I've noticed a couple people on these forums asking which labels people use for their mental noting. I started using mental noting before knowing who Mahasi is, and was therefore unaware of his specific methodology throughout a lot of my practice. Building upon recommendations of several teachers encouraging us to make meditation practice a personal experience while also reading several books by Mahasi and U Pandita, I have come to the following method.
First an explanation for the shortening of these labels. Originally I was taught seeing, hearing, etc.. For some reason having a label with two syllables makes it harder for me to observe the object closely, as my mind tends to get "hung up" on the second syllable. This also makes it harder for me to note the next object that comes into my awareness with the precision that I would like. Therefore, all of my labels tend to be single syllables such as see, hear, touch, etc.. From what I understand of the suttas, noting the objects quickly as they arise is more important than the label being used. Something else that comes to mind is the commonly translated phrase of when the Buddha becomes aware of Mara trying to seduce him, he says "Mara, I see you." If you need a perspective on how your subconscious might interpret these labels, think of it as "the eyes see, the ears hear" or "the mind goes think think" haha.
I tend to group my labels into two categories; objects that arise into my awareness, and objects that I cause to arise into my awareness. The former list is short consisting of only the following: see, hear, feel, taste, smell, think, in/out and rise/fall. Depending on where I am currently observing my breath, I will switch between the last two sets. In order to help develop concentration along side insight, I always keep my breathing as my primary object, only switching to the secondary objects that arise at the 6 sense doors for as long as they grab my attention. The key here is simplicity. I do not concern myself with the types of thoughts or feelings that I have. Trying to label the type of thought that just occurred usually breaks my concentration, and attempting to figure out if the sensation in my leg is an itch or a cramp in deeper states of concentration does the same thing. I also don't distinguish between pleasant and unpleasant. In my experience, simply noting an object impedes on your ability to cling to it, without having to classify it further.
A special note concerning following the breathe. I've only seen one teacher mention this, but it helps me considerably. I tend to note each in and out breathe several times, noting rise rise rise rise, fall fall fall fall. Never worrying about how many times I note each breathe, but making sure I note at least the beginning and end of the breathe. Practicing this way brings about several obstacles that I have had to learn to work with, but I find that getting it right has become hugely beneficial for me. If you find the breathing process becoming jagged because of the constant noting of your breathe, it helps to change two separate aspects of the noting process to make it become smooth again. First is the rate of noting. Noting too fast or too slow can have a profound effect on the breathe. My general guideline is to start at approximately 1 note per second, speeding up or slowing down depending on the amount of mental activity and level of concentration that you possess. This varies between each sitting, and I'm sure between different people. The second way of smoothing it out is by observing how loudly your noting process is. The goal is to have it at a barely audible whisper so that the experience of breathing is at the foreground instead of being overpowered by the mental noting. I've found that the more quiet my mental noting becomes, the deeper I am able to relax and the stronger my concentration becomes. I usually keep a rhythm going while observing my breathing, while allowing any other object that arises at the 6 sense doors to instantly break the cycle in order for the noting mind to tag it. During deeper states of concentration, the object arising and the noting almost appear to happen at the same time.
Now for the objects that I cause to arise. These usually occur while shifting posture during meditation, walking, lying down for sleep, and everything in between. I tend to develop concentration by noting what I am causing to happen, and secondly whatever arises separate from what I am doing. Here is a long list of the labels I use: sit, walk, jog, run, stand, left/right, bend, grab, hold, stretch/flex, reach, push, pull, move, shift, lift, place, touch, rub, tap, hit, scratch, talk, read, raise, fall, want. There are probably a few more, but I think I've got most of them. Talk and read are debatable, though I put them there because in my own experience of maintaining practice while off the cushion, my mind might automatically tend to note these two things with understandably mixed results. As for the word "want", I use this to note my desire to do something, whether it be wanting to scratch an itch during meditation, or even the desire to buy something at a store. During periods of intensive meditation while moving about, I will be moving slowly noting the desire to make each movement.
Usually while practicing meditation during daily life, I find it helpful to regularly find moments to come back to my breath as my primary object to bring a sense of relaxation to various parts of the day. This also helps build momentum to keep up the continual noting throughout the day if that is your goal. There is a need to be careful that when you find a rhythm to your noting, that it doesn't become mechanical. This would be the difference between developing concentration through a mantra, and developing insight. Just remember that the noting should not be your primary focus point. Also, something that tends to happen to me during especially deep periods of meditation, is that the labels that I am using stop becoming words and start becoming sounds that represent the words. It's hard to describe, but the best analogy is the dinging of a sonar inside of a submarine. Making different sounds depending on which of the 6 sense doors have been intruded upon.
I would appreciate any comments or suggestions! Though this post quickly turned into a guide, I am in no way a guru on this subject. The purpose of the post is mainly to show how I've altered my meditation throughout the years as I see problems arise, and encourage all of you to do the same.
Last edited by twelph
on Sat Oct 08, 2011 4:14 am, edited 1 time in total.