What Is the Mental Screen?

What Is the Mental Screen?

The mental screen is where you play out images in your mind. It’s located directly in front of or behind your closed eyes. You may not have considered that there is a home base for all the image activity that happens in your mind, but it’s pretty natural and easy to detect.

Close your eyes and try thinking about your immediate environment. You’ll probably get a vague shifting impression of your environment somewhere around your closed eyes. That area is the mental screen.

What if There’s No Activity on the Mental Screen?
As you practice mindfulness you may not see much image activity at all on the mental screen. You may just notice lightness, darkness, or some combination of light and dark. We’ll call that the blank mental screen, and that can be as interesting to practice with as an active mental screen.


Because the blank mental screen can be very restful. It’s a simplified environment, and you can focus on the pleasant simplicity of the blank mental screen, enjoying the peaceful absence of image activity in your mind as a delicious restfulness.

What Are the Uses of the Mental Screen?
The mental screen can be an interesting object of focus as you practice mindfulness.

If there is image activity, you can become interested in the changing form of the images: how quickly or slowly they move across the screen or whether they stay still. Detecting the characteristics of your experience develops the essential skill of Sensory Clarity.

If the screen is blank, you can appreciate the simplicity and stability of that. Whether the screen is active or restful, you may notice some movement, for example, the way images move across the screen or a swirling of light, or dark, if the screen is blank. You can follow that movement with your attention, which is also an interesting way to practice.

How Can You Practice Mindfulness with the Mental Screen?
Take your seated position for formal practice. Gently close your eyes and bring your attention to the mental screen. Notice what’s there. Is it blank? Are you detecting images?

During this practice period, restrict your focus to the mental screen and use two possible labels. If you’re primarily noticing images on the mental screen, use the label “see.” If you are primarily noticing a blank mental screen, use the label “rest.” In either case, you are bringing your attention to the mental screen and simply discovering what’s there at any given moment.

If what you notice is images, you say “see” out loud or to yourself. Then, keep your attention focused on the images you’re noticing for a few seconds, even if the images change. If what you’re noticing is the blank mental screen, say the label “rest” and stay with that for a few seconds.

This process of bringing your attention to your object of focus and staying with it for a few seconds is called “noting.” Labeling is the name you give to what you’re noting. Labeling supports the noting process by keeping your attention on track. This combination of labeling and noting helps strengthen your concentration. Repeat the noting process in a steady rhythm, keeping an even tone to your voice as you label what you note. Keeping an even tone with your voice as you label develops Equanimity. When you detect the blank screen, note it using the label “rest”; when you detect images, note that, using the label “see”; and if you notice both, just pick one to focus on. It’s OK to guess and it’s OK to miss.

Give it a try now and see how it goes.