What do you do when you are new to meditation and the idea of “not thinking” for 10 or 20 whole minutes is quite intimidating? Try the technique known as “noting” or “mental noting.” Noting is a popular technique for beginners (and even more advanced meditators when they have intrusive thoughts). It teaches the mindfulness and awareness that deep meditation requires. It helps to train the meditator to be able to see that all things, including intrusive thoughts, are fleeting and they are not really “us.” They are external and do not have to be identified with. This lesson in and of itself can transcend from your meditation practice into your life and work miracles.
Noting means to merely name or label (i.e. “note”) any objects, thoughts, or feelings observed during a meditation. This does not mean to have an internal dialogue, to analyze, to judge, or any other such thing—just note. The very process implies acceptance, indeed requires it. Let's say, for example, in a particular meditation session, the voice in your head starts singing a song you had stuck in your head all day. Rather than thinking, “Focus, come on, get back into it,” you can merely observe or note, “singing.”
Let me explain the process of noting in the example of walking through a zoo. Traditionally, our mental dialogue might be saying, “Oh, there are the snakes. Eeh, gross! Woa, that one is kind of looking at me. That really freaks me out…OK, there are the birds—that's better. Actually, the birds are kind of boring. But that buzzard is cleaning his feathers, that's neat.” Using the noting technique, one's same experience would sound like this in the mind, “Snakes. Snakes. Disgust. Discomfort. Birds. Birds. Buzzard. Feathers.” With noting there is merely a mindfulness and an awareness without the drama, the dialogue, and the mental chatter.
The Insight Meditation Workshop's Ven. Pannyavaro explains noting like this:
“The noting is done by repeatedly making a mental note of whatever arises in your body/mind experience. For example, 'hearing, hearing', 'thinking, thinking', 'touching, touching', etc. And when focused on the abdominal movement, note 'rising, rising' and 'falling, falling'. This is a powerful aid to help establish the attention, especially at the beginning of the practice, when it is necessary to systematically note as much as possible to stabilize the attention. Otherwise, you are likely to get lost in unnoticed wanderings with long periods of inattention.”
Another great benefit of using the noting technique in your meditation is that it helps to see the transient nature of other far more perplexing issues, like broken hearts, physical suffering, bad news, and so on. Eckhart Tolle writes in A New Earth, “Nonresistance is the key to the greatest power in the universe. Through it, consciousness (spirit) is freed from its imprisonment in form. Inner nonresistance to form—whatever is or happens—is a denial of the absolute reality of form” (p. 208). With whatever record is playing in your life at the moment, simply note what it is with non-resistance and you will be freed from the drama and suffering that can eat away most of our lives.
~ Jillian Avey, purelifemeditation.com