How I remember Shoken Michael Stone
Shoken means “sees clearly”.
Shoken Michael Stone had a way of looking at me with his clear seeing hawk eyes that made me squirm. For me, being his student meant being forced to face discomfort and my own unending awkwardness as a young meditator and yogi.
In interview on the meditation retreat I sat with him in Canada, I pulled the zafu cushion a few inches away so we wouldn’t be knee to knee. He moved closer, face expressionless and eyes illuminating all of my bullshit and hindrances. Or so it felt.
This was after I had gotten my room assignment wrong and stole a bed from another retreatant. Later, I spent the whole second half of the retreat sick with a fever and endlessly runny nose.
On yoga retreat with him in Wisconsin, I was the only person who didn’t know anyone else there. So I wandered around the town looking for a place to eat dinner, only to walk into the same restaurant Shoken was at with his closest students—except I was getting take-out, and standing around awkwardly while they waited for the check. And then I got sick, again.
I started to wonder if my getting sick was Canadian super bugs (Shoken and his crew were from Toronto), or if Shoken was spooking me into runny noses and fevers.
Last week, Shoken died. When the official statement came out from his family, it detailed his battle with increasing mania tied to bipolar disorder. And that he wanted relief, even in the form of an opiate. And so he finally went and found some, and died of an overdose.
I hadn’t spoken to Shoken in years and I was never a core student of his. But in the wake of his death, I find myself deeply saddened, asking why he left us—this love army out here working to grow consciousness and wake the goddamn world up. I hurt for how weary he must have felt, how much he must have been suffering and how conflicted he must have felt as a father of much life on this planet, including four young children, who just wanted to slip into a non-manic sleep for maybe just a little bit.
As the object of my metta and karuna meditation, he feels vividly close by. I can see my hand beyond my closed eyes in meditation, stretching toward him and resting on his chest. Though I can see the color and feel the fabric of his tee shirt, the rise and fall of his breath, I don’t see his face. Over and over, I wish for him to be free.
Shoken’s closeness to the edge—of mania, of risk, of the dharma—also feels close by and real. I reflect on his early days driving race cars, learning to meditate from his uncle in a mental institution, leaving home as a kid in a van and how he recently wrote about picking up skateboarding at the skate park again as a practice of “dropping in”. It fuels a growing closeness to my own edge—whether it’s a growing edge or a precipitous edge, sometimes I can’t tell.
I feel into the desolation, void and sadness that accompany Shoken’s death and walk myself into the night. Feeling the wind on me, doing Mu-I to push the energy and pooling emotions up and through me.
I feel a fear and foreboding that I am on the brink of getting to know the void, mystery and death even better soon. Like it’s around the corner about to pull someone else away and down into that poppy sleep. And like I’m being pushed closer to an edge—again, what kind of edge, I don’t know.
I practice yoga like Shoken taught me. I recall my more youthful awkwardness, shame and longing for connection around him and his sangha without regrets. I sharpen my own clear-seeing eyes and cultivate this edge like my tongue is feeling around in the dark for a piece of glass.
I choose not to fall asleep, to dream. I choose to wake the fuck up. This is how I remember Shoken Michael Stone.