First, just look up. A minute, even thirty seconds will do. What do you see?
Right now, I’m in a library. The ceiling is a high eight-sided rotunda. Eight isosceles triangles curve gently up to meet at a twelve-pointed star in the middle. The surface is rough stucco, the color burnt orange. A light rose-colored strip of plaster rims the eight sides of the ceiling. Its design is made up of repeating interlocking geometric shapes. If I let myself imagine, I can see crude lotus flowers, trees, four-leaved clovers, and eight-pointed stars. I count twenty-three arched windows at the tops of the walls, five on each of the three long sides, two on each of the four short sides, empty space on the long south-facing wall. An elegant rosy column separates each window, and decorative plaster tiles rim each window like crowns for twenty-three kings and queens. Natural light comes in through the windows, filling the library with a gentle and pure atmosphere. Aged red bricks of different sizes and shapes carve simple pretty designs below the windows. About two-thirds of the way down the walls, I see more arches and columns. They are lined with tiles depicting birds painted in black, red, and yellow. In the middle of the space hangs a neat little chandelier made out of black steel and white glass. It looks like a clock or a roll of film.
Now, close your eyes for a minute and listen to the sounds. What do you hear? Start with the most obvious loud sounds and slowly focus on the slightest of noises.
I can hear the click-clacking of someone typing on their laptop next to me. I hear the clattering of pens hitting a hard surface. Footsteps get closer and murmurs grow into distinct words. “It’s as tall as two people. Yeah, exactly…” It’s a tour of the library. I let their voices fade away. I hear a shutter sound from a phone. A beeping noise behind me lets me know that librarian is checking in a book. More footsteps. A ding goes off somewhere. Someone munches on a crunchy morsel. A slice of an apple perhaps. A telephone rings. I hear the rustling of a page being turned. Things quiet down. I can hear a constant low hum – maybe from the air vent. I focus even more and I turn inward. I hear my shirt scraping against the chair with each breath I take. My breathing is a bit heavy from my sore throat. My heart beats confidently and unhurriedly, marking the flow of time with its steady rhythm.
Next, turn your attention to your sense of touch. What position is your body in? What things are touching your body?
I’m sitting on a couch, my feet resting on a low table. My legs are crossed at the ankles, my left foot lying on top of my right. My knees press against each other. The couch is plush, but my bottom is starting to feel numb after sitting for a couple hours. My head is leaned back and resting on the flat wooden top of the couch and armrests. It feels comfortable, but my exposed neck feels cold from the subtle cool eddies of wind generated by the movements of the people in the library. The soft inner fabric of my jacket feels good against the skin on my arms.
Focus on your breath. Pay attention, but breathe normally. Keep this up for a few minutes.
I feel my breath passing through my nostrils and my windpipe. Cool air-conditioned air fills my lungs and lifts my chest and belly. My clothes tighten across the belt area as I inhale and loosens as I exhale. I can smell that scent that is so unique to libraries.
Slowly return. Become aware of your body again, more quickly this time. Pay attention to the sounds around you. Finally, open your eyes and gaze up. How do you feel?