It was an automatic thing I checked after I tied my shoelaces and before I left my apartment: phone, keys, ipod. Before I was out the door, music would often be blasting and I would sing along in my head as I set off on my (almost) daily walk. Sometimes it’s more like my weekly walk.
Listening to music while I exercised was something I had done for years, ever since I was a kid allowed to go wandering off by myself for the first time, and back when the ipod was a still a small, battery operated mp3 player that stored a bunch of songs I am now a little embarrassed by. Before then, when I had walked the dog with mum, there had been no music. It had just been panting breath and small talk- which had been fine, but who doesn’t like listening to music?
Having a song I loved playing while I trudged along in the name of fitness could be a helpful distraction from my sore feet, dry mouth and the layer of sweat covering my body. It was also a way to block everyone else out: no nearby traffic honking, no loud children, and no catcalls from random assholes as they drove by. I could just obliviously bop along to one of my playlists, carefully designed for whatever mood I might have been in.
Now, years later, as I walked by myself I had to schedule walks in at different hours to fit in with my shift rotation at work. Sometimes I would walk in the evening, in the cooler months it could be at midday, and for some weeks, especially in the warmer months, it would be early in the morning. During the off peak hours there was no noise while I walked. There was nothing to block out and my fitness was good enough that I did not need to be distracted by something in order to push on. One day my ipod’s battery died, and suddenly I had no choice but to go without music.
In the silence I realised that all those times the music had been playing and I sang along, I had not been thinking. With the distraction of music I had not been alone with my thoughts for so long, and the idea of doing so for an hour should not have seemed like an inconvenience. But it did.
What surprised me was how much I enjoyed the sounds of everyday life. There were the birds (and the bees!), the sound of the wind, the occasional car passing, but most importantly, there was the sound of silence. (#Hello darkness, my old friend…#).
With so many devices designed to stimulate (haha) and keep boredom at bay, it has become harder for me to focus. This was a good way for me to ease into a tech detox and reset my mind.
For me, going for a walk is not just about fulfilling a health obligation and trying to fit as much as I can in a day. Now it’s about slowing things down in a time when things seem to pass by so quickly.
With one little change I am able to be more present in my thoughts and with my surroundings, forming connections rather than blocking them out. I highly recommend giving it a try.