Two birthdays ago my father gave me a glorious pair of bluetooth running headphones, and they have served me faithfully;
up and down mountains, on bike rides into the city, on trams and trains and leaning my head against plane window panes. I love writing to jazz. I love running to podcasts. I love a long bus ride with a good audiobook.
I lost my headphones on a bike ride ten days ago.
My first reaction: It’s alright, it happens. So when can I go get another pair of headphones? What technology store is closest?
My second reaction: what am I doing?!
I saw, then, how tied I had become to them. How I had let their services equal a good run or a pleasant morning bike ride or an inspirational bout of writing. My headphones make me feel as if I were in my own world. When I’m traveling—and sometimes floundering in cultural differences—being in my own world is enticing.
I let myself observe the panic within, watched it rise and swell, watched myself wake up the next morning and dread the silent morning jaunt.
It had been a while since I had run without a podcast or audiobook, without the semblance of human conversation. I was nervous. Not sure why; perhaps nervous I wouldn’t be able to do it, to run without “being distracted”.
I have one particular 10k route I like to go through here in Auckland; it’s on paved road, a bit of a bummer, but it runs up and down decently sized hills, along farms and beautiful New Zealand Shire-country.
On this morning, I settled into a rhythm.
As I did this—arms swinging, heart rate steadying—a song bloomed into my head. A collage of You Are My Sunshine and Mumford & Son’s Wilder Mind. It was awesome, actually, a great rendition at 1.7x the speed both songs should be. I got a bit stuck on the Wilder Mind lyrics, and started too many verses with “and in time”. It was absolutely amusing.
I also took the opportunity to let my gaze linger on the farm land I was running beside, the hills I was trucking between. Dancing like this to my own song did not just render me more aware—it made me feel empowered.
The songs played for a few miles, and then my mind shifted into stream-of-conscious thoughts. It was meditation; observing the thoughts, letting them flow without judgement or without hindrance. And for the last mile, I wasn’t thinking anything. I was just running and breathing.
It was more than a great run, it was a reminder. A reminder that I ran a good 25 hours of the 100-miler with only the conversation between my self and my soul. That sometimes simplicity feels like freedom.
I’ve got an hour bike ride in to the bakery, and the ride usually features a good adventure podcast. Or Treasure Island, for a bit.
The past four shifts have been headphone-free.
And it’s like having a play date with myself. I am the one responsible for the “entertainment”, it comes from within me, not from an outside source. For an hour’s ride in, I had a conversation with myself in German; I spoke German with different accents—Russian-accented German, British-accented German, Italian-German—and made up words that sounded German.
On the ride back, in the sun and warmth, I sang mashed-up songs as loudly as possible and biked with one hand brushing all the grass and tree leaves that dangled over the cycle path.
A few times I spent the ride dreaming. Day-dreaming of adventures I want to have, what type of van I would want to live out of, what kind of dog I would want to have.
One particular shift was chaotic, and as I biked away I let myself feel all the emotions I needed to. I felt anxious and restless and turmoiled—and I stayed with them, stayed with them until I was done with those feelings. The mix of the physical bike riding with letting myself think and feel without distraction was expression. That’s what the situation called for, I think; expression.
I hear a common rant that headphones disconnect you from your surroundings, that you can’t be aware of cars or pedestrians when you’re plugged in. But I don’t think that’s always the case; I found that I’m more aware of cars when I’m wearing headphones because I subconsciously know I’ve got a bit of a handicap. When I’m not wearing headphones, my brain thinks: oh, there’s nothing deterring us from listening to cars so we don’t need to do any work. And I zone out more often.
Headphones don’t always disconnect a person from themselves, either, because sometimes having background music while looking at the sun strike a lake in the foothills of Bethels Beach makes the hair rise on my arms and my body sing like nothing else.
So this post, this “challenge” isn’t a plea for world-wide headphone burning. Nor is it a rant against the younger generation and what’s-the-world-coming-to-these days. Those rants don’t add anything except aggression and frustration into an already chaotic world.
It is to articulate that in this given moment, in this scenario in which I find myself, the absence of headphones has given me many opportunities to connect with myself on a deep level. With my soul. Self and soul.
I’m not locking myself in by declaring anything evil.
I am celebrating connection, expressing gratitude for it.
Peace and blessings,