I am an iPod junkie. It all started back with the Sony Walkman, that gateway drug for so many of us. Sometime in high school, I upgraded to a Sport Walkman, seeing as how I was an athlete and all. It was big, heavy, and yellow, and not really ideal for use in exercise situations, since the weight pulled my shorts down every time I attached the clip to my waistband. That, plus the inconvenience of having to stop and turn the cassette over mid-run, made the gadget less than ideal. Personal listening devices have sure come a long way since that time.
When I finally graduated to a lightweight, fancy iPod, I was like a kid in a candy store. I started with music, but then found my way to podcasts and eventually, audio books. By the time I worked my way through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, I was hooked. The miles flew by, and I extended many a run because I just couldn’t stop mid-chapter. I became obsessed – a true addict – listening to my stories not only on runs, but any time I had a free minute, walking to and from work, in the car, and even while cooking dinner.
Lately, however, I’ve done an about-face. I’m beginning to wonder whether all of this plugged-in time is actually good for me. It all started when I heard a podcast (what else?) about how the internet might be making us dumber. They talked about how our learning is now taking place in a horizontal, shallow manner, as we read a little about a lot of different subjects – as opposed to learning in a deeper fashion about fewer topics. I began to wonder whether I am short-changing myself in terms of what I can get out of my time on the trail. Sure, while listening to podcasts and books I am expanding my knowledge in lots of different areas, but am I experiencing the rich, transformative thoughts and emotions that it is possible to find alone in the woods?
This week I have committed myself to running sans earphones – and it has been startling to realize just how much I’ve been tuning out. I find myself to be much more present on my runs, listening to the early morning crows of roosters and songs of birds, the ripple of the river alongside the trail, the sound of my footsteps on the dirt. I allow my mind to wander, sometimes sorting out the problems of the day, sometimes vacating into nothingness, a sort of meditation in which the only focus is on my breath going in and out, filling my lungs with energy and exhaling stress and negativity. Each run becomes a journey and a surprise as I contemplate where my mind might take me today.