Finding Balance and Well-being: Unplugging at Dusk

Finding Balance and Well-being: Unplugging at Dusk

I don’t generally buy magazines, yet every now and then something interesting catches my eye.

Standing in queue at Whole Foods Market, the latest Paleo magazine, a publication dedicated to the recently popular Paleo diet and lifestyle, drew my attention with the words on its cover: “10 Ways To Limit Your EMF Exposure.”

How timely and curious. I’ve been struggling with my electromagnetic sensitivities lately—deciding to get rid of the WiFi in the house (we’ve purchased a long, shielded Ethernet cable instead), along with several other steps like shielding the so-called “smart meter” outside. Surprised to see such an article on the cover of what I thought was a diet & lifestyle magazine, I placed the periodical in my basket.

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I’m familiar with the basic Paleo tenet: culture has completely transformed since our primitive beginnings, yet our basic human physiology has not. What we eat now is far from the diet on which we first evolved—most notably the addition of cultivated grains, legumes, and refined sugars. Much of what we currently consume makes for less than optimal digestion and nutrition (let’s not even talk about the rising glut of highly “processed” foods). For optimal health, the idea is that we should return to what some anthropologists speculate we once ate, the so-called “Caveman Diet”: meats, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds, eschewing grains and most carbohydrates/starches. That said, debate rages about what our prehistoric diet actually consisted of, and even within the Paleo community what foods should be allowed.

In an intuitive, non-dogmatic way, I’ve been following a vaguely Paleo approach since giving up wheat a couple years ago. (No small step for one who trained in patisserie and artisan breads in France.) From my own experience, especially given some longstanding blood sugar issues, I’ve learned firsthand that I feel best when following a diet emphasizing vegetables and a bit of animal protein, rather than carbohydrates (which tend to break down quickly into sugar and make me wobbly). My weight stays in balance, too.

Despite a deeply held fondness for the comfort of risotto and polenta (evidenced in previous SAJ posts), my general way of eating embraces a low-glycemic, alkalizing approach—emphasizing quinoa, millet and buckwheat, which are alkalizing rather than acid-forming, and technically seeds not grains. I have browsed a couple of Paleo cookbooks while in bookshops, and more than once toyed with the idea of formally “going Paleo.” Other than my semi-weekly dish of risotto, it wouldn’t be much of a shift, really… or would it?

I’ve given up sugar and wheat. Not sure I can forsake risotto.

Seated at home later that evening, I found the article on limiting exposure to EMF’s (electromagnetic fields) to be interesting and worthwhile; of the ten suggestions, I was already doing half of them. Flipping through the rest of the magazine, what struck me was the glowing health of everyone in the pictures (lean and fit bodies, bright eyes, clear skin). I learned that beyond the food and diet aspect, Paleo emphasizes natural exercise and movement (and play!), as well as lifestyle: the importance of good sleep for rest and regeneration, sunshine, de-stressing (yoga, meditation), and—the element I found most interesting—no illuminated screens after dusk.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on my struggle to find a balance with the hours I have to put into social media as I build my author’s platform. I decided that I no longer wanted my online time to be the hours just before bed, having discovered that I slept better when I’ve not been at the computer before retiring for the night.

Quite unexpectedly, here was Paleo magazine supporting that very decision, and for the same reasons.

Multiple studies have shown that artificial light affects our pineal gland and levels of serotonin, which that structure in the brain converts to melatonin, a compound that encourages drowsiness and sleep. The levels of this hormone should naturally rise as the light dims, but in our ever-illuminated society, we’re blocking this natural, sleep-inducing response, making sleep more difficult (to say nothing of our ever busy and distracted minds, which don’t usually help the process). The increasing brightness of our screens (including television and electronic tablets) further disrupts the health-inducing feedback loops of the body, with the result that we are not only sleeping less, but less well.

Having sworn off social media at night during the previous month and appreciating the difference—sleeping more quickly, more deeply, and better dreams—reading the Paleo magazine has prompted me to go one step further: no screens after dusk.

