A couple of weeks ago, I spent a few hours swinging in my hammock by the creek in a local park. I spoke with my sister, read a book, tried to solve a NYT crossword puzzle. . . It was incredibly relaxing, especially as spring has arrived in full force to Boulder. Then I got in my car, synced up my phone to the speakers and drove home with Sia as my soundtrack.
Driving home, I was struck by the range of mediation experiences that saturated my afternoon, especially the stark contrast between my experience of the world in the hammock versus my experience of the world from the driver’s seat. Let me quickly back up here and explain what I mean by mediation. I’m a media scholar, but what I mean by media is not limited merely to the news media or forms of entertainment media–the things people tend to associate with the term media. Rather I study this concept of mediation, the idea that our experiences of the world are always being mediated through tangible means. Our senses play a role in mediation. Our bodies themselves mediate our experiences. And then the objects we use and surround ourselves with also participate in mediation. This is mediation at its most fundamental level. News media and popular media are more complex and tertiary forms of mediation that are built and constructed upon these more basic ways of experiencing the world.
Let me try to illustrate what I mean by returning to my afternoon. As I lay in my hammock, its gentle sway and the taut fabric underneath my back came between me and my experience of that area of the park. I experienced the park through my specific position and through my experience within that hammock. The young man across the creek from me, not more than a few hundred feet away, had a completely different experience of the park sitting on his blanket with firm ground under his body. Yet there undoubtedly were overlaps: we likely could both smell the keen scent of earthy spring after a weekend of rain. We could both hear the distant chortles of infant laughter. But perhaps my stranger had a history in the military and as a result his hearing attuned him to very different things to me. Perhaps he didn’t hear the laughter but instead heard a distant parent calling for their child, their frantic cries drifting on the wind. Or perhaps he wore a hearing aid, and his park didn’t sound nearly as full and robust as my park did.
This is what I mean by mediation at its most fundamental.
But, as I mentioned earlier, it was the contrast between my experience of the world from the hammock versus from the driver’s seat that struck me most. Since I moved to Boulder, I very rarely drive anymore. I take the bus to and from school every day. I walk to local shops and eateries. I walk down the big hill to my favorite coffee shop (Trident) to read and write. Even though I often listen to podcasts while I’m moving from point A to point B, the absence of a steering wheel and windshield has dramatically altered my experience of the world.
Without a steering wheel to grip tightly, I have less of a sense of control and power as I move through the world. Without the frame, I am more vulnerable to the world. As a woman, that sometimes makes me anxious when I’m walking home after nightfall, but for the most part, it has opened me up to the world in beautiful ways. On the bus, I meet fascinating fellow passengers and I get to cheerfully greet and thank the driver. I see people whose lives are dramatically different to mine, and I get to briefly imagine how their days might unfold unlike mine.
As I walk, I can stop to watch the now-skinny squirrels happily bounce along newly budding branches, or catch my raccoon neighbor sneakily eyeing me from behind his bush. As each iteration of spring has arrived, I haven’t just seen it—I’ve smelled it and heard it, as new blossoms release pungent fragrances and the birds emerge and call excitedly to each other. I make new dog friends everyday, and when it rains, I splash from puddle to puddle in my rainboots. (I lived in desert LA for too long…) In the winter, there is nothing more magical than trudging through soft, white ankle-deep snow in fleece-lined snow boots, woolen beanie and thick scarf as dainty flakes fall silently through the air. With every breath of crisp mountain air, I am reminded that my lungs are growing stronger at this altitude.
Without the mediation of the vehicle shell extending from my body, I am freed to relax and experience the world–to relinquish my desire for control and domination.
In today’s age, we talk a lot about the troublesome role that media like phones and computers have in our lives. We talk about digital fasts, and the need to slow down. We discuss how to develop more reflexive usage of devices in our lives and how to hold each other accountable.
Well this summer, I encourage you to take this a step further and think about your daily life in terms of mediation.
- What mediates your experience of the world on a daily basis, whether digital or analog?
- Through this form of mediation, what experiences of the world do you perhaps miss out on?
- What alternatives to mediation might you consider?
Maybe start with the car, like I did. What would it look like to walk or take public transport for a few days a week? Even if you need your car to get to work, contemplate scheduling walks into your lunch break, after dinner, or first thing in the morning.
Let me know your experience or if you do any interesting mediation experiments. I’d love to share some other stories here on the blog.
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