One mindfulness technique I often use when meditating is called “mental noting” or “labelling.” Science has proven that noting or labelling 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 as it allows me to observe thought and see it as a separate element that can inform an experience.  It is part of a whole and not the whole of my experience.

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 re-establish mindfulness.  The anchoring power of a word brings attention back to the moment and stops the mind from entering a dreamlike state that builds stories.

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.  It again brings you back from fantasy and story-telling.

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 can act as a life-belt when emotional waters get choppy.  The other side of observing things like ‘wanting’ is that it also allows you to briefly touch on what ‘wanting’ feels like and can bring your thoughts and your body together to compare the experience.  It may be that you find that the two are unified in their ‘feeling-tone’ but you may also note that it is different.  When you do you let it go and go back to the breath.

Noting can also help maintain a non-reactive form of attention. Calmly noting what is happening, we are less likely to get caught up in emotional reaction.  Noting helps us to see mindfully while remaining free of becoming attached to what we see.  Noting is the clinical and cold side of analysis.

One interesting element of noting is that 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.  We may simply become of ware of the noter who is noting and they too may have an agenda and controlling side that too needs to work through.  The key to noting is that it is simple, pure and non –judgemental.  Experience, note and let go; then repeat.

——————————

What follows is a meditation sequence, with noting, that you can follow, but I would encourage you to develop your approach over time.  This is merely a springboard to use to jump off from; anyway, here is my “noting” technique in action:

Sit down in the chair, regal and upright.  Like you would in any of your other meditation practices.

If you wish to make it more comfortable, place a small, rectangular pillow in the small of your back.

Slip out of any shoes that you may have on and feel the ground beneath your feet.

Take in a couple of deep breaths and then exhale, allow yourself to settle.

Press “start” on any timer app that you may have (Insight Timer is a good one).

Closing your eyes, and adjust your posture.

Straighten your back.

Pay your hands on your lap, palms facing upwards.

Breath in through the nose, out from the mouth.  Repeat a couple of times.

As you sit there hear the sounds around you,  birds singing, cars driving.

Feel the body settle on the seat, arms taught, yet loosening.

Feel the ‘wash’ of air on your face from the gentle breeze or the breath from your nose.

Breath in through the nose, out from the mouth.  Repeat a couple of times.

Scan through your body, starting from the crown of your head through your forehead, ears, nose, moth and down to your shoulders.

Feel any sensation as it arises in the body.

Sit with it for a moment, allowing it to just be.  Can you note it? Give it a name.

Then go back to the breath.

Breath in, breath out.  Do this for a couple of times.

Does your mind start to wander?

“I wonder who was in that car?  That reminds me I have to take the car in for a service next Wednesday.  That means I have to get out of work early.  Oh bugger that business plan has to be drafted for my boss.  I hate that job, well I don’t really but I wish I did something different….. “

As soon as you note that notice that you have caught your mind going off, note it ‘thinking’ and then come back to the breath.

Breath in, breath out.  Do this for a couple of times.

The key is to noting is twofold.  Firstly ‘Noting’ the experience as it arises and secondly redirect your attention to the sensation of the breath.  E.g. My chest rising and falling. I can feel my heart beating in my chest. My body feels warm.  Note: Breathing; breathing.

Another example would be that you notice that you are conscious of being conscious of what’s happening during this meditation…’Conscious’.

Often you can get wrapped up in the experience of noting and you may notice a desire and a sense of striving to remember what’s happening as it’s happening. ‘Wanting’.

This may lead you to thik that you want to pick up a notebook and starting to write down the stream of consciousness as it is being experienced.  However, you may start to think that you shouldn’t do that. It may not feel right.  You may notice that you are judging what “right” means. ‘Judging’.

You may then start to think that perhaps using the word, “shouldn’t.” isn’t a good word as that means that you are using a word that is laden with meaning and a pushing away of experience.  You could then notice that you have drifted off again.  ‘Thinking’.

The cycle goes on, and every time you have noticed and noted you bring your attention back to the anchor; to the breath.

Breath in, breath out.  Do this for a couple of times.

The experience of sensation, thought and noting goes on and on.  There is no right or wrong, only experience arising, noting and returning to the anchor.

Then ‘DING’, the timer goes off.

The sound of the bell reverberating.

At that stage pause for one last deep breath and open your eyes.

 

That is noting.