If you read this post regularly, it’s likely you know that I don’t watch television. For years, the absence of TV has made for generally quiet, pleasant evenings in our household. Being off the computer, however, has significantly shifted the quality of those after-dinner hours for the better. Despite a large amount of work needing to be accomplished—juggling three weekly online columns, editing my newly written manuscript, and logging social media time to expand my “platform”—ending those tasks at dusk has given the past week a remarkably different feel. I’ve returned to reading books, working at my Navajo loom, sitting outdoors, or just listening to some music in the evenings. I’ve even done a bit of creative writing and editing work on printed pages while my partner types away at email.

Alas, with an absurdly overflowing work Inbox, my dear mate is still chained to the computer most evenings, sometimes until the very late hours, trying to catch up and clear out communications in order not to fall hopelessly behind. [Warning: do NOT become the Director of an international film festival, or you risk never seeing the bottom of your Inbox again.] For many people, email has become something of a curse, I think—or at the very least, a double-edged sword. Supposed to make our life easier, whether or not such is actually the case, it has effectively colonized vast chunks of our time. Moreover, there seems to be an increasing assumption (read, expectation) that we will reply to those messages as swiftly as possible, day or night, work hours be damned. For better or worse, my reach and following remains small, and so too my total amount of correspondence, thus I am can reasonably shut down the MacBook by suppertime. Whatever messages I’ve not yet responded to can simply wait until tomorrow (and social media can most definitely wait).

There is something gracefully old-fashioned in this “no screens after dusk” approach, and as a quiet, old-time soul, I appreciate it deeply. Reading books, writing, or weaving are all traditional pastimes that nourish me—not merely entertain or distract, like being online. And I’m rediscovering that not staring at a screen at night, over-stimulating my pineal gland and optic nerve, delivers tangible benefits.

As a Soul Artist, I’m always seeking to cultivate that which nourishes, as well as expands me through the senses in some way. In that earlier post on social media and finding balance, I wrote, “I launch my days in a very deliberate manner with a quiet morning routine—greeting the dawn barefoot, a cup of tea, a candle and resinous incense, several pages of longhand writing. Why on earth wouldn’t I want an evening routine that feels equally nourishing?”

Challenging as it may seem, less time spent on electronic devices is always beneficial for body and soul. Unplugging at dusk feels innately right and good to me, a step closer to living with soulful poise, intent and wellbeing. Living deliberately, I like to say—like lighting a candle and stepping outside to listen to the wind as it dances and whispers amid the trees, feeling bare soles upon soft, yielding earth.

Life is a curious journey. I wouldn’t have expected that picking up a magazine in queue at the grocery store would significantly change my life for the better, nor in such short order. Except for the social media bit, I thought my soul-centered life was fairly balanced and well-oriented already. Still, I appreciate slowing down further and finding another way to unplug when nearly everything in our culture encourages us to do the opposite: speed up, work harder, and stay virtually connected (to mostly irrelevant stuff).

I long ago embraced my inner hermit. Perhaps it’s time for me to welcome my inner caveman, as well.

The Paleo tribe advocates that well-being is a composite of diet, exercise, and lifestyle. I definitely agree, but feel compelled to add that missing from that equation is soul—the innate, ineffable part of being human that gives deeper meaning to life. Finding ways to nourish the soul is essential for a true sense of wholeness, balance and well-being.

Unplugging from automation and technology, even briefly, day or night, is a good first step. (It’s actually one of the seven Soul Skills in my book, The Bones and Breath; specifically, it’s Soul Skill #7, “Disconnect to Reconnect”.)

Friend, here’s hoping that even if you don’t swear off illuminated screens after dusk, you’ll find other ways to unplug from the technological stream of life, ceaseless information, and distraction. Choose something instead that deeply nourishes you. Go ahead; be old fashioned. Rather than high speed, live at soul speed. Your life will feel immediately richer for it… and one step closer to balance.