On being stuck in my head

Walking is a great way to connect with your body and your environment, to ground yourself in the world and realize you’re a full human being with a totally vulnerable vessel carrying you around amidst a sea of trouble that, when put together, somehow harmonizes most of the time and mitigates the separation you intellectualize and project onto it and yourself, as if there really is an “it” and a “your self” which are fundamentally apart.

In other words, walking is unifying.

Well, it can be, and (I’ll go ahead and make it normative) it ought to be.

In my practice, walking is leaving myself and the world behind. You could call this unifying. I am, after all, letting go of the illusion of separation in favor of floating in a weird void of a limbo between myself and the world, except rather than understand that (mentally constructed) space between us as part of the vast field of Being, I abandon the space too, and so with it any potential understanding about existence, about what it means to be alive. How do I achieve this existential nothingness (not in the enlightening Buddhist sense but the postmodern “fuck it” sense)? Listening to podcasts.

Instead of being in my body, I ask ethereal voices to transport me into their worlds, except that we never end up touching. I never end up being grounded in their world because there is no “their world” to be had in listening to them talk. Mostly I just get lost in noise, and again, it’s not the positive form of self-sacrifice that can connect you more deeply to everything; it’s the kind that makes everything beside the point. I pretend I’m listening to podcasts to gather energy (and material) for the next “real” connection I might make; after all, they give me something to talk about, as if having something to talk about is a prerequisite for said “real” connection. If we aren’t “about” anything together, then what are we doing here?

I’ve described my mind as a sieve recently, and this is perhaps most manifest in my podcast listening habits; it might be the nature of the medium. It’s designed to flow through you, leaving you just as quickly and inconsequentially as it entered you*. There’s nothing about it that begs remembrance, just continued consumption. Keep em coming, but be careful not to let any of it stick; you need room for the next feeding.** Podcasts are the ultimate binge. They become background noise for most people, a comforting soundtrack for life***. And yet, what’s left in the foreground? Before you know it, the podcast is the central point of the moment, and it’s not necessarily one you’re connecting with. It’s as if you hypnotize yourself into Get Out‘s sunken place. To be fair, this is possible with any repetitive activity. With listening to podcasts though, where’s the activity? Who is the one being active? Who is listening?

Let me repeat that last one: who is listening? Who is the you that’s being enlightened by these experiences? Are they experiences if you’re not really present for them? And if you’re not present, where/who/what are you?

If a podcast is on and there’s no one there to hear it, does the tree still fall?

 


*That’s what she said.

**The fact that we use “feeds” to describe our digital information flow should give us more pause, except it’s designed so that (a) we can’t hit pause, and (b) we can’t even think to hit pause.

***It’s easy to forget about Death’s presence when there’s always noise in the air. Do we think Death only comes to get us in silence?

 

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