Last week I went to the gym.
If you know me well, that last sentence should be enough of a story for you; however, for everyone else I will continue.
I found myself at the Sports Complex trying to pick a machine to start a cardio routine on. When I finally (and somewhat begrudgingly) hopped on the treadmill, I reached in my pocket for my earbuds.
Now in my head, the ensuing anguish of discovering no such earbuds played out with the gravity and anguish of a Scorsese film. In reality, I’m sure anyone who bothered to look only saw a slack-jawed expression of disbelief on my face.
How was I going to get through an hour of cardio with no music? I don’t even undertake the seven-minute walk to The Hill without my iPod (I firmly believe Cat Stevens can accurately represent my voracious appetite for Mac’n’Cheese bites).
It was only after I had spent an hour truly alone with my thoughts that I began to see the shape of a problem I hadn’t noticed before. I’m a fervent believer in the power of music and all the good it can do for the mind, body, and soul, but I don’t think any musician or serious artist would want a life constantly barraged by sound—I’d argue that no serious, self-reflective, individual would.
Many of us wake up in the morning and want to listen to some music while we get ready, then we put in our headphones on the way to class, we listen to discussion or a lecture for an hour, then head out to lunch where we talk to our friends for another fifty minutes before more class, then dinner, then homework set to the background noise of a “productivity playlist.”
That’s just active listening! What about news broadcasts, podcasts, commercials, television, YouTube videos, live streams, and social media soundbites?
With all of these noise pollutants, it’s no wonder that many people lose the discriminatory faculties of the ear and can’t listen to a song, or a person, properly.
Giving oneself time to think—and only think—is a beautiful thing.
We like our meat free range, so why not our minds? A mind free to wander is a powerful tool to crystalize opinion, deepen understanding and unleash creativity.
All of that might sound like the synopsis on the back of a self-help book, so I’ll try this instead: letting your mind wander can be a bit troublesome at first, especially with deadlines looming or busy schedules, but is ultimately a deeply relaxing exercise. Without the boundaries of a specific conversation or context, the line between thinking and meditating blurs beyond discrimination.
So the next time you reach for your headphones, consider giving yourself the benefit of undisturbed free thought: it’s worth your while. How else do you think I came up with this?