You know how some seemingly negative things can actually be blessings in disguise? How certain things that we initially want to reject end up being the best things that happen to us? Well, a few days ago at the gym, I forgot my headphones. And naturally, because I listen to music while I work out, that little faux pas had me momentarily derailed.
Not the worst thing that could happen to a person, obviously, especially in a world where music is piped into most public places like gyms and elevators and malls. But since I’m very partial to my own playlists and a little particular about the kind of music that keeps me engaged while I’m doing sumo squats, it represented a bit of a hiccup for me.
Ok, Plan B: Find a treadmill and turn on some mindless show like Chopped that’s mostly visual anyway and really doesn’t require sound, and just get lost in the dicing and julienning. I could do that. I could adjust. I didn’t need actual sound — sound is over-rated. Good excuse to heighten my other senses, right? I just needed some kind of external stimulation that could distract me from obsessing over how much time I had left on each interval, that’s all.
With that in mind, I found the only available treadmill in the entire gym and hopped on (mental note not to go at 5:30 in the afternoon since there was only one). I was determined just to run it out and focus on my fitness. Sadly, the treadmill had a broken screen. It was an omen. A higher power was trying to school me on something and it didn’t want me to be the least bit distracted by technology.
Hmmmm, a sign. A signal from somewhere that I needed to unplug and remember what it feels like to just be. Not any easy thing to do these days, though, considering so much of our life revolves around technology.
But, since I try whenever possible to practice what I preach, I tried to be nimble and just ignore the fact that I had nothing but the thoughts in my own head to occupy and motivate me. I made a conscious effort to smoothly shift gears without bucking or stalling. And I hit “go” on the treadmill with the intention of using it for its intended purpose of moving my body. But without the distraction of music or a book or the paper or CNN with audio, it’s a whole different experience.
Now understand, I rarely if ever run outside with music. Haven’t in years. Haven’t needed the distraction when I’ve already got so much outside stimulation happening all around me and a constantly-changing view because I’m actually moving forward. But try to run 4 or 6 or 8 miles on a treadmill and you need something. Anything to keep your mind occupied.
Otherwise, the time goes by a lot like it did in that scene from “Risky Business” when Joel was sitting in a classroom, anxious for the final school bell to ring, but the clock ticks backwards. On a treadmill, we just need something to distract us from watching the clock or we go insane.
So this was a situation where my plan was being altered by something other than me. I wanted to listen to music or watch TV while I was exercising but I couldn’t. Instead, I needed to do it old school, the way the cave people used to run. Au naturale.
And what it reminded me is that we’re all so dependent on external stimulation in our daily lives that we forget what’s it’s like to have a Zen-like experience — a moment where we’re totally free of outside influences and distractions. A few minutes where we’re not focused on a screen or a soundtrack or words on a page.
The thing is, for most of us nowadays, those moments are almost impossible to achieve and we don’t even know what to do with them when we’re lucky enough to find them. I certainly didn’t at the time. In fact, I was irritated that I couldn’t get lost in a YouTube video or some old Dr. Dre. That is, until I forced myself to find the positive wrapped tightly inside the negative.
Needless to say, I was grateful for the unexpected gift of my mind all to myself. I actually left the gym feeling strong in body and in mind. Not the two-for-one that I expected. And I realized how much I missed being alone in my own head, in that quiet, Zen-like place that’s reserved just for me.
Although one thing I will admit is that I definitely couldn’t handle being left alone in there for too long or I’d go bananas. Because like everything, life is about balance. Everything in moderation.
Lisa Sugarman is the author of LIFE: It Is What It Is available on Amazon.com and at select Whole Foods Market stores.