Yes Virginia, we do have an off switch.

In Lifestyle on March 1, 2013 at 12:27 pm

“I have too much going on.”

I hear this complaint from libertarian-capitalists, libertarian-socialists, state-capitalists, state-socialists, Republicans, Democrats, Greens, and even people who declare they have no interest in anything of a political nature…or anything else. There’s a lot of free-floating anger out there. People are working harder and getting less. Every moment MUST be filled with some activity. Even when they are perched on the ‘head’ for mandatory down time, they’ve got an e-do-dad to poke at to keep them amused as they crap. Phyne Dyning encourages you to look for your ‘off’ switch.

I want you to follow these instructions:

– Stop reading. Stop doing anything.

– Take inventory of your thoughts. What’s going on in there?

– ‘What will I do next?’

– ‘I should be doing something else?’

– ‘I wonder what I’ll have to eat later?’

– ‘What could be making that sound in the car?’

– ‘That #%&@ political party!’

The above list could go on, and on, and on…

It does!

Let’s do another exercise. Go to any online career site (something like, CraigsList or Pull up random job postings and look for the following stock phrases:

– ‘Must be able to multi-task.’

– ‘Responsibilities include being able to network with…’

– ‘Able to understand and collate complex data.’

– ‘Interface with (clients, customers, co-workers, etc.)’

You won’t have to search very long. Now, what do each of those HR catch phrases share in common?

Yes, it’s ComputerSpeak. The person posting them isn’t looking for an employee; they’re looking for a machine.

“Mr. Jones, Selma the cashier just walked out. I guess she quit. What do we do?”

“Get Smith from the stockroom and have him run a register.”

(Translation: “A machine has malfunctioned. Go to the stockroom and get one of the stocking machines. Drag the machine to the check-out counter and plug it in.”

One more, introductory point:

Americans work about 1790 hours per year. Only the Australians, South Koreans, and Japanese work more hours per year. That’s a lot of lifetime spent as a machine.

It also explains why, according to nearly every survey measuring happiness, Americans are among the least happy people on the planet (along with the Australians, Koreans, and Japanese).

We are overworked (literally) and our minds are being asked to work even longer hours.

Newspapers, television, radio, and even so-called non-work entertainments prod us to think, and think, and think, and think. Even when we close our eyes, our mind replays events, conversations, and images. Or, our mind gives us ‘coming attractions’ of events, conversations, and images that have not yet taken place. Of course all of this replay and preview thinking goes on at the same time we’re already doing something else.

That muffin you’re eating. (You are eating a muffin?) Do you even taste it?

Or, are you reflexively chewing on autopilot. Are you swallowing the chewed muffin only because doing so is the automatic thing to do with food that has been chewed?

Why am I bothering to analyze this?

All of this work and thinking is taking the place of doing. It’s taking the place of living.

And it’s beginning to piss people off.

There’s a lot of free-floating anger out there and it’s worrisome.

Yesterday, I committed the heinous crime of pausing to check my grocery list without moving my cart to the side of a supermarket aisle. I felt a sharp poke in my backside and I turned to find a red-faced lady glaring at me. “How about you thinking about someone other than yourself and get out of other people’s way?” she hissed through clenched teeth.

I apologized and moved aside. She breezed by, stopping a few yards distant, in front of the cans of spinach. Her face was now entirely serene as she pulled down a can and examined its label.

We met again in the next aisle and I did something rather out of the ordinary and (now I admit) a bit risky. I stopped beside the woman and smiled. Her eyes went blank and then widened. I spoke in my most respectful and solemn tone:

“It was inconsiderate of me to block the aisle. I’m not going to offer an excuse. But I do want to ask you a very serious question. I’m not going to judge your actions or your reason for doing them. I just want to know why my minor gaffe made you so angry as to warrant your shoving your cart into me? I just want to understand, that’s all.”

I honestly expected her to raise a middle finger in my face and stomp off, glaring at me over her shoulder.

