Founder’s Note: This is the blog’s 150th post and somehow I managed to publish it on World Mindfulness Day and have a new meditation to share too. Sometimes little ideas you have grow and sometimes things work out. Thanks to all of the blog’s readers, followers, contributors, and friends.
If you try meditation practice long enough, you are bound to encounter the practice of “noting.” With this practice, you pick a focal point (most commonly the breath though any focal point would do). Then when a distraction arises, you simply note it and and return to the focal point.
In many cases, the instruction to note generally means to briefly identify the distraction and let it go. For example, you might be instructed to categorize the experience as either a thought, emotion, sensation, sound, or mental scene. Though many of us may be familiar with this practice, we may not always know why it’s a good one to do. That’s what this blog post will address.
What Is Noting Practice?
Noting is a mindfulness practice. Like breath practice, noting will help you cultivate awareness and focus. It can also help you cultivate self-compassion as you manage the inevitable frustration that may arise with meditation. Noting, however, offers something more too.
With noting, the act of categorizing mental experiences may help you recognize mental experiences for what they are. For example, anyone who has meditated even once knows that it is not always easy to differentiate awareness of your breathing from thinking about your breathing.
Similarly, it can be hard to realize that you are experiencing a memory or fantasy about the future when you are in it. Once you can get outside of the mental images or thoughts, it can be easy to acknowledge their unreality or challenge their logic. But, when you are absorbed by the thought or scene or sensation or emotion, your ability to manage the situation is much harder.
Noting Practice Can Help You Manage Thoughts.
Noting practices the skill of recognizing when you are having an inner experience and zooming out from it. By looking for and categorizing inner experiences, you can note them without getting sucked into the details. In other words, noting helps you practice seeing a trap for your attention and stepping around it.
In this way, noting is different from self-analysis. It is not seeing a thought and applying more thought to ask why the thought pattern occurs. Instead, the practice is simply note it as a “thought” and then let it go. You avoid the juicy details of the story underlying the thought and you focus instead on the reality that the story is one totally of your mind’s own making.
This is not to say that all of your thoughts are bad or wrong. Thinking and thoughts aren’t inherently bad. The problem that many of us encounter, however, is that we aren’t usually aware when we are thinking. As such, we often assume that our thoughts are correct and helpful. When we look at thoughts critically, though, we are bound to see that some are based on incomplete information, affected by our emotions, or infused with biases.
Any lawyer reading this probably knows why this is an essential skill. We think so much in our jobs that it can be a challenge to stop thinking. If, like me, you have ever struggled with overthinking, learning to just see that you are thinking can be a benefit in and of itself.
Noting Practice Can Help Manage Overwhelm.
The other thing that is helpful about noting practice is that it can separate aspects of our inner experience. Life does not send us experiences in neatly labeled and clearly delineated boxes. To the contrary, we can be inundated with thoughts, emotions, and sensory information all at once.
The cool thing about attention, though, is that it can really only focus on one thing at a time. So, even if you are inundated with a slew of inner experiences at once, your mind can focus on just one. In daily life, this may be hard to see because things may happen so rapidly. With meditation, though, we can slow things down and take experiences one by one.
Over time, this can help us build inner resources for dealing with difficult situations. We may notice a challenging sensation caused by emotion and then see that our thoughts are starting to spiral. We can internally “note” the situation and choose to use an inner resource to maintain steadiness.
Am I saying that noting practice should become a mainstay of your practice? Probably not, but it is one to try because noting is a good skill to keep sharp. I recommend trying the practice out a few times to learn and implement the strategy. Once the skill of noting is developed, you can do it occasionally to keep the skill sharp.
Even if you don’t practice noting regularly, you can use the strategy of noting in your life to catch yourself in rumination or bring nonjudgmental awareness to physical sensations. This is where the benefits of noting practice can really pay off.
If you want to give noting practice a try, check out our new Noting Practice Guided Meditation here:
Want to learn more about mindfulness and compassion? Check out my new book, How to Be a Badass Lawyer, for a simple guide to creating a meditation practice of your own in 30 days. And to share mindfulness with your little one, check out my new children’s book, Mommy Needs a Minute.
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