I hated high school dances. I didn’t know the cool moves. I envied the guys with older sisters who would play records and make them dance with them—they looked so slick and confident out on the floor, while I lurked on the sidelines, trying to figure out how they did it.

Figure out. That, of course, was the problem—I was trying to process it through the thinking mind. When I did work up the courage to get out on the floor with a (gulp!) girl, I spent the whole time listening to my mind as it tried to break down what the other kids were doing, get my body to imitate them, evaluate how I was doing, and monitor the degree of contempt with which the other kids were surely watching my dorky moves. It was miserable.

It took some pretty serious weed-smoking to break out of that trap. Under the influence, I made a great discovery: Listen to the music, not the thoughts. And listen with the whole body. I could let the music bypass the mind and go straight to my stomach, my spine, my pelvis, my arms and legs, and move them.

There was one disappointment, at first. I thought pot was supposed to blow my mind, blow away all my thoughts. They were still there.

But I could ignore them.

Thoughts? Performance anxiety? Social insecurity? And, for that matter, paranoia about getting busted by the school authorities? Sure, they were all there, but I was busy listening to, and moving with, the music. I could ignore the thoughts. Screw ’em.

Soon after this epiphany, my earnest intoxicant usage came to an end. It had served its purpose. It turned out that the option of ignoring thoughts had always been available. Of course I could still act on the few that that were useful, but the rest of that static? I could just let that sizzle in the background.

Meditation became my consciousness optimizer of choice. I explored a number of methods and traditions, and eventually my teachers encouraged me to teach others. Soon I discovered the number one challenge of teaching meditation: convincing people that thoughts don’t matter. There’s such a strong and prevalent preconception that meditation means forcibly suppressing your thoughts or making your mind a blank that it can take some skill to pull the rug out from under those expectations and guide (or trick) the student into tasting the ease of peaceful coexistence with thoughts.

Whether you meditate with a mantra, breath, noting of sensations, or anything else, the key is that our attention is naturally drawn to the silent boundlessness that is our own essential nature. Like a feather floating out of the sky, it may take its sweet time drifting left and right, but in the end gravity is irresistible. All this time, we thought we’d achieve tranquillity by quieting the mind, but that turns out to be backwards. We settle naturally into tranquillity, and, as a side effect, the mind tends to become less active. But even if it doesn’t—if there’s still dust floating in the air after the feather settles—it doesn’t matter, because we’re tranquil.

In meditation as in life (on the dance floor and everywhere else), our feverish preoccupation with thoughts is misplaced—and can be dropped at any moment. It doesn’t matter what you think. It doesn’t matter how little or how much you think. It doesn’t matter whether your thoughts are momentous or trivial, clever or dumb. Just don’t engage with them.

Listening to your thoughts—buying into them, taking them seriously—is engaging with them.

Trying to push your thoughts away is engaging with them.

Trying to think your mantra louder or bear down on your breath harder to keep new thoughts from coming is engaging with them.

Trying to resolve your thoughts is engaging with them. Whether you’re wrestling with the meaning of life or trying to remember who played The Professor on “Gilligan’s Island,” the feeling is usually, “If I just get this one thing resolved, then I can settle down.” What was your one must-resolve-now question ten minutes ago?

Anything you try to do with regard to thoughts is engaging with them.

And that makes meditation supremely simple. You don’t have to work out which kinds of engagement are helpful and which aren’t. Just drop the whole thing. Fuhgeddabouddit.

It’s fine. It takes care of itself. It turns out that, back in high school, no one really cared how cool or dorky your dance moves were… except you. Now, no one cares how thought-filled or silent your meditation is… except you. You can just ignore those thoughts and dance your way through meditation—and life.

Dean Sluyter (pronounced slighter) has taught natural meditation throughout the United States since 1970 and is the author of several books and audio programs, including Cinema NirvanaThe Zen Commandments, and the forthcoming Natural Meditation: A Guide to Effortless Meditative Practice (Tarcher/Penguin ISBN 978-0-399-17141-3, February 24, 2015) www.deansluyter.com