Meditation teacher Vinny Ferraro offers a noting practice to see thoughts clearly as they arise, gently note them, and return to the breath and body.

Today we will place our attention on the nature of mind, and its gross national product: thoughts. What is this phenomenon we refer to as thought? What is our relationship to it? Not only does the mind have a mind of its own, but, literally, we can have thoughts about not having thoughts. All of this is completely independent of our own doing.

It’s very easy to villainize thought as some kind of enemy of practice. We get in our heads that if there were no thoughts we would be at peace, but even that’s just another thought. So, we’ll be using a noting practice, where we practice seeing thoughts clearly as they arise, gently noting them, and returning to the breath and body. If there is no mindfulness of mind, we live in a world completely defined by our thoughts. Here, we let go of that orientation and just see things as they are. We still hear the internal talk, we still see the images, but we know them as phenomena. We see their impermanence.

If we look, we may see how often our thoughts include judgment, fear, grasping, or just arguing our point of view. When we see how compulsively these thoughts repeat themselves, we begin to understand the circular, repetitive nature of thought. So, this training in awareness is a training in wisdom.

We can’t stop thoughts from arising but we can stop getting lost in them. Here we can see our views, our thoughts, our worries, as only one part of a much larger story. As we begin this session, feel your body and allow yourself to arrive. This is the practice of kind awareness. Allow the breathing to be natural, easy. See if there’s a sense of relief that you don’t have to make anything happen or stop happening.

Just simply note when thoughts arise. When you notice thoughts arise, gently note: “planning, planning,” or: “judging, judging.” We’re not noting things so that we can change them, we’re just turning toward this phenomenon and noticing thoughts that usually fly under the radar, just like the light little whisper. We don’t usually feel their impact; most of the time, we’re not even aware that they’re there and the next thing you know we’re carried off. So, we don’t want to be lost in the dream of our own mental activity.

Don’t “quiet” your thoughts. You don’t have to control thoughts or quiet them down; we just want to be aware of them as they arise, because any moment we’re aware of them, we’re not lost in them. You can think about it like we’re sitting in a movie theater, and there are images and voices projected on the screen of the mind, but we’re witnessing this phenomenon instead of being seduced by it. This frees up a lot of our awareness, when we don’t have to chase every thought, so we can see the well-worn patterns of the mind and begin to recognize some of the themes that we’re working with.

Note thoughts without empowering them. Note thoughts without indulging or empowering or needing to suppress or avoid them. This way, whatever arises is known and allowed to simply pass through. Thought bubbles are touched lightly, their content completely irrelevant—they are just another object.

Rest in your body. Here we are resting in the body, aware of sensation, watching thoughts come and go, and yet we remain. As things pass through the mind, be open and empty. This is a being, not a doing, so we don’t have any need to search for something to note. But as thoughts are known, gently note them. Lightly touching thoughts, not lost in content, not trying to figure it out, but resting in the witnessing of what is naturally unfolding. The practice is to keep noticing, not by bearing down on thoughts or drilling into them, but by resting in your intuitive awareness and opening up your field of attention to include thoughts. Thoughts are so prevalent, they are a worthy anchor for a meditation.

Keywords; meditation, mindfulness, nature