How to Begin Naming

Begin by sitting comfortably, focusing awareness on your breathing. As you feel each breath, carefully acknowledge it with a simple name: “in-breath, out-breath,” saying the words silently and softly in the back of your mind. This will help you keep track of the breathing, which gives your thinking mind a way to support awareness rather than wandering oʃ in some other direction. Then as you get quiet and as your skill grows, you can notice and name more precisely, “long breath,” “short breath,” “tight breath,” or “relaxed breath.” Let every kind of breath show itself to you.

As you continue to develop your meditation, the process of naming can be extended to other experiences as they arise in your awareness. You can name the bodily energies and sensations that come up, such as “tingling,” “itching,” “hot,” or “cold.” You can name feelings, such as “fear” or “delight.” You can then extend the naming to sounds and sights, and to thoughts such as “planning” or “remembering.”

In developing the naming practice, stay focused on your breathing unless a stronger experience arises to interrupt your attention. Then include this stronger experience in the meditation, feeling it fully and naming it softly for as long as it persists—“hearing, hearing, hearing” or “sad, sad, sad.” When it passes, return to naming the breath until another strong experience arises. Keep the meditation simple focusing on one thing at a time. Continue to name whatever is most prominent in each moment, being aware of the everchanging stream of your life.

At first, sitting still and naming may seem awkward or loud, as if it interferes with your awareness. You must practice naming very softly, giving ninety-ɹve percent of your energy to sensing each experience, and ɹve percent to a soft name in the background. When you misuse naming, it will feel like a club, a way to judge and push away an undesirable experience, like shouting at “thinking” or “pain” to make it go away. Sometimes, in the beginning, you may also feel confused about what name to use, looking through your inner dictionary instead of being aware of what is actually present. Remember, the practice of naming is much simpler than that; it is just a simple acknowledgment of what is present.

Soon you will be ready to bring the practice of naming and inquiry directly to the difficulties and hindrances that arise in your life. The have most common difficulties that the Buddha described as the chief hindrances to awareness and clarity are grasping and anger, sleepiness and restlessness, and doubt. Of course, you will inevitably encounter many other hindrances and demons, and will even create new ones of your own. Sometimes they will besiege you in combinations, which one student called “a multiple hindrance attack.” Whatever comes, you will need to begin to see these basic difficulties clearly as they arise.


This excerpt is taken from the book, “A Path with Heart

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