Michael Stone died yesterday. He was one of my most important teachers. He was my friend. Death is so incomprehensible. It's unfathomable, and at the same time everything goes on like before. When someone we care for dies, our lives are broken and will never quite be the same. And, people are dying all the time.
I don't know anyone other than Michael who could make these things feel true and beautiful at one and the same time. He himself was so beautiful. As I numbed myself with internet feel-goods in the last few days I came across a documentary of a Syrian ballet dancer. When the war came, he said, we all lost someone. The terror went into our hearts. I thought of Michael. He talked of our crooked world as important, and as personal. He never lost the deep suffering of the world to the merely political, economic, or historical. They remained - or became - human. And we were rendered more humane. Michael insisted we believe in ourselves.
A friend sent me condolences on social media: "I'm sorry you lost a believed teacher", she said. Auto-correct is so Fruedian. I knew she meant beloved, but I liked the mistake. I believed Michael. I suppose that's what makes a teacher great. They don't trade in bullshit. They speak to those parts of ourselves that need to believe, that ache for it.
This morning's class was lovely, heartful. My voice cracked at the ending chant; others took up the chant for me. I thought: well, isn't that just the point. But it wasn't thought, it was felt, it was grateful and besmitten and so tired. I came home, slept, woke and couldn't do anything but steady, constant, pointless things. It was like cleaning but wasn't. It was like unearthing closets but was more a dishevelment of them. It was sort of like gardening, for a few hours, except I'm not a gardener and it was just an attack on weeds and vines and creeping into the yard trees. I stood up with dirt up to my elbows and sweat down my spine. It was baking, sweeping, dog bathing frenzy. It was in and out of the writing. It was like reading twelve books at once, a sentence from this, a phrase from that. I dug out old journals from retreats and trainings with Michael. I read through my own years. I dug though the texts he's guided me through, others he pointed me toward, the mass of sutra and Sanskrit that became my own work, largely because he encouraged it. I reframed, tore out, rephrased. I scattered them, threw them away, brushed off a few scant pieces that roughly hold together. I put them on the wall. Just now, I cried for the first time. It was short. It was rubbed away quick. And then I came back up here to this pacing. As my teacher leaves the world, I am mad with a need to write. Poems, psalms, explanations, apologies. Questions. Emotions. Salt and adrenaline. There is urgency.
A post shared by Karin L Carlson (@coalfury) on Jul 16, 2017 at 7:03pm PDT
I call him 'my teacher', but he wasn't mine. His family has a wholly different claim to his last hours and his body than I do. That privacy is sacred. I cannot imagine the pain and tenderness they feel. I can't do anything but offer them my love. Thousands of people across the world are gathering this evening. I am awed: one life can do so much. And I am sad: now that he is gone, there is so much that won't be done. So much needs to be done.
I haven't seen Michael in over a year. There were times he was teaching nearby but I always had other commitments. He does an annual retreat to France: I'd always wanted to go. But I put it off. I assumed I'd go some other time.
Last week in the techniques session I mentioned time as one of the four parts of learning. We're quite neurotic about it. We don't take time to say I love you. Or, we say it but don't feel what it is we're saying. We act as though there will be a better time to meet our neighbors or try in some way to make a difference in our community. We put off the important and beautiful things while our lives are mostly routine and spent in the earning of a living. We're busy. We're so tired. We whine about not having time but we don't take the time we have. People often ask me, as a teacher, how to find the courage and the energy to take on the really big problems. Why is it we know what it is we need, but can't do it? How do we possibly take on the problems of race, violence, and fanaticism without losing heart? How do we finally find the courage to do the great and beautiful things we really want to do?
I think we need to do more great and beautiful things. Life is so hard. It needs great beauty.
I think the only answer is the jnana or wisdom of time. When we really feel the passing nature of things and the uniqueness of people, we're moved. I don't mean intellectually; it isn't an idea. And I don't mean mere sentimentality, either. I mean we're rocked to our soul. An urgency is born. Clarity and courage come that we didn't know and couldn't have known otherwise. We don't have to be good enough or ready enough or prepared. We don't need answers. We realize there are many answers, and no one answer is perfect. We don't have to be anything at all because the urgency itself carries us and we are left changed. I think we misunderstand the nature of change. We spend so much time thinking we have to orchestrate it or fearing the pain of it, disbelieving it's actually possible. But it isn't something we do. Change is something we allow to happen to us, something we finally allow in. This isn't easy.
When I heard Michael was dying, I understood something for the first time. I've known dozens of very good teachers. Some opened doors for me along the way. Others helped me understand an aspect of teaching or the dynamics of backbends. But none became so intimately woven into my way of thinking and feeling that my life itself was changed. Michael had, and hearing that he was gone I knew my life would never be the same. I understood: some teachers speak to your heart. No other teachings last.
I met Dharma Mittra once. When I asked him about teaching, he said teach spirit. If you teach spirituality, people will come back. Even if you never see them again, they will come back.
But the holiest things are unspeakable. Michael taught me that.
I had a whole plan for this week's session, a meditation involving birds. But I think it's more important to be with this.