Imagine you’re taking off in a plane. As you reach a higher and higher altitude, the pressure builds up in your ear and it gets harder and harder to hear until finally — pop! You swallow and suddenly, your mind feels clearer and the world a little happier. While I’m not on a plane right now, I’ve felt a remarkably similar feeling thousands of feet below on the ground — during my daily walk at a nearby bike trail.
But before I jump into this flurry of emotion, I’d like to provide some context. Like many people during quarantine, I also began to find comfort in going on walks — with a mask of course — to escape from the dangerous comfort of my room every once in a while. But, I’m not going to lie. It didn’t start off so easy.
On one of my very first walks, I accidentally caused a middle-aged biker to get into a bad crash. While jamming out to Coldplay, I — without thinking — decided to abruptly turn around. Before I knew it, a biker was racing straight towards me and while I fortunately jumped out of the way, he wasn’t as lucky. After suddenly braking to avoid crashing into me, he fell. I remember feeling a range of emotions in those five seconds — shock, anguish and intense guilt.
Ultimately, after about 20 apologies and extreme gratitude that the biker wasn’t critically injured, I headed back. Even though I wasn’t the hurt one, I felt sickly defeated. I couldn’t help but jump to these wild, gruesome scenarios where the biker could’ve been far more injured than he was. How would I be able to cope if I had inadvertently caused so much pain?
Amidst these anxious and terrifying thoughts, I almost forgot that my music was still playing — Rihanna’s “Diamonds” now filled my ears. Up until now, I’d felt that my countless playlists were the sole reason I was able to last these hour-long walks. But in the moment of panic and restlessness, I wanted nothing more than to unplug my blue headphones. So I did exactly that.
For a split second, I felt as if I was on a plane zooming off the ground — the pressure, the release and ultimately that return to normalcy. As I removed my noise cancelling headphones, the transitional whoosh turned into the sounds of swaying trees, buzzing bugs, rushing cars — the trail was adjacent to a highway — and even the gleeful conversations of nearby walkers.
Even describing this makes it sound incredibly cheesy, but in the moment, it really did feel like a burden was lifted. Don’t get me wrong — I love music as much as the next person. However, it wasn’t about that. As someone who doesn’t consider herself dependent on technology, I hated that I couldn’t last an hour without the reassurance of music playing on my phone. Now, as I let the sounds of nature sink in, I felt positively different.
Instead of letting the inescapable connection to technology overwhelm my senses, I was finally making an autonomous choice to be fully immersed in the surrounding environment. But, my mind also wandered back to the biker. Guilt flooded me once again. Maybe if my headphones weren’t in, I would have heard the biker behind me. He wouldn’t have fallen, and he wouldn’t have to return home in the injured way he did.
Along with these negative thoughts, I kept thinking about how my pair of blue headphones — that I never took off during walks — reminded me that everything is a choice. Yes, I’d made an unthoughtful decision by turning around senselessly on a trail where bikers pass all the time. But, I’d also made the choice afterwards to remove the headphones that drown out the “on your left” cries of bikers about to pass me.
I realized that I didn’t need those blue wires to get me through a walk. As boring or anxious as I might get without listening to music, it was actually nice to feel independent, even free for once, from technology. I know giving up music is vastly insignificant in the grand scheme of things, but it made me realize that it’s okay to be left alone with your thoughts every once in a while. It’s okay to be vulnerable to the nature that surrounds us — a long time ago in a tech-free world, it wasn’t even a choice, and now that it is, we should learn to take it.
Niharika Singhvi is a Life Columnist for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.