Official Statement About Michael Stone’s Passing
Michael Stone’s Passing – Official Statement
from Carina Stone, Erin Robinsong & Rose Riccio
Michael Stone passed suddenly from this world last weekend in Victoria, BC. He was found on July 14, 2017, and remained on life support until July 16, 2017. The story of what led to this moment is complex and heartbreaking.
Michael was loved for his brilliant mind and generous heart. He was an eminent Buddhist and yoga teacher, author, uncommon activist and human being. He had a gift for making really old practices fresh and relevant. He shone brightly. He was the bedrock of a community of yoga and meditation practitioners, first in Toronto and now an expanded international community. If you met or studied with Michael you may remember him as wise, charismatic and poetic. He seemed unshakeable and capable of holding everyone else’s suffering. And he did, but he struggled with his own.
Michael lived with bipolar disorder his whole life. Bipolar disorder is characterized by a fluctuation between normalcy, mania, and depression. This manifested in visible and invisible ways. He was aroused by life, he sought experiences. As a young man, he drove race cars, followed the Grateful Dead, and experimented with psychedelics. He perceived the world with incredible sensitivity, through music, art, and literature. Along with this lust for life was an impulsivity that he struggled to quell through yoga and Buddhist practice. His brain was rapid fire and wide open. It was part of his brilliance and his sensitive nature.
Michael came to spiritual practice innately at a young age, and then to formal study as a teenager. It was also a way to take care of his mental health. For a long time he was well enough to resist the diagnosis and stay balanced naturally through practice and self-care, but as things got worse, he opened up more to family and friends and sought medical help. Taking care of his extreme mental states became a full-time job for him and his partner Carina. They were a team. They were doing well. His international work was incredibly inspired and flourishing. They established self-care routines. He exercised. He went to bed early. He ate a special diet. They joked about fecal transplants. He saw naturopaths and herbalists and trainers and therapists. He continued his daily practice. As things worsened he turned to psychiatry and medication as well. Balancing his meds was ever-changing and precarious. He struggled to be completely open with those around him about how much and how deeply he struggled. He tried.
In 2015, Michael shared-
“You’d think that given all this inner work, an incredible network of support, strong friendships, a loving partner and kids, and lastly, a life dedicated to embodying the dharma (literally every single day includes practice and study), that I’d be immune to extreme mental states.
It can be hard to admit even to ourselves that there are times when the stability of awareness that we discover in [meditation] just isn’t there. When this started happening I’d say my practice needs to get deeper. But the truth is, there was a chemical change in my brain.”
As versed as Michael was with the silence around mental health issues in our culture, he feared the stigma of his diagnosis. He was on the cusp of revealing publicly how shaped he was by bipolar disorder, and how he was doing.
In the silencing, he hid desires he had for relief. This spring his mania began to cycle more rapidly. The psychiatrist had always said the most dangerous part of bipolar disorder is the manic episode. It’s the part they treat. In an effort to stabilize him, his medication dosage was increased. Now and then he would mention a wish for a safe, non-addictive prescribed natural form of opium. He discussed it with his psychiatrist and Carina. He thought it might calm his overactive mind.
Unbeknownst to everybody, he was growing more desperate. On Thursday, July 13, 2017, Michael left his Gulf Island home for a routine trip to Victoria. On the way into town, he called a substance abuse and addictions pharmacy, likely to ask for a safe, controlled drug to self-medicate. He was not a candidate. He got a haircut, exercised, ran household errands and finally acquired a street drug. Initial toxicology tests suggest inconclusively that he had opioids, including fentanyl, in his system. Because of the back up due to the fentanyl crisis, it will be five months before the conclusive toxicology test results are in.
When he didn’t come home, Carina initiated a missing persons search with the RCMP and he was found around midnight on Thursday. He was unresponsive and found to have no brain function upon arrival at the hospital. He was declared brain dead on July 14th and was kept on life support for the purposes of being an organ donor on Sunday, July 16th. Within hours of the operation, three people received new life through his organs. His lungs, and kidneys.
His time in hospital was beautiful and peaceful, full of love and gratitude. Carina was by his side night and day until the last moment. He was surrounded by his family, his children and dear friends.
