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Late Walks and Real Life

June 22nd, 2011

Our hunter-gatherer ancestors may have had no need for something like music, and when I think about that kind of stuff, our culture seems pretty removed and silly.  But my thinking is starting to change. It’s built into us to connect with the world through our senses, and while there was no music in prehistoric times, there certainly was sound — and sight, taste, touch and smell.  There is nothing inherent in us that needs art, or music or anything like that.  We only need to connect with things bigger than ourselves through our bodies for the purpose of staying psychologically whole.

Music is just one example. I go for a walk with my MP3 player, listening to The Flaming Lips’ “Transmissions from the Satellite Heart,” and the sounds vibrate all these parts of my brain that are normally dormant, because I’ve built a connection to this record. I’ve also built a connection to the nighttime, the quiet city-neighborhood environment, the smell of new rain, the color of streetlights, and the feeling of freedom that forms when you combine a pair of earbuds and a pair of functioning human legs. All of these connections are a result of my life and how I’ve lived it. They are all positive things that contribute to my mental health. They are things that make me happy and do a little bit to keep me going. They are also the result of me psychologically anchoring my solitary experience in the world through indirect, abstract expressions of humanity.

I’ve gotten into the habit of judging an experience like this as not good enough, too detached and generally bad for me. The logical process spins out of that place in my brain that feels a persistent sense of alienation, despite the ways I anchor myself: My life feels lonely and isolated and unhappy, and I connect that with being detached from social life, and then go on to judge anything that is not social as contributing to loneliness, isolation and unhappiness. I’ve felt like I was enabling the loner in me while my people person whithers away.

Long walks at night with headphones can only do so much. It’s easily the kind of thing I cling to over and over again, only to wonder why it no longer carries the same spiritual weight it once did. But now I also know that when my world is crashing down around me, something so simple and solid in me as the pull of a song can keep me feeling like me. It’s important in dark times to pay attention to those things that keep you alive. They got you where you are right now, even though at the same time, they got you where you are right now. That is, no matter how bad things are, there is always something keeping it from getting worse.

I guess the cliché phrase is “throwing the baby out with the bathwater,” although that phrase rubs me the wrong way. Being at peace with all the ways that my isolated self comes to seek wholeness will give the atrophied parts of my soul the room and freedom to exercise and grow. There is nothing wrong with being the kind of person who looks inward to find meaning and there’s nothing wrong with the means of seeking introspection and positive inwardness. I’m learning not to judge my experiences or emotions. In each moment there are plenty of signals that point us in the direction we need to go, although it’s easy to get distracted.

My brain has been trying to tell me things for years and years, but I thought I was smarter than it. I’m finally starting to listen, and now we’re getting along pretty well.