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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.