It may be hard to put one’s mind into his, to imagine how he could take such a risk with a young family, baby on the way, with such a full life and such fortune. It could be easy to shake one’s head and think, what a shame. Culturally we don’t have enough language to talk about this. Rather than feel the shame and tragedy of it, can we find questions? What was he feeling? How was he coping? What am I uncomfortable hearing? What can we do for ourselves and others who have impulses or behaviors we cannot understand? Impulses that scare us and silence us? How can we take care of each other?
Michael did amazing work in the world and changed the lives of so many. He was a beautiful father and loving husband. He loved his life, his work, and his students deeply. He was loved immeasurably. He continues.
This release constitutes the official statement about Michael Stone’s passing, written by his partner and senior students. There is no official spokesperson at this time to field additional media inquiries, as the family wishes for privacy. There will be other family statements published to this page in time. We will announce updates via social media. Thank you.
We recognize that with the release of the family’s statement many of you are dealing with overwhelming emotions. Don’t try to cope on your own. As a community, we are working on marshaling some supports for you, and working on fundraising for the family, and celebrations of his life and work. However, putting together these resources will take a bit of time, and we don’t want anyone’s suffering to go untended in the meantime. If you need help, reach out to a crisis line, or a psychotherapist or a friend. Don’t rely on social media or podcasts to get through this incredibly difficult time. Our hearts are with you in this sad, dark, time.
From Roshi Pat Enkyo O’Hara
Michael’s Last Teaching – for all of us and particularly for those suffering from emotional–mental difficulties: Let us see clearly, and recognize that in a way, Michael’s legacy can be that those of us suffering from mental health issues seek professional help, either privately or at local mental health centers. The Dharma serves us all powerfully and can provide a strong structure for our lives, and yet, it does not fix broken bones, nor imbalances in our mental organization. Michael’s last teaching is to remind us that caring for ourselves is how we care for the world.
Letter to the community from Caitlin Strom, Practice Mentor
As I’m writing this only a few days have passed since Michael’s passing. I’ve been struggling with what to say to you all. Most of my feelings right now are beyond words, beyond expression. But I will try.
I love Michael deeply, as many of you do. I had the privilege to be around him as he embodied many roles: teacher, mentor, friend, husband, father. In all of these things, his generosity, kindness, presence, and love were beyond measure. Over the weekend when I was talking to a friend, I told him it was impossible to describe the kind of person Michael was. My friend responded with one word: bodhisattva.
These last days have been some of the hardest of my life. Just as Michael’s love was beyond measure, so is his loss. I feel devastated, unmoored, and unsure of how to go on, as I’m sure many of you do. At this point, I still cannot imagine a world without Michael in it. And yet, here we are, living in it.
On Sunday night Nathan and I sat in front of the altar we made for Michael. We practiced and chanted for him as he left this world. We could feel all of you doing the same. Love for Michael was being sent across time zones, across borders, across oceans. All of us were there with him and Carina and Jayme as his body breathed its last breath. And he was there with us in the practice and rituals we learned from him.
Rose told me the other night that when she gathered with sangha in Toronto, she felt him in her practice. In the uprightness in her body. I feel him too. I feel him in the pause between the last two chants of the evening. I feel him in the sweetness of my breath. I feel him when I taste coffee and when I feel soft earth under my feet. I feel he is here even as I grieve for his loss because grief is love and Michael taught me how to love. I feel him in all of you and especially in the way you are responding to this tragedy with open hearts full of gratitude and love. I feel him in this community, which I know will continue on in his memory.
He is gone. He is gone, and he is everywhere.
I know that the gravity of this loss, the shock, and the circumstances surrounding it may be hard to take. Please know that you are not alone. Rose, Jen, and I are here for you. In Michael’s absence, we will do our best to hold space, answer questions, and provide loving support. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to any of us at any time to schedule a meeting, Skype meeting or phone call. You can find out how to reach us on the contact page.
Our team has received many requests for ways to support Carina. Thank you to ENSO Society for setting up the Carina Stone Family Fund and thank you all for your generosity and your outpouring of love.