Seen/seeing inquiry and labeling

In exploring each of the recommended practices from the Center for Sacred Sciences distance course, I notice how well the labeling practice fit in with the seen/seeing self-inquiry.


Through the labeling practice, I get to notice sounds as just sounds, sights as sights, smells as smells, tastes as tastes, sensations as sensations, and thoughts as thoughts.

This allows each of them to stay what they are without automatically being balled up into unexamined and undifferentiated wholes, such as that of sensations and stories, which gives the appearance of something that is not really there and thus stress.

If unexamined, there may be a sensation and then a story “pain”, or “anger”, or “hunger”, or “sadness”, each of which create drama and stress. Without this automatic connection of sensation and story, there is just clarity and sometimes action from this clarity.

Seen/seeing inquiry

In the seen/seeing inquiry (I am sure somebody has come up with a better name for it), this labeling practice becomes very useful in the first phase. It helps me notice the perceptions as they are, before any story is attached to them. And it helps me notice how each of these perceptions come and go on their own, within this timeless space and awareness.

  1. Noticing the impermanence of the seen
    Notice the content of awareness, all that is seen: sounds, sights, smells, tastes, sensations, thoughts. Are they impermanent or permanent? Is there anything permanent there? Are you the changing content, the seen, or are you the seeing of it?

  2. Notice the seeing
    Then notice that which does not change. What is it that does not change? What is always here? What does the content, the seen, unfold within and to? Is this awakeness within time and space, or is time and space within this awakeness? Noticing what the seen arises within and do, does the seen appear to have any I in it?

  3. Absent of I
    Is there an I in the seen? Can there be an I in the seen if all of it comes and goes on its own, even over just a few seconds?

    Is there really an I in the seeing of it, in this awakeness that the seen arises within and to? Can you find where the seeing ends, and the seen begins? Are they different? Made up of the same?

Meditation in Action *

There is no doubt that it can be very helpful to take time out of the day for regular meditation/practice sessions, and also to take several days out of one’s schedule for a retreat.

And then there is meditation in action, practice distributed throughout our daily life. To me, this form of practice is more interesting right now, especially as it does not necessarily require any time beyond what I am already doing (in a way, it is practice for lazy and impatient people, for those of us who may be reluctant to set aside a lot of time every day, and especially don’t want to wait for these periods).

Some practices that I find very helpful in daily life, first those that do not take any extra time at all…


Douglas Harding’s headless experiments can be included and explored throughout daily life, during any activity. I work on the computer, I am on my bike, I eat, I am in a meeting, I watch a movie, I do Breema, and I can easily explore headlessness – notice that I am already headless in my own immediate experience. I am capacity for the world, that within and as which the world of phenomena – including this human self, happens. This shifts the center of gravity from the human self to seeing and beyond, into a taste of selflessness.


Another practice that can be seamlessly integrated in daily life is labeling. I note sensations, tastes/smells, sights, sounds and thoughts. And sometimes just sensations and thoughts, allowing each to live their own life. And sometimes just personality. That is the personality reacting, with its likes and dislikes, its habitual tendencies.

Seeing sensations as sensations, and thoughts as thoughts, allow each to live their own life. They don’t conglomerate into something else. And when they do, for instance into personality, then that can be labeled as well, at its own level.

All of this shifts the center of gravity from the human self to the seeing of it. It gives a sense of more space, of liberation from being blindly caught up in it.

Can I be with it?

Yet another practice which can be included seamlessly in daily life is asking myself can I be with what I am experiencing right now? I experience something that could be labeled pain, or sleep deprivation, or hunger, or stress, or confusion, or spaciness, or joy, or excitement – can I be with what I am experiencing right now?

Again, this shifts the center of gravity into the seeing, allowing the content to life its own life, to unfold in its own way. The experience is one of getting out of the way of the content.

Coming to the body

This shift also occurs through simply bringing attention to the body. To noticing the weight, movement or breath of the body, as it happens right now.

Of course, for each of these practices – headlessness, labeling, being with whatever is experienced and coming to the body, it does help to set aside some time in the beginning to become familiar with the process, and even to do so at any point where there is a break in the day.

Then there are practices that very much use the content of our daily life as fuel, and do require some time set aside, although often not much.

The Work

The inquiry practice from Byron Katie is one of these. Whatever happens during my daily life is fuel for finding clarity. The whole world is my mirror, in a very real and practical way.

Big Mind Process

The Big Mind process similarly uses our daily life and everyday mind as material for insights, for seeing what is already alive right here now, and how it is all manifestations of the Buddha Mind, Buddha Mind at work.

Labeling & The Components of Emotions

Using the noting or labeling practice in daily life, I find that the most useful is to label sensations and thoughts (the more full practice, which can be done when there is more time, is to label sensations, smell/taste, sounds, sight and thoughts).

