Introduction to Awake in the World Book Launch

Awake in the WorldMichael StoneMike HoolboomParkdaleQueen StreetShambhala

It’s such a pleasure to be here, here in this beautiful room with you. I think that every room has a nervous system in it, certainly a skeleton and frame, and I can feel in this room the endless hours of dedication and silence and sitting. Can you feel all of that quiet gathered in the muscle memory of this room? It’s a room that’s easy to say yes to, like a beautiful groom — oh yes please I’d like another one just like him — like a beautiful bride. There are some rooms that are easy to say yes to, and for a couple of years I thought I would dedicate my entire practice to room like this, to faces like yours, to eating ice cream. So pleasurable, so many flavours, especially when you’re being mindful. But one day the ice cream ran out, one day even ice cream wasn’t ice cream any more, and worse than that my best friend wasn’t my best friend anymore. How do you sit in the difficult rooms of your life, when things aren’t rolling in your direction, when everyone you’ve ever met calls you up just so they can say, “No. I’m sorry, not you, never.”

On Tuesday evenings, a shifting collection of folks gather on Bellwoods or Queen Street or in the alleyways in Parkdale and practice yoga, and sit in silence, and study the dharma of old books. This year it’s been The Lotus Sutra, and if it hadn’t been written 21 centuries ago, you’d swear it was the 60s again. At the Centre of Gravity we’re trying to learn how to sit in the rooms we like, and we’re trying to learn how to sit in the rooms we don’t like. One of Michael’s favourite sayings is “the heart of the practice.” Perhaps the heart of the practice is simply saying yes to whatever room we’re in.

I think we’re practicing yoga because the surgical strike that separates mind from body — that sees the mind as some kind of precious Tiffany diamond carried around by the meat — this description hasn’t been very helpful. We’re making pilgrimages inside our bodies, inside our lives, and sometimes our meaningful wandering takes us to books like this one. It’s called Awake in the World. It’s Michael’s fourth book in as many years, and offers a kind of greatest hits collection of talks delivered all over the world in the last five years. On nearly every page I can hear Patanjali — the Homer of the Yoga-dharma world — whispering into his ears. It’s a book about why you might practice, and how to practice. It’s a book that unpacks in very clear ways the grounds of Yoga and Buddhist psychologies, and it’s a book about a father and a son. Sometimes we need a book to teach us, and sometimes a six year old boy, and sometimes it’s the way rain falls on a window or the way the traffic on Bloor Street suddenly appears as music. The book looks into suicide and breathing, into rain forests and radical love, never offering a program or prescription, it’s not a book that’s been chiseled out of stone, out of Michael’s stone, but that’s taken shape as a series of questions that are always opening. Please join me in welcoming Michael Stone.

photo credit: andréa de keijzer