The See Hear Feel Noting Technique Explained

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Our subjective experience of life is made up of a few different sensory processes that interact with each other on an ongoing basis.

The basic senses include feeling, seeing, hearing, smelling, and tasting.

These sensory processes create the lens through which we view the world, how we picture and think of “ourselves”, and the behaviors that follow.

This system could be called the “self operating system” because it makes up our experience of life and ourselves.

The quality of our life really depends on how much clarity and equanimity we can bring to these sensory experiences. 

If one can develop good clarity and equanimity with all sensory experiences one will live a rich and fulfilling life. 

If one has poor clarity, equanimity, and awareness of these sensory experiences then chances are their life will be less fulfilling and it will be run by potentially poor subconscious processes which may cause suffering.

The ideal is when we can fully experience all of the sensory events in our life without resistance. 

This allows for purification, equanimity, and fulfillment.

In this short article, I’m going to go over the basics of the see-hear-feel technique (taught by former Zen monk Shinzen Young) which can be used in meditation or just in daily life.

This is one of my favorite meditation techniques because it breaks down our sensory experience in a simple and clear way while allowing the opportunity to use the divide-and-conquer strategy to work through challenging behavioral patterns while also increasing our fulfillment of normal life events.

Breaking Down the Components of the System

There are a few main sensory components in our self operating system.

  • Mental Images– these are the often vague images that our imagination creates in our mind which are usually physically located in front of our eyes when they occur
  • Mental Talk– this is the mental talk that we hear which usually occurs around the side or above the headspace
  • Emotional Body Sensations– these are the emotional feelings and body sensations we experience usually from the throat downward. Some people have specific places in the body where they experience most emotion (like the guts) while others get more of a whole-body feeling.

These 3 sensory components and system work in a way that is:

  • Reactive– one or more components are activated based on sensory stimuli 
  • Proactive– one or more components are activated in anticipation of a future event or just as the default mode 
  • Interactive– one or more components interact with each other to create a behavioral pattern
  • Inactive– occasionally this system goes offline and allows for complete rest and inactivity

When this system activates and is not experienced consciously with equanimity it will convince you that you have a limited separate self. 

It’s also important to understand that this system creates every heaven and hell experience we have as human beings. 

Every experience we have is created by these sensory components interacting with each other, which means if we can get a handle on this operating system we will have a much better handle on life.

How to Label & Work With These Sensory Components

In order to work with this system of sensory experiences, we need to have a procedure for labeling the experiences so we can bring concentration, clarity, and equanimity to them.

A simple framework for noting these sensory channels is:

  • See
  • Hear
  • Feel

And there are 2 ways of noting see, hear, and feel:

  • In
  • Out

So all of the possible ways to note are:

  • See In (mental images)
  • See Out (physical visual world)
  • Hear In (mental talk)
  • Hear Out (physical sound world)
  • Feel In (emotions and body sensations)
  • Feel Out (physical contact with the body)
  • You can also focus and note the general inner world by focusing in and the general external world by focusing out

Lastly, if you bring awareness to one of these sensory experiences and there is no activation in the body or stimuli in the outside world then using the label rest (for none at all) or gone (if you noted it then it disappeared) is ideal.

How to Work With This System?

There are a number of different ways to use this system of mindfulness in daily life.

  1. In Formal Meditation Practice or a Time Period of Your Day When You Are Resting

When meditating, unless you are very calm and collected already there will most likely be some activation taking place in your body and mind. 

You can simply focus on each distinct component in your meditations, switching them up when necessary and noting the changes as you sit or relax. 

Simply focus on one of the sensory channels (such as feel in) while noting it and then bring your awareness back to that sensory channel when awareness drifts off. 

  1. In Daily Life Activities 

While you can’t do this all the time because a majority of activities during work and throughout the day call for multiple sensory channels interacting at once (such as seeing, thinking, and typing) there are many moments throughout the day where you can practice micro-sessions.

For example, when you are walking around you can focus on see out or hear in if you have headphones on for a period of time or while talking on the phone to someone you can focus on hear out before responding to them in order to really listen clearly.

  1. Practicing for Life Events With Media

If you don’t get much activation in your rest or meditation practice during the day an alternate option is to put on some sort of media that evokes emotional body sensations, images, and mental talk.

This could be a horror soundtrack on youtube to work with the feeling of fear at night, a politician who you “like” or “don’t like”, or a soundtrack that makes you feel really happy or excited.

When working with this technique it’s important to be clear about which sensory experience you are bringing awareness to so that you can focus on that channel.

Dividing and Conquering 

One of the best ways to use this mindfulness technique is to divide and conquer with challenging sensory experiences.

For example, let’s say you get anxious or angry doing a certain thing or after someone does something to you.

A way to work with this situation over time would be to try focusing on each distinct sensory experience that arises in the anxious or angry situation bringing concentration, clarity, and equanimity to it. 

Equanimity can really be defined as complete self-love and acceptance.

For example, next time the challenging sensory experience arises see if you can focus on one of the sensory channels, noting it, bringing focus and awareness to it, and allowing it to move and do what it wants. 

Then the next time you can focus on a different sensory channel that arises in conjunction with the one you previously worked on.

When we are able to divide and conquer all the challenging sensory experiences that occur from the situation we are able to develop equanimity with the complete experience of the situation.

Shinzen Young Teaching the System

Here is a great video of Shinzen Young teaching this method of see-hear-feel:


There you have it. One of the most scientific and clear ways of working with sensory experience in meditation or daily life activities which if used over the long term can help to purify yourself and allow for more equanimity, peace, and freedom in life.

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Josh is a writer and entrepreneur who runs a small digital content publishing business. His main interests are in topics related to developing personal and financial freedom. When not working he enjoys reading, yoga, surfing, being outdoors, meditating, exploring, and hanging with friends.