On a recent plane trip, I had the row to myself. I turned off all three video screens in my row because I dislike having a movie or TV show running if I’m not looking at it. Moving images catch my eye and I find it easier to not have them going than to ignore them.
Looking around at the other passengers, I saw that many of them were reading, talking with a companion, or typing on phones or computers. Few of them were looking at their screens, although most of them had left them turned on. The airline’s constant stream of advertising slipped around them like water around a rock in a stream.
I’m not convinced that none of it gets absorbed. I can sometimes see how memes ripple through our brains, getting passed along as we try to manipulate each other and influence how other people will act. I see how some techniques are more effective than others. I see some of the ways in which individuals, families, groups, and communities are shaped and directed by many of these messages, and how they maintain some of the patterns that diminish us, or that encourage us to act in ways that hurt ourselves and others.
These memes gather into trickles, and streams, and rivers of thought and feeling that we all swim through. I know that there are many currents that I’m unaware of, and that I understand only a fraction of the currents I can see and feel. I acknowledge that I’m also in the water, and that I absorb some of it, as well.
One way I respond to this is that I don’t have a TV show, movie, or news report going unless I’m giving it my attention. It helps me keep from being overstimulated, which goes a long way towards keeping my stress level down. On the flip side, it does mean that I’m sensitive to it.
I dislike going to bars and restaurants that have screens on, especially multiple screens. If I can see the screen anywhere in my field of vision, I have a hard time not looking, which makes it less likely that I can give my attention to whoever I’m with. When there are multiple screens, I end up scanning them over and over. After I while, I start to feel nausea, like a mild case of motion sickness.
I don’t know if I could build up resistance to that response and be able to ignore the media in ways that it looks like many other people do. I have a strong suspicion that instead, I’d end up numbing myself out in order to tolerate something that I find unpleasant. Numbing out in any part of our bodies, hearts, and minds can often lead to numbing out during sex.
One reason I cultivate mindfulness is that it has made sex a whole lot better for me. I’m able to notice and feel things that used to be too subtle for me. Giving my attention to the subtle things makes it easier to create a strong container for a sexual experience and for a relationship. And that allows us to dive deeper, to create more heat, and to build more passion. The more resilient the furnace, the bigger the fire it can hold. It’s often the small things that make that work, and being able to see and respond to them makes a big difference. That’s only one way in which mindfulness can bear fruit. But as someone who’s dedicated to efficient hedonism and to creating as much room for safety, connection, and pleasure as possible, it sure is good motivation.
So coming back to the way in which so many people simply tune out the incessant moving images in their worlds, I have to wonder how many of them are tolerating something unpleasant without noticing how it affects them? How many people are simply so used to it that they aren’t even aware of it anymore? And how much might their lives improve if they turned off the screens and learned how to give their attention to the here and now?
I don’t think that there’s any real way to answer that question, and ultimately, it doesn’t matter. What does matter is what you do about it. Here’s a suggestion: when you aren’t using them, turn off the TV and sleep the computer (or turn the monitor off, or use a blank screen as a screen saver). You can also cover the TV with some fabric, if you find it catching your attention, even when it’s turned off. Try it for a week and notice what happens. Try it for a month and see if it affects your relationships. Try it for a year and discover how much better it makes your sex life. It’s not like there’s anything to lose, and there’s a lot to gain.