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

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by Rachel Meyer

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

What a wierd phrase that’s: gone.

Gone, Gone, Gone past Gone completely past

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

Michael’s face retains popping up on my Facebook feed, and for a split-second my thoughts thinks it’s a brand new weblog or an unheard podcast or an upcoming retreat, for the briefest second excited to see what knowledge providing is likely to be across the nook.

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

Gone from struggling into the liberation from struggling.

*

Memorials have been showing recurrently; sleek, all.

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

In the wake of Michael’s surprising demise, 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 extra transparently about psychological health within the yoga and wellness communities.

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

And the place will we go from right here?

*

It is 2008.

Michael’s first guide, The Inner Tradition Of Yoga, has simply been revealed. There’s not a lot else on the market prefer it.

I stumble throughout a replica within the philosophy part of an honest-to-god real-life Barnes & Noble, again when there was such a factor in San Francisco’s Union Square. I learn half of it instantly, impressed, sitting there on the ground in a caffeinated half-lotus.

The subsequent day, ensconced in a restaurant on Polk Street, the man to my left faucets my shoulder, leans over, gestures on the cowl, and asks incredulously, “The inside custom of yoga?!? Is there even such a factor??”

Michael Stone was not like every other.

He set a exceptional customary.

Since that second almost a decade in the past, he has been my touchstone for what it means to be a considerate, humble, sensible pupil, 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 within the wilderness, an activist who utilized yogic ethics to the Occupy motion and referred to as for engaged Buddhism with an eye fixed towards social justice. Here was a instructor who melded psychology and yoga philosophy and Buddhism within the most-approachable of the way. Here was a globally revered scholar-yogi who didn’t promote out to multinational firms by turning into an envoy for yoga pants. Here was a younger husband and father who was without delay engaged in household life and grounded within the monastic/ascetic mannequin, a seeker who’d skilled with the greats and was honing his personal voice on the identical time.

Michael’s work gave me permission to be a yoga instructor who was not at all times perky and chirpy and stuffed with woo-woo bliss-talk. He made it appear doable to be without delay critical and humorous and engaged and introspective, versus a run-of-the-mill yoga fitness Barbie.

As a pupil and as a instructor, his work inspired me to really feel all of my human emotions. To aspire to steadiness reasonably than bliss. To intention for sattva as a substitute of glowing.

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

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

*

I perceive Michael’s concern about being forthcoming about his psychological health.

In April 2016, I wrote an article for The Washington Post about my own struggle with postpartum depression.. The piece had been on my coronary heart for 2 years, and it hungered desperately to be articulated, like nothing else I’d ever written earlier than. The remaining essay took months to return collectively, and I used to be happy with the ultimate end result.

It felt true, unvarnished, melancholy, complete.

But within the days earlier than it was revealed, I used to be terrified. Wracked with anxiousness. The morning earlier than it got here out, I sat on the ground of my workplace, shaking, and wept. It felt like the last word popping out of the closet. Total bare vulnerability.

Because “speaking [my] desolation was terrifying. I used to be a yoga instructor. I used to be presupposed to climate the storms of parenthood with grace: be optimistic and perky, measured and resilient, lose the baby weight in a flash, thrive on inexperienced juice and quinoa while carrying my baby like a kangaroo.”

Wasn’t I? Isn’t that the shakti cheerleader fantasy we’ve collectively constructed, Instagram put up by Instagram put up?

After the piece was revealed, I used to be overwhelmed by an outpouring of solidarity from throughout the globe, girls 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 at all times the items which can be most terrifying to publish that ring a bell, that folks relate to most. The complete expertise was such reminder to belief the vulnerability on the coronary heart of intimacy.)

Just a few days later, I reached out to Michael and shared my essay with him, mentioning that I’d lengthy revered his work and imagined he would possibly discover it of worth, or at the very least 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 at all times might be, one of many highlights of my profession.

