Finding Balance and Well-being: Unplugging at Dusk

Finding Balance and Well-being: Unplugging at Dusk

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

Standing in the checkout queue at Whole Foods Market, a cover feature on Paleo magazine (dedicated to the recently popular Paleo diet and lifestyle) drew my attention, “10 Ways To Limit Your EMF Exposure.”

How curiously timely. I’ve been struggling with my electromagnetic sensitivities lately—deciding to get rid of the WiFi in my house (I’ve purchased a long, shielded ethernet cable instead), along with several other steps like shielding the “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.

Lascaux_paintingI’m familiar with the basic Paleo tenet: our 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—particularly the addition of cultivated grains and legumes (and refined sugars). Much of what we currently consume makes for less than optimal digestion and nutrition (let’s not even talk about processed foods). The idea is that for optimal health, 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. (Debate rages about the topic of what our prehistoric diet actually consisted of, and even within the Paleo community, what should be allowed.)

In my own loose, non-dogmatic way, I’ve been following a vaguely Paleo approach since giving up wheat a couple years ago. From my own experience, especially given my 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 my fondness for the comforting goodness of risotto and polenta (as evidenced in previous SAJ posts), my general way of eating embraces a low glycemic, alkalizing approach—favoring quinoa, millet and buckwheat (technically seeds, not grains), which are alkalizing rather than acid-forming. I have browsed a couple of Paleo cookbooks when in a bookstore, and more than once toyed with the idea of officially “going Paleo”; other than my semi-weekly dish of risotto, it wouldn’t be much of a shift for me.

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

Sitting at home later that evening, I found the article on limiting exposure to EMF’s 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, glowing 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 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 (“Social Media and Soul: Further Evolution of a Twit“). I decided that I no longer wanted my online time to be the hours before bed, having discovered that I sleep better when I’ve not been at the computer before retiring to sleep.

Quite unexpectedly, here was the 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; 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 natural, health inducing mechanisms 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 prompted me to go one step further: no screens after dusk.

If you read this post regularly, it’s likely you already 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’—in ending those tasks at dusk, the past week has been remarkably different in its 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.

With an absurdly overflowing work Inbox, my dear mate is still chained to the computer most evenings, 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. Fortunately, I am able to shut down my Macbook by suppertime. Whatever messages have arrived 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 things that nourish me—not merely entertain or distract, like being online. And I’m rediscovering that not staring at a screen, overstimulating my pineal gland and optic nerve, holds tangible benefits.

As a Soul Artist, I’m routinely looking to cultivate that which nourishes and expands me through my senses in some way. In my 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 was equally nourishing?”

Less time spent on electronic devices is always good 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 feet upon the soft earth.

Life is a curious journey. I wouldn’t have expected that picking up a magazine in the checkout queue would significantly change my life for the better 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 everything in our culture encourages us to speed up, work harder, and stay 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 folks say that well-being is a composite of diet, exercise, and lifestyle. I definitely agree, but must add that missing from that equation is soul—the innate, ineffable part of being human that gives us a deeper meaning in 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 Soul Skills in my book, The Bones and Breath; Soul Skill #7, “Disconnect to Reconnect”.)

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