How to read the posts

The posts are arranged here with the most recent appearing at the top of the page. If you are new to the blog, you might find it useful to start with the first posts. Go to the blog archive on the lower right to access the posts in the order in which they were written.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A vocabulary for noting

Keep things simple. Leave content out (what you
are hearing, what you are thinking). Be as fast as
you can. Don’t deliberate about the noting.



Bodily sensations  

Examples: Tingling, warm, cold, pressure, pulsing, crawling

Mind objects 


Examples: Remembering, planning,
calculating, imagining, dreaming, identifying,
judging, comparing, evaluating

Thinking with a tinge of emotion

Examples: Worrying, regretting, recriminating,
resenting, doubting, admiring, anticipating


Examples: Anxious, angry, happy, frustrated,
annoyed, irritated, wanting, joyous, glad

Global states of mind

Examples: Tired, sleepy, restless, calm, happy


Examples: Pleasant, unpleasant, neutral

Monday, March 26, 2012

Basic instructions for walking meditation

Find a level path approximately 20steps long away from distractions.
Specify a length of time for the meditation.
With a softened gaze, look about six feet ahead of you.
Without looking, put your mental attention on the movement of the feet, the home object.
Note “right, left” or “lifting, pushing, placing.”
If secondary objects arise, note them only as long as necessary, and then return to noting the home object.
Stop if a secondary object becomes too dominant and interferes with your focus on the home object.  Note until it passes away.
At the end of the path, note “stopping” and “turning” and then resume walking and noting the home object.

Stages of meditation

The accompanying diagram shows the stages in meditation that we have outlined from simple awareness of the abdominal movement and progressing to the open awareness of fully developed mindfulness meditation.
In the first stage, there is a simple focus on the abdominal movement.  Attention is focused on the home object and when wandering occurs, attention is brought back to the home object.  In the next stage, simple noting is introduced, so that “rising” and “falling” are noted along with “wandering” when attention strays.  In the third stage, attention is paid to what the mind is doing when it wanders and that is noted.  If thinking is present, then “thinking” is noted; if anger is present, “anger” or “angry” is noted.  If the mind is attending to sound, then “hearing” is noted.  If a tingling sensation is felt, then “tingling” is noted.  Then attention is redirected to the home object.  In the fourth stage, attention is paid to the predominant object and noted until the object is released, is no longer present, or is displaced by another object.  In the next stage, attention shifts from one predominant object to another, only returning to the home object if no other object is more prominent.  At any stage, attention can be redirected back to the home object if you are overwhelmed, you lose focus, or you simply need a respite.  Choiceless awareness occurs when the shift from one object to another is done effortlessly.
These stages are progressive, but in any given meditation session you may go back and forth between the very first stages and the most advanced stages.  You should observe your meditation and see what stages you go through.

Basic instructions for sitting meditation

Here is a stripped-down set of instructions for meditation in the sitting position:
Find a suitable place and time, and establish how long you will meditate at the outset.
Establish a stable and comfortable sitting position that you can maintain for the entire length of time you have set aside for your meditation.
Close your eyes and focus on the home object, the rising and falling of the abdomen, noting, “rising” and “falling.”
When your attention is drawn to a stronger object, note it until it passes away or another stronger object arises.
Note the most prominent object at the present moment; return to noting the home object if there is no other stronger object present.

The value of a special sitting position

Traditionally sitting meditation involved sitting on the ground with the legs positioned in a special way.  The lotus position, which involves overlapping the legs, was the standard position. However, this position and even its modifications (e.g., the half-lotus) are difficult for most people who are used to sitting in chairs for most of their lives.  Fortunately, there are alternatives that are every bit as effective.
But why meditate in a special position anyway?  Why not just get in a comfortable chair or even lie down?  If you are too comfortable sitting in your favorite easy chair or lying down in your bed, you are likely to fall asleep.  The traditional meditation postures are designed to allow you to be comfortable and yet alert for long periods of time without moving.  Those who sit in these positions generally report that they feel more balanced than they do sitting in a chair.  The very specialness of the posture is itself a benefit.  If you meditate in your favorite chair or in bed, all the habits that go with that position can end up affecting your meditation.  When you sit in a special position, on the other hand, you are likely to associate it with meditation and find that it is conducive to getting more readily into a relaxed and focused state.
Even though it may appear that assuming a special position for sitting meditation is awkward and a lot of extra work, try it (unless, of course, you have physical limitations).  You will probably find that it is a lot easier and more satisfying to meditate in the special position.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Audio instructions

Here is a link to instructions on meditation by the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw.  It provides precise guidance to insight meditation and, in particular, to the practice of noting.  

