Mental Noting

thinking

One mindfulness technique I often use when meditating is called “mental noting” or “labeling.” Science has proven that noting or labeling a thought as it arises regulates the emotional circuitry in the brain, creating a calming effect in the body and giving separation from the thought. I find the technique quite helpful. Perhaps you will, too! 🙂

“Noting in meditation has many functions. The primary one is keeping the meditator present – sometimes it is called an ‘anchor’ to the present. The mind is less likely to wander off if one keeps up a steady stream of relaxed noting. If the mind does wander, the noting practice can make it easier to reestablish mindfulness.

Another function of noting is to help recognize patterns in one’s experience. A frequently-repeated note reveals a frequently-recurring experience. For example, persistent worriers may not realize it until they see how often they note ‘worry’.

Mental noting also gives the thinking mind something to do rather than leaving it to its own devices.

Another function of noting is disentangling us from being preoccupied or overly identified with experience. Noting can help us ‘step away’ so that we might see more clearly. For example, noting ‘wanting’ might pull us out of the preoccupation with something we want. This may not be immediate, but by repeatedly noting ‘wanting, wanting,’ one may be able to be aware of the wanting without being caught by it. As an antidote to drowning in strong emotion or obsessive thinking, mental noting is sometimes called a ‘life preserver’.

Noting can also help maintain a non-reactive form of attention. Calmly and equanimously noting what is happening, we are less likely to get caught up in emotional reactions….Noting helps us to see mindfully while remaining free of what we see.

The tone of the inner voice that notes may reveal less-than-equanimous reactions to what we are trying to be mindful of. The noting may sound harsh, bored, scared, hesitant, or excited, to name just a few possibilities. By noticing and adjusting the tone, we may become more balanced and equanimous.” (quote from the Insight Meditation Center)

And here’s one of my personal meditation play-by-plays showcasing the “noting” technique in action… 😉

I sit down in the wicker chair outside. Place a small, rectangular pillow in the small of my back. Slip out of my flip-flops and feel the dirt beneath my feet. Pressing “start” on the Insight Timer app on my iPhone, I leave the phone on the ground as the bell DINGS.

Closing my eyes, I adjust my posture. Straighten my back. Intertwine my fingers and place my hands in my lap.

I hear the sounds of birds singing. Feel the warmth of the sun on my body. The wash of air on my face from the gentle breeze.

Scanning through my body, I feel a slight tug of sadness in my heart—a dull ache pulling at my chest. I sit with it for a moment, allowing it to just be. Holding space for tears if they need to fall. But they don’t….

The tug fades. I hear an airplane overhead. My mind starts to wander.

I bet the cat’s going to escape at some point. He’s going to bolt out the door when one of us isn’t careful. I wonder if he’ll keep running, or if he’ll want to come back…

I notice myself worrying and say so in my mind.

(Worrying. Worrying.)  

And then I redirect my attention to the sensation of my breath. My chest rising and falling. I can feel my heart beating in my chest. My body feels warm.

I notice that I’m conscious of being conscious of what’s happening during this meditation…

I notice a desire and a sense of striving to remember what’s happening as it’s happening. I start thinking about the possibility of picking up my notebook and starting to write down my stream of consciousness as I’m experiencing it. Or maybe record myself talking into my iPhone mic to capture my thoughts.

No I shouldn’t do that. That doesn’t feel right…

I notice I’m judging what “right” means. That I’m using the word, “shouldn’t.” How I don’t want to do this assignment “wrong…” Then I notice I’ve drifted off again.

(Thinking. Thinking.)

The call of a crow in the distance. My toes throbbing in the heat. The feeling of my beating heart beat.

“Sit down Jennifer. Thank you for coming… We’ve been looking forward to making these meditations happen…” I hear these words as I watch the scene of an upcoming meeting unfolding in my imagination.

I catch myself.

(Fantasizing.)

What if I can’t do this? What if I’m terrible at facilitating mindfulness?…

(Worrying.)

My body feels warm. Too warm. I want to take my fleece sweatshirt off.

I wonder how much longer it’ll be before the bell rings and if I’m going to swelter in the heat—or if I should just stop meditating and take my sweatshirt off.

I notice how I want to squirm and move away from the discomfort. How every molecule of me wants to move. But I remain still.

How am I going to remember all this?… Maybe that’s not the point.

I feel the impulse again to start writing all this down. I notice my desire. The fear beneath it….

A siren wailing off in the distance. A trash truck dumping cans down the street…

I can feel my pulse quickening – my heart beating faster. The sun’s heat no longer feels soothing but suffocating…

(Worrying. Wanting.)

I take a deep breath. Then another.

The sound of cars whooshing by on the freeway off in the distance. More birds singing. My belly rising. The red and blue amorphous blobs I can see behind my eyelids. The breeze brushing against my face.

Then my insides feel quiet. Like they’re floating.

DING.

The sound of the bell reverberating. Relief. Then anticipation. I pause for one last deep breath.

And open my eyes.