Friday, January 4, 2013

To Label, Or Not?

Labeling, or the practice of naming the nature of the mind's activity in the moment, can be useful tool for mindfulness practice. It is also a debated practice amongst various teachers. Some use it extensively. Others discourage it. 

Sitting this morning, I let my experience guide me and found a third way with labeling.

Sitting with a disturbing thought, a hindrance, and becoming aware of its nature, labeling is useful to put such mental fabrications in their place. It serves to put away the distraction, and bring the mind back to its intended object. It helps prevent the mind from getting lost into the object of agitating thoughts, and assigning the problem where it really belongs, the hindrance itself.

Sitting with just breath, and body sitting, and other non-self related phenomena such as sounds, there is no need to label. Putting words on such experiences introduces an unnecessary degree of separation between the present moment occurrence and pure awareness. Better yet in that case, is to stay with sensory awareness. Being with the sensation of breath flowing in and out, or sounds meeting hearing sense, or contact points between body and chair. 

Labeling. There is a middle way.

I will be curious to hear about your own take on labeling, and how you have or have not been practicing with it.


  1. My practice is four foundation of mindfulness. Body & sensations are my beloved and I try to keep firmly anchored on these two. Recently I have some grasp of the 'mind' and 'mental & constructs/concoctions'. I have been able to see that I am not my mind and my thoughts. They (mind and mental concoctions) seem to be have their own life. I reverently hope (again this is my thought speaking!) that some wisdom is dawning! With good wishes, Anatta.

  2. I'm trying, but not quite understanding what you are getting at? What 3rd way?

  3. Meryl, sorry for not being more clear. I meant to say that most often, labeling is presented as an either or practice, when in fact it is more dependent on the kind of inner experience that presents itself - at least the way I see it . . . sometimes labeling makes sense, sometimes it doesn't.

    1. Marguerite,

      There are several areas insired by your blog that I might fix - the Blogisattva awards Win probably still stands however the is no longer around, and underneath the image I see an error that suggests "There was an error in this gadget" on my IE9 - I can't fix mental phenomena such as addressing "you" by "your" label "Marguerite" as unintelligible as labelling seems..

      There are lots of faces that look the same, for instance at the back of my mind ya resemble Briana Evigan, yet the irony of spiritual endeavour is such that even as I turned on my frontal cam on my Android phone and saw a face - my face - I had absolutely no solution or answers for who I resemble with or without a name and a label, it is impossible for me to see my own face, and I have no idea whose mind is it eitehr, that I see when I close my eyes and begin observing the mind's activity.

      In short, when I can barely label the photograph of my self as being my face, with my name, I find it more challenging to label the thoughts of my mind as being my processes, with my concepts


      I didn't drop by for either ya or Briana Evigan it's the dharma that is totally inconceivable and beautiful and I wouldn't be seeing any truth without your blog anyways.. Thanks for hanging around and putting up with us all

      I love ya,
      Jayan Tashi

  4. People should do what works best for them, with the understanding that this is always changing, so that what works best now might not always work best in every moment. In my experience, labeling is a phenomenon that arises from time to time, and when I find that I am labeling something, I try to be aware of that. It seems as if labeling is, for me, an effort to get a grasp and control over some arising phenomenon in the mind, with an eye toward dealing with it in some manner. That seems to be what underlies labeling. That's fine. I try to let labeling be, understanding that it's just one more changing thing.