“I just get so tired of people being inconsiderate. I’m in a hurry. I’m on my lunch break and I’ve got two employees out with the flu. The roads are slick and it’s snowing.” She went on with a list of frustrations and pending disappointments. Her eyes bounced around in their sockets and then fixed on the floor between us.

“I’m sorry I bumped you. That’s not really how I am. I honestly don’t know why I did it. I just did. I guess I had ‘had it’ up to here.” Now looking directly at me, she held her hand above her eyes as though she were shading them from the sun.

“I’m sorry.”

I thanked her for her time. She looked at me quizzically and started to push her cart toward a stack of boxed saltines. She stopped and asked, “Are you some sort of counselor? A minister?”

I laughed and assured her I was in none of those professions. I told her I was merely curious and that she had looked unlikely to scream and squirt me with pepper spray in a second encounter. She laughed and said, “I do have pepper spray. It’s probably ten years old though and it’s somewhere in the bottom of this.” She held up an enormous purse.

A little while later, we stood in different checkout lines. We smiled at each other in greeting when raised voices reached our ears from the nearby express lane.

Someone had gotten in line with fifteen or twenty items in their tiny basket. The sign above the lane warned, “Twelve items or less, only.”

Outside, a pedestrian shouted an insult at a motorist who had nearly run over him. The car slid to a stop. The car’s window glided open and a female voice from inside shouted. “Use the crosswalk. Asshole.”

We are desperately in need of an ‘off’ switch.

We do have an ‘off’ switch for our brain. Most of us don’t know where it’s at or how to use it, even though it’s in plain sight and simple to operate.

Our brain makes it hard to find. Once we find it, our brain gives us something more interesting to look at. The brain is one, selfish bastard. It wants us to entertain it. We replay past events in an attempt to improve something already in the past. How foolish is that? We preview events that have not yet occurred so they will come out favorably; setting ourselves up for disappointment when our plans go off track. We replay and preview events and thoughts to keep our brain happy; simultaneously forgetting all about the ‘off’ switch we found.

That’s where meditation comes to play. It’s where the ‘enlightenment’ is found.

Meditation (nor enlightenment) is not a hippie-dippy blissed-out state of mind. It’s not, not thinking. It’s, simply put, merely not evaluating our thoughts. It is mindfully doing ONE thing. Despite its simplicity, getting there is a challenge. I work at getting there, twice a day, every day.

But ‘getting there’ or striving to ‘get there’ is exactly counter to the entire purpose of meditation. The minute we sit to get somewhere, sitting becomes pointless. I’m learning to sit…to sit.

It really doesn’t have to be ‘far out’ in concept or ‘deep’. Doing one thing is what we all want to do. When you sit, you have one job. You have one purpose. For ten or fifteen minutes, just do one thing.


You say: “That’s easy. We do it all the time without thinking about it.

Not so fast, Weed Hopper.

In (zazen) meditation, we do the one thing we almost never think about…while we attempt to only think about doing it. (We think about it to do it, not to evaluate it.)


All the while, our brain is stomping around and throwing a tantrum in an attempt to distract us from doing one thing. That persistent little twerp starts tipping over the furniture if we fail to label and evaluate the ticking clock above our head, the chirp of the bird outside the window, our stomach growling.

“Don’t think about the one breath. Pay attention to meeeeeeeeee!”

Our tyrannical brain gives us tasks to perform. Everything must be evaluated and judged. Then, it gets pigeon-holed into a category. The categories are judged. The process goes around and around to entertain our brains.

In the book, The Wisdom of Zen, Frederick Franck is quoted to observe:

“Quickly we stick labels on all that is, labels that stick once and for all. By these labels we recognize everything, but see nothing. We know the labels on the bottles, but we never taste the wine. Millions of people, unseeing, joyless, bluster through their lives in their halfsleep, hitting, kicking, and killing what they have barely perceived.”

Impatience? Anger? Fear?

Flip the switch…breathe.

Screw the label!

Taste the wine.


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