I want to know him more

A little over a month ago Michael Stone, my meditation teacher, passed away.

You can read the statement by his family and senior students here, and I recommend you do, as I can’t summarise it in a way that does it justice.

I never met Michael. In fact, he wouldn’t have known that I was one of his students. I came across his teachings as I entered the world of yoga, his book The Inner Tradition of Yoga recommended as one to read. So much of what he wrote resonated with me, so I was delighted when I discovered through his website that he taught through a number of contemporary media — podcasts, a meditation app, online courses. I read the books and used the app, dipped my toe in the water of his longer guided meditations occasionally.

There was always time, I was sure, to go back and really work my way through his podcasts — most of which are recordings of his teachings at public lectures and retreats. When I first discovered the podcast I found the episodes dense and difficult to listen to. I enquired about participating in a beginners Buddhism course, and have had the introduction to meditation course in the back of my mind from the start. ‘Next year maybe,’ I would think to myself. ‘When I have the money, and a bit more time’…

When you discover that someone has the same mental illness that you have been diagnosed with, it tilts your world a bit. When you discover this only after their death, it rocks it. When you discover that that illness played some role in his passing, you are shaken to your very core. On the day I read the beautiful, generous statement from Carina and Michael’s students, feelings bubbled up inside me. I felt myself go into self-preservation mode — trying to figure out my feelings, trying to think my way out of them. Without making a conscious decision to, I mentally listed all the ways in which Michael and I were similar to understand why I was so strongly impacted, then all the ways we were different to prove that it didn’t necessarily mean it would happen to me. Like a river rapidly flowing over rocks, the churn in my brain was relentless.

But then I noticed it happening. From a space inside my breath, I saw what was happening and accepted it as a response to learning the news. I saw it as neither good nor bad, as far as responses go — it was just the response I was having. And it was fine. I was fine.

I didn’t know him well, but I think Michael would have been pleased.

In the days and weeks since, I have drawn closer to his work. Re-immersed myself in his writing. Explored more of his guided meditations. And I’ve begun to truly listen to his teachings. I can’t say that I wouldn’t have learned anything had I listened earlier, but right now I see that all the work I’ve been doing over the past five years has lead me to be ready for his teaching. In the past month I feel I have drawn so much closer to myself, just from listening to a couple of podcasts a week and meditating every day in a more focused and dedicated way.

But as I added all of his books to my online shopping cart and browsed the resource section of his website for the eight-hundred and seventeenth time and wondered whether his staff and students would offer his online courses with previous recordings of his lectures, I realised it had never been intention to deepen my practice, to grow closer to myself. I found myself drawn deeper into his teaching because I want to be closer to him. I want to know him more.

I want to know what drew him to spirituality from a young age. I want to know what motivated his commitment to ethics-based practice. I want to know how his practice changed the ebb and flow of his life. I want to know how he learned to fall in love again. I want to know how he interpreted centuries-old, millennia-old texts in a way that made them relevant for today. I want to know where the combination of gentleness and strength which is so apparent in every facet of his teaching came from.

I want the answers to all the questions I would have been too shy to ask him even if I’d had the opportunity to study with him on a retreat or at a lecture. I want the answers to all the questions I’ve only thought to ask now it’s too late to learn the answers. I want the answers because now I know I can never have them, and I want to know him more.

But also, I want the answers from him because these are questions I have for myself. What drew me to spirituality from a young age? Why am I so committed to justice and right? Is the ebb and flow of my practice right, or am I just not trying hard enough? How do I learn to love people? How can I interpret the messages of the ages in a way that helps people know themselves more fully? How do break down the hardened shell of armor around me and cultivate vulnerable strength?

I want to know him more, because I want to know myself more.
In a way, I guess I’m still comparing myself to him, trying to figure out if I’m on the same path. It feels different, not like I’m trying to convince myself I’ll be okay, more like I want to sit at the feet of this teacher I empathise with. Like I genuinely want to know him. And in doing knowing him, learning from him — and in practicing what he has taught — I am cultivating the parts of myself his teaching is designed to grow.

I don’t know what he would think of that. I didn’t know him well enough.