I was twenty-six when I began meditating.
After two aborted pregnancies in my early twenties, I’d been tirelessly seeking to make sense of my life. I found no acceptable guidance in religion and therapy only helped me feel better temporarily. I was essentially a walking existential crisis when I met Sam. He was the person who assured me that the answers I sought were inside of me. If I sat down, shut up, and listened, I would find them.
That was 1989 when meditation was still an underground enterprise.
Today, meditation is mainstream, and along with that status it has been appropriated for questionable ends. You see meditators in ads for high-end organic bedding promising blissful relaxation. You find high performance consultants teaching meditation in C-suites promising more focused decision making and increased bottom line. Psychologists everywhere teach meditation to their clients to help them self regulate. And destination yoga retreats are the go-to panacea for our inevitable mid-life crises.
But all these outcomes are secondary byproducts of meditation — if they even happen at all.
Historically, ease, success, and love didn’t matter to meditators. The essential purpose of meditation was to know one’s self and to commune with the divine. Everything else would follow from there.
It’s only in our modern hyper-consuming world that these secondary effects have become the primary goal of meditation.
To our collective detriment.
It’s not that I have anything against elegant sheets, prosperous businesses, or healthy relationships. On the contrary.
What I’m suggesting is that the co-opting of a tool intended for self realization and using it for self enhancement is doing the exact opposite of what the co-optors are promising and instead is contributing to greater suffering – precisely what the Buddha assured us that meditation would diminish.
So, if you’re considering meditation, be mindful.
The first step when approaching any meditation practice is to be clear about why you want to do it.
Do you want fame, wealth, or youth — three of the highest valued commodities being sold in our world today? You can surely find a meditation teacher who will guarantee you those results. But, make sure to read the fine print.
You can also find a meditation teacher who will help you sleep better, or manage your stress, or lose weight — all valuable. And usually temporary.
You see, there are plenty of systems, tools and teachers that will sell you ways to manifest your desires for the best life, the best partner, the perfect child, or creative genius.
I’m not one of them.
So, if you’re tired of chasing an elusive happiness through botox, divorce, in-vitro, or the perfect downward facing dog pose, then read on.
But, don’t despair about having to give all that up. Because here’s the good news:
When you realize that chasing the sparkly objects of a consumer society — one that also swears you’re entitled to everything it’s promising you — is not what will make you happy, it does not mean you won’t get some of those benefits— in some form — at some point. It just means that they will no longer be the driving force in your life. And this reorientation of what truly matters changes everything.
Self improvement is endless — and capitalism is banking on it. Meditation is now being packaged and sold towards such ends. But there’s a meditation that ends the self improvement game and the chase for more, better, bigger, longer, newer, younger, and easier.
This style of meditation that focuses on self knowledge lands you right where you are, helps you realize that there is nothing fundamentally wrong or broken about you, and assists you in aligning your choices and actions with that knowledge. In other words, it brings you peace, joy, and contentment. Sustainably.
You must devote yourself to the right practice, let go of your self improvement program, and put down the fantasy of who you think you should become in order to be happy or fulfilled. Then you’re ready to begin the steady, reliable, and deeply satisfying journey of discovering the truth of who you are, loving what is, and being here now.
I call this kind of meditation meditative self inquiry.
It will help you:
When you begin to use your meditation practice as a tool for self knowledge, you’ll be less driven by emotions and more capable of holding a calm presence when responding to interpersonal challenges or conflicts.
Just ask my husband.
You’ll cultivate a deep relationship with solitude, silence, and stillness and be more willing to prioritize time alone in order to resource yourself and show up in the world with more and more heart.
Just ask my clients.
Certain beliefs and emotional patterns will quiet down and you’ll be generally less triggered by experiences that might have, in the past, caused psychological distress around being good enough or belonging.
Just ask my BFF.
My fabulous life has come naturally out of settling deeply into the truth of who I am.
Meditative self inquiry is not a quick fix solution to your stress, anxiety, or unhappiness. It is a lifestyle reorientation. Thus, the sooner you reorient the sooner you’ll see results. They show up daily when engaging the practice, not at some end point down the road.
Begin where you are. Proceed from there.
I’m nearly 57 now and have lived more than 10,000 days since I first started meditating with Sam. Averaging one hour of meditation per day, I’ve put in close to the requisite 10,000 hours that popular thought leader Malcolm Gladwell claims is necessary for mastery. I share this not to brag, but to show you that a steady practice works.
Begin with ten minutes. One day at a time. One sit at a time. Take the long view so that you can live a truly fabulous life.
If I can do it, you can do it, too.
Sarah Marshank MEd. is the the founder of Selfistry, a comprehensive
integrative educational system for mastering the art of being human.
She is the author of the Being Selfish: My Journey from Escort to Monk
Based in the SF Bay Area, Sarah teaches and speaks internationally, facilitates on-line courses, and works one-on-one with individuals. Sarah's embodied teaching and presence come from spending ten years in retreat. Her life’s purpose, articulated and expressed through Selfistry, integrates Eastern and Western philosophy and psychology with meditative and somatic practices.
Selfistry masterfully guides practitioners to a deep encounter with
themselves and all life.