During daily activities it is ok to do a mental note when thoughts arise saying "thinking thinking" just in like the sitting meditation? I try to label every physical and mental phenomena during the day and nothing strange with that but with thinking it seems that sometimes I block it straight away when arise so I was just wondering if is too much and if I should stop noting.

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    You should probably make it clear what tradition you're practicing in, since the answers are coming from various traditions, and probably conflict. – yuttadhammo Sep 14 '14 at 0:19
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    I am new at this and I didn't actually think that was important to say which tradition I am practicing. I am a lay Theravada Buddhist practicing insight meditation – Arturo Sep 14 '14 at 14:34

Labeling one's thoughts was one of Chogyam Trungpa's main meditation techniques for beginners. As I understand now, in context of Path at large, it is an entry-level practice for establishing basic reflexive awareness and reducing the grasping. Labeling serves two purposes: 1) it encourages one to try and be aware of one's associative cycle and 2) it interrupts the train of thoughts that otherwise has a tendency to be engrossing.

There is nothing special or supernatural about this technique: the labeling itself is, again, thinking (6th consciousness). If we took it to its logical conclusion, we would get into an endless loop. So maxing out this labeling, especially in post-meditation, is kinda pointless. It would be like treating poisoning with more poison. No wonder Susan Blackmore found herself at difficulty walking across the street!

Instead, the idea at this stage is to disidentify from our thoughts, to understand that our thoughts are not "me". The point is not in mechanically identifying consecutive thoughts, but rather in 1) setting up your subconscious intent ("alarm clock"), so that the "noticing" after "the getting carried away" happens by itself, but also 2) learning to let go (of an "important" thought) and come back to breathing.

At this point, thoughts can come and go like fishes in the ocean. Here you sit, watching the ocean, then you sense a thought's fuzzy contours, like a shadow moving deep down. As fish comes closer, it gradually takes shape and clarity. You can either dismiss it, or let it come. It gets more and more concrete, until it jumps on you and takes you flying. You can either get carried away, or you spend a second on the thought, tasting its flavour, tracing its roots that connect it to its underlying emotion and, further down, basic preconception -- before dismissing it. Chogyam Trungpa called this "touch-and-go" practice.

The next level up (it's not like it really is a linear progression, but for simplicity we could say so) is to try and see where the thoughts come from and where they go. This includes seeing where one's seeing (7th consciousness) comes from. To explore that semidifferentiated sea of 8th consciousness, tasting its colors and energies and the overall weather -- is why we keep coming back to the breathing, a window onto the subconscious.

  • Thanks for the answer!I thought that labelling was a way of creating clarity of mind in the present moment so do you think that trying to labelling every mental and physical experience and see the three marks of experience is useless?is almost one year that I try to be mindful making a mental note of everything...maybe I am attached to it,sometimes the mental noting It seams to became a bit mechanical do you think is better to be mindfull whitout labelling? – Arturo Sep 13 '14 at 20:52
  • No no, it is very useful, but as you get better and better, labeling gets subtler and subtler, and you see many other things that are more important than labeling and then even things that are more important than breath. Keep labeling, but keep paying attention. When your wings start growing, you don't need training wheels. – Andrei Volkov Sep 13 '14 at 21:12
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    I though this was initially done by U Nārada later popularised by Mahasi Sayadaw – Suminda Sirinath S. Dharmasena Sep 14 '14 at 10:05
  • There are many lineages that hold authentic teaching. Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche was a Tulku, like Dalai Lama, which means since he was a baby he was brought up by the best Buddhist teachers. His main teacher was also a Tulku, Jamgon Kongtrul 2nd (1902-1952) who was a student of another Tulku, 15th Karmapa (1871–1922) who was a student of Jamgon Kongtrul The Great (1813-1899) who was a student of 9th Tai Situpa Tulku (1774–1853), who was a student of 13th Karmapa Tulku (1733–1797) and so on and so forth. This is a truly royal linage of best teachers in Tibet. – Andrei Volkov Sep 14 '14 at 12:21

Every mental content, or state you experience, is linked to sensations in your body. (After all, one the of the 5 aggregates is sensation.) You should examine the sensation. You should try to understand that the sensations you experience are what you like or dislike (with any thought, memories, ideas - when you remember something you do not like, you get a bad feeling in your body) and react to, try to grasp or get rid of. This is what keeps you in a conditioned existence. So to start with, you should always try to notice the sensations when thoughts come and go. Sharpen your mind to understand 3 marks of existence within sensation. The 3 marks of existence in your corporeal body. How perceptions are formed and their nature. How the recognising part of your mind works. These things grow progressively subtle. The start should be the impact of any mental state or content upon the sensations of the body, and if not all 3 marks of existence, at least their impermanence.


In her book Zen and the Art of Consciousness Susan Blackmore did exactly what you are doing and spent a couple of weeks being very mindful and noting during her everyday life. Her question was 'am I conscious now?' She found this very productive and interesting but she said it was unsustainable for her. She reached a point where she was so aware that she was unable to cross the road. She found the speed of the traffic too overwhelming. She had to stop the practice at this point.

I would hesitate to say don't do it because I'm really not any kind of expert but I just wanted to share that second hand experience. Certainly mindfulness in the everyday is an ideal but I'm not sure if I could go full on for it. Maybe little and often?

  • Thanks for sharing your idea.I find mindfulness very helpful it brings back the mind in the present, when i use a mental note i create a clarity of mind and i am aware at most of the experience that append around and inside me, sometimes i can even experiencing joy just because i am aware of things.But in some it seams that when a thoughts arise with aversion straight away i label it and it goes away.At this point i don't know if is better to look at it more close instead of letting go straight away. – Arturo Sep 13 '14 at 12:25

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