The “Off Switch”

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.

Like that.


8 responses to “The “Off Switch”

  1. So Michael the switch turned on and the words just wrote themselves… Nice. Turning off the switch now… Stu

  2. Good to know that this blog rates a brief “On Switch” from you, Stu! 😉

  3. Hello dear friend Michael, I enjoyed reading another one of your blogs. Yes, this blog definitely rates a “brief ‘ON’ switch of the mind.” I find keeping the mind off most of the time during the day not only maintains a level of absorption, from which I enjoy bliss, joy and ecstasy throughout the day, but I also find it very relaxing, and stress-free. I also find I can drop into deep meditation immediately upon sitting.

    The only down side I have found of not having the mind engaged all of the time, is I tend to forget things, because memory requires rehearsal. Perhaps others who leave the mind off have found they tend to forget things also?

    My solution to the memory issue is to keep a slip of paper in a pocket upon which I write all of those things I must remember to do that day. I also use my computer to help me keep track of time-dependent projects. Why use the mind, when one has a computer and a piece of paper?

    Using my mind in this way is analogous to a pocket calculator. I just know where the ‘ON’ switch is and turn it on only when I need it. I have found I can walk through the day, and even drive, without engaging the mind. In fact I find I am much more self-aware if I keep the mind OFF.

    By leaving my mind in OFF mode most of the time I find I gain intuitive insight throughout the day. I thus use intuitive insight (vipassana) as my daily moment-to-moment direction.

    I too hear the “cacophony of silence” in the form of charismatic sound. Many mystics, such as Rumi, Kabir, Teresa of Avila, Patanjali and the Buddha described these sounds. I think Teresa of Avila did the best job.

    The Interior Castle, St. Teresa of Avila,
    Pg 93) “As I write this, by the way, I can’t help but wonder what’s going on inside my own head. Those noises I told you about in the beginning are getting so loud that it’s almost impossible for me to obey the order to write this. It sounds like there are a multitude of rushing rivers inside my head, their waters cascading downward, surrounded by many little birds and other whistling sounds. This is all unfolding not in the ears but the upper part of the head, where they say the higher part of the soul resides. I have spent long periods in these regions. The spirit seems to push its way upward with great power and speed…all of this turmoil doe not hinder my prayer or interfere with what I am trying to say. Instead, my soul is whole within its quietude, its love, its longing, and its clarity of consciousness.”
    translation and introduction by Mirabai Star. Riverhead Books, Published by the Berkley Publishing Group a division of Penguin Group USA Inc. 375 Hudson Street, New York NY 10014, 2003

  4. Thank you all for the conversation. I need the reminder concerning the “off switch”. Without being a disciplined practitioner of meditation, I benefit greatly from those sporadic and impromptu times of reflection that become meditation. I recognize the importance of absorption in the universe of spirit, light and life. You have triggered me again.


  5. Michael–

    An excellent article, as always — thank you for sharing Jeffrey’s excellent reminder and for enriching it with your own particular insights.

    In our tradition, we constantly stress that on the “practical level” there are numerous “benefits” to meditation, foremost amongst them the growing capacity to witness just how much time the mind spends “shutting down the flow” by obsessing on specific themes and, subsequently, the ability to turn that process off and restore the natural flow — hitting the “off switch” on analysis and speculation and returning to witnessing “things as they are,” as Shunryu Suzuki used to say ….

    Forgive me if this is “spiritually jejune,” but your description of awareness when turning off the mind’s constant chatter very much reminds me of Aldous Huxley and the “trickle” of consciousness that he describes when referring to our ordinary state of awareness. When we develop the mindfulness and the capacity to turn off that cacophany of analysis, we return to that rich, expansive, spectrum of life, opening ourselves to the vast perceptivity that is our True Nature….

    …And the fact that even that pales by comparison to the bliss of sheer Being is a strong statement, indeed….

    Thanks again, Michael — beautifully expressed!

    Much Light–

    Michael Lloyd-Billington

  6. Pingback: Jhana Saturation in an Angry and Violent World « Samma-Samadhi

  7. Ha! Yesterday, in a line of traffic that wouldn’t move, drivers seemingly oblivious to what they were doing — supposedly driving, but not!–pissed me off!! For some reason it came back to me — the off switch, stupid! Thank you.

    Hawk Sr.

  8. Comes in handy at times like that, Hawk! Better than waving handguns or otherwise displaying road rage.

    I’m about to drive someone to the airport, so I’ll remember how you dealt with the idiots out there….

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