Shinzen Young’s mindfulness meditation technique for noting thoughts

I am a fan of some of the guided meditations in the Brightmind app. These are my adapted notes from the sixth and seventh meditations in the first “Core” group, by Shinzen Young:

  • In this meditation you’ll sit down and meditate on the thoughts in your mind.
  • Listen to your thoughts as an observer, like sitting in an open field and listening to sounds in nature.
  • If after about four seconds there are no thoughts, note “rest.”
  • If there are thoughts (like “What should I make for dinner?”), note “hear.”
  • Keep doing the same thing, noting one or the other about every four seconds.
  • Just as what happens in an open field in nature is out of your control, think of the thoughts as being out of your control. As you meditate, just be an observer of the thoughts. (It may surprise you that the thoughts keep running while you’re an observer.)
  • Because the thoughts are out of your control, both “rest” and “hear” are equally valid. It doesn’t matter if it’s one or the other, just be honest with yourself. The key here is that you’re becoming an observer, and becoming detached from the drama of those ever-running thoughts.
  • Some thoughts are particularly sticky. If you see a purple elephant with pink polka dots go running by the open field, you’re going to get caught up in that. Whenever you break free from that stickiness, just come back to present moment, and continue noting “rest” and “hear.”
  • Continue this meditation for as long as you like.

All forms of meditation involve meditating on some object — your breath, a candle, whatever — and this is just one particular way of meditating. I’ve found that this “noting” technique is a great way for beginners to get started in meditation. Anyone can do this, and it’s a lot easier to keep your attention this way than it is to do something like trying to follow your breath.

I’ll write more about the “noting” technique over time, but I hope that’s enough to get you started. For more information, see the Brightmind app. You can also find more details in Shinzen Young’s book, The Science of Enlightenment: How Meditation Works.