From the Mid-Month Update
I've been focused on a meditation tool called Noting (aka Labeling) for the last couple of weeks, and have come to like it a lot.
Here's a definition of Noting from Stephen Levine: "Noting is a silent acknowledgment in the heart of what is occurring in the mind…without the least intention to interfere." So noting is a tool that supports the very basic mindfulness goal of learning how our minds work. And it is often used in conjunction with concentration practices like Awareness of Breath.
It works like this: when your mind wanders from the object of meditation, note, not just the fact of wandering, but where the wandering has taken you. Then give that place a label.
This label can be simple: "thinking" or "strong sensation" or "strong emotion." As you develop this practice, your labeling can become more refined: "reliving the past" or "planning the future" or "escaping" or "obsessing about X".
After a while of doing this on the cushion, I found it showing up in real life as well. One day I noticed that I had wandered off in my thoughts several times creating future scenarios where I was interacting with a friend, co-worker, etc. and psychoanalyzing them, with the charitable purpose of being able to "help" them live better lives.
Hmm, I thought, how much of my mental energy is tied up in these fantasies anyway? So I resolved that every time I caught myself in one, I'd give it the label "Opinion-ing" and return to the present. I would be too embarrassed to tell you the number of times that label got used. In the next hour.
After watching the cumulative notings-per-minute count climb through the roof, I experienced a clear perception that almost all of those dialogues never left my head, and when they did come out of my mouth, it rarely ended well. I realized that having all those opinions of people did no one any good, certainly not me. It was a seismic mind-shift, like a great cloud had left my brain leaving me feel much freer and less weighted down with my own thinking. Not that I'm free of gratuitous judgments. But less after that. And even lesser now :-)
PS: See the Practice Lab below for a link to the great (and short!) article by Stephen Levine, and a couple of Noting/Labeling meditations you can try.