Regarding Michael Stone’s unfortunate death:

Dear Friends, I was deeply sorry to hear of Michael Stone’s tragic death. Although we never met, and I know little about his dharma work, his teachings and presence clearly had a powerful impact on many people and he will be greatly missed. The reported circumstances of Michael’s death have brought up for me some longstanding concerns about common, possibly dangerous, misperceptions of dharma practice. These reflections grow out of decades of work as both a Zen teacher and psychotherapist. First, it seems vital for people to be aware that intensified forms of practice can and do mobilize the whole of the psyche, including the repressed unconscious. In other words, at the same time that our dharma work can open the gateway to caring and compassionate energies, deep practice also taps into the darker strata of the mind. This multidimensional unfolding, which we’ve been calling ‘co-mergence,’ may include feelings and mindstates related to repressed anger, sexuality, and trauma. Contrary to the usual view, my experience is that traditional forms of intensified practice stir these things up without resolving them in their depths. If we understand the nature of unconscious repression, this intrapsychic fluidity holds rich potential for positive transformation. But if these unconscious forces are not worked through skillfully, practitioners may wind up getting stuck at various points, or else caught up in endless repetitive cycles. In a similar vein, Dr. Willoughby Britton has written about the ways people doing dharma practice may find themselves getting sucked down into some very dark depressive realms. The second thing I’d emphasize is that intensified practices can further destabilize certain pre-existing conditions. Many people realize this holds true for psychotic, schizophrenic, borderline, and fragile-type conditions. What is less well known is that these same cautions apply to certain emotional, biochemical, and neurobiological conditions that can manifest themselves through manic, depressive, bi-polar, and paranoid-type states. Although these conditions can certainly be worked with, in my experience they all call for a special measure of understanding and training. When these destabilizing potentials wind up mixing with the forces of the repressed unconscious, also mobilized through intensified practices, particular care is called for. In terms of Michael’s struggles with what was an apparent bi-polar disorder, intensified practice can certainly make the highs higher, but then at the same time the lows may become much lower. As was said, I know little about his personal dharma work, but if he was practicing more intently in the hopes that it might help certain depressive states, that very practice may have made things worse – much worse. So it seems to me that practices that go beyond stress reduction and mindfulness are best undertaken with teachers who have some measure of intrapsychic understanding. Intensive practices can go remarkably deep, and this openness and vulnerability must be worked with carefully. What’s becoming increasingly clear is that because the Western psyche is different in so many ways from the Asian psyche, and because of the uniquely self-punitive nature of the Western superego, more inclusive understandings and approaches to this dharma work may not only be helpful, but essential. With gassho, Lawson Sachter Windhorse Zen Community