In New York City, amidst the exhaust fumes and litter, there are over 1,700 of park spaces that I usually disregard. I sometimes fantasize on my idle days that I will take advantage of these verdant spaces, but often get engrossed in the flashy man-made entertainment of the city, or in the inviting glow of my iPhone. I was excited to finally have the push I needed to really experience the sights, sounds and vibrations of Central Park.
In order to fully delve into this assignment, I decided to leave my phone at home. I knew I’d be too tempted to check my messages, scan instagram or to pretend to take a phone call if an awkward situation presented itself. As I expected, I felt naked and more on display without my phone. To dull this unease and combat the chill of autumn, I decided to turn my walk into a run.
The wind whipping past me was a welcome distraction. I noticed the sound of children squealing, and acorns and twigs that broke beneath me feet. Before embarking on my run, I was hoping to hear something new, or rather, something I’ve never noticed before. I began to feel disappointed that all I heard were these ordinary sounds against the backdrop of traffic and sirens.
What did stand out to me was the feeling of the sun; the way it’s rays found its way through the trees, and how even in the cold it can warm our skin. I began to think of Thoreau’s Walden when he mentions the warmth of campfire. He describes heavily clothed Europeans who sat closest to the fire, yet still felt agitated by the surrounding cold. Conversely, the scantily clad New Hollanders, who sat furthest away were sweltering. Since their bodies were not accustom to the layers of clothing, what warmth they did feel from the fire was plentiful. It made me reflect on the luxuries I have now and how it spoils my mind and body to the point of the dependency.
After running for a while my heart began to pound in my ears. I was starting to regret the light lunch I had beforehand and starting this assignment so late in the day. The sun was setting when I came across an underpass somewhere around East 60th street. The darkness was beginning to swell around me and the adrenaline in my body finally gave me a glimpse of the experience I was hoping for: I felt as though there were no barriers between my lungs and my mind: I felt wide open, physically and mentally. I felt clear, unburdened, like I discovered something I hadn’t known I lost. I was immediately grateful for the moment, and excited that I could recreate that feeling over and over again since it was birthed by something as simple as jogging in a park.
But I turned away, as I thought better of it. I knew that there was very little in that natural setting that could hurt me. The worst that could happen to me in regard to wildlife was a run-in with an aggressive flock of pigeons. Still, I am a product of my environment, NYC, which is why I muted the feeling of wholeness and turned to head home. It was simply too irresponsible for me to be in Central Park alone at night. Our trees, grass and its accompanying wildlife has been largely reserved to parks, but our nature as people remain; the fear of predators, whether animal or human, will always be present.
So, I decided to walk back uptown on the sidewalk outside of the park. A flashing ambulance siren brought me back to my usual state of being, and amplified the cold air that I nearly forgotten about. By the time I arrived home, I realized I didn’t notice a single sound outside of my own thoughts, which made me wonder: do the trappings of city life modify our minds and bodies to the point of hypersensitivity and/or complete numbness?