How the Spiritual Community Failed Michael Stone

by Aly Hazlewood on July 28, 2017

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Non-dual teacher Michael A Rodrigues writes “Life is about the alternation of opposites. Thinking of your moods as “natural or cosmic events” or “seasons in consciousness” will relieve you of the neurotic feeling that they’re anything other than natural, impersonal, and universal — or that you “should” be feeling any particular way all the time. Would you say that nature has a “good day” when it’s sunny and a “bad day” when a tornado arises? Does nature make “mistakes”? Of course not! Is your body-mind any less a natural event than anything else in nature? In fact, your body-mind IS nature.”

Brilliant, sensitive, charismatic Buddhist teacher, activist, author and psychotherapist Michael Stone recently died with the opiode Fentanyl in his system, and I’ve been trying to make sense of why it seems to have floored me ever since.

I did not know Michael Stone, I never sat with him. But I enjoyed his podcasts, resonated with his poetry, his obviously huge heart and his passion for human and earth rights.

As has now been well documented, Michael suffered from bi-polar disorder with increasing severity and frequency. Despite a solid self-care practice, tremendous support from family and friends, a committed healthy lifestyle and yoga practice, not to mention his groundings in the Dharma and Masters in psychotherapy … still this resourced man’s life could not be saved.

What has disturbed me so deeply is the discovery that this radiantly compassionate man felt he had to hide, to wear a spiritual costume of ordered calm to cloak the stormy seas raging inside him.

“As versed as Michael was with the silence around mental health issues in our culture, he feared the stigma of his diagnosis,” his family said.

It is already a herculean effort at times to hold in awareness the reality that all experience, from the joyful to the nightmarish, ebbs and fades. Add to that the steely will required to turn towards these experiences rather than numb out, avoid or distract; with the harsh reality of bipolar disorder which renders these feeling states extreme and overwhelming. Then throw in the pressure of feeling the need to hide this inherent part of him, a part that society deems to be diseased and in need of eradication. The sum of which might lead to comprehending what blew the lid on Michael’s ability to cope.

No-one with mental health issues likes to consider that these are an inherent part of them. I know I don’t. And yet my experience of life for the last 44 years has included regular bouts of depression, that despite all efforts to insist otherwise, it seems I am prone towards. Be they ancestral, biological, chemical, cultural or conditioned, the fact remains that the causations are largely untraceable, arise and fall as they please, and are pretty damn resistant to eradication.

In the past, I have to a much greater degree been aggressive in my efforts to rid myself of depression and to disguise it from people, particularly inside the workplace, or from men. After all, no-one wants a depressive girlfriend do they? But in recent years, and with the help of my meditation practice, I began to bask in the grace of acceptance that this ‘condition’ may be my lifelong companion. This (whatever this is) may be as good as it gets. And in this, liberation lies. I don’t need to hold it all together all the time.

Michaels death represents a shameful failure on the part of Western society to acknowledge, normalise and support mental illness, which affects millions of people worldwide. But it is also the spiritual community’s failure. Humans are prone to pedestalising people when it suits their (largely unconscious) agenda, and most want their spiritual teachers to be perfect, solid, immutable. They certainly don’t want them necking a cocktail of medications prescribed to regulate a neurological imbalance. To my utter stupefaction, many still view these kinds of illnesses as a character flaw. We’re supposed to be able to meditate it all away right?

Me? I want my teachers to be real, relatable and raw. Jagged even. It helps me avoid the psychological pitfalls of infantilising myself or ignoring my sovereignty, and ensures I check myself when judgement arises over ‘this way’ being better or more spiritual than ‘that way’.

This tragedy has also provoked further questions for me around the topic of teaching and holding space for others, which I encountered earlier this year after disengaging from a women’s group I co-facilitated. The suggestion was that my commitment to raw authenticity, to sharing exactly where I was at, warts and all, was somehow unwelcome, unsavoury even, and I just couldn’t stay on board with that.

I feel very fortunate to have encountered my mentor Jamie Catto early on in my path, whose commitment to exposing the real, the dirty and the messy in his personal and professional life had a profound effect on my being. As such, all this week, upon opening my eyes and feeling a familiar, dense, grey sensation pressing in on my solar plexus, I’ve known not to resist it or assign it to some fundamental flaw in my being.

More importantly, in my own daily meditation class, I shared the blunt edge of my sorrow with my students over Michael’s death, and let artless tears drip down my cheeks as a mark of honour to all the times Michael felt he couldn’t allow his own tears to fall. It is incumbent upon all of us, teachers, students, people, to strip away the layers of shame that have been imposed upon us, so that bright, sacred, precious lives may be saved.

