By Dana Gornall
“We expend so much energy avoiding the way life actually unfolds, and most of the time we are not aware that we are doing this. This is exhausting. When we begin to see that there is spaciousness where there was resistance, the contents of consciousness lose some of their hold on us. Each time we make space, trust grows.” – Michael Stone
When I received a copy of The Inner Tradition of Yoga: A Guide to Yoga Philosophy for the Contemporary Practitioner, by Michael Stone, I had mixed feelings.
I wasn’t familiar with Stone’s teachings, but I had heard so many good things about him. One of my writing and editor mentors had brought his name up initially when I had asked about her practice. I shelved his name in the back of my mind with the many other names on my “to-read” list and went on.
And then Michael Stone died.
The community was reeling. How could this down-to-earth, wise, sweet, human being be gone? And to know that he suffered from mental illness and addiction was an even bigger blow to so many hearts. How could this happen?
I haven’t practiced yoga in over a year. Sure, I have tried a couple of down dogs in my living room, a few forward bends, but anyone who knows yoga also knows that yoga is so much more than forward bends and down dogs. I just haven’t been able to fit going to class in my schedule after I started a different job with an hour commute. I read, I study, I meditate here and there, but I have not truly stepped foot on my mat in over a year.
So when I opened the envelope containing Michael Stone’s book—a re-release of his first edition that was published in 2008—I felt unworthy.
And at first, I avoided it, a little. It sat on my bedside bookshelf; it rode with me in the car; it rested in-between two other books in my book bag that I slung over my shoulder and carried back and forth to work. Every once in awhile, I would carefully open it, read a chapter, highlight a few poignant quotes, and put it away. I’d read it slowly, letting each sentence sink in, devour parts and then set it aside for a week at a time.
The Inner Tradition of Yoga is a complete text filled with so much wisdom. He covers the Eight Limbs, The Yamas, The Klesas and The Kosas. But this is so much more than outlining yoga. Michael talks about how to apply these deep, meaningful and complex teachings into our daily lives. He uses stories from his own life and people around him to highlight how he has taken these teachings into his own self-growth.
It is also filled with beautifully constructed thoughts that had me pulling out my highlighter so many times. I had pages and pages of yellow lines of points I wanted to remember:
Yoga is timeless. This does not mean it is eternal or ephemeral, but simply available, always in each unfolding moment, when we settle into the essence of who we are. The great questions of life and death are settled into the stillness of the mind and the direct actions of a self unfettered by itself. A seeming paradox at first, the yoga practitioner is nothing other than a vast range of the universe. Chapter 4, Embodying the Path.
The idea of settling into the essence of who we are really struck me. Isn’t that a large part of what we are doing on this path? Aren’t we all just trying to figure out who we are and where we belong on this map filled with all of these other beings who are also trying to figure out who and what they are and how we all connect?
Whatever your choice of suffering you pick—whether it be overworking, over worrying, over eating, over consuming, under appreciating, under living—dealing with the mind and understanding who we really are is the heart of where that all begins.
Michael Stone understood that. He got it, he lived it and he—just like all of us—was this imperfect being trying to unfold with each moment and guide us along the way. His life, his teachings and his words come from a place of raw honesty.
In a society where battle lines seem to be drawn even within our yoga and spiritual communities, where politics and debate are bleeding into the places and groups so many of us are seeking for refuge from all of the chaos, Stone shows us that we all have inner demons. Each and every single one of us. Yet, we can use these age-old teachings of yoga and Buddhism to not only work with ourselves to understand them, but to understand and have compassion for everyone else as they walk their paths (no matter how different).
The Inner Tradition of Yoga is so much more than just a book about yoga philosophy. It is more than a guide or text. I’ll leave you with one more quote, which is especially poignant:
The acceptance of death, much like being fully engaged in life, is the accepting of perishing everything that will perish. Actualized by the truth of death, we no longer need to move our lives forward by shading experience according to our own ideas. When there is amazement, when there is wonder, then we are present with life and one another.
Photo: Shambhala Publications
Editor: John Lee Pendall