My dear friend and meditation teacher, Jeffrey Brooks, has been encouraging fellow contemplatives to employ the “Off Switch” not only during meditation, but as often as possible outside of meditation.
This is something I’ve practiced sporadically over the years, though until recently I haven’t given it much energy, having found that thoughts automatically dissipate and disappear on their own at a certain point in a typical meditation. This is, in fact, a noted feature of second jhana.
It is interesting, then, to come back to a more pointed practice of hitting the “Off Switch” with regularity, now that I’m in my fifth year of a three hours daily meditation practice.
Perhaps it is different for others (and I would love to read your experiences with hitting the “Off Switch” in comments), but for me it is a process of turning the mind’s eye inwards, to that dark emptiness of a receptacle known as “mind”… and I let my attention lounge in that pocket of disconnectedness. My attention, in fact, floats in a plasma of time and space, and it fits there like a glove. Perhaps a thought or two will bubble to into awareness, maybe dragging an image along with them… but the inevitable, ever-intensifying bliss, joy and ecstasy that blossom in the absence of mind chatter — they have no need to entertain these bubbles, so they float on by.
Then, the cacophony of silence.
* * *
During the half hour walk home from work two days ago (didn’t work yesterday), I put my mind into the above-mentioned Standby and left it there.
What I noticed right away was that the internal (or “charismatic”) ringing was there to greet me. With the absence of mind chatter, this inner sound grew loud… but not unpleasant.
The second thing I noticed is that there are literally hundreds of sounds surrounding me at a given moment, even in the quiet suburban neighborhood through which I was walking.
Birds chirping as they checked me out, deciding whether or not to fly off. Squirrels running and stopping, running and stopping. Dogs barking behind curtained windows. Cats hissing out of visual range. Airplanes in the distance. Music muffled. Televisions spewing commercials. Wind in trees. Voices giving and receiving orders. Hammers on nails. Water dripping. Dishes dropping.
The third thing I noticed was my body. It wanted me to let go, stop clinching, loosen up… so I did. It wanted me to pay attention to each step as my feet hit the ground… so I did. It wanted me to notice where heat was gathering, and where it was cold… so I adjusted my coat accordingly.
The fourth thing I noticed, being unencumbered by mind chatter, was the quality of light at midday.
The crispness of the Sun as it brought brilliant blues and whites down from the sky, spilled greens onto new Spring bloomings, painted houses every manner of color. I could literally feel the light rendering the mass of my body’s molecules… empty and void.
* * *
And so it goes, whether in meditation or not. Just a little more effort than usual — a little more mindfulness, a little more remembrance — and there is this natural state that I would otherwise have missed in favor of entertaining wave after wave of unimportant minutia.
* * *
So this is good advice that Jeffrey has been handing out lately, simple and seemingly obvious as it is. Why it would hit me so profoundly as it does now, I do not know… but I wanted to pass on this “simple and obvious” encouragement to you, the rigorous and skillful contemplative, as you seek to intensify your 24/7 practice.
Hit the “Off Switch” and leave it off until something comes along to turn it back on. Then turn it off at the first opportunity.
And so on.