Opinion Column

Spiritual guru's street drug overdose proves we all have vices

SHAUN PROULX, 24 Hours

Michael Stone. (MICHAEL STONE WEBSITE/HANDOUT)

Michael Stone. (MICHAEL STONE WEBSITE/HANDOUT)

Last month, you could hear the collective global gasp when news broke that eminent Zen Buddhist Michael Stone had passed away in Victoria, B.C. The shock was a natural reaction to the unexpected death of a beloved force of nature, a powerful communicator who, through his ability to make ancient spiritual ideas fresh and relevant, helped improve the lives of countless people around the world.

Stone left behind a wife and two children — with another on the way — and would have celebrated his 43rd birthday this past Saturday. But what also caused thousands of jaws to drop from the news was the Stone’s cause of death: the charismatic, world-renowned and respected yoga/meditation/mindfulness expert, author, and speaker – who founded the Centre of Gravity in Toronto– died after OD-ing on street drugs.

Because of the on-going overdose crisis in B.C., an official toxicology report will take months due to backlog, but initial reports on Stone suggested inconclusively that the spiritualist had opioids in his system, including fentanyl. (Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, though some fentanyl analogs may be as much as 10,000 times more.)

Hence the collective gasp, ripe with subtext that could be translated to something like: Why was a spiritual guru like Stone doing lurid things like street drugs?

In speaking to the cause of death in a family statement, Stone’s wife rightly posits that “culturally, we don’t have enough language to talk about this.” She then asks: “Rather than feel the shame and the tragedy of it, can we find the questions?”

That anyone affected with or by drug addiction feels shame speaks not an iota to their using of drugs, but is instead a deafening snore from under the vast, dense blanket woven thick with the cords of lies and hypocrisy we in our society still remain so comfortably snuggled under, where the “untoward” and “sleazy” topic of getting high is concerned.

Drug use thrives mightily because we continue to stay cosy, hitting the snooze alarm, dreaming fond dreams that drugs don’t affect our immediate world or those we love. But to lay there, countless Sleeping Beauties all dumb as shoes as this plays out, while we still keep our eyes shut, is folly that reaches heights some would call of Trumpian.

A rude awakening might be a good way to start ensuring that Michael Stone’s death isn’t in vain: let’s rip that cozy blanket right off ourselves now and cause a collective shudder to jar us wide awake — if that’s what it takes.

In any given year, one in five Canadians experience a mental health or addiction problem. And by the time a Canadian reaches 40, 50% of have or will have a mental illness. In other words, right now, mothers are hauling on meth pipes. Dads are craving cocktails; maybe a line or two. An Adderall-snorting sister has fallen asleep at the wheel and crashed her car, while someone’s brother is at the bathhouse high on cocaine having unprotected sex with men while their oblivious wife and kids await

him at home. I recently lost my best friend to addiction, a man who self-pressured to “keep it all together.” In one heartbreaking week, this summer, his narrative went from “I need to be able to get accountable and look myself in the mirror” to “I want to reset our relationship” to “we are severing ties forever” as my life took a nasty plot twist I haven’t enjoyed a bit.

Here’s a concept that will let you easily grasp how you or someone you love (regardless of age, race, upbringing, values or socio-economic standing) can turn to drugs just like that: Everything you want, you desire because you believe you will feel better in having it.

It’s why you want the marriage, the raise, the partner, the jeans, the new dog, the promotion.

It is human to always want to feel better than we currently do.

Now, when you cannot after a while achieve those better feelings via typical means — like careers and relationships — what is your fastest, cheapest way to finally access them?

You get high. Yes, it’s always temporary, but while you’re high, you forget there is an end date and consequences. You are so busy enjoying those feelings you have so longed to feel.

So the cocaine addict is not “bad,” “dirty” or “wrong.” He or she is simply someone so determined to feel happy that those hurting will even make feeling happy more important than anyone and anything.

Demonizing those who just want to feel good is why shame and stigma never make anyone stop doing drugs. You are telling a bird not to fly and they are wrong to want to.

If we can approach drug use with even a modicum of passion and empathy that stems from this bunderstanding, we can begin to have that very talk Michael Stone’s wife wishes our culture could have because our starting point will be an honest one. And from that honest place, the language can spring forth, stigma and shame out of the equation. (Because once you know that someone wants to feel good just like you do, how do you possibly shame them?)

Michael Stone was about to share with the world his struggles with bipolar disorder. It seems his spiritual practices were not helping anymore. He wanted relief — to feel better than he was. The day he

died he even tried acquiring a controlled drug to self-medicate, but was denied, because he wasn’t “a candidate.” But Stone was — admirably, I assert — so determined to feel better that he took to the streets in the same quest everyone of us is on every day: to feel improved feelings.

Michael Stone, my former best friend, my late alcoholic father and my own dance over the years with much of the alphabet — none of us ought to feel or be shamed; I don’t. We know or knew intrinsically, instinctively, that it is our very birthright to feel good, and in many cases, drugs are the route travelled so to claim it.

Yours might be similar. You might pop pills, snort, smoke or shoot up. Or, you might shop, gossip, eat, stay glued to your smart phone, gamble, exercise, have sex, binge-watch TV, or work night and day 24/7.

We are each souls having a human experience in a human body. That you are a mother, father, brother, best friend, lover, doctor, teacher or Michael Stone – spiritualist held high – has zero to do with anything.

Our collective drug use should shock no one, no jaw should drop upon learning that a soul among us has reached for something they believe will make them feel better feelings than the ones they feel right now.

The Shaun Proulx Show’s #SummerOfYes series airs on SiriusXM Canada Talks channel 167 through September. He is the publisher of TheGayGuideNetwork.com and leads a #ThoughtRevolution about busting through personal limits on ShaunProulx.com.