In MIDL Mindfulness Training 18/52 you develop the skill of clarifying shifts of attention during meditation by using a mindfulness labelling technique. A label is a silent, intentional word used to describe an experience that arises during meditation in order to direct awareness and clarify perception. As an example, as the breath draws in you silently say “in”, as it goes out you silently say “out”, aligned with the experience of the breath. Whenever you notice your attention habitually move from the experience of breathing you clarify it by silently saying “hearing” for a sound or “thinking” for a thought etc. Submit Your Question
Your Question: Very clear advice on how to use labels, at the end at this guided meditation. I noticed that labeling brings mental activity in the meditation, can you explain how this is ok?
Stephen Procter: We all are trained in using labels to clarify our perception and to direct attention from a young age, this is the way that we communicate. My name, Stephen Procter, for an example, is a label given by my parents, that was created to point attention towards me when it is used. Labels when used skillfully stimulate applied and sustained attention during meditation by both bringing awareness towards the object of meditation and clarifying the perception of it. The intentional creation of a label during meditation is different from the normal mental activity of habitual thinking because as soon as the label is used it is replaced by an increased clarity of perception, free from thought.
Your Question: What do you mean by labelling and why is the label repeated twice during this meditation?
Stephen Procter: Mindfulness meditation is concerned with training our attention to increase the clarity of our awareness so that we can observe reality and develop wisdom. One of the first things that the meditator discovers when they sit down to meditate is how habitual their mind is in producing distractions that draw their attention away from their object of meditation. In order to train our attention we need to place effort towards remembering our object of meditation and noticing whenever our attention moves away from it, to do this we need a way of acknowledging the habitual mind. Labelling provides a means through which to do this.
A label is a simple, silent word produced to acknowledge our current experience; where the centre of our awareness currently sits. When we are aware of our body as it sits we may silently say “sitting, sitting". As we become aware of the experience of breathing within our body we may silently say “in, in”, with the in-breath and “out, out”, with the out-breath to help train our attention. The label is a pointer which is saying: ‘This is what I am looking at’.
When our attention is drawn to a sound we may silently say “hearing, hearing”, an itch, “itching, itching” etc. Whenever we notice that we have become lost within a thought for example we may say “thinking, thinking” to withdraw our awareness from it. Using labels separates awareness from becoming habitually immersed and lost within the experience, providing a sense of space around it.
During the meditation we use the label twice such as "thinking, thinking" or "itching, itching" or "hearing, hearing" etc because of the two ways that it affects attention:
1. If our mindfulness is sustained and we are present with the experience of our meditation object such as mindfulness of breathing, then labelling is used to enhance what the Buddha called Vitakka-Vicara: the applying and sustaining of our attention in order to develop mindfulness and concentration.
Applied Attention is the continued intentional turning of awareness towards an object of meditation and Sustained Attention it is the rubbing of awareness on the experience of the object of meditation until awareness sustains on it. This is the process used during meditation of reapplying awareness to the experience of the object of meditation in order to develop mindfulness and concentration. The first label therefore applies awareness towards the experience the second label rubs awareness against it such as “sitting, sitting” or “in, in”
2. If however we become lost within a sense experience, most commonly known as a distraction, we acknowledge this by using silent labels. The first label when we notice that we have become lost within thinking for example may be “thinking”. This will withdraw our awareness from the thought, we then straight away say thinking again like this: “thinking, thinking”, the second label then directs our awareness towards the experience of thinking itself, clarifying perception of it in order to develop understanding.
Your Question: I really like the method of labelling. It becomes a meditation object for me. I often think "sitting, breathing" as a kind of internal mantra.
Stephen Procter: Be careful of using labelling as a mantra, if you do this your meditation will go down the path of developing too much concentration and the clarity of the characteristic of impermanence needed for your mindfulness meditation to develop will fade. For mindfulness meditation to develop, the object of meditation must always be based in the experience of reality. This means that your attention must not be focused on a conceptual object such as a label or mantra but rather on the actual experience during the meditation such as its elemental quality of being hard, soft, light, heavy, wet, dry, tense, moving etc.
The sensate experience before perception is the reality not the label. Labels are concepts used as a pointer, a sign. Labels are used to clarify where our attention is sitting and to point our attention towards the actual experience of whatever is present to us. When using a label always make sure that you are mentally 'feeling' your meditation object - literally gently 'rub' your awareness on the experience and make sure that your attention is not focused on the label itself. In this ways labels will aid not hinder the progress of mindfulness meditation and wisdom can arise in regards to your relationship towards reality.
Your Question: How should we investigate restlessness? I observed and labelled my mind as restless for about 10 minute but nothing changed. Is it a way (like touch point exercise) to reduce restlessness?
Stephen Procter: You asked: "How should we investigate restlessness?"
Reply: By observing the experience of being restless and your relationship towards it.
You asked: "I observed and labelled my mind as restless for about 10 minute but nothing changed."
Reply: Why should the restlessness change, it is just doing what it is supposed to be doing. If you are using labelling to bring restlessness to an end than you will create more restlessness. Your desire for the restlessness to go is the food that the restlessness is feeding on.
You asked: "Is it a way (like touch point exercise) to reduce restlessness?"
Reply: Labelling is not a way of reducing restlessness, it is an attention training method of clarifying where the centre of our awareness is sitting. Literally "I am aware of this ....", the label itself is just a pointer towards the experience. Restlessness does not come to an end by labelling it or by trying to escape from it. It comes to an end when you stop fighting against your experience of now; when you embrace your experience of restlessness.