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Saturday, May 25, 2024
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Take your headphones off!

Don’t let the sounds and sights of your now escape you, take your headphones off and look around

When I was in Nepal visiting family in January, I remember being amazed at how very few people wore headphones while walking. I could count the amount of pedestrians I witnessed listening to music during my month-long trip on one hand. Already feeling removed as a foreigner, I thought this is something I can learn from. I decided that the only way I could fully experience my parents’ home was by committing to the sounds around me.

Before my trip, I was trying to adjust myself to this new habit of not always having my ears plugged during transient periods; on my way to campus, on my way home, and etc. Putting my headphones in was something I didn’t think twice about doing. But when I began designating time for walks to think, observe and explore with music playing in only one ear, I noticed that the ear without the earbud was so attuned to my environment. 

This may sound dumbfounding because of course a natural consequence of not having headphones in would mean I would hear what’s happening around me. But I mean that I would finally process the sounds of tree leaves rustling in the wind, students chatting about what they think is stupid (yes I will eavesdrop), and my own footsteps. How did I get used to not hearing where I was going?

With each instance that I went headphones-free, I grew fond of the observations and the details that I became perceptive to which enabled me to continue music-free walks. 

I’m most likely never going to hear that arrangement of a yellow Volkswagen, a Toyota Prius and a Honda Civic waiting at that stoplight again. That person’s walking quickly, I wonder how they got out of bed this morning. Oh wow, there’s so many students talking outside, is this what good weather sounds like?

I often recall projecting a lot of the mood of the music I was listening to onto my surroundings as well and it intercepted my experience of the environment for what it is. It is okay to project here and there as long as you understand when you’re intentionally interacting with your environment in that way. 

When I grew accustomed to listening to a specific selection of songs, I feel like the routine sounds made everything around me seem so familiar and therefore, all the details would coalesce and seem insignificant. Instead of seeing the leaves on a tree, I would see the tree. They’re not mutually exclusive but without my ears to aid my eyes, I would neglect the smaller details of a building or a path.

It also encouraged a more openness to interact with people whether it was prompted by yourself or other people. The usual inference from someone who has headphones on is they don’t want to interact with someone and so that already lowers your chances at creating new connections. 

I thought if I listened to music less, it meant I loved it less. But coming out of it, I would say I love it more now. I’m more intentional with what I want to listen to since I’ll designate time out of my day for it and it’s not because I wanted to silence the voices in my head—that was an escapist attitude I had with listening to music. Instead, this “raw” experience of life made me invite more thoughts and observations so music was no longer an outlet for coping or a distraction from life.

So I challenge you to at least one walk every day without any music. 

Tenzin Wodhean is an arts editor and can be reached at



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