I’m in New York City, feeling very switched on.

I might not be the first to notice this feeling here.  New York is the city that doesn’t sleep, that spells names in lights, that has pleasures for every taste and that concentrates artists, intellectuals and various movers and shakers in startling density.  It’s got a bit of a reputation for switching people on (or for wearing them out entirely, but that’s a different story).

Right now, though, there are two specific things that are contributing to me feeling switched-on, and though I’m experiencing them here, they’re not NYC dependent.  Try this at home!

The first is just to wake-up to the sensory pleasure of wherever you are.  We have bodies as well as minds, but we tend to ignore them unless we’re exercising or in pain (or both).  I’ve been jolted into this sensory awareness because I’m in a different place, but you could just as easily take just a minute to wake up to what’s around you at home with a little self-conscious awareness.

For example, my hotel is on the Lower East Side, and as I stepped out into the street this afternoon I was hit by the smell of cabbage and pickles.  It was delicious.  The sun was bright and meltingly hot (for a Canadian anyway), and, as I walked down the famous streets, I was intensely aware of its warmth.  There were the ubiquitous traffic sounds:  heavy engines, car horns, sirens and even the odd squeal of tires.  The store fronts offered lush ranges of colors and designs.  I noticed the silk of women’s summer dresses, the range of skin colors, and the textures on the facades of the buildings.  This hyper-awareness was fun – it made me feel alive and in the moment.  I felt connected to my own body, busy taking in all these sights, sounds and smells, and through it, to the energy of the city.

The second idea stems from visiting one of my favourite spots in NYC:  the Tenement Museum <http://www.tenement.org&gt;.  It’s an incredible place.  On Orchard Street in the Lower East Side, it’s a preserved tenement house that was home to around 7,000 immigrants between 1863 and the 1930s.  Katherine, our guide, said that one hundred million Americans can trace their roots to New York’s Lower East Side, and the Tenement Museum illustrates their experiences through tours that tell the stories of specific families that lived in its walls.  Each apartment was 325 square feet, but despite the privations  (especially in the nineteenth century), such as few outhouses for many families, no running water, no light, you can see how each family lived with dignity, and, yes, even sought to have fun by playing cards, making music, socializing while doing laundry – or perhaps visiting the saloon in the basement.

The Tenement Museum is remarkable for many reasons, but in particular it made me feel switched on today because it connected to the history of NYC.  I wasn’t just bouncing around on the surface of the city, in my own time, running my errands – I was part of a flow of people over decades and centuries.

Most of the places in which we work, live and play could tell us stories too.  What came before us?  Who else touched the walls that surround us?  Pursued dreams?  Celebrated birthdays?  This doesn’t even need to be the distant past – it could just be the people who worked in our office building before us.

So, try this:  try asking people in your office building if they know who was in the space your firm is in now?  Or try to find out the history of your house or flat.  For example, just last week, I heard a woman on the CBC who was enchanted to have learned that one of Toronto’s top historical photographers had once lived in her house – and sired numerous children in it!  She clearly thought the whole thing terrific fun.  It switched-on new depth and texture to her experience of her own familiar home.

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