When I was a kid, my closest friend was my uncle, who was diagnosed with schizophrenia. Most of the time I spent with my uncle was in Canada’s largest mental institution. After school, he’d talk to me about meditation and we’d read books together, including the early teachings of the Buddha. We also listened to the Beatles’ White Album.
Paradoxically, I felt most normal and safe when I was with my uncle. When I’d leave the institution to take the bus home, the city would seem insane. It was very confusing. The conversations I had with my uncle seemed deeper, more mysterious, and more important than anything I was learning at home, at school, or even at synagogue.
A few years after my uncle died, when I was 20, I spent almost a year alone in the wilderness learning about meditation practice. I also read Carl Jung’s entire collected works, which motivated me to go back to school. I enrolled in the Psychoanalytic Thought program at the University of Toronto, which was an experiment in studying psychology in the religion department. I completed my Bachelor of Arts there, then a Masters of Arts in psychotherapy at Vermont College, where I mentored with the maverick American psychologist and author James Hillman.
While at school, I trained in the formal Buddhist practice of Insight Meditation (of Vipassana and Zen practice). When I began teaching Vipassana, as one of the youngest Buddhist teachers in Canada, I read an article by Zen teacher Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara who recounted being asked, “What is your practice?” Her response: “Manhattan.” I immediately sought her out. I was struck by the intimacy and immediacy of her response. She became one of my mentors, along with Norman Feldman, and Stephen Batchelor.
I read an article by Zen teacher Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara who recounted being asked, “What is your practice?” Her response: “Manhattan.” I immediately sought her out.
In 1995, after some years of daily practice of ashtanga yoga, I met the imitable teacher Richard Freeman from Boulder, Colorado. I’ve studied yoga postures and breathing with him ever since.
In 2003, I felt that many urban friends wanted to learn about meditation practice but didn’t have the opportunity, or weren’t interested in studying in temples. I also had friends who wanted to go deeper into their yoga practice, but couldn’t find what they were looking for in their local yoga studios. So, I renovated a garage in downtown Toronto that became the non-profit Centre of Gravity. We integrated yoga and meditation practice and built a community that outgrew four locations. I began teaching in other countries too. In 2013, I closed Centre of Gravity to focus on an international community without walls.
In 2008, I published my first book, The Inner Tradition of Yoga. I’ve published a book a year since.
I was very involved in the Occupy Movement that began in Zuccotti Park in September 2011. I also helped organize for the Occupy Movement in Montreal, Toronto, and Vancouver. What motivated me was creating spaces (and not just physical ones) for different struggles to build alliances.
What motivated me was creating spaces for different struggles to build alliances.
Then, in 2011, after the earthquake and tsunami in Fukushima, I made a pilgrimage to Japan to learn how the Japanese were responding to the disaster. That pilgrimage became an award-winning short documentary by filmmaker Ian MacKenzie.
At the same time, my second son was born and my partner Carina and I moved to the west coast of Canada to be closer to extended family and the natural world. It’s given me more time and space to return to deepening my own meditation practice, understanding the roots of mental health (or more clearly what brings sanity), and writing. I’m also currently a fellow in residence at the University of British Columbia. My third son was born in October of 2015.
All the things my uncle first introduced me to—understanding the mind and waking up to the way things are—are as alive and important to me now as they were then. For that I’m deeply grateful.
I’m inspired to serve.
I do this mainly by:
- giving public talks
- facilitating silent retreats
- teaching workshops & intensives
- teaching online courses
- offering professional training
- writing books, co-creating meditation apps and other materials that make teachings accessible
- contributing resources to an online Community Library, including the Dharma Talks with Michael Stone podcast
- mentoring Dharma Teachers-in-Training.
But I don’t wear robes.
And I believe in depth without dogma. I’m interested in an ethics-based spirituality that is sophisticated and accessible for contemporary, urban people. The majority of people who study with me don’t consider themselves to be spiritual. They have likely read about meditative practices, but have never studied with a teacher. The thing they have in common is the desire to actively respond to personal, environmental, and economic challenges. They’re also interested in learning how to work with their minds rather than adopting a new belief system.
I help them:
- decrease stress and anxiety
- decrease reactivity
- quiet the mind
- increase contentment
- foster embodiment
- manage situational ethics
- identify personal and societal values that are relevant
- enjoy flexible, meaningful work that provides a sense of purpose and usefulness
- pursue a livelihood that’s aligned with their personal values and believe that making an impact in the larger culture is critical to self-satisfaction
- foster community and friendships with others through contemplative practice
- learn relational tools for family life and interpersonal relationships
- practice “deeper materialism”, where minimalism and quality goods outshine the expectation for consumption and quantity
- live healthily and to enjoy well-being, in part by caring about and accessing quality, affordable food.
And it’s not just me.
So much of what I teach takes place in community. And it’s an incredible community of multi-talented and sincere people from all walks of life.
My activities are also supported by a dedicated team of staff, mentees, associate faculty and mentors, all of whom have worked with me for many years.
I’d love for you to join us—even if you’re a non-joiner.
Don’t worry, you’ll be in good company—almost everyone in our community identifies as a non-joiner, but feels like they belong anyway. You can start by subscribing to my email list to receive letters and updates from me. Please also visit the Calendar to see if there is something coming up that appeals to you. You can also visit the Community Library to access free resources anytime. And do keep coming back to this website; it’s our digital hub.