The Zen Approach To A Happy Home
Being zen is about more than “having no thoughts”. It’s about making conscious choices about our minds and our time. Here’s how to do it in your home decor.
About a year ago, I started going to a weekly meditation offered by a local Zen centre. I could not explain in the space of this post how beneficial this practice has been to me: my mind is more centred, I deal more gracefully with the ups and downs of life, and I found a purpose in living more mindfully every day.
But there’s more to mindfulness than training your mind. It’s a whole set of suggestions on how to life your life better, a little freer of the myriad distractions that put our brains in overheat mode every day. Zen practice has plenty of rules and suggestions on how to arrange a space to encourage mindfulness, and today I’ll share some of the ways I have changed my home to fit with my practice. Hopefully they help you make your home a more Zen place that supports more mindful living.
Take your shoes off at the door
Taking my shoes off is something I’ve been doing since I was a child–we always left our shoes in the entrance. It helps keep the house cleaner (you avoid dragging in a lot of stuff that gets stuck to your shoes), but from a mindfulness perspective, it also has plenty of advantages.
First, it makes your home quieter. No more clunky heels on the upper floors to disturb your afternoon naps. People also tend to speak more quietly with their shoes off–not sure why, but it’s something I’ve noticed.
It also keeps you connected to the ground–something we should do more of, actually. Truly feeling the ground beneath our feet and sensing the connection to the earth (for that you need to pay attention!) can help us live more mindfully.
Only keep furniture that has a purpose
We burden our homes with so much furniture that sometimes it feels like there’s no space to breathe. In a zendo, every piece of furniture has a purpose: mats and cushions for the sitters, a simple altar for a candle, flowers, incense and an image. That’s it. There’s nothing else in the room, because you need nothing else to meditate.
In the same way, we can pare down our homes to ensure that everything is there for a reason, that there is nothing superfluous to distract our minds. That extra side table that just picks up dust (or clutter) could definitely go. Unless you regularly hold 12-people parties, do you really need 2 sectional sofas? How about 5 different blankets to go on the bed? Do you really use all of them regularly?
One of the benefits of Zen is that it forces you to divest yourself of all the thoughts you don’t need. It gives you a clearer mind with more space for the important stuff. Similarly, your home should be a place for important things, not just things.
Make more space
An extra benefit of reducing the amount of stuff we cling to is that we have more open, spacious homes. Instead of a cramped living room with too much seating, you can have a few cushions for guests to sit on the floor when you need it. A smaller table in the dining room will leave more space for people to actually sit and talk. Less clutter in the bedroom leaves you free to relax and sleep better.
Help distractions disappear
One of the things I have learned from Zen is that I constantly distract myself from the things that matter with video games, TV, books and even my own thoughts. (Thoughts are probably the worst distraction.) If you want to live a more mindful life, be aware of your sources of distraction and make them less easy to access. For example, I’ve removed all the game icons from my computer menu bar, which makes it easier for me to get to work instead of play.
Keep something natural
A fresh green plant, a bamboo arrangement, a vase of freshly cut flowers: every home should have something of nature inside. In my zendo, we have a new bouquet of flowers at every sit. It represents the beauty and omnipresence of nature, but also reminds us of how ephemeral our world is.
Be mindful, be zen
Zen is all about making conscious, mindful choices about how we spend our time and our mental energy. In today’s over-connected, overworked world, it’s really easy to give in to the myriad distractions that technology offers us.
Turn the phone off when you get home. Sit down quietly for a few minutes, letting your mind settle on the important things of the day. Make clear, conscious decisions on how you spend your time. Use your environment to help you be more zen.