What I find is that there is a sensation, and then a thought about the sensation. If I believe the thought, there is usually drama and a sense of struggle. And if I note sensations as sensation, and thoughts as thoughts, it stops before the drama – or it at least does not go very far. Sensations are now seen as just sensations, without needing to add a layer of interpretation on it. And thoughts are seen as just thoughts, without attaching to and fueling their content.

In this way, I see that what appears as emotions is really just a sensation and a story about it. And seeing this, the apparent emotion falls into these components. It is not an emotion anymore. It is just a sensation and a thought about this sensation.

So there is no need to go into the drama of it all. At the same time, if there is something that can be labeled pain, I can do something about it. There is still responsiveness to situations, without the drama.

Effects of Labeling

Some of the effects I notice from labeling…

  • Shift from content to seeing
    The “center of gravity” shifts from content to the seeing of the content. Or rather, it shifts from being blindly caught up in content and identified with it, to the Witness, pure awareness.

  • Link revealed as not real
    The apparent link between the perception (situation, event) and the story about it is seen as not real, as arising due to another story of its reality. It falls away.

  • Allowed their own life
    Perceptions are allowed their own life, freed from the stories about them. And the stories are allowed their own life, freed from belief in and attachment to them.

  • Fall into themselves before conglomerating
    The perceptions fall into themselves, and the stories fall into themselves, as perceptions are seen as simply perceptions and thoughts as simply thoughts. They fall into themselves before they can conglomerate into a larger apparent unit.

  • Celibacy
    There is a form of celibacy in this. When perceptions and stories conglomerate, they spawn innumerable other stories and consequences. A whole world is created, the whole drama of (conventional) human life comes into existence. When they are seen as simply perceptions and thoughts, they fall into themselves and the spawning does not take place (or if it does, is small scale and short lived).

  • Absence of drama
    Since the connection between perceptions and stories is seen through, and the attachment to stories fall away, there is an absence of drama.

  • Still joy
    There is a still joy in this, just seeing perceptions and thoughts as perceptions and thought. There is a deep stillness, within and as which everything happens. Everything arising is met intimately with awareness, and recognized as awareness itself.

  • Clarity
    With the stillness, there is also clarity – the inherent clarity of mind. The clarity which seems to always be here, although sometimes hidden by the dust kicked up by beliefs in thoughts and the drama this creates.

  • Alive intelligence
    And there is also an alive intelligence here, the inherent alive intelligence of the mind – distinct from thoughts and stories. This too is revealed beneath the dust clouds.

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.

Labels & Resistance in Daily Life

There is a form of insight meditation which in the past didn’t do much for me, but now makes more sense.

Notice whatever comes up in your awareness, and label it sensation, smell/taste, sound, sight or thought.

Effects of noticing simple categories

Noticing these simple categories seems to have several effects.

The main one is to allow each of these experiences to separate and live their own life. Specifically, they are liberated from stories about them, and the stories are liberated from being believed in.

In my case, the main relief comes from allowing sensations to separate from stories about them. And I also see that what I often label emotion is really a combination of sensation and thought.

I can see that each of these – sensations, thoughts and so on – are already separate. The only difference is in noticing that they already are, and allowing the stories to fall away. I also see that none of these are really separate, and that this separating out is just a tool – for finding a sense of ease with it all.

Practice and daily life

I take some time out to notice this more clearly, in between daily tasks and also before falling asleep. I may scan each category and see what I find there, or just allow things to come up in awareness and then label them.

And in daily life, I may notice the categories and the dynamics between them as things happen.

For instance, I was at the dentist yesterday and noticed stories arising about pain, I noticed a resistance to the pain and so on. Seeing this, I went back a few steps in the series of cascading effects, and saw that what was really happening was just a sensation and then thoughts about this sensation. Just seeing this allowed attention to stay with the simple sensation, allowing the stories about it to fall away or at least not go very far.

Without noticing the dynamics of this habitual sensation/thought connection, the stories arise, seem very real and important, and build upon themselves. It is pain, I shouldn’t be in pain, pain is uncomfortable, I don’t want to be uncomfortable, how can I avoid this pain, and so on.

When there is a noticing of sensation as a simple sensation and thoughts as just thoughts, the attachment to these stories seem to fall away. Maybe a first or second generation thought comes up, with not much substance to them, and the third and fourth and so on generation thoughts may not arise at all.

The drama and struggle is taken out of the situation. There is just utter simplicity and ease. Just being with whatever arising, with less or no need to attach to or push them away. As if attaching to or pushing away was possible in the first place.

There is a quieting down. There is clarity. Simplicity. And engagement as well, when that comes up.

More precisely

I also see the tendency to use an informal and less thought through language when talking about these things.

Some examples of what seems more aligned with my current experience…

Sensations are already liberated from thoughts about them, and thoughts are already liberated from beliefs in them. There is only a pretending that they are not. And it seems that it has never been any different.

