A Practice Of Welcoming

by | Jan 29, 2022 | 2 comments

I’ve been working with a practice known as ‘labelling’. This is something I find useful when my attention begins to wander a lot in meditation. And my attention has certainly been wandering of late.

In brief, this practice involves acknowledging moments of distraction – moments in which I drift into rumination and storytelling – by labeling the experience ‘thinking’. I catch myself dreaming about lunch, for instance. At which point, I use the label ‘thinking’ and return to embodied experience.

Labelling brings a measure of awareness and intentionality to my engagement with meditation. It facilitates a heightened sense of presence and a greater sense of agency, both of which counter my tendency to drift and wander. Labelling can also, unfortunately, bring with it an edge of judgement or criticism.

Someone pointed this out to me recently. Using the practice of labelling in the manner described can encourage the impression that I have done and am doing something wrong. ‘I’m thinking! That’s not right!’ I don’t believe this is the intention of the practice. I do know from hard experience, though, how easy it is to slip from ‘thinking’ into a more disparaging state of mind.

Following the example of the person noted above, I have been exploring other, potentially less critical ways of using this practice. More specifically, I have been exploring labelling without using ‘thinking’ as the term of ascription. In it’s place, I have been using the word ‘welcome’.

No matter how long I practice it seems – no matter how long I teach and how many times I say this to others – I still very easily forget that meditation simply involves becoming more familiar with how it is for us. Familiar with this moment, this body, this life. Whatever might be happening – good or bad, happy or sad – when we sit or lay down to practice, when we guide our attention toward embodied experience, we are becoming familiar with what’s there for us.

Put another way, we are welcoming when we meditate. We are turning our attention and allowing, inviting whatever awaits into awareness. And using this adjusted practice of labelling – an adjustment that highlights what we are developing as opposed to what we are try not to enmesh with – is proving extremely interesting in this regard. Attention wanders and I note this with ‘welcoming’ and – well, then what?

I notice a sense of striving in my practice. I notice feelings of ease. I notice how high in the chest my breathing has become. I notice cool air on skin. I notice impatience, frustration, curiosity, delight. I notice there’s a kind of sadness in my bones. I notice a lifting appreciation of this world, this life.

Again and again, I simply notice. As if this one word has the ability to ease open doors and windows throughout my being. Has the ability to remind me in a very immediate and direct way, in a very visceral and experiential manner what the term itself suggests: that meditation – and perhaps life itself – is a practice of welcoming.

– Neil


  1. Dear Neil
    I do not know you in person, but your words always touch me deeply and I am very very grateful that you share your thoughts and experiences.
    Thank you very much!

    • Thanks very much for this, Manuela. I do suspect our ‘thoughts and experiences’ can support one another as we engage this work, this life. Your words are tremendously affirming in this regard. Be well…


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