Joan Halifax was born in Hanover, New Hampshire in 1942. At age four a serious virus caused her to go legally blind, from which she recovered two years later. In 1964 she graduated from Harriet Sophie Newcomb College at Tulane University in New Orleans, Louisiana, where she had become drawn in to the American civil rights movement and participated in anti-war protests.[1][2] Halifax moved to New York and began working with Alan Lomax, and by 1965 she was reading books on Buddhism and teaching herself how to meditate. She worked at the Bureau of Applied Social Research at Columbia University with Alan Lomax from 1964-1968. She then went to Paris and worked at the Museum of Man in the Ethnographic Film Section. She received her Ph.D. in medical anthropology and psychology and worked at the University of Miami School of Medicine. She also went to Mali, where she studied the indigenous Dogon tribe. During the 1970s, Halifax went to Mexico to study the Huichols.

In 1979, Halifax founded the Ojai Foundation, an educational and interfaith center. In 1990 Halifax founded Upaya Zen Center located in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The center offers Zen training, in addition to various courses and retreats on topics such as engaged Buddhism and caring for the dying. Caring stewardship of the land and its resources has been a constant factor in the development of the site. Halifax has as well done extensive work with maxiumum security prisoners and men on death row in the state of New Mexico.

As has already been noted, Joan Halifax has done extensive work with the dying over her career. Professor Christopher S. Queen writes—in the book Westward Dharma, “She teaches the techniques of ‘being with death and dying’ to a class of terminally ill patients, doctors, nurses, lovers, family, and friends. She speaks calmly, with authority. In a culture where death is an enemy to be ignored, denied, and hidden away, Joan physically touches the dying.”


Angel Fire Website discussing Joan Halifax’s work


The Fruitful Darkness: Reconnecting With the Body of the Earth.
Shamanic Voices: A Survey of Visionary Narratives.
Shaman, the Wounded Healer.
Grof, Stanislav; Halifax, Joan (1977). The Human Encounter with Death.
Trance in Native American Churches