Michael and I by no means met in person. But I’ve spent a whole bunch of hours “with” him and his teachings through the years, listening to his measured voice whereas climbing the paths of Northern California, driving the twisting roads of Marin en route to show in Oakland, sitting on buses in San Francisco sending metta to the strangers throughout from me, practising silently on my kitchen flooring in Portland whereas my son slept upstairs, meditating on a airplane flying cross-country to start a brand 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 person can have on one other (1000’s of others), quietly, throughout the miles.

I’m endlessly grateful.

*

 

In the inimitable void that Michael has left, I’m heartened to see that his educating staff remains to be shifting ahead with upcoming trainings, such that his educating would possibly proceed, even in his bodily absence.

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

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

I maintain pondering of Carina, their kids, their unborn baby. I maintain pondering of how insufferable the grief of loss should be, the heart-shattering miracle that might be that forthcoming youngster. I maintain pondering of the truth that we simply by no means f*cking know when our day will come.

All of religious observe is simply taking care of issues. Years in the past, I scrawled this podcast nugget down on a chunk of scrap paper and taped it to the wall. My husband discovered it in a shifting field within the basement a number of days after Michael handed. It nonetheless feels true.

Yoga is about studying to be awake on the earth. Michael’s guide of the identical identify, his podcast, too, emphasised as a lot, without delay poetry and prose and philosophy and meditation. Very very similar to Virginia Woolf’s, his writing was without delay literary and philosophical and grounded within the stuff of actual life.

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

Yoga is about studying to be actual. Yoga means dropping our masks, releasing the armor. Finding ease in your being, your physique and thoughts. We are allowed to really feel the complete depth of the human emotional spectrum with out invalidating or doing violence to our psyches by denying the extra shadowy of these feelings. This means studying to be with all that we really feel—even probably the most irritable, politically incorrect, tough, difficult feelings—and trusting that, with the assistance of the breath, we are able to stick with them, and watch them “arise, unfold, and pass away,” all of the whereas residing in that place of equilibrium. This is the true work of the yogi.

*

Teachers, the place will we go from right here?

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

Here’s what I’ve received to date:

1. We can’t put each other on pedestals. ‘Nuff said. Matthew Gindin’s reflection on “Putting To Rest The Myth of The Heroic Self” over at Tricycle addresses this properly.

2. We must be extra clear about our personal humanity, and daring sufficient to acknowledge greater than bliss. We need to be genuine about the truth that, sure, completely, we’re human, and we expertise the entire realm of human feelings. We can’t prioritize bliss over the opposite points of being human, fetishizing a sure saccharine happiness fantasy that appears like glittery leggings and handstands on the seaside. We have to TALK about these items, to step into the world with our personal armor eliminated. Nobody needs a instructor who’s all cotton sweet, capturing unicorn rainbows out the butt.

3. That mentioned, we have to educate from our scars, not from our open wounds. As an eating dysfunction survivor, as a postpartum depression survivor, as a girl, as a mom, as a companion, I can serve of us who are suffering and wrestle with related life circumstances by saying, “Ok, I’m not excellent, however listed here are some instruments yoga and meditation have taught me that helped me, and perhaps they’ll enable you, too.”

Our job is to assist each other really feel higher in physique and thoughts, proper? To use what we’ve realized and practiced to supply a measure of ease, freedom from bodily struggling, freedom from psychological struggling.

So perhaps on our bios the place we point out how delighted we’re to have studied with Rockstar Teacher A and Rockstar Guru B, we are able to additionally point out the methods through which we’ve been broken-open and the communities we’ve realized to serve because of this. This recent piece from Josh Korda articulates this concept properly.

4. We must be vigilantly self-aware of our personal religious bypassing. If you don’t know but what that’s, I extremely 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 emotions, wounds, or points. Lots of this taking place in and round yogi social media, amirite?

5. We have to launch disgrace and be daring sufficient to be weak. Most of us know too properly the risks of establishing a shiny facade. Vulnerability results in compassion results in intimacy. Check out Brené Brown on each of those themes should you haven’t performed so already.

