YD News

Reflections On Michael Stone, Mental Health And Yoga’s Cult Of Positivity

by Rachel Meyer

It’s over a month now that Michael Stone is gone.

What a wierd word that is: gone.

Gone, Gone, Gone beyond Gone completely beyond

Like many people, I can’t fairly consider it.

Michael’s face keeps popping up on my Facebook feed, and for a split-second my mind thinks it’s a new weblog or an unheard podcast or an upcoming retreat, for the briefest second excited to see what wisdom providing may be across the corner.

And then I keep in mind he is gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha

Gone from struggling into the liberation from suffering.

*

Memorials have been showing repeatedly; sleek, all.

Michael’s brother Jayme’s hauntingly-perfect eulogy concerning the vast wake that Michael leaves. The heartbreakingly-real, yet unbelievably-grounded common FB updates from Carina and workforce. Compassionate tributes from Spirituality and Health and Tricycle and Lion’s Roar, the Buddhist group coming together of their collective grief. Matthew Remski reading Michael’s letters about how family wakes us up. Mainstream media protection in The Washington Publish and The Globe and Mail, difficult items typically written from a secular perspective that throw round thorny phrases like “charismatic guru” and “opioid overdose.”

In the wake of Michael’s sudden dying, the overarching themes from conversations amongst my yoga instructor colleagues have been:

1) ohmigod that is so f*cking unhappy, and

2) we have now GOT to speak more transparently about psychological health in the yoga and wellness communities.

Yoga academics: how has this tragedy touched your hearts and minds?

And the place can we go from right here?

*

It is 2008.

Michael’s first ebook, The Internal Custom Of Yoga, has simply been revealed. There’s not a lot else on the market prefer it.

I stumble throughout a replica in the philosophy section of an honest-to-god real-life Barnes & Noble, again when there was such a thing in San Francisco’s Union Sq.. I read half of it immediately, inspired, sitting there on the ground in a caffeinated half-lotus.

The subsequent day, ensconced in a restaurant on Polk Road, the guy to my left taps my shoulder, leans over, gestures on the cover, and asks incredulously, “The inner tradition of yoga?!? Is there even such a thing??”

Michael Stone was in contrast to some other.

He set a exceptional commonplace.

Since that second almost a decade in the past, he has been my touchstone for what it means to be a considerate, humble, clever scholar, instructor, author, meditator, activist, and yoga thinker.

Here was somebody who’d studied with Richard Freeman and was a legit Ashtangi, an mental who’d lived a Thoreauvian life in a bus in the wilderness, an activist who utilized yogic ethics to the Occupy motion and referred to as for engaged Buddhism with an eye fixed toward social justice. Here was a instructor who melded psychology and yoga philosophy and Buddhism in the most-approachable of the way. Here was a globally respected scholar-yogi who didn’t sell out to multinational firms by turning into an envoy for yoga pants. Here was a young husband and father who was directly engaged in household life and grounded in the monastic/ascetic mannequin, a seeker who’d educated with the greats and was honing his personal voice at the similar time.

Michael’s work gave me permission to be a yoga instructor who was not all the time perky and chirpy and filled with woo-woo bliss-talk. He made it appear potential to be directly critical and funny and engaged and introspective, versus a run-of-the-mill yoga fitness Barbie.

As a scholar and as a instructor, his work encouraged me to feel all of my human emotions. To aspire to stability quite than bliss. To purpose for sattva as an alternative of glowing.

That he struggled shouldn’t come to any of us as a shock.

That we all wrestle shouldn’t come to any of us as a shock.

*

I understand Michael’s worry about being forthcoming about his psychological well being.

In April 2016, I wrote an article for The Washington Submit about my own wrestle with postpartum melancholy.. The piece had been on my heart for 2 years, and it hungered desperately to be articulated, like nothing else I’d ever written earlier than. The final essay took months to return together, and I was pleased with the final end result.

It felt true, unvarnished, melancholy, entire.

However in the days earlier than it was revealed, I used to be terrified. Wracked with nervousness. The morning before it got here out, I sat on the floor of my workplace, shaking, and wept. It felt like the last word popping out of the closet. Complete naked vulnerability.

Because “speaking [my] desolation was terrifying. I was a yoga teacher. I was supposed to weather the storms of parenthood with grace: be positive and perky, measured and resilient, lose the baby weight in a flash, thrive on green juice and quinoa whilst wearing my baby like a kangaroo.”

Wasn’t I? Isn’t that the shakti cheerleader fable we’ve collectively constructed, Instagram publish by Instagram submit?

After the piece was revealed, I used to be overwhelmed by an outpouring of solidarity from throughout the globe, ladies yogis reaching out to say, “You spoke my truth. I see myself in your words, and I didn’t have the words to articulate this experience myself. Thank you.”

