Sit down. Stop moving. Close your eyes. Now, and here’s the important part, notice what is going on. Check out all of what’s happening in your experience moment to moment. As best you can, pay attention to as much of the flow of sense data as possible, for as long as you can. Do this for ten minutes a day and then do more when you feel comfortable with that prospect. Work your way up to doing an hour (or more) a day.
Your secret decoder ring is in the mail.
Slightly Less Pith Instructions (Noting)
So it turns out that most techniques are just structured systems that support the meditator in following the above instructions. Everything from shikantaza to body scanning to choiceless awareness to noting is a way of supporting the practitioner in the objective of just being with their sensory experience moment to moment as it arises. My training is in noting, which I’ve found to be remarkably effective, so that’s the technique I’ll be sharing here.
In noting practice we make a one word label for whatever is arising in our awareness right now. The reason why noting is so alarmingly effective is because the act of noting works as a feedback loop for maintaining attention. In most practices your capacity to stay with your experience is dependent on your concentration skill, which can take a long time to develop to the levels necessary to reliably do the work of insight. Often, with other techniques, you spend large portions of your practice just off spinning in thoughts. With noting, however, we have a feedback loop that will constantly tell us if we are practicing appropriately. If you are noting what you are experiencing you are practicing well. If you have drifted off and are no longer noting then you’re off track. You can even shift gears within the technique depending on the difficulty of what is arising. If you are having trouble staying with your experience you might try softly vocalizing the label underneath your breath. If you are having a lot of trouble you could say it at a normal speaking voice (or even shout it). On the other hand, if your experience is effortlessly surrendering itself to your consistent and clear labeling, it might be appropriate to drop the act of noting and just be with, which, remember, is all that the practice of noting is facilitating.
To learn this method it can be helpful to break experience into four categories, called the ‘four foundations of mindfulness’. The four foundations are four areas of experience that, taken together, make up the entirety of sensate experience. Before mindfulness is developed, attempting to take in the entirety of experience is usually too challenging. Over time, practicing with the four foundations, you will develop the capacity to be with the totality of your experience for sustained periods of time. Being with your experience in this way will lead to liberating insight. Now I’ll go over some possible notes in each foundation. This is not an exhaustive list, it is just to give you an idea of the sort of labels that might be useful for each foundation.
1st foundation, Body Sensations: Coolness, warmth, discomfort, pain, tension, release, vibrating, hearing, tasting, pressure, tingling, itching. This is anything you are feeling on the physical level. This is the easiest foundation to objectify.
2nd foundation, Feeling-Tone: Pleasant, unpleasant, neutral. All physical sensations arise with a feeling tone somewhere in this spectrum.
3rd foundation, Mind-States: Happy, sad, concentrated, distracted, lonely, worried, anxiety, spacious, calm, contentment, bliss, fear. These are the attitudes or ways you’re mind is being held moment to moment.
4th foundation, Mental Objects: Evaluation thoughts, story spinning thoughts, auditory thought, image thought. This is the most subtle layer to note, and often where most of the suffering is tied up in.
If you’d like to learn the practice of noting it can be helpful to have somebody mirror the practice with you. If this sounds appealing let’s set up an appointment to work together.
Resources on Noting
Kenneth Folk (the first gear)