Also, what I often call resistance is really just a conglomerate of shifting attention, sensations and thoughts. When I don’t see it as a tenuous (really nonexisting) conglomerate, it seems very real, powerful and substantial. It can seem as a real problem, something to deal with.

Yet, when it is seen as just a tenuous conglomerate – or really as not existing at all – then the components fall (in our experience of them) into their own space. The connections among them are revealed as not real, as having not existed in the first place. When the connections are seen as not real, then the question just becomes – what was the problem? The sense of drama and struggle resolves and dissolves, and reveals the clarity that was always there.

Nothing needs to change, apart from the noticing. Nothing can really change, apart from the noticing. Before the noticing, there is drama, struggle and a sense of a very substantial and real problem. After the noticing, this is all seen as only an appearance. There is just ease, clarity and simplicity.

Catching Contractions at Two Points

I have experimented briefly with the form of insight meditation where we put labels on the various sense categories, such as sensation, smell, taste, sound, sight and thought. Something arises, I put a label on it. Something else arises – another label. And so on. And I may occasionally put the label “thought” on the previous labels just to remind myself about that as well.

Catching the connection between sensation and thought

I see that for me, when a contraction is about to come into existence, there is usually (a) a sound or sight, (b) a following sensation, and (c) a thought – a story about what that sensation means, including in relation to the initial sound or sight.

For instance, I heard a house mate walked downstairs with shoes on, a sensation arose, and the though “irritation” came up. Seeing the sensation as sensation and the thought as thought, the connection between the two dissolved. They were each liberated from each other, and the thought was liberated from being attached to.

If I had attached to the thought “irritation”, the sensation may have intensified and been experienced as uncomfortable. This would most likely have spawned additional thoughts, and soon a whole story would be in place about house mates walking into the house with shoes on and what that means. (“People don’t listen.” “Americans are unsophisticated.” And so on.)

In daily life, it seems that noticing the sensation and the thought placed on top of the sensation allows the connection between the two to dissolve. There is just a sensation, and then a thought, and that is all. They each live their own lives. The story is not attached to and does not unfold into a drama.

Another way to say it is that I catch the story of the connection between the sensation and the interpretation of the sensation, and the apparent connection dissolves there. I see that the story of connection is just a story.

Catching the initial story

Of course, there was also a story there between the initial sounds and the sensation. There was an interpretation of the sound (“house mate walking into the house with shoes on”), and most likely a should along the lines of “people shouldn’t walk into the house with shoes on”.

This is where The Work comes in. Instead of – or in addition to – what is described above, I can catch and inquire into the initial story, the one that (apparently) gave rise to the body sensations and the thoughts that followed.

In this case, the story is “people shouldn’t walk into the house with shoes on”. Exploring this, seeing what is really true for me around that, the attachment to this story may fall away. And when people do walk into the house with shoes, it is OK. I find peace with it. I may even find appreciation for it. And can still ask her to take them off.

Labeling & Inquiry

The Work has parallels to a wide range of (other) practices.

Insight practice

For instance, in a certain form of insight meditation, we label whatever arises according to its sense field: sensations, smell, taste, sound, sight, thoughts.

Whatever arises falls into one of these, and we gradually become more familiar with what is without the stories added to it. We notice the separation between what is and the stories put on top of them. And if a story gets going, as is their job, then we just see that as “thought”.

There is a great deal of liberation in just this simple practice. Especially as we get more familiar with it and it transfers to daily life. Instead of going into the stories, I simply recognize whatever happens as sensation, sight, thought and so on.


And the same seems to happen with The Work. I recognize stories as they happen, and what is without the stories.

There is a sensation, and a thought that this is a craving. As soon as I see that, the experience of and attachment to “craving” falls away.

There is another sensation, and a thought that this is “pain”. As soon as I see that, the experience of “pain” falls away. The sensation is still there, and the thought “pain” is there, but they are not attached to each other. Or rather – there is less or no attachment to the thought itself. It is just another thought, living its own life independent of the sensation.

Live its own life

Both of these practices allows whatever arises to live its own life. They do anyway, but now they can do it without interference from attachment to stories.

Thoughts live their own life, independent of whatever else arises. They may be taken as useful and temporary guidelines for explorations and actions in the world, but that is about it. They are no longer attached to, there is no longer any belief in them, they are not taken as any more than what they are – thoughts.

And everything else arising is also allowed to live its own life, independent of attachment to stories about them.


Everything is liberated.

Thoughts are liberated from a belief in them. Everything else is liberated from attachment to stories about them.

That is really all that is liberated.

There is no “I” to be liberated. Only sensations, taste, smell, sounds, sight liberated from attachment to stories about them. And thoughts themselves liberated from a belief in them.

The I is now revealed as just another attachment to a thought – placed upon a transient set of sensations, tastes, smells, sounds and sights.