Practical Meditation Instructions ("Mahasi Lecture")

Play below or Download MP3

Sunday, March 11, 2012


One of the most basic instructions for meditating in a sitting position is keeping still, not moving for a period of time.  Ordinarily we sit for long periods of time, and we assume that we are not moving.  Actually, if you sit in a chair at work or at home watching TV, your body is constantly in motion, although the movements are very slight and usually pass without explicit awareness.  Your body is in constant motion to avoid any discomfort.  Being asked to sit still and not move while meditating goes against the grain.  It seems unnatural.  Within a short time, you may feel the urge to move,  you may experience pains in familiar and unfamiliar places, or you may have itches that cry out for a scratch.  If you resist the body’s demands to move, these feelings may increase for a time.  However, if you stay still for long enough, you may notice that these demands subside.  This can be a powerful lesson in impermanence, that things arise and pass away.  

This is an analogue for what happens with the mind too.  If we resist reacting to what happens in our mind, we will see impermanence there too.  Sensations, thoughts, emotions, feelings all come and go, and we don’t have to do anything about them.  This is how real stillness happens.

Of course, if you are really uncomfortable as you sit there, if the pain becomes unbearable, the itch too irritating, then by all means adjust your position or have a good scratch.  But do so slowly and mindfully, observing each movement you make so as to minimize the disruption to your mindfulness (still-fulness).

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Noting and mindfulness

If you have followed the instructions I have given for the meditation on the abdominal movement, you are already using mental labeling or noting.  You silently make a mental note “rising” as you inhale, “falling” as you exhale, and “wandering” when your mind wanders.  As you gain greater concentration, you will likely find that you pick up on the mind’s wandering more quickly; and you note the wandering almost as soon as it starts.  In that case, your mind really has not had much room to wander, so it is time to note what the mind is doing in that moement.

This is where the discipline of noting becomes a most powerful tool for cultivating mindfulness.  You can now note the processes that are occurring.  If your attention has turned to a sound, you note “hearing,” or if it is turned to a smell, “smelling,” and so on for tasting, seeing, and touching.  If you are sensing a specific bodily sensation, you can note it more precisely, as “tingling,”  “warmth,” “pressure,” and so on.  If you are experiencing an emotion, you can note it as “anger,” “fear,” “sadness,” “joy,” and so on.  If you are thinking a thought, you can note “thinking,” or some more specific version of thinking such as “remembering,” “anticipating,” “planning,” and so on.  The idea is to note the process but not the content, not what you are hearing, but the fact that you are hearing, not what you are thinking, but just that you are thinking.  You don’t have to come up with the perfect label, just slap one on as quickly as you can.  The note should be concurrent with what you note, in other words, you want to be noting what is occurring in that moment or as close as you can get to it.  You need to put your full attention on what is occurring, and you will likely have to note it more than once, so you might say to yourself, “thinking, thinking, thinking” until you see that the thinking has passed away.  Similarly, with a sound, for instance, you note it repeatedly, until you know it clearly and can let go of it.  It is all about recognition, and you will find that as you get better at noting, you get better at recognizing what your mind is up to and how it works, so that then just a few notes are enough.

There are lots of reasons why noting is effective.  The chief reason is that it takes all that energy that you usually expend in thinking in words and uses it to come up with a single word for what you are experiencing.  Another reason it is effective is that noting keeps you from getting caught up in the mind’s random activity.  Instead of thinking about something or other, you simply observe that thinking is going on.  This is very helpful in quieting the over-thinking that you likely encountered in the “mind watch.”  Also, noting keeps you in the present. You may be thinking about the past, but the thinking is going on in the present, and it is this activity that you are noting.

When you start using noting, you may find it difficult.  Chances are you will often forget to note.  Don’t get discouraged, just keep at it until it becomes second nature.