Musings of the InsightLA teachers
A dozen years ago, I met an accomplished young yoga teacher from Toronto, Michael Stone. Michael had done a year of solo retreat in the northern woods of Canada and was diving deep into Buddhist meditation practice. We went for a long walk on the beach, Michael gesturing and tilting his head as he told his story. I admired his sincerity and dedication—he combined arduous and impeccable yoga training with social activism and a deep love of contemplative practice. That he was killer handsome didn’t hurt. His eyes were clear, his smile wide and warm, and his nose had just enough Semitic tilt to evoke affectionate memories of the men in my family. We became friends.
I traveled to Canada to teach a seminar for Michael’s group about mindfulness in psychotherapeutic work with kids. He came and taught at InsightLA. We shared our immense caring for the lives of children. We walked the streets of Old Town in Toronto, ate lunch at a hip French café, traded stories of love, heartbreak and dharma derring-do. I was touched by his eagerness to learn—everything.
Years passed. As our centers flourished and expanded, the demon busyness gobbled up our friendship. So I was glad to hear from Michael a couple years ago, asking me to read a book he was writing with a friend, a series of letters, intimate and open-hearted, about being partners and fathers. And then, once again, Michael fell off my radar—until I received a text message on Friday from Kristin Lehman, an InsightLA student who studies with him in Vancouver: Beloved Trudy. Michael Stone is in a coma. I wanted to let you know. Sending you metta and love always from far away.
Michael died Sunday evening. His wife Carina Stone, expecting their third baby, said, “He is the most generous, loving person I have known. I am grateful, I am sad. We are connected.” She shares the story of his suffering on his Facebook page and offers us the stark wisdom of the Zen evening verse:
Life and death are of supreme importance
Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost
Let us awaken, awaken
Do not squander your life
And immense love:
May all beings be happy
May all beings be healthy
May all beings be safe and free from danger
May all beings be free from their ancient and twisted patterns
May all beings be free from every form of suffering
Last week I wrote about the camaraderie and solidarity among the folks who’d sat the silent meditation retreat at Vallecitos. For that time together, we formed a community of shared experience. It made me wonder, how can we create common memory and connection with people who don’t share our views and experience, given how divided our country feels right now? How can we join to face history and ourselves with mindfulness and compassion?
At dinner last night, I was talking with the mother of two high school kids who told me that what they’re learning in history class doesn’t reflect much of the truth of our history. We know that our country owes much of its land and prosperity to broken treaties and slavery, and that many of our greatest founding fathers and mothers were also racist owners of native lands and African slaves. Until we are able to learn, acknowledge and freely share the truth about our history, the present moment will be colored with delusion.
I think of mindfulness as honesty, opening a window to seeing clearly and telling the truth. This is one path I know to healing and reconciliation of our differences and conflicts. At InsightLA you can walk on this path with us, a path of white awareness, equity, and inclusion of all – of all our stories, our past, present and future together. Georges Erasmus, an Aboriginal leader from Canada, said, “Where common memory is lacking… there can be no real community. Where community is to be formed, common memory must be created.”
I’m in the shuttle bus to Albuquerque after teaching a meditation retreat at Vallecitos Mountain Ranch in the mountains of northern New Mexico. After a bumpy 11 miles of dirt road we reach paved road, leaving the beautiful Carson National Forest wilderness behind. Half of the retreatants are on this bus.
Everyone is talking, sharing, laughing, leaning over seatbacks towards one another. What a contrast to the silence of retreat, only accentuated by birdsongs echoing across the granite walls of the valley, the low sigh of wind in the pine woods, the soft song of the river in the distance. The stillness of solitude in nature has vanished.
Though experiences are as different as we are, we all share a common memory of retreat adventures at Vallecitos—sitting and walking meditation, walking through Elk Meadow or along the Continental Divide Trail, lying on the forest floor watching huge clouds float across the cobalt blue sky. We all practiced together as the wild lupine began to bloom, daisies peeked above the grass, two mama does tended their fawns, and little chipmunks scurried around. Learning to be present with our various joys and sorrows, retreat is a time to walk peacefully through the interior topography of our lives.
From a disparate group of individuals arriving to deepen our practice of mindfulness and compassion, we now feel like family. Everyone is happier than when they arrived. A loving community has formed from the common memories we share.