In Search of Zen: Dreaming Up a Me-Space

My editor sent some New Year topics to me, including making Zen spaces. He asked, “What does “Zen” mean to you?”

My first thoughts were, “A place without distraction.” But what do I know? I turned to the always-fun Urban Dictionary on the web for their definition of Zen as we know it today.

One way to think of zen is this: a total state of focus that incorporates a total togetherness of body and mind. Zen is a way of being. It also is a state of mind. Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts. “Sun is warm, grass is green.”

Okay, so what aisle is that in?

What does zen mean at home?

In all seriousness, the important line in there, I think, is “Zen involves dropping illusion and seeing things without distortion created by your own thoughts.”

Translated to decor, I think they’re saying “Embrace minimalism, dude.”

So is that what Zen means to me, like my editor asked? Well, in a way, yes. But where do I really find my Zen moments now, and how to I bring that into my living space?

Well, I live eight blocks from the ocean, so my home address pretty much makes my perspective on Zen obvious. Let’s start there.

Picture it: Blue-grey seas, mottled grey sky, islands and mountain ranges in the distance. Light dappling on the water. Sand and pebbles underfoot. The dank air salty from drying algae on the shore and salt surf being blown by the ever-present wind as waves crash on rocks. The musty smell of late-season grasses matted after winter rains.

image source: Steffani Cameron

There, I can sit on a log out for hours, lost in the seeming foreverness that is the Pacific. Is it the silence and the water lapping the shore? The fresh air? The mix of muted monochromatic colors and moving textures?


For me, and many others, a Zen space starts with two things, light and color.

Light and color, design and zen

Flexible, soft lighting with no harsh shadows is an instant mood-maker. If your Zen space needs to be a reading retreat too, then that lighting needs to be ample enough for reading, yet dimmable for peace. I have a variety of light in my spaces.

When it comes to color, I need blues and greens. This meshes with what a lot of color therapists suggest are the best shades for kicking back and restoring yourself.

I once had a Mediterranean-sea blue on my walls in my bathroom, which isn’t your typical “Zen” shade, but it really worked for me. With lots of white trim and a few candles, l felt like I was in a spa on a Greek island. That’s Zen enough for a bath, I figure. After all, falling asleep in there is dangerous.

Normally, I think the softer shades are the way to go, especially if you want to drift away. Think shades from nature — soft skies, grasses, sands, water, and anything else that feels natural.

Personal space in every sense of the term

Other things I need are great air circulation. I need a window, usually, for both natural light and fresh air. How can you be Zen if you’re breathing recycled air?

There, in my Zen spot, I can’t have family and friends or other real-life tie-ins. If I’m going to be Zen, it needs to be where I’m not thinking about people I miss or I’m worried about, in case there are issues at the time. And I’m an adult, so, let’s face it, there’s always an issue with somebody or something. No pictures of humans in my life, then.

Obviously the place needs to be quiet, so this might mean using more fabric than I would otherwise. The fabrics need to be soft and embraceable, and it needs to be an easily-washable situation for dust and allergen control.

All in all, it’s not that hard to create Zen if you simply take out everything that is unnecessary, then make a soft, welcoming space.

There’s no doubt that the concept of Zen goes back to Ancient China, but today’s Zen seems to be a way of getting past the crazy, weeding out the noise and the distractions, and finding a way to conjure a  feeling of peace and simplicity around you.

For me, that comes from recreating that feeling I find on my oceanside mornings.

Where do you feel most at peace? When you figure that out, that’s how you create your Zen space. Find elements that take you there and combine them. Focus on things like how it all feels, the lighting, how comfortable it is, and soon you’ll have the genesis of your personal Zen style.

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