Some Ways of Labeling *

The fourth phase of the distance course from the Center of Sacred Sciences includes the insight meditation practice of labeling.

Their recommended approach is to label sensations, smell/taste, sound, sight and thought. A sensation comes up, and instead of attaching to a story about it, I just label is sensation. A thought comes up, and instead of going into its content, I label it thought. And so on.

In exploring this, I see how sensations, smell/taste, sound and sight are liberated from the stories about them, or rather from any attachment and belief to stories about them. They are just seen as what they are: sensations, smell/taste, sound and sight. I also see how thoughts are liberated from attachments to and beliefs in them, allowing them to be what they are – just thoughts, independent on their content. In labeling it thought, it stops there, before attachment to and fueling of its content.

A sensation come up, and a story anger. In labeling sensation, that is it. It is just a sensation, and I really don’t know what it is or what story to attach to it. Any story is just that, a story. Ephemeral. Added to it. Not inherent in the sensation. So the sensation is allowed to be what it is, without a story attached to it. And the stories come and go on their own as well, seen as just thought, without any need to attach to or fuel them.

A sound comes up, and a story noisy neighbors. In labeling sound, again it stops there. In labeling thought, the story of noisy neighbors is seen as just an story.

Three types of stories

When I do this, I see at least three types of stories.

  1. The story of the meaning of the perception

    There is a perception, and then a story about its meaning.

    A sensation may mean anger, joy, sadness, hunger, thirst, pain. Or it may go even further to mean I am sick, I may die, I will go to the hospital, how can I afford it, what a lousy medical insurance system, what if the doctors screw up, and so on.

    A taste may mean wonderful food, bad breath.

    A smell may mean he smells, he probably doesn’t take care of himself, he needs to get his act together.

    A sound may mean disrespectful neighbors, beautiful bird song, gunshot!

    A sight may mean old woman, attractive person, don’t like that vase – we should get rid of it.

  2. The story of the link between the perception and the initial story

    There is a sensation, a story, and then a story about the link between the sensation and the story.

  3. The story of the reality of the stories of meaning and link

    Both the story of the meaning of the sensation (pain) and the link (the story reflect the sensation) have secondary stories attached to them, stories saying they are real.

    The story of a link has a second story attached to it saying the link is real: The story does indeed accurately reflect the meaning of the sensation. There is not even any point in questioning it. I know it is pain!

    And the story of the meaning has the same story attached to it, a story of its validity and reality.

    This is where attachment to the stories come in. This is where they are believed in.

So here is one way of describing the sequence…

  1. There is a sensation and a story pain.
  2. There is a story about the link between the two. The story pain reflects the sensation.

  3. There are stories of validity attached to the two initial stories.

    The story is connected with the sensation, indeed – it seems to come out of or being inherent in the sensation. From seeing sensation as just sensation and thought as just thought, they are now linked in our experience of it.

    And the story pain is real, it is what is happening, it is pain! From seeing it as just a story, it is now taken as reality, as the gospel truth.

  4. These two initial stories, and the secondary stories saying they are real and valid, spawn a large number of other stories – and their consequences.

    I don’t’ want pain, I’ll do anything to make it go away – I’ll take a pill, distract myself, eat, watch TV. I better take it seriously or it can harm or kill me. It means I have some terrible disease.


Going back to the initial labeling practice, I see that there is a range of variations of the basic practice.

One variation is to simply label sensations, smell/taste, sound and sight perception. There is perception and thought. Only those two. That simplifies it for me and is a shortcut when I use it in daily life.

Another variation is to label personality. This seems most useful when the initial phase, that of labeling perceptions and thoughts, slips by and form the experience of a conglomerate of perceptions and thoughts. Conglomerates which take the appearance of a personality – of likes and dislikes, of preferences, of beliefs, of identity.

So I may notice a reaction to a situation, and just label it personality. This is the dislikes of the personality coming up, nothing more. No need to attach to or identify with it too much.

As with all labeling practice, this noting helps in shifting the center of gravity from the content (the perception, thought, or reaction of the personality) to the witness, the seeing, pure awareness. There is a disidentification with the content, a release from being blindly caught up in it, a sense of more space and freedom.

And finally, another way I have explored labeling is to combine it with the Big Mind process. Something comes up, and there is the recognition of it as the voice of anger, disappointment, attraction, seeking mind, nonseeking mind, and so on.

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