This is not exactly a secret but it’s not something I usually lead a conversation with…. My studio is messy. There are bits of scraped off cold wax and paint curls on the floor. Paint tubes, jars of pigment, and brushes lie haphazardly on the table by the easel. Every few weeks the mess disturbs my peace of mind enough that I clean it up.
The other day I was sharply reminded of how life is a lot like my studio – messy. And it’s not like we can get out the metaphorical vacuum cleaner or garbage bag and tidy it all up when it disturbs us. If you travel in Buddhist circles you will have heard the heartbreaking story of Buddhist teacher, Michael Stone as it unfolded. First we were shocked to hear that this bright young teacher had died at 42. We know people die but we don’t think about it that much. He was an energetic yoga and dharma teacher, a social activist. We don’t expect him to be here one minute and gone the next. There it was the Buddha’s teaching on impermanence delivered in a jolt. Our tether to this fragile human life and body can be disconnected at any time, in a moment, regardless of our age. We are always surprised by this information. Lesson # 1 via Michael. Life is brief and precious and sometimes bewildering. We could do more to appreciate it.
Then we were saddened to learn that this father of 3, husband, teacher and activist died alone on the street of a drug overdose. It’s a long story but the basics are this: He lived with the secret of his bipolar disease and because of the stigma of mental illness he had not revealed it publicly. The day of his death he sought legal medication to help calm a manic episode but was refused it. He turned to street drugs which killed him. So many teachings here about diverse things: how we view mental health issues, how our medical system operates, how we view our teachers and how that makes them feel, how different appearance can be from reality. Strangely when I reflected on it what came up for me was how the energy that caused him so much suffering was the same energy that also propelled him to be an amazing yoga and dharma teacher. It’s hard to carve life up into the good and the bad, they can be so bound together. Life here in this human realm can be complicated.
So if you’re wondering why bad things happen sometimes, don’t trouble yourself by adding that on. Life can be awesome and full of fun and beauty but not always. People like Michael Stone can be wonderful teachers that inspire and support so many people and then come to a heartbreaking, halting end. Life is messy. It just is. We don’t have a lot of control over what unfolds even though we spend a lot of time trying to arrange things to our liking. This is not to say we should not do the things that seem good. We can eat our veggies, meditate, and do yoga. We can be kind, generous and humble and do our best to do no harm. And those are all good things but they don’t confer immunity to life and its unfolding.
Life is messy and unlike my studio we can’t always clean it up. There will be the trail of paint and wax on the metaphorical floor, paint smears on the wall, dried up tubes of paint and uncleaned brushes. Perhaps just knowing that this is how it is and being able to live with the uncertainty will make us all a little kinder and more understanding of ourselves and others.
And because life is messy here’s a few encouraging resources:
Thoughts on the subject? Please share your comments.