After listening to the Buddhist monk Jack Kornfield describe ‘Labeling the Thoughts’ as a meditation, I decided to try it for myself. As I move through life, I am constantly weeding out the good, the bad, and the bullshit. I realized that this technique of labeling my thoughts aided me in this process. For instance, the memory would pop in to my mind when I told my sister she was ugly (I was nine and she was 13… to this day I am truly apologetic), I label this as past. Or rehashing a conversation I had with my boss where I wished my comebacks were witty and intelligent, I labeled this as ego. As I continue to sit, I silently say grasping, past, future, imagination, judgement, planning, planning, planning.
Although this technique was helping me find, as Jack Kornfield puts it, my top ten playlist, I was still missing the point. What exactly is the point? Is it to label the thoughts and send them on their way, pushing them back down into the tissues of my memory? Well, that wasn’t working. So, I stopped. I stopped labeling the thoughts. I moved on to a different meditation which spoke to me. Mantras one day, observing the breath the next, and some days skipping meditation all together.
I began to notice the changes in my actions and thoughts each day. I noticed the scroll of thoughts getting busier and busier, the judgement of myself growing. My urge to plan, to change, to do was getting greater. This made sitting with myself even more difficult.
I needed direction, someone to point out the path, someone to support me in my journey. I decided to notice and become willing to trust my own intuition. The universe began to speak to me. The clouds did clear and I was left with an opportunity to be with others on the same path as I. I was able to gain insight and share my roadblocks along the way. It is in this space that I was presented with the answer to my initial question, What is the point of labeling the thoughts?
I am grateful to one of the many teachers I had that recounted her own experience. Instead of pushing those thoughts away, dismissing them completely, she sat with them. As uncomfortable as this seems, sitting with your own judgement, negative thoughts and emotions brings value to this issue.
As you practice this technique, you may begin to notice where in the body you hold the thought or emotion. This leads to discovering the habitual patterns which make up the Self. To borrow words from Bhavani Maki, this allows us to:
“…skillfully proceed on the path to develop understanding and refinement of the consciousness. (This) approach allows us to investigate the mind and emotions, how they relate to our patterns of thought and deposit themselves into our behavior, character, and personality”.
As I started again, labeling my thoughts, I found comfort in the uncomfortable. The path to happiness and freedom isn’t an easy one, but it is the most interesting one I have been on.
I hope this finds you well on your path to a joyful and free life.