6. We have to redefine happiness as profound okayness. Tara Brach (one other sensible 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 method that’s greater than perpetual euphoria (which isn’t sustainable, nor real looking, for anybody accustomed to the First Noble Truth. Life is struggling, bro. Ask the Buddha, he’ll fill you in).

7. We can’t be afraid to get assist once we want it. I can by no means fake to grasp what it’s wish to cycle between the manic/depressive episodes of a bipolar prognosis. We all wrestle in our personal methods, and are healed or given solace in our personal methods.

As Julie Peters’s excellent recent essay argues, “yoga, self-care, and alternative forms of medicine cannot fix everything.” So you do you. Whatever that takes to deliver you to thriving. Including meds. Including acupuncture. Including ayurvedic drugs, and so on. and so on. It’s all gravy.

8. We’ve gotta be humble and genuine—courageous sufficient to cease promoting a fairly picture.
The modern yoga scene is dominated by commodification. Most of us academics are painfully conscious of how social media has turned yoga observe right into a performative recognition contest, reasonably than a meditative religious self-discipline and path to freedom from struggling. So what can we do to be extra genuine as academics, to chill out into the wabi-sabi qualities of being with out spewing our guts like a scorching mess? Where’s the steadiness?

9. Finally, we have to speak extra overtly about demise. Because, as I wrote last year in Yoga International, “demise is as actual and as sacred and as holy as life. Because struggling and sorrow are the mandatory counterparts to contentment and pleasure. And as a result of I’m prepared to wager that some type of struggling (what Buddhists name dukkha) introduced most of us to yoga within the first place—whether or not it was ache 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 kinds to Walden Pond the opposite day. I confirmed him the statue of the person who had been Henry David Thoreau, and instructed him he’s lifeless now. He received unhappy and critical, and mentioned, “Mama, however will he come again? I don’t need him to be lifeless.” We sat down on a bench and talked about spirit, and divinity, and perpetuity, and what it means to go away the physique. It was the primary time he’s ever questioned, or requested.

“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 web site of Thoreau’s cabin, he regarded up at me and requested, “Well, what about Ben (his friend from preschool)? Will he die, too?”

Gone, gone, gone past.

I considered Michael usually that day at Walden Pond. He had spoken in interviews of his personal Thoreauvian experiment, residing in a VW bus within the woods in his early 20s. This was one of many issues I’d most appreciated about him, that duality of being without delay an ascetic, a monastic, and a householder discovering awakening in his relationships.

Michael, thanks. Thank you for all of your service, your coronary heart, your ethics, the way in which you labored to remodel your individual struggling into teachings that is likely to be of a lot solace and inspiration to so many. I think about you had no thought what nice influence your teachings have had all through the world.

And to Michael’s household: our collective hearts have damaged again and again in imagining your struggling within the wake of his surprising loss. To you, Carina, to Michael’s kids and to your unborn youngster, we provide tenderness and peace and strength.

Inhale, start the vinyasa.

Exhale, sit with the vacancy on the finish of the exhalation.

May you relaxation within the peace that passes all understanding.

* * *

Let’s co-create a listing of psychological health sources for yoga academics. You can put up them right here within the feedback or e mail me at rachel@rachelmeyeryoga.com and we are going to compile them and share them right here.

Here’s a start:

If you’re so inclined, the link to donate to Michael’s family is here.

Tara Brach: Meditation, Psychologist, Author, Teacher

Yogaland Podcast: A true story of overcoming depression, panic & shame

Stephanie Snyder’s TED talk: Learning to Live

On the passing of Michael Stone and mental health in the yoga community (Spirituality &
Health)

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

A Zen yoga teacher gets real about postpartum depression (Washington Post)

~

Rachel Meyer is a Boston-based author and yoga instructor. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, On Being, Yoga Journal, Tricycle, Yoga International, HuffPost, and extra. You can discover her at www.rachelmeyeryoga.com or @rachelmeyeryoga.

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

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