I was eight years old when I first began meditating. No, I wasn't raised in a commune by hippie parents. I checked out a book on meditation from the school library and practiced the technique in the book. So began my thirty years of meditation practice.

Over the course of my meditation career, I tried many different kinds of meditation practices - from simple meditation techniques to more difficult, advanced practices. I’ve tried Kundalini meditation, Hindu meditation, walking meditation, New Age meditation, moving meditation, compassion meditation, peace meditation, healing meditation, insight meditation and Zen meditation.

So, yeah, I’ve tried a LOT of different varieties of meditation. I’ve spent months on retreats, watching my breath for fourteen plus hours a day. I’ve spent weeks doing Kuydo, or Zen archery, a type of moving meditation. I've spent days on end chanting divine Sanskrit names.

Now, after practicing all of these techniques for thirty years, I noticed there was a basic belief underlying my efforts that was motivating all this seeking and searching.

That underlying belief was a simple one:

Something was wrong with me that meditation could fix.

To put it a different way, I thought that practicing meditation would ensure a future in which I would never again experience unpleasant thoughts or feelings.

Often, my beliefs about the impact of meditation were paradoxical. For example, I thought that if I could accept everything as it was… then things would automatically change and I’d be able to live in an imaginary perfect future.

The year I turned 38, I was given an opportunity to look at these ideas more carefully. As I did so, three things became clear to me. First, I realized that continuing to wait around for this imaginary perfect future was contributing to feelings of suffering and misery in the present moment.

Next, it occurred to me that there was no evidence to support the idea that I was broken in some fashion. What I mean is, when I listed all the thoughts, feelings and experiences I was using to prove that I was broken and in need of fixing, I realized that pretty much everyone else on the planet was having the same type of thoughts, feelings and experiences.

So maybe these things I’d thought of as some kind of bug were actually features that were simply part of being human.

Lastly, having known people who had been meditating for over 40 years, as well as having befriended many meditation teachers during my time, I finally noticed that my fantasy that ongoing meditation would create some kind of permanent state of bliss didn’t seem to have much evidence to support it.

After those realizations, I was no longer able to believe that I was broken and in need of fixing. I was also no longer able to believe in meditation as some kind of cure-all for the problems of humanity (which now didn't look so much like problems after all).

So I quit my 30-year practice of meditation. I abandoned my meditation cushion without a backward glance.

After I did so, I noticed that something else had been driving my interest in meditation for all that time as well. This was my compelling fascination with how minds work and what the relationship is between the mind and the happiness I sought, the moments of peace and satisfaction that I occasionally experienced on the cushion, although less often than I would have liked.

Sometimes, during a moment of down-time while watching late-night commercials or hanging out in the hot tub, I'd start considering the actual processes of awareness and thinking.

I had been curious about these kinds of things before. When I was at Duke University, I did undergraduate research in the field of cognitive psychology, where I studied the subtle cognitive and mental process we use in learning physical actions or engaging in mental challenges of different kinds.

When I began looking at this subject again, I was surprised to discover that, as I looked deeply into the processes of awareness itself, I suddenly found myself in a meditative state that came about very quickly and naturally. In contemplating awareness in this way, I was able to slip effortlessly into states that were previously elusive.

Over the next several years, I continued to experiment with my thinking in this fashion, free of any idea that I needed to "improve myself."

I had a lot of fun while doing so. But these experiments were so simple and so easy that I didn't think much about them.

Here is an odd example to give you an idea of what I mean: pay attention to your feet for a moment. That's pretty simple and effortless, right? All you had to do was think about your feet and you could suddenly feel them, whereas before you weren't noticing them, correct? You already had a foot before you started thinking about it, right? (Although, yes, that question could be the beginning of a completely different conversation).

So, with no effort at all, you noticed something that was already there and started feeling something that wasn’t exactly new, but, perhaps had been in the background.

Meditation can be just like that. What you are thinking about, feeling, experiencing right now… these are your current foreground. But there’s also a "background" that you can notice if you want to. It’s already there. A relaxation, clarity or peace of mind, perhaps even feelings of mystical oneness. Once you know how to look for these things, finding them is as easy as shifting your focus to your feet.

No practice is required. No years of sitting in caves. You don't lose it just because you stop for a while. Mental effort and time set aside from your day are completely unnecessary. There is no need to turn it into a daily practice (though doing so can be fun). Simply giving attention to someplace inside that already is relaxed is easy to do no matter how busy you are.

I found it ironic that, as soon as I quit trying to find happiness in an imaginary future and stopped trying to fix what "ain't broke," all those things I’d hoped to experience in the far off future became suddenly available in the now.

Another way to get the flavor of what I mean is to consider these questions: What would life be life if you no longer thought of yourself as some kind of self-improvement project? How might things be different if you no longer thought of yourself as broken, despite whatever evidence you think you’ve got for that assessment? What would your feelings and thoughts and sensations be like if you couldn't imagine that they were evidence of anything called a "problem?"

Oh, and if you have some idea that following this line of thought would cause you to just perch yourself on the couch and never do anything at all, well, my suggestion is to test that concern and see. What you discover could be quite different and more interesting than you can possibly imagine. It could be that you would experience meditation practices that actually work.

Author's Bio: 

Steven Sashen began meditation when he was eight years old, was one of the first biofeedback pioneers, and researched cognition and perception at Duke University. In addition to a successful career as an entrepreneur and entertainer, Steven has taught transformational techniques around the world and developed the Instant Advanced Meditation Course, which Dr. Gay Hendricks calls, "Perhaps the fastest and easiest way to relax, expand awareness, and find deep inner-peace."

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