Yesterday afternoon I had a severe bout of cabin fever and decided to go out for a ‘sound walk’. For anyone unfamiliar with this term, it is a mindfulness exercise in which one pays close attention to the sounds heard around them as one moves through different soundscapes. The purpose of this is to acknowledge all the sounds around us with equal attention, without filtering out noises that we’ve been trained or have trained ourselves to ignore.
Having left the house with this intention, I realised that, my feet were leading me in a direction which on a normal day would’ve seemed most peculiar to me – I was no longer following the rout I knew to be picturesque because all my attention was focused on the things I was hearing, rather than the things I was seeing. For the first time in many years, I consciously decided to step off the beaten track - stray in to the ‘uglier’ streets of Hendon – quite simply to experience the transforming soundscape. From this perspective, I suddenly felt like a stranger in my own home town, and I wandered the streets with a completely new approach. I no longer turned corners to view or avoid the things I knew already existed – I turned them in order to discover things I’d never gone out of my way to notice.
With the energy of an explorer, I consciously decided to defy every intuitive decision I was about to make, by walking in precisely the opposite direction. It felt like trying to get myself lost in an area that had become far too familiar to me. There were paths I’ve long avoided because they didn’t seem to lead anywhere, or at any rate didn’t go anywhere of interest. But now that my priority wasn’t about getting from a to b, the walk through my neighbourhood seemed to offer a whole new world of opportunities, and I began to question every decision that has determined the way I behave till present;
Why doesn’t anyone ever zigzag across the grass in the park, rather than always walking in a straight line? Why don’t I try scrambling through the undergrowth rather than always taking the path that is cut back and exposed? Why haven’t I ever tried squeezing between objects on the road, rather than always walking around them? Why doesn’t anyone ever purposefully step in to potholes, instead of either stepping over them or accidentally tripping over them? Why not walk along a path that leads to a dead end, simply to see what it’s like?
As an adult, one becomes so aware of the passage of time and the efficiency of everything we do, that we forget to let go of reason from time to time, and simply experience life, freeing ourselves from paths that have been lain out for us.
No doubt these ways have been created for us to minimise the amount of time and effort we invest to get from one place to another. However, perhaps – every now and then – we may wish to consider whether this is always absolutely necessary? If I am going on a leisurely walk for purely recreational purposes, why should it matter if I do not get about in the most energy-efficient way possible? Why should it matter if do not always see the best things there are to see, and miss out on some of the more picturesque views quite simply for the sake of doing something new, and breaking away from some of the thought processes that have become so imbedded in our daily lives?
During my walk, I became more and more conscious of an inner voice rebuking me for choosing a new path over one I knew to be more ‘beautiful’, and I felt a twinge of anxiety not unlike that of the fear of missing out. And yet, it was incredibly liberating to realise on each of these occasions, how simple it was to overcome this fear and simply accept the fact that, whilst I may not be encountering the best scenes the back streets of Hendon may have to offer, I am engaging with my surroundings in a more stimulating manner by forming new connections, and challenging my own preconceptions of what I consider interesting or beautiful.
I soon came to realise how heavily the paths of a suburban environment determine where we choose to go and even the way we subconsciously behave. In addition to this is the present-day obsession with functionality and productivity. Especially as a musician, it is very easy to get stuck in a highly consistent routine, developed to maximise progress in our technique as performers. Whilst these routines are crucial in allowing us to identify weaknesses and improve on them, it can make us reluctant to step out of our comfort zone, and explore new sources of inspiration or new behavioural patterns.
This awareness has opened many doors for me. I’ve learnt to place more value in the quirks of irrational thinking, and the exploration of that which does not necessarily have a means to an end. By sharing this story, I hope to consolidate those who, in a similar position to myself, suffer from anxiety and feel oppressively reliant on routine and continuity as the source of security. I would like to suggest that anyone who feels this way could benefit from a similar experience to that which I’ve described; why not try something pointless and new just to prove to yourself that you can counter your own habitual thought processes, be bold and embark on a new adventure?