The late Michael Stone, Yoga teacher and Zen meditation practitioner has been a source of inspiration for me since 2009. I own four of his five published books, listen to his podcasts and have studied with him in person. He was a luminous teacher, erudite, wise, kind and gentle. His recent death is untimely for many reasons, his youth, his young family, and the treasure trove of wisdom that he has carried to his grave. It is interesting that at the close of each study session in which I sat with him, he chanted this Zen gatha:
Life and death are of supreme importance
Time is fleeting and opportunity is lost
Do not squander your life
…and now, he is gone…too soon…
Unbeknownst to his student community Michael suffered from bi-polar disorder. His closest family have shared that he was about to make this public knowledge, but feared the stigma attached to the illness. You can read a very moving eulogy written by his brother here. How can we separate Michael’s struggles, his brokenness from his brilliance? How can any of us separate those wounded, broken or challenged parts of ourselves from the gifts and potentials we have to share? Why would we want to?
The mental health charity MIND states that 1 in 4 people in the UK suffer from mental health challenges at some point in their lives. What if society acknowledged mental health issues and challenges as par for the course of being human? Would Michael have felt more supported? Would his life, and those of his loved ones, been easier, less burdened with the secrecy of not telling?
I do hope that his death will inspire the community that knows him, and beyond, to take courage, to own depression, sadness, wounded-ness as facts of life. To move beyond any sense of shame, to risk, to not have it all together. The more we share, the more socially acknowledged and acceptable these life experiences will become. The poet Rainer Marie Rilke calls us to honour these challenges, to respect them as part of the weave of a human life.
‘Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, and misery, any depressions, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you? Why do you want to persecute yourself with the question of where all this is coming form and where it is going?’
Can we make space for the difficult, the painful, our human vulnerability and that of others? One of the things that I love about the eight-week MBSR course is that it creates space for the whole human being. Participants share, that being in a group of open, authentic others allows them to realise that they are not alone, both in their potential and in their challenge. This is deeply nourishing. This is the potential of authentic community.
Michael was brilliant at articulating the ways in which our personal practice and lives have social implications. This TED talk calls us, somewhat ironically, to be more deeply materialistic. Take a look at Michael’s podcasts and books, they are a valuable source of support and inspiration.