Going for a walk to clear your head is not an uncommon suggestion. With the wind in your hair, the rain on your face and the (very) occasional glimmer of sunshine on your skin, you are at one with the elements and at one with yourself; free to breathe in the fresh air and take in the sights and sounds of the outside world.
Chances are you noticed none of that shit. Bar the rain, of course. There’s no way you weren’t somehow shocked and disappointed that it decided to rain on you, despite the fact that it rains almost EVERY SINGLE DAY in this place.
I realise that I’m going to sound incredibly lazy when I say that I am not a fan of walking. I never have been. I view it as a necessary evil to get from A to B, not some kind of leisure activity in itself. But now that I have a child, I feel obliged to step outside every once in while – to ensure Caleb meets his minimum intake of vitamin D more than anything else. Sure, if the weather’s nice I’m much happier to take a stroll but that isn’t exactly a regular occurrence in drizzly old N.I. One day last week however, when quite possibly experiencing our entire summer, Caleb and I ventured out with little resignation.
Like most ‘walkers’ I insert the headphones, stick on shuffle, and head off totally unaware of what’s going on outside of the song playing. Listening to the music on my iTunes can only be described as a singular experience. During last week’s walk for instance I was greeted by a medley that ranged from The Last of the Mohicans theme song to Haddaway’s ‘What is Love?’ to Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ (my musical taste is admittedly slightly dated). This blend of genres and eras had the effect of creating a rather messy mixture of memories and emotions as opposed to providing some kind of cathartic walking experience akin to the likes of a Robert Frost Poem.
One song might remind you of a loved one who’s no longer with you. Another might bring back memories of an old flame you’d much rather forget. Or one might just painfully force you to remember the time poor Hawkeye lost his brother (The Last of the Mohicans reference). It all depends on the hand that ‘Shuffle’ has dealt you. In any case, if you’re anything like me, you end up feeling less like you’re on a head-clearing walk and more like you’re on some emotionally exhausting trip down memory lane.
This is not necessarily negative. The splendour of music lies in its ability to transport us to forgotten moments of the past; evoking our senses in a much more powerful way than any other medium. In my experience, it’s just simply not conducive to clearing your head. It’s what we do when we explicitly want to ‘feel’ something. Whether you want to wallow in your own self pity alongside Sinead O’Connor or psych yourself up to lyrics of ‘We Will Rock You’, music has the power to flick that emotional switch for you.
Isn’t the whole point of clearing your head though the exact opposite of this; being able to abandon the past, shut out the future and focus on the sheer wonder of the ‘now’. It wasn’t until I took out my headphones and replaced them with the ‘here’ and ‘now’ that I realised how much more relaxing a walk could be. Rather than feeling emotionally fucked by Jeff Buckley, I was free to observe the pleasant chirping of the birds, the occasional outburst of gibberish from my son and the warmth of the sunshine against my pasty skin. I was granted rare permission in the chaos of today’s world to fully focus on what is – not what was or might be.
This is not to say I will be shunning music from now on in favour of chanting ‘Om’ to some unknown deity but rather that when I feel the need to escape, I will do just that. I will put Prince (God rest his soul) on pause until the next emotionally drunken night with the girls and save the sweetness of Simon and Garfunkel for another time. But for those walks – the kind of walks you take when you really need one – I will resist the urge to get lost in the music and instead embrace the breeze, trace my footsteps, and watch the world. After all, sometimes all you need are a few drops of rain and a gust of wind to really clear your head.