6. Cultivating Introspective Awareness

So far, we have trained the mind with the following techniques:

By practicing these techniques, we have calmed our monkey-mind and developed more stable attention. However, our attention still gets distracted by thoughts, sounds or other sensations. To move forward, we need to develop introspective awareness.

Introspective awareness is the capacity to observe the state of our mind. Cultivating introspective awareness will allow us to take a step back and:

  • Observe the movements of attention
  • Notice potential distractions early on
  • See clearly different qualities of our mind

To develop introspective awareness, we will practice checking in and labeling.

Checking in and labeling

So far, we have waited for our mind to spontaneously notice when it wandered away. Now, to strengthen this faculty of the mind, we want to voluntary check the state of our mind and give it a quick descriptive label.

After watching a few breaths, we will briefly turn our attention inward. Is our mind agitated or calm? Is it filled with energy or lethargic? Is is focused or distracted? As soon as we recognize our state of mind, we label it mentally with a single word like “agitated”, “calm”, “distracted” or any other quality of the mind we may notice. Don’t worry about the accuracy of the label!

Once we’ve checked in and labeled our mind state, we return to the breath and resume our meditation practice. If we have noticed that our mind is agitated, distracted or lethargic, we also take this opportunity to gently tighten our focus or increase effort.

By practicing checking in and labeling, we will notice that introspective awareness becomes sharper and stays longer. In these periods, we may feel like we’ve taken a step back. Instead of watching the breath, we are watching the mind watch the breath. This is excellent progress!

Keep practicing checking in and labeling until introspective awareness becomes continuous.