a : dedicated or set apart
b : highly valued, important
Roshi stared at me in silence. It always made me a little nervous to meet with him. He was a traditional stern zen master, wearing long black robes, and something of a constant scowl. But I had been in charge of cleaning the zendo, the meditation room where we practice, and I was pleased that it had been going so smoothly.
Finally he spoke.
“How has cleaning the zendo been going?” he asked.
“Good,” I said, “It’s pretty easy.”
Roshi frowned. “You need to do a better job,” he said.
I felt a slight panic as I tried to think of what I might have done wrong. I knew that the zendo was the most important place. But all I had to really do was dust and sweep the floors and move the meditation cushions around.
“I thought I was doing a good job,” I said. “It looks clean.”
“Is it?” He asked. He thought for a moment then spoke. “And how about your room? Is it clean?”
He obviously knew the answer to that. My room was usually in a pretty chaotic state even though my intentions were good—meaning…I would get around to cleaning it some day.
“Our rooms are a reflection of our mind,” Roshi said.
I didn’t like that idea, even though it had a ring of truth to it.
“Keep cleaning, the zendo,” Roshi said and nodded his head to dismiss me. I quickly started to leave. “And clean your room,” he said.
It took me awhile but I finally understand he wasn’t talking about my room, but my mind. When our room is cluttered it often means there’s some conflict in our mind. Now, I still don’t have the most tidy room, but at least my meditation room is in good order.
It’s pretty incredible how our environment affects us. But I think most of us do feel better when our house or office is clean and organized.
This is particularly true for where we choose to not only spend our time working, but doing nothing. That is to say meditating. Everywhere I have lived, no matter how little space I had, I set aside a space specifically for meditation. This not only reminds me to meditate, but it inspires me and creates a safe place of peace in an often chaotic world.
Any place can do. Most holy places weren’t the result of being anything special. But over the years people practiced and came to those places with a clear intention. And because of this when you go to one of these places you can feel a powerful energy and peacefulness.
But perhaps the main reason to create a sacred space is that it trains our mind to go into a new state when we enter our meditation room. It helps to break us out of our daily patterns. Studies show that over 90 percent of what we do each day is unconscious. The good news is that taking just 15 minutes a day to practice being more conscious can make a huge difference in our lives.
So if you’ve been struggling to meditate or you would like to deepen your practice, where you meditate could be the missing piece. It need not be an entire room. You could just use a corner. One of my zen teachers meditated for a year in a closet and it became his favorite place to meditate.
Here are three things to bear in mind as you envision your meditation setup:
1. What is the intention or purpose?
Is this a place to be alone, to be with your family or partner? Is it a place to connect with your higher self, god or your teachers? For me, it’s a bit of all these things. I have pictures of teachers and statues of the Buddha, along with offerings.
I’ve never been much of an interior decorator. I started in a zen tradition which is petty minimalistic. You don’t need much. Just whatever inspires you. You can have pictures or statues of teachers, like Buddha, Jesus or if you are a more of a rationalist, you could have Plato or Socrates. You could have goddesses or even angelic beings. These pictures or statues are not intended to be worshiped but it’s a way to inspire us to integrate these aspects in our selves.
You can have a traditional meditation cushion, or a chair dedicated to meditation.
You can get really fancy and use a feng shui book as a reference. Or you can simply put a cushion in a dedicated corner of your room.
3. Just do it.
The main thing is to just get started. Simply by deciding on an area for our space is a great first step. As our practice deepens our space evolves as well. And as our space evolves we evolve too.
Places become sacred because of what people do in them. In this way our own space can become a sacred one.
Download a detailed PDF for more tips on creating your sacred space.
Author: Aron Stein
Editor: Renée Picard
Images: via the author