Interview: Michael Stone

My last post was an except from Michael Stone's new book “Awake in the World: Teachings from Yoga & Buddhism for Living an Engaged Life." Today, as promised, a brief interview I conducted with him over email. It's cut and paste; there are a couple of things I am curious about (especially the answer to #1), but will follow up when I hear responses and comments from you all as well.

What did you think?

image from his website

Emma: You wrote, in an initial email to me, that you find your approach to suicide, as it relates to Yoga, controversial. Why do you think this is? Would your response also be considered controversial from the perspective of Eastern religious traditions?

Michael: I have never encountered the topic of suicide in conversation with spiritual teachings in a way that is exploratory and not condoning. Have you? I hope this is the start of a conversation - one among many - that integrates traditional teachings and modern vocabulary.

E: Western perspective often reports suicide as a selfish act. Your quote from Virginia Woolf, however, makes it seem selfless as well. In a letter to her husband she writes, "If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can’t go on spoiling your life any longer." Can suicide ever be seva (service) to others as much as the self? Or can we never really know the needs of others?

M: I think sometimes suicide is imagined as the only way out and in some cases it's true. Some deaths are bittersweet. Someone dies and we are sad and relieved.

E: You briefly mention that a common prescription for suicidal behavior is medication. From someone with your background, I'm really curious about your perspective on this. You speak about the need for expression to resolve internal conflict. When is meditation and mediation not enough?

M: There are many times when meditation is not enough, even harmful. Psychosis for instance. So yes there are times for meditation. There are times also to be off meditation and on medication. And times for both. One should not be stuck in a rigid view. I used to be. Now I believe there are good places and phases to introduce medication to get a life settled enough to be quiet.

E: On a new subject, you have a new book coming out in June 2011. Was there a particular impetus towards writing this text?

M: Just that so many students were sending me transcribed dharma talks I thought it would be nice to see them in print.

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