I implore you. Let yourselves be seen. Seek help when you need it.

This video of Michael talking about the gift of our wounds is particularly poignant in light of his death.

 

Michael Stone leaves behind a pregnant wife and 3 children. If you would like to support his wife and family please click here. And you can read Carina Stone’s moving statement about Michael here.

 

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{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

anna July 28, 2017 at 8:31 am

Thankyou

I want my teacher jagged and flawed and real

In any professional serting or healing insustry it will always be an issue
Always
Still hiding it as he did

A brilliant teacher then a hyocrite beautiful he
Could not even handle anymore

Some try to care and understand
Others draw a stron g line and ignore the beauty
Even family
Especially family

Thankyou

Kim Buckner July 28, 2017 at 8:42 am

This is so beautifully written and wisely insightful. :::namaste:::
I wanted to say a couple of things. I can truly understand why he might not say anything. He was aware that even with all of his self-care, and his own elevated self-awareness that were at their peak, it still didn’t work for him. I believe that he bravely made a decision to hide it, so that other people would not lose hope that they could get better. Maybe, he thought that even though he was not made better, that didn’t mean that others wouldn’t be and he didn’t want them to stop trying. It would undo all the good he tried to do.

I think of a line in a Pink Floyd song, that always resonated with me.
“Hanging on in quiet desperation is the English way.

~Kim~

iain hobbs July 28, 2017 at 3:37 pm

This appeared as a suggested post on my facebook page. Not knowing its author i saved it very much with you in mind,thinking it may be something that may talk to you in some way. Ive just read it still unaware of who wrote it and thinking to myself how i must share this with you. Its exactly what you need to read right now. When i read about jamie catto i began getting a little freaked,thinking that you really must read this now. Then i scrolled to the top and saw your name. Of course it was you. You are a truly gifted writer of such courageous honesty and integrity and your words im sure will act as a beacon of light in a world darkened sadly by bullshit and duplicity. You are i believe reaching a level of profound authenticity that most will never unfortunately experience. The so called spiritual community is as tainted by these failings as the rest of this broken world it sadly seems and one must always be on ones guard against whitewashed sepulchres. I love your new profile pic.Its you.open.brave.unfiltered. Much love

Laurence Hazlewood July 29, 2017 at 12:02 am

As a Father I know how hard it is to be fallible and still retain belief in something greater than ones self and one’s own greatness.

Your wisdom is my reward for loving you and believing in you even when I could not believe in myself.

Jane August 1, 2017 at 2:23 am

I would even say that it’s important for students, and people new to practice to look at their own projections onto teachers/mentors/guides, and understand that holding other humans to impossible standards is harmful and unkind. I have caused harm like this and also being harmed by this. There is so much to keep learning from this sad story.

Aly Hazlewood August 2, 2017 at 9:53 am

Thank you Dad :)

Aly Hazlewood August 2, 2017 at 9:55 am

Thank you for reading and commenting.

Aly Hazlewood August 2, 2017 at 9:56 am

Thank you Iain for the kind words my friend. :)

Julia August 12, 2017 at 3:17 am

I have had depression for over 2 decades. It can be super tough to deal with day in day out, and the lack of compassion of people whom you would have expected would have cared or offered you some slack is one of the worst parts…mental illness, inner torment is so often not visible from the exterior which makes for it’s invalidation at times. At other times it may be noticeable and acts as a sort of people and friend repelent from what I can see. Anyways. I never knew this guy, he seemed pretty cool. Wish I did know him. My opinion on how much a teacher should share differs slightly with the author here. If you are crying in front of your class, I don’t think that is what you want. The reason why is because you are there to serve others, and kind of hold a space for their emotions. Your feelings come last after the job of doing whatever it is you are there to do. I think sharing briefly one’s experience in an unemotional way, to serve as a point of teaching, in a functional way is better. Without really getting into a lot of details, you can share the gist of your pain issue if it is a part of the lecture for the group. As soon as others get involved emotionally in your life as the teacher, you are blurring boundaries. If you are a professional you must maintain some boundaries-because you are in a public role. The time to share all your sides, and your brokeness is in a therapy group, or with a counsellor. When you are teaching any sort of class, you are guiding others, so you want them to feel strong, and safe, and provide the safe container for them…not the other way around. Just my opinion. Sorry for droning on about it. This guys death whom I never knew really inspires me to live more bravely. Life is a gift, and every day is an opportunity to relish in all the good there is, there is always beauty around you, if you choose to see it and focus on it.

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