As some of you may have heard, our dear friend and teacher Jonathan Austman has passed away.
The processing and digestion of this moment will unravel for many days to come, but one of my initial impulses is to try to understand who he was and to remember him in his entirety.
But how can one sum up a person in a few sentences? The Jonathan that I knew for 10 years was serious but goofy, compassionate and yet judgemental, sincere yet mischievous, aloof and also incredibly gentle and thoughtful.
He certainly was a huge influence on my life, my yoga practice and teaching. I will sorely miss his wisdom, example, and camaraderie.
Jonathan took his own life. The word suicide is incredibly loaded. We all have our own relationship with what that means. For me, the act of taking one’s own life contains deep suffering, but also deep freedom. To choose one’s time of death can offer dignity and grace. My final prayer for him is that he felt like he was choosing death, as opposed to feeling like he was out of choices besides death.
Endings beget beginnings. Let me share with you how we met: I had first heard of Jonathan through my Ashtanga yoga instructor in Toronto, who had met Jonathan in India that year. When I told him I was moving to Winnipeg, he said I should look Jonathan up because he had a Mysore program. In September 2009, on the third or fourth day of being in Winnipeg, I went to the Winnipeg Yoga Shala at 440 Don Ave to practise. It was a beautiful, calm space, completely imbued with his energy. In the disorganization of moving, I didn’t have enough cash, so I had paid a drop in fee with a cheque (remember those days?!). After practice, he said, “There’s a new student special right now. Two months for the price of one.” I said, “Oh, but I only brought the one cheque.” “It’s ok, you can cross it out and initial the new amount.” “Oh, ok.” I came back the next day, and the next, and for many days after.
I’m quite sure now there was no new student special. He was just making it up. I’ll always be so glad that he did.
May I leave you with the Zen night chant, which I learned from the late Michael Stone:
Life and death are of supreme importance.
Time passes swiftly and opportunity is lost.
Let us awaken – awaken!
Do not squander your life.
Blessings and health to you and yours,