Relationship is the Key to Awakening: Interview with Michael Stone about Family Wakes Us Up
Banyen Books interviews Michael Stone about recent book “Family Wakes Us Up”
BB: The title of your new book, co-written with Matthew Remski, is “Family Wakes Us Up: Letters Between Expectant Fathers”. This is an intriguing title. Can you explain for our readers the theme of this book, and your particular approach to the topic?
MS: Right now my 2 year old son is sleeping in the car while I type this interview on a small phone and my partner naps after being up with our son every hour last night. I haven’t returned emails in days. We often think that contemplative practice or any kind of spiritual practice is solitary, private and still. My formal training was exactly like that – in a monastic environment – and I love that way of learning. The joys and pains of being embedded in family – both as parents and as children – offer us countless opportunities for awakening. Relationship is the key to awakening. Every dimension of family life – from working through communication troubles, to giving up fixed ideas of how we think things should be – can be a vehicle for cultivating intimacy, transforming reactivity, and connecting with a life that is far deeper than the stories we tell ourselves. Any practice that interrupts rigid narratives is a spiritual practice. Family Wakes Us Up is a book that hopes to demonstrate what it’s like for two fathers to use domestic life to wake up.
BB: How did you become interested in this topic (and maybe elaborate a bit on your background prior to it)?
MS: Most of us never know what our teachers are like at home. I wanted to pull back the curtain. I think when I was younger I enjoyed the teaching persona of being stable and peaceful and calm. Now I find showing the cracks offers something deeper both for my own heart and also for students.
Matthew and I have both trained in lineages where the teacher is masterful at pointing out the nature of reality or explaining esoteric teachings. I think there is value in this. But as we delve deeper into family life, Matthew and I are exploring, both alone and together, how knowing our needs, being clear with what we feel, and bringing mindfulness to the ways we listen and speak – are all form of deep practice. My teachers never demonstrated this kind of transparency. And yet, emotions are the realm where most of us get stuck. Of course sitting still or practicing on our yoga mats in the midst of anger or boredom are all forms of working with emotions, I also think it’s important to work on our emotions within relationships. Backbending or breathing techniques may help us get stable but may not necessarily be the tools that help us relationally, interpersonally, intimately. Also, there is a rich emotional world in which men live and it often goes unarticulated. I hope this book opens a new door for parents.
BB: What was the greatest insight you learned personally in the process of writing (or sharing) this book?
MS: We can bring presence to any mental state and intimacy is the path of healing.
BB: What was the greatest challenge?
MS: If you have time for Twitter or Facebook you have time for meditation, contemplation, and a daily practice. For some people creativity may be writing and for others it could be dancing, making music or cooking. Creativity comes in many forms. What was beautiful about writing this book is that it was a way of being creative that also built a bridge of intimacy with another person. For that I am very grateful. What Matthew and I wrote to each other was raw and honest and made room for a love to develop between us. I have always wanted a male friend who was not just emotionally available but also intellectually sharp. The challenge for me in writing the book was trusting that Matthew was up for meeting me where I was at. He was.
BB: What special contribution do you feel this book/work has to offer?
MS: Parents often feel like domestic chores are on one side of their lives and there is almost no time for anything else. I am trying to offer another way of seeing.
BB: How do you envision your work (teaching, writing etc.) unfolding in the future? What projects & explorations do you hope to continue to develop after this?
MS: I just moved with my family from downtown Toronto to an island off the coast of Victoria, BC. I think there are three main issues for our era: climate change; economic inequality; and the atrophy of intimacy. My interest is in how to articulate and translate the contemplative teachings in which I’ve studied in order to deal with these issues in a very deep way. Living on an island is allowing me more time with family but also time to write and research and develop a new platform for having a greater social impact.
I believe the solutions to our economic, social, and psychological problems are deeply intertwined. My mission is to translate Buddhist and yoga practices into tools that transform habits, cultivate intimate relationships, and awaken a profound compassion for the world.
ABOUT FAMILY WAKES US UP
Family Wakes Us Up, Michael Stone’s most recent book co-written with Matthew Remski, is an exchange between expectant fathers of deeply personal letters that explore the interweaving themes of family life amidst teachings from Zen, yoga, meditation and Ayurveda. This book is intimate, existentially honest, and strangely funny.