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University Lets Students Lie in a Grave to Reconcile With Their Mortality

Radboud University, in the Dutch city of Nijmegen, has been raising some eyebrows with its “purification grave”, a hole dug in the ground that students can lie down in for up to three hours to reflect on what is important to them.

The “purification grave” at Radboud University is at the same time a modern form of memento mori and an invitation to think about what is really important in life. Initially dug in 2009 the grave was part of a two year project that ended in 2011. However, it seems to have made a comeback this year, probably by popular demand. Students at the the univeristy, and well as those at the neighboring HAN University of Applied Science can sign up to lay in the several feet-deep hole in the ground for 30 minutes up to three hours. They are not allowed to take their phones or any books with them in the grave, allowing them to focus on their surroundings and their inevitable demise.

“Since the theme of mortality and thinking about your life remains a current topic, we have dug another grave in the garden where you can lie down,” the Radboud University website states. “You can decide for yourself how long you want to do this for. Telephones and books in the grave are prohibited. You can also see it as a special place of meditation: below you the earth, above you the sky. You will then automatically notice what is going through your mind. Are you willing to take on that challenge? If you do not want to lie in the grave, you can also sit on the bench near the grave.”

Only 39 people participated in the project during the 2009 – 2011 period, but ever since the grave was re-dug in June, dozens of people have already tried it. Student church secretary Ilse Hubers told VICE Magazine that a few people use the grave every week, some of whom “find complete rest” and others who are “triggered by the experience”.

“There are no distractions. You really do have to just lie there and think about stuff,” student Feona Kane said. “You know when people say they have epiphanies when they’ve been on the toilet and forgot to bring their phone, or whatever? It’s like that, but on purpose.”

John Hacking, a chaplain at the student church and the man who dug the “purification grave” said that lying in the grave is not being dead, or even pretending to be dead, it is merely an invitation to make something of your life.

 

Contemplating death has been used as a form of therapy before. In 2017 we wrote about a group of Chinese women who used “graveyard therapy” to cope with divorce, and two years prior we featured the “Death Experience” school that taught depressed Korea students to appreciate life by getting locked in coffins.