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Noting is a highly effective meditation technique which makes use of verbal labels (either spoken aloud or verbalized only in thought) to “tag” experience in a systematic way, building mindfulness.

Some vipassana traditions teach free-form noting with open vocabularies, and other teachers suggest a more limited and highly structured vocabulary. Mahasi Sayadaw‘s technique is an example of the former, and the noting options within Shinzen Young‘s Five Ways an example of the latter.

Noting labels are likely to be more effective when they are single words rather than compounds or phrases. Apodictic speakers such as ourselves are quite likely to infer verbal predication even where none is intended, and verbal predication is characteristic of thematic speech.

The key thing to grok about noting, even when practiced silently, is that it is an act of speech. To the extent that the point of vipassana is to increase one’s skill in conscious sense perception, non-thematic speech is vastly more likely to achieve the desired result than thematic speech, which generates not conscious sense perception, but understanding. To the extent that that in turn happens, it makes it harder for the meditator to make the desired shift from content to insight, and may even subvert vipassana into a concentration practice.

A two-word statement “could be either a simple thematic assertion or a complex non-thematic assertion; knowledge of the contents alone would not enable us to determine which it was.” (E&C, p. 231, footnote 4.)

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