The Short Story
Sean has a degree in Philosophy and Religious Studies from Stanford University. After graduation, for fifteen years, he lived in a yoga ashram and community in Northern California, where he received extensive instruction in meditation and spiritual practice. While living in the ashram, for the last nine years, he was also CEO of book publishing house and record label that specializes in Personal Development and Eastern Religion books and recordings. He is a certified meditation and yoga instructor and an ordained minister for a non-denominational organization that emphasizes the essential unity of all religions. He lives in Los Angeles with his partner, Brook Cassady, a well-known yoga and meditation instructor. In addition to authoring The Bliss Experiment book, Sean has also written for CBS News, The Huffington Post, Ask Men, and numerous other publications.
The Real Story
I’ve spent most of my life thinking about and exploring the “Big Questions” of meaning, purpose, and happiness. Along the way, I’ve experienced almost every type of suffering imaginable: the shocking death of my best friend (and cousin) as a child; an accidental drug overdose that landed me in the emergency room as a teen; watching my father die from cancer, angry and depressed; a profound existential and spiritual crisis that left me on the brink of suicide; anxiety attacks and drug flashbacks that left my heart racing and made it virtually impossible to sleep; an incorrect diagnosis of a major heart problem by doctors at the top heart clinic in the world; and a severe chronic injury that left me bedridden and in excruciating pain for more than three years, and with which I live to this day.
Raised Jewish at the synogogue founded by the world-renowned Rabbi, Abba Hillel Silver, I became interested in discovering the “meaning of life” during the eighth grade. I spent my high school years self-educating myself in both Western Philosophy and Eastern Mysticism. By the time I arrived at Stanford, I had no doubt that I wanted to major in Philosophy and Religious Studies though I did broaden my exploration for “truth” to include a substantial amount of literature, anthropology, sociology, and psychology courses and studies.
I worked my through most of the cannon of Western Philosophy, from Plato and Aritstotle to Kant and Hume to Nietzsche and Heidegger—and everything in between. Over time, I focused my interests on moral and ethical philosophy through the ages—from the pre-Socratics to the Deconstructionists—and added a new sub-specialty in Indigenous Chinese Thought, including the study of Confucianism, Daoism, Mohism, and Legalism. I also learned Early Christian Theology with Robert Gregg, the renowned Dean of Stanford’s Memorial Church.
About halfway through my time at Stanford, I realized that, far from either enlightening or consoling me, my studies were making me feel ever more isolated, angry, and depressed. After years of academia, only one conclusion seemed possible: Life is entirely meaningless. I became convinced that there is no purpose to life, no deep meaning, no mystery to be solved. I was a militant atheist. This “realization” also plunged me into the depths of despair. I began drinking and doing drugs more heavily than ever. During one night of particularly intensive partying that included ingesting copious amounts of several different drugs, I was rushed to the Emergency Room of Stanford Hospital. My heart rate was so elevated, the doctors were deeply concerned that I was within minutes of having a stroke.
The fallout from this near-death experience was devastating. For years after, not only did I contend with severe, panic-inducing flashbacks, I also spiraled deep into a spiritual and existential crisis. Making matters worse: Just a few months after my accidental overdose, my father was diagnosed with a terminal form of lung cancer. Instead of returning to school for my junior year, instead I stayed in Cleveland, watching my father die a slow and painful death.
It was during this time, while I was contending with both my own personal existential crisis and my father’s slow march toward death that I deepened my exploration of spiritual matters. I began reading books written not by academics, with their endless unproven theories and debates, but instead by the actual practitioners of the world’s great religions. I read Sufi, Jewish, Christian, Buddhist, and Hindu texts and scriptures, the biographies of saints and sages, and most importantly, for the first time, I began to actually practice some of what I was reading. I began doing bodywork to ease the tensions in my body, took up yoga postures, and learned to meditate.
One day, my yoga teacher recommended that I read the book, Autobiography of a Yogi, the spiritual classic, by Paramhansa Yogananda. This book changed my life, far beyond anything that I have read before or since. While at first I couldn’t bring myself to believe everything that Yogananda wrote—being an atheist and it being a book filled with seemingly fantastical and miraculous events—I immediately felt drawn to him and his teachings. Before reading this book, I had never felt a strong resonance with the Hindu tradition.
My father died on Christmas Eve. I didn’t feel ready to return to school yet. Instead, I decided to take a few months sabbatical by becoming a certified yoga teacher at a yoga and meditation retreat facility that is also home to a residential community in Northern California, based on the teachings of Yogananda. After spending just a few weeks at the community, my internal relationship with Yogananda deepened and I felt a strong kinship with many of the people living there. After returning to Stanford for another year and a half in order to complete my degree, I decided to move to that community ashram full-time to deepen my study and immerse myself in the practices taught by Yogananda.
About seven years ago, I was confronted with one of my biggest challenges yet: severe, disabling, and incurable chronic pain brought about through a sports injury. It left me bed-ridden and unable to work for over two years. Through the help of countless doctors, healers, Brook, and above all, the teachings and practices that I discuss in The Bliss Experiment, I was able to eventually regain my functionality, though I continue to live in chronic pain 24 hours a day.
Over the past eighteen years, I have continued to immerse myself in both the philosophy and understanding of the West with the practices of the East. I am a certified meditation and yoga instructor and an ordained non-denominational minister. I teach and share what I have learned with others as much as possible, along with my wife, Brook Cassady, who is an accomplished spiritual teacher in her own right. We live in Los Angeles but teach and travel throughout the world sharing what we have learned.