Ever heard of “floating noting”? Probably not—because it’s a cute, rhyming nickname created by yours truly. The practice, though, came from Burmese meditation masters, and it’s a beautifully simple method for dealing with complicated experiences. This is a technique you can use when the “mindful pause”—that 30-second anxiety intervention we covered last month—is not enough. When, say, exams are looming.

How to handle thoughts like “Aaaaah exams aaaaaah!”

Like the mindful pause, floating noting works by helping you turn toward your present-moment experience instead of flinching away from it. However, this method is a little more comprehensive than the mindful pause, and it adds some extra oomph by incorporating the labeling technique we’ve discussed in previous columns.

The broad principles of floating noting

You can do this practice whenever you like. You don’t need to adopt a special posture or even find a quiet place in which to do it.

With floating noting, there is no specific anchor to focus on. You let your attention float freely—hence the name. As your attention drifts, various sights, sounds, sensations, and thoughts may take center stage in your awareness.

As this happens, you just (1) notice whatever stands out in awareness, and (2) give it a light mental label. As new objects arise in awareness, just continue noting whatever is most prominent.

To keep the labeling simple, we’ll use categories: “seeing” for sights, “hearing” for sounds, “feeling” for physical sensations, and “thinking” for anything that arises in the mind.

Thought bubles

Example of floating noting in action

Let’s say the sound of a passing car draws your attention. You just label the experience “hearing.” Then a thought pops up—maybe something like “Aaaaah exams aaaaaah aaaaah.” (I had that thought a lot in school.) Instead of getting caught up in the thought, you just label it “thinking.” The thought then triggers a twisting sensation in your stomach, which you label “feeling.”

You may find that breaking your experience down in this way makes it less overwhelming. An anxious sensation or a worried thought becomes less of a problem when you just notice it, label it, it and move on.

Final points

  • Find a nice, steady rhythm for your noting. Personally, I find that noting once every couple seconds feels right.
  • If the same object stays dominant in your awareness for a while, just keep noting it: “hearing…hearing…hearing….”
  • If more than one object stands out at once, and you’re not sure which one to label, just pick one.
  • If you look at your experience and have no idea what to label, you can just note that uncertainty and label it “don’t know.”

Enjoy!

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