Today we ask that you pay attention to what your mind is doing.

For many people, there are only two states of being:

The first is an anxious state.  

In the anxious state, one is excited, agitated, and nervous.  The mind races.  The stomach feels tight.  The blood pressure is elevated.  Often one feels on edge, and irritable.  The mind is easily distracted, the attention flitting from one thing to the next.

For many, this is what it is simply to be “awake.”

You drink coffee, work yourself up into this nervous, jittery, overstimulated state.  This is how you “get work done.”  This is how you run your errands and write emails and check Facebook and look at the internet.

The second state is a sleepy, dreamy state of being.

In this state, one has more or less “checked out.”  This state commonly occurs when you are watching television.  Your mind is still drifting from thought to thought — in fact, you are not really focused on the TV show.  You might even fall asleep in this state.  Many people actually find it easier to fall asleep in this checked out, dreamy, TV-watching state than they do in bed at night.

So it is very common for people to spend their whole lives drifting between the nervous, anxious, distracted state, and the dreamy, half-asleep state.

There is a third way of being.

This is a state of calm alertness.

The body is relaxed, but the mind is very clear, and sharp.  It is not distracted, it is not racing.  Rather it is totally focused on whatever it is doing.

There is no nervousness, no anxiety.  The stomach is loose.

There is no sleepiness, no torpor, no dreaminess.

This state of calm alertness is really far more awake, in truth, than either the anxious state, or the dreamy state.

Cultivating a calm, alert consciousness is the most significant practical benefit of meditation.

In meditation, the practice is to empty the mind, by focusing on the breath.  One watches the inhalation and the exhalation of the breath, and observes the thoughts but does not get caught up in them.  As thoughts arise, one returns to focusing on the breath.  

One of two things usually happens when one first attempts to meditate:

The mind is busy, and races with thoughts.  You cannot focus on the breath.

Or the mind gets sleepy and dreamy, and you cannot focus on the breath.

This corresponds to the “anxious state” and the “dreamy state” in ordinary waking life.

In meditation, you train yourself to settle into the third state: which is a calm, alert focus on the breath.

It is usually very difficult for novices to maintain this state.  Even if you can only hold a few seconds of calm alertness in a ten or twenty minute meditation, this is a real achievement.

But with practice, the little windows of calm alertness expand.  And then you find that you can bring calm alertness into your daily life.

If you are someone who always feels either basically nervous or sleepy, there is a whole dimension of life experience that can open up to you by engaging in simple meditative practices.  And if you are someone who wishes to “do more” with life, cultivating the state of calm alertness will be of immeasurable benefit to you.

Life is meant to be experienced and enjoyed, not slept through.