
    It is such a gift and a treasure to read your blog. It is incredibly generous of you to share this experience with us. Death and dying though around us all the time and inevitably part of our experience is kept so private and veiled – it generates immense fear and anxiety and your openness and intimacy are so meaningful to me and so many others.
    Thank you.


  23. Doug
    Thank you and keep writing. Both of you…every time I come to the blog and find a new piece, I feel this joy that life is letting you teach through your experience a bit more. It must be because we all have so much to learn. Your blog is helping me approach this summer with family very differently. Not always easy and so helpful to keep reading you and doing my practice.
    Thank you
    I love this idea of teaching as learning in public. It ups the bar for what we teach every moments of our lives.

    Much love to you and Walker


  24. Hi Doug,
    Found this prose piece in the June issue of poetry, from Gordon Henry, Jr. I like it very much and thought of you. If I were to add anything to this prose piece of would be “sculpting sculpting sculpter, without names for form, shaping…”…remembering you and Walker often with Love and prayers.

    Let us be painting painting painter singing singing singer

    For H.E. Ephemera

    So, “this is poetry,” is not poetry. We would rather be verb than noun or object even if the poem brings us to a final word as if settled on image or object image. A flat stone soaking water, a rainfall of women’s voices, secret children of muses syncopating, in the weight of clouds running down roads in the passes of august memory. The noun lives in colonies, the verb escapes with a slice of bread taken from a table set, with fruit and a pistol, a shining watermelon glass of Kool-Aid, painting painting painter. Just as we would rather be singing singing singer, the echo coming from some filmy shore as we pass, paddling paddling paddler, gliding without enough names for water, over the surfaces named water, even as we believe this is poetry, even if we believe the event remains too limited, the extended, possibility of no context, no place, just the voice, in a small room, walls of books, rotting clothes, empty subjects, hanging jackets of winter, the voice alone, at a station, perhaps, singing, singing, singer, without enough names for lyric, for an uncertain longing, with sounds we call lyrical, even as the words end somewhere, in the extending impossibility of fixed context, stopping, coming to rest where the noun lives in colonies and the poetry, singing singing singer, coming to rest, now and again, the verb singing breathing breather, breath, without even names for poetry, poem, poet, coming to rest, as if we could be poet or anything other than breathing, breathing, breathing, breather, poet, breathing, breath, breathing, breather, poet, breathing, singing, sounding, singing, singer, sounding, poet, singing, the sound, sounding, song, poet, breathing, sound, breathing, song, breather, breath.


  25. I meant to say, also, thank you so much for the videos. I have watched the first and am on to the second soon. 💟


  26. Thank you, Doug, for continuing to teach us with humor, grace, and humility! We are all on this crazy ride with you, and just will get there at different times. You have contributed so much to my learning about myself, and continue to help me learn. Huge hugs to you in your chair with your Bat shirt and painted toenails and the smile on your face!


  27. I love you Doug. From the grassy yard pairing up at Bankers Trust to walks by your river at Bend of Ivy, to sitting and being, to sending you other pilgrims, to the many things I have in my home that you gave me – the beautiful Andrew Goldsworthy books for several – to your insistence I use my voice to having found yesterday, in Maine, a long and loving letter from you in reviewing an early manuscript. We go one of two ways-quickly and unexpectedly or with time to feel and savor while not lying about the rest. You’re a model and inspiration.


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