(It’s all the time the items which might be most terrifying to publish that strike a chord, that folks relate to most. The entire experience was such a great reminder to trust the vulnerability on the heart of intimacy.)

A couple of days later, I reached out to Michael and shared my essay with him, mentioning that I’d lengthy respected his work and imagined he may discover it of value, or a minimum of relatable.

The subsequent morning I awoke to his reply. Michael wrote, “This is the most tender, accurate, & clear article I’ve read in months. Perfectly sad and inspiring.”

It was, and all the time shall be, one of the highlights of my career.

Michael and I never met in individual. However I’ve spent lots of of hours “with” him and his teachings through the years, listening to his measured voice while climbing the paths of Northern California, driving the twisting roads of Marin en route to teach in Oakland, sitting on buses in San Francisco sending metta to the strangers throughout from me, training silently on my kitchen flooring in Portland while my son slept upstairs, meditating on a aircraft flying cross-country to begin a new life in Boston.

I do know I’m not alone. These years, these hours, listening, all, have been a lesson within the influence one individual can have on one other (hundreds of others), quietly, across the miles.

I’m ceaselessly grateful.

*

In the inimitable void that Michael has left, I’m heartened to see that his educating workforce continues to be shifting ahead with upcoming trainings, such that his educating may proceed, even in his physical absence.

Among so many classes through the years, these stand out:

Enlightenment is intimacy. And family wakes us up. Michael described enlightenment as intimacy. A closeness with what’s. A transparent-seeing; a deep-knowing.

I hold considering of Carina, their youngsters, their unborn child. I maintain considering of how insufferable the grief of loss have to be, the heart-shattering miracle that will probably be that forthcoming youngster. I hold considering of the truth that we simply by no means f*cking know when our day will come.

All of religious follow is just taking good care of things. Years in the past, I scrawled this podcast nugget down on a bit of scrap paper and taped it to the wall. My husband discovered it in a shifting box within the basement a number of days after Michael passed. It nonetheless feels true.

Yoga is about studying to be awake on the earth. Michael’s guide of the same identify, his podcast, too, emphasised as much, directly poetry and prose and philosophy and meditation. Very very similar to Virginia Woolf’s, his writing was directly literary and philosophical and grounded in the stuff of actual life.

Your life doesn’t want you to consider it on a regular basis. Completely easy. Completely sensible.

Yoga is about studying to be real. Yoga means dropping our masks, releasing the armor. Finding ease in your being, your physique and mind. We’re allowed to really feel the complete depth of the human emotional spectrum without invalidating or doing violence to our psyches by denying the more shadowy of these feelings. This means learning to be with all that we really feel—even probably the most irritable, politically incorrect, troublesome, difficult emotions—and trusting that, with the help of the breath, we will stick with them, and watch them “arise, unfold, and pass away,” all of the while residing in that place of equilibrium. This is the true work of the yogi.

*

Academics, the place can we go from right here?

What does a brand new paradigm seem like? And how can we help colleagues who’re struggling?

Here’s what I’ve obtained up to now:

1. We will’t put one another on pedestals. ‘Nuff said. Matthew Gindin’s reflection on “Putting To Rest The Myth of The Heroic Self” over at Tricycle addresses this nicely.

2. We have to be extra transparent about our own humanity, and daring sufficient to acknowledge more than bliss. We’ve to be genuine about the truth that, yes, absolutely, we’re human, and we experience the entire realm of human emotions. We will’t prioritize bliss over the other points of being human, fetishizing a certain saccharine happiness fantasy that appears like glittery leggings and handstands on the seashore. We need to TALK about these things, to step into the world with our own armor eliminated. No one needs a instructor who’s all cotton sweet, capturing unicorn rainbows out the butt.

3. That stated, we have to train from our scars, not from our open wounds. As an eating disorder survivor, as a postpartum melancholy survivor, as a lady, as a mother, as a companion, I can serve people that suffer and wrestle with comparable life circumstances by saying, “Ok, I’m not perfect, but here are some tools yoga and meditation have taught me that helped me, and maybe they’ll help you, too.”

Our job is to help each other really feel higher in body and mind, right? To use what we’ve discovered and practiced to offer a measure of ease, freedom from bodily struggling, freedom from mental struggling.

So perhaps on our bios where we mention how delighted we are to have studied with Rockstar Instructor A and Rockstar Guru B, we will also mention the ways through which we’ve been broken-open and the communities we’ve discovered to serve in consequence. This current piece from Josh Korda articulates this idea properly.

4. We have to be vigilantly self-aware of our personal religious bypassing. For those who don’t know yet what that is, I highly advocate you dig into Buddhist psychologist John Welwood’s work. “Spiritual bypassing” happens once we use religious beliefs and practices to keep away from coping with painful or uncomfortable feelings, wounds, or points. A lot of this occurring in and round yogi social media, amirite?

