As the sun goes down, our circadian rhythms slow, and our nervous systems prepare for rest. But only if the screen goes down as well.
The artificial glow from our laptops, phones, and pads barrage the eyes with photons, signaling to the brain that the light is still going and it’s time to keep active. Meanwhile, as we stare at the screen and work it this way and that way with our fingers, our breath enters into a state of screen apnea, in which our exhales quicken with anticipation, and our inhales become shallow. It’s a state of agitation induced by the frenetic energy of nanopulsing pixels and the tantalizing perpetual motion of swipes and hyperlinks.
This apneatic breathing readies us for stimulation and movement. Not only are we postponing our preparation for sleep, but we are injuring our presence to those around us. We require full, sustained inhales and exhales to ease the nervous system into a restful state and to subdue the fight or flight mechanism, allowing us to be responsive and present in the moment, rather than reactive and scattered.
The energetics of the screen enable us for few activities other than engaging solely with it. We may be able to connect to millions of people and navigate a field of information of unfeasible magnitude, but, as we do so, we can do little else besides.
Our extension into cyberspace creates an energetic feedback loop that confines us to a sphere not exceeding the length of our arms. It’s difficult to reach out to another beyond the boundaries of this energetic exchange with sincerity and presence or to open the space for someone else to enter into it.
This barrier became increasingly obvious between my partner and me. Both of us have work that requires the help of a screen and a Wi-Fi connection, and we both have that curiosity of mind happy to explore the ether of a Google search for hours. So, after an evening spent toggling back and forth between work and distraction, we would put down our respective screens and head to bed. But being present to each other once we got there was a whole other matter.
The hangover from our screens kept us surfing the corridors of our minds, still buzzing and energized, but now isolated and in the dark. We had spent the evening nurturing the inanimate companionship of our screens, and, now, opening ourselves to another person seemed a difficult distance to cross.
We would embrace, but our minds would be running their separate courses. Our hearts would still be closed, contracted from our apneatic breathing, still holding their brace against the electromagnetic field of our laptops.
This difficulty in our energetic exchange obviously led to a difficulty in our sexual exchange. With our minds shimmering in the afterglow of our screens, our touch seemed disembodied. We were two separate entities lying next to each other, barely even present to ourselves, let alone each other. And, by the time we would be able to recalibrate to each other’s presence, we would be too exhausted and sleepy to initiate real connection.
The problem was obvious. And the solution was just as obvious. We instated an 8:30 PM screen curfew. No screens past then. Laptops get closed; phones get ignored. It’s amazing how easy it is, and how relieving. In our culture of instant communication, the concerns of our extended relations, whether they be friends, families, or work-related, can seem ever-present and demanding. But, my partner and I have learned that, not only can all that business wait until 8:30 the next morning, but when you make communication impossible, the pressure and concerns surrounding that communication simply melt away. It’s like going on a camping trip every night.
At 8:30PM the rest of the world dissolves, and my partner and I are left just the two of us. This time before bed allows us to be in direct communication with our words, with our eyes, with our hands, with our hearts — so that when we get into the sheets, it isn’t the first time that evening we have truly gazed into each other’s eyes or have felt each other’s caress. The energy has already been flowing, and we’re ready to give ourselves to each other.
Which is not to say, we have incredible sex each night. Or, even that we go to bed absolutely delighted with each other every single night. We’re still a normal couple, and we still have our occasional trying evenings just like any other couple. But when we’re not feeling sexual, or not even feeling pleased with the other person, we at least have to be present to that feeling. We can’t psychically run away to a thousand other virtual distractions. We can’t avoid each other or the things coming up between us, allowing frustrations to mount and mount. We have to be present with how the two of us are feeling in the moment and make our bed in the container of those feelings.
It’s called intimacy. And, if we don’t make a conscious decision to cultivate it, we risk losing it somewhere behind the glow of our MacBooks.