I have tried to write this post for some time. I have tried over and over again, actually, to put into words how I have felt since Michael Stone left his body over a month ago.
I taught a class yesterday where he came up. To be honest, Michael always comes up because he has influenced my practice and teaching so much. I mentioned him and someone asked where he taught. I had to share his passing and feel the little ache of remembering that the world was without him now, at least in the form he was in.
It’s an odd thing to try to discuss grieving over someone that you have never truly met. There were a couple of years when I had thought to go on Michael’s New Year’s retreat, but it never worked out. A trip like that in the winter, finances, etc, all kept me away. “Oh,” I said, “I can put it off another year.” Now there won’t be any retreats with Michael anymore.
I don’t remember how I discovered his teachings. I remarked sometime in the past couple of weeks that he has just always seemed to be there. His podcasts, his online courses, his books, all the ways that he taught through distance, were all important to me. They made it possible for me to learn from him. To be honest, even from a distance, he intimidated me quite a lot. He was so knowledgeable. He could probably cut through my bullshit if he ever set eyes on me, as any good teacher can do.
His teachings were especially important to me given my history with mental health. Ever since I can remember, I have dealt with some form of depression and/or anxiety. As a teenager, I remember trying to ask for some sort of help, but would have to wait until I was in college before that happened. I was put on medication in my freshman year and began therapy. I would spend the majority of a decade on and off psychiatric medication. I haven’t been on medication for quite a number of years now, but the depression and anxiety creep in now and then.
Coming into the yoga world as it is, it seemed like there was never a lot of space for someone who dealt with mental illness. If you’re a yoga practitioner, you are sunshine and rainbows, right? You practice on the beach and your brain doesn’t backfire on you. Admittedly, meditation and yoga has changed the game for me as far as mental health goes, but it doesn’t always solve everything.
I think that’s important for people to remember: it doesn’t solve everything and that’s okay.
Michael was the first person that I really knew of with years-long practice who talked about depression. I was shocked upon hearing it. What? A person who is so learned and practiced can still have this happen to them? It was a relief to hear it. It was important. He didn’t talk about everything, but he talked about enough.
It seems more and more important now to talk very clearly about the real things in our lives, both teachers and students. Everyone struggles. So often, teachers are put on pedestals as if nothing touches them, but very clearly we are all human. Maybe if we talked more, found other language, found other ways of understanding, Michael would still be with us.
Now we live in a world without Michael and it is still painful to think about. But he is still teaching, just from a greater distance now. And it’s our job to open up that language, that space, that ability to share and be real with each other.
The day after they removed Michael’s life support, I woke up with the Heart Sutra in my head. I knew exactly why. In a way, I consider it one of Michael’s parting gifts.
Gate gate paragate parasamgate bodhi svaha.
I encourage you to read more about Michael's passing here.