Whether one is new to meditation and mindfulness practice or a more experienced practitioner, there will be days that are more challenging than others, when we simply find the mind is busier. Also, there many be times when we are really struggling with certain thoughts such as worries, concerns, judgements that can really take us out of the present moment.
Practicing mindfulness is in a sense like any other exercise practice one might develop. It takes time to build our muscles when we start lifting weights and it takes time to build our “mindfulness” muscles when we begin to practice. Working with noticing and labeling our thoughts is a way to begin to grow in our ability to be more mindful.
Oftentimes, there are so many thoughts circling round and round in our minds that we cannot even identify them. Or, if we stop to notice a thought, we can’t imagine how we even got there. Practicing mindfulness helps us to de-clutter our mind and allows us to be more awake and alive in the present moment. As we can notice some of our habitual thoughts and patterns, we can begin to acknowledging and accepting them and let them go.
The practice of Labeling thoughts helps can help to raise awareness about the specific types of thoughts you may have and it is also a way to engage your mind during practice. In a sense noticing and acknowledging our thoughts can become and anchor in the same way the breath may be used as an anchor. As we notice our thoughts, we don’t judge or analyze them, we simply notice and let them go as best we can. The labeling is a way to begin to let go.
Labeling Thoughts Practice
This practice can be done formally as a part of a sitting practice and informally, as on the spot practice, throughout your day. I do often suggest to begin to work with a practice as part of a sitting practice, even if it’s for 5 or 10 minutes, to begin to get familiar with the practice. Then, begin to bring it into your daily life.
Find a comfortable position sitting on a chair with feet flat on the floor, spine straight but not tense, shoulders and stomach relaxed, hands on your knees or lap. Or, sit comfortably on the floor cross-legged with a cushion to support your body.
Gently close your eyes or have a soft gaze on the floor in a few feet front of you if that’s more comfortable.
Take a few moments to connect with you breath without changing or depending it. Just begin to notice the breath as it flows into and out of your body. Notice how it feels to slow down and center yourself. Continue to be present with your breath.
Begin to notice any thoughts that may arise. You may notice a flurry of thoughts right away. You may be thinking about your To Do list, grocery shopping, worrying about a family member, etc. You just begin to notice your thoughts. If there are many, try to notice just one thought and as you do, begin to label it, “Thinking”. Then, come back to your next breath – breathing in and breathing out. When you notice another thought, label it “Thinking”. And, once again simply come back to your next breath.
At times, you many be “Thinking, Thinking, Thinking, Thinking…” and at other times you may begin to notice some spaciousness as you are present with your breath. Either way, you are simply noticing what is arising in your mind and in your practice.
This is a simple way to practice Labeling Thoughts. Sometimes it is helpful to label types of thoughts and we will explore that in future posts, however, by using “Thinking” as the label it is actually helping us to detach from our thoughts or the type of thoughts we may be having, e.g. worry, judgement, etc. Building a habit of not identifying with a certain thought can begin a powerful process of letting go. We are just being with whatever is arising in our minds, noticing it, labeling it “Thinking” and letting it go.
I hope you’ll take some time to explore Labeling Thoughts this week. As always, feel free to share your reflections in the comments below.