5. We need to release shame and be daring enough to be weak. Most of us know too properly the risks of developing a shiny facade. Vulnerability leads to compassion results in intimacy. Take a look at Brené Brown on both of those themes for those who haven’t finished so already.

6. We have to redefine happiness as profound okayness. Tara Brach (another clever and fantastic Buddhist instructor with a psychological bent) provides this grounding definition, and I can’t like it sufficient. Happiness as profound okayness is vital to re-conceiving a yogic strategy that’s greater than perpetual euphoria (which is not sustainable, nor lifelike, for anyone acquainted with the First Noble Fact. Life is struggling, bro. Ask the Buddha, he’ll fill you in).

7. We will’t be afraid to get help once we need it. I can never fake to know what it’s wish to cycle between the manic/depressive episodes of a bipolar analysis. We all wrestle in our own methods, and are healed or given solace in our personal ways.

As Julie Peters’s wonderful current essay argues, “yoga, self-care, and alternative forms of medicine cannot fix everything.” So that you do you. No matter that takes to deliver you to thriving. Including meds. Together with acupuncture. Including ayurvedic drugs, and so forth. and so forth. It’s all gravy.

eight. We’ve gotta be humble and authentic—courageous sufficient to cease selling a reasonably picture.
The modern yoga scene is dominated by commodification. Most of us academics are painfully conscious of how social media has turned yoga follow right into a performative reputation contest, somewhat than a meditative religious discipline and path to freedom from suffering. So what can we do to be more genuine as academics, to loosen up into the wabi-sabi qualities of being with out spewing our guts like a scorching mess? Where’s the stability?

9. Lastly, we need to speak more brazenly about demise. As a result of, as I wrote last yr in Yoga International, “death is as real and as sacred and as holy as life. Because suffering and sorrow are the necessary counterparts to contentment and joy. And because I’m willing to bet that some kind of suffering (what Buddhists call dukkha) brought most of us to yoga in the first place—whether it was pain in our knees, or aches in our hearts.”

*

“When we inspect our everyday experience in detail, we see that death and birth occur one after the other in every successive moment. What we see in one breath cycle we see everywhere.”
— MS

My three-year-old son and I made a pilgrimage of types to Walden Pond the other day. I confirmed him the statue of the man who had been Henry David Thoreau, and informed him he is lifeless now. He obtained sad and critical, and stated, “Mama, but will he come back? I don’t want him to be dead.” We sat down on a bench and talked about spirit, and divinity, and perpetuity, and what it means to go away the body. It was the first time he’s ever questioned, or asked.

“How do we go to be with God? What about you and me and daddy? How do our bodies know to breathe? We are still alive, right?”

Later, as I buckled him into his carseat, after we’d swum and fished for tadpoles and hiked to the unique website of Thoreau’s cabin, he seemed up at me and requested, “Well, what about Ben (his friend from preschool)? Will he die, too?”

Gone, gone, gone beyond.

I thought of Michael typically that day at Walden Pond. He had spoken in interviews of his own Thoreauvian experiment, dwelling in a VW bus in the woods in his early 20s. This was one of the issues I’d most appreciated about him, that duality of being directly an ascetic, a monastic, and a householder finding awakening in his relationships.

Michael, thank you. Thanks for all of your service, your coronary heart, your ethics, the best way you labored to rework your personal struggling into teachings that may be of a lot solace and inspiration to so many. I imagine you had no concept what nice influence your teachings have had all through the world.

And to Michael’s household: our collective hearts have broken time and again in imagining your suffering in the wake of his sudden loss. To you, Carina, to Michael’s youngsters and to your unborn youngster, we offer tenderness and peace and power.

Inhale, begin the vinyasa.

Exhale, sit with the vacancy at the end of the exhalation.

Might you relaxation within the peace that passes all understanding.

* * *

Let’s co-create an inventory of mental health assets for yoga academics. You possibly can publish them here in the feedback or e mail me at [email protected] and we’ll compile them and share them here.

Here’s a begin:

In case you are so inclined, the hyperlink to donate to Michael’s household is right here.

Tara Brach: Meditation, Psychologist, Writer, Instructor

Yogaland Podcast: A real story of overcoming melancholy, panic & disgrace

Stephanie Snyder’s TED speak: Learning to Stay

On the passing of Michael Stone and psychological health within the yoga group (Spirituality &
Health)

Why I come clean to my students about my insomnia, nervousness, and sobriety (Tricycle)

A Zen yoga instructor will get real about postpartum melancholy (Washington Publish)

~

Rachel Meyer is a Boston-based writer and yoga instructor. Her work has appeared in The Washington Publish, On Being, Yoga Journal, Tricycle, Yoga International, HuffPost, and extra. You’ll find her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga.

Picture credit (1): Michael Stone Instagram, (2): by way of MelissaWest.com