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When I'm practising I've noticed that a thought arises but I am noticing this after the fact. With a sensation or sound I can notice it in that moment but thought seems to always be in the past. What is the correct way to be mindful of this? Do I label the thought for what it was such as imagining, planning, worrying etc or do I notice that I'm remembering a past event and label what is happening as remembering?

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If you notice a thought arising, that is the present moment. If you reflect on (think about) the arisen thought, then it is after the fact- fact of thought arisen earlier (which is being reflected upon now).

Your answer is in the correction (or rather clarifying it) of your question. When you know a though has arisen, you are mindful of the present moment- of a thought arising. When you remember a thought from the past- and reflect upon it- you are mindful (in the present) of a remembrance.

But if you think about a thought of the past but not know it as such -a thought of past being reflected upon- then it is not right mindfulness. In fact, it is not correct cognition because the object of your thought in the now is conflated to be the same object of thought (in the earlier moment).

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You can label the thought either as 'imagining', 'planning', 'worrying' or otherwise as 'remembering a past event'.

Labelling the nature of thought is simply a method/technique for you to not get entangled in the thought (with either greed, aversion or self-view).

The purpose of labelling a thought is to stop the momentum & distraction of the thought.

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    Cool got it. Appreciate you taking the time to respond. Thank you so much.
    – Sati
    Dec 4, 2023 at 23:31
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I totally agree with @HomagetoManjushri's answer. In addition, initially we might only realize there were thoughts only after the fact. As the mindfulness practice deepens, we begin to catch ourselves in the act of thinking and can choose to break or continue. When the mindfulness practice deepens, our mind quietens and becomes calmer even in the midst of our daily routine, it gets easier to spot random or stray thoughts as they are popping up.

I don't think there is a need to worry about thoughts being noticed only after the fact. As long as we continue the practice, our mind will begin to settle down like a peaceful lake. We will gain more composure against the large waves (strong mental and emotional forces e.g. feeling lonely, depressed or angry) as well as notice the obvious ripples easily. In fact, we may even notice there are small ripples caused by undercurrents (subconscious thoughts lurking behind) as well. The fact that we are aware of these active thoughts (conscious and/or subconscious) opens up choices in the way we think, speak and behave.....options that just weren’t there before due to our hardened habits.

One thing I would encourage is to differentiate the thoughts into 2 categories. Random vs repetitive. An example of repetitive thoughts are recalling and thinking about how someone had wronged us and/or was cruel towards us in the past. I find such repetitive thoughts tend to be a kind of habitual feeding by the mind and should be discouraged. In this case, I would be concerned that labeling such thoughts may end up encouraging more unskillful thoughts. Instead, I would think of ways to interrupt and quieten the mind. One possible way is to recall how in our long journey in samsara, we would have inevitably behaved just like that bad someone. It is merely about probabilities.

There are other ways and approaches; the main aim is to disrupt the habitual feeding of the mind so that it can quieten down, continue watching itself and how it is reacting to sight, sound, smell, taste, touch, thoughts, feelings, perceptions and consciousness instead. Hopefully, this is helpful. With Metta.

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