Last night, I considered going to a talk that was given by a monk at a local meditation center. Julie is out of town, so I had some free time. However, the local poker room was running an infrequent Omaha game, so I decided to go to that, instead. In lieu of the monk’s talk, I listened to a talk by Joseph Goldstein about impermanence on the way there
Impermanence means, simply, that nothing is permanent. Everything is constantly changing. Not only is this true about the universe and the world outside of us, but also inside ourselves. The sensations in our bodies, the thoughts we’re thinking, our current mood. Nothing is constant.
If you realize the impermanence of everything, you become less attached to (or repulsed by) your sensations, thoughts, and moods. It’s not that you ignore them. You just notice and accept them, which creates a contentedness. Instead of being so wrapped up in them, you can spend your time on what’s important.
I decided to put in a good sit this morning and really try to experience impermanence within myself. To do this, though, you really have to stay in the present so that you can see the sensations, feelings, and moods arise and pass away.
One of the struggles I face during meditation is a wandering mind. It’s easy for my mind to recall and be absorbed by a movie, book, or just some reoccurring thought. These brain phenomena can take you away from the present for quite a while without you noticing it.
Noting is the act of silently stating what is currently happening. You want to remain calm while meditating, so you don’t want to “shout” the note. Just gently note, like a whisper in the background of your mind.
My meditation object is my breath. More specifically, it’s the rising and falling of my abdomen. So when I start, I note “rising” and “falling” (of the abdomen). If you are following the breath as it comes in and out of your nose, you can note “in” and “out.”
Noting helps you clearly see and stay with the present moment. As I mentioned in another post, your mind can only focus on one thing at a time. By noting, you occupy your mind with what is happening in the moment, so it isn’t swept away by thinking.
But, again, I don’t scream my notes in my mind to due so. Gently noting helps because it keeps you at the very edge of the present so you can see the arising and passing of the phenomena as they happen.
I might think of a scene from a movie, so I note “thinking” until it passes away. I might feel an itching in my leg, so I note “itching” until it passes away. I might hear a plane in the distance, so I note “hearing” until it passes away. I might picture something in my mind, so I note “seeing” until it passes away.
As I’m noting these phenomena, I’ll even note “noting.”
Just note what you see happening in the present. Use whatever term you feel is appropriate. It can be generic or specific. I’ve even read it’s ok to just note “this” (“this,” being the thing currently happening). Don’t over think it; just note what feels right.
Turn It Up To 11
In the past, I’ve just noted once or twice: “rising, rising;” “falling, falling.” This morning, though, I continuously noted from one phenomena to the next.
“rising, rising, rising, falling, falling, falling, rising, rising, itching, itching, itching, falling, hearing, hearing, rising, thinking, rising, rising, falling, falling, pain, pain, falling, rising, rising, planning, planning, remembering, falling, falling, itching, hearing, falling.”
I did that for 20 minutes. I wanted to be sure not to miss anything as phenomena arose and passed away.
“Planning” referred to thinking about some work I have to do next week. Instead of stressing about it, though, I just noted it until I let it go.
But, again, I want to note (heh) that I’m not ignoring the work I have to do next week. I’m just not getting caught up thinking about it. Thinking about the work doesn’t help anything, and just causes unneeded stress. The work doesn’t cause the stress; the discursive thinking does.
The work is important, so while I let it go in the moment, when I was done meditating, I sent a reminder email to myself so I can handle it on Monday. Now I can enjoy the weekend without fretting about it.
An interesting thing happened when I was done meditating. Since I had noted constantly for 20 minutes, my mind continued to note my actions when I got up. I tried to keep it going for as long as possible, but it eventually subsided. However, part of it has remained, which I believe is the point of meditation.
It’s called “practice” for a reason. When meditating, you practice living in the present moment, so that when you go about your life, it’s easier to fully experience it.
I’m sure my mind will later bubble up the thoughts about the work I have to do on Monday (that’s what the mind does), but since I’ve practiced noting when that happens, I’ll more easily be able to note it when it happens and let it go, so I can continue to enjoy the weekend.