Annotating the words of your existence

An annotation is an explanation or commentary upon an original source. Think of submitting an essay to a teacher in school. A few weeks later it comes back with slashes and scrawls of red pen all over it: underlining, exclamation marks, question marks, “Good point”, “I’d like to see you describe this more…”, “Why do you think that?”, “You’re an idiot.”

A more concrete example of annotation is provided by, a site which allows contributors to deconstruct the meaning behind song lyrics. For example, the final verse of Jay-Z’s “Justify My Thug” finishes with these four lines:

“Mr. President, there’s drugs in our residence
Tell me what you want me to do, come break bread with us
Mr. Governor, I swear there’s a cover up
Every other corner there’s a liquor store, fuck is up?”

The annotation of these four lines is as follows:

“The government claims to be against drug use (and often exhorts the leaders of poor communities to end the problem without explaining how they should do it) while also issuing liquor licenses for stores all over the place. Jay-Z sees this as a hypocritical stance to take and wants to rectify the situation.”

Good art is dense, and the goal of annotation is to pick apart its structure, meaning and imagery. To annotate, in its purest form, is to contextualise the compressed.

This is all well and good, but why does it matter? Answer: because annotation is a good metaphor for mindfulness. 

If you read any books about mindfulness or listen to any guided meditations, they all talk about “acknowledging” and “accepting” your thoughts, as if you’re apart from them. This is ultimately what mindfulness is about; it’s the discipline of awareness. And one of the uses of this awareness is the ability to annotate thoughts as they happen. If you can be aware of the anger you’re feeling, you are also in a position to examine it, to comment on and explore its origins and its implications. 

In this sense, typical existence is akin to the writing of words on the page, and mindful existence is akin to reading and considering the words of the writer.