When was the last time you stopped and observed anything? I mean really observed.

When was the last time you stopped your mind from thinking, rushing, heading toward the next task, and stopped to be present to what’s around you in all its glory and ugliness?

It’s easy to stop and smell flowers and their sweet perfume, or to notice when a sewage drain on your block has been left open. But have you ever paid attention to the underlying basic smell of DC?

I’ve been on a bit of a spiritual journey lately and I’ve come to realize that I had numbed myself from paying attention to the world I live in: the sounds, smells, taste, physical vibrations and texture, among other things. I have a lot to work on personally, but this is an area where I believe change will be easier for me.

I was surprised how different my world appeared the other day when I took my “non-smoking break” and walked around the block where I work. I’m easily distracted by people when I make eye contact, so I fixed my eyes at a point on the ground a short distance ahead of me and walked, making sure to listen, feel and smell what was around me and pay attention to my body at the same time.

As I stood outside my office, it was like someone had turned up the volume on all of my senses. Seriously, as I stood there and made myself present to the moment, the volume on the sound I heard moved from a five to an eight. I inhaled and realized the city didn’t smell like cars or body odor, but more like hot, moist yet dusty, neutral yet somewhat car exhaust-tainted air. Then I smelled the spicy meat of the hot dog vending machine before I turned the corner. I tried to be aware enough to smell the potted flowers along the sidewalk but I couldn’t discern them from the other smells.

I turned to paying attention to my body as I walked. I felt my feet sink into my black heels and the pressure of my toes pushing off the concrete with each step.

The ground shook a little when groups of people walked by and their voices were clear in my mind, but not their words. I heard the tones of the voices.  Some were louder and dominated the conversation with high-falutin-tootin voices saturated with inflated egos, some were rushed and tired, some were hurt and needy and some were plain and uninspired.

I heard the ding of a bell as a door opened at a cafe I was passing.  And I thought to myself, “I didn’t know that door had a bell,” as the rush of cold air escaping the cafe pushes against my exposed arms and legs.

My bones moved and creaked with each step.

I didn’t want to return to the office but I had to. So I went inside, listened to the sounds of the elevator and slunked back to my desk to turn my mind back on and get some work finished.

Lately, I’ve also left my screened-in windows and door open at night to listen to the crickets, birds and other sounds of nature. It’s very calming to sit on my couch and read a book, or journal, sip some tea or other liquid with the soft background sound of the outdoors.

I don’t know how I lived before without that extra connection to nature and I am scared that all too soon, winter will come and I will be forced to keep those doors and windows closed all day. Perhaps when that day comes, I will take my dog on longer walks in the early morning and at night, just to be outdoors a little longer.