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Why You Should Zen-Up Your Space

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I’ve always been a putterer. As I’m trying to get out the door on time, I can always find a half-dozen things to be put away, cleaned, or better-organized.

At university my friends coined the phrase, “Dave time quotient”: the amount of time it actually took me to leave the house and get somewhere versus how long I planned on taking. “I’ll be there in 15 minutes!” often meant my friends would see me in 30 or 40. Thankfully, I had enough redeeming qualities that they stayed with me, even learning to guess when I’d show up so they wouldn’t wait around too long.

After a decade of jobs, relationships, and entrepreneurial ventures, sheer necessity made “Dave time” harder to keep up. At first, I began to plan some putter time into my commitments and timelines. It worked somewhat, and yet now, after three years of living in Clear Sky’s container—the modern monastery—a deeper layer has been uncovered.

As you’d expect, the well-honoured space at a meditation center is conducive to mindfulness and meditation. It feels pleasant to be in, it encourages calm and presence and it’s an incredibly efficient space to move through.

Dishes are put away shortly after each meal. Clothes are hung up each night and beds made each morning. The entire space is cleaned regularly, and most every object has a place of belonging. Sometimes, I even wake up to find that last night’s Dave has already laid out some clothes and packed my bag for the day (full water bottle included!).

Putting it to the test

A couple of years ago, I took a month to travel. I spent the first few days with a close friend and long-time member of our spiritual community, where I found myself engaging in lots of meditation practice. Without much effort, I could set up a mat or cushion in her space and dive right into my practice.

For the next few weeks, though, I was with friends from my previous life, or my life before dharma. Despite our shared interest in spirituality, I found myself putting in a lot of effort to clean and tidy the spaces before I could sit down to practice.

Don’t get me wrong, I was grateful to share their homes, and happy to offer them that service while they were all working. But it’s just hard to practice if there’s a sink full of dishes, a dirty toilet, or a vibrant community of dust bunnies taking over the floorspace. In some cases, of course, there just isn’t any room to unroll a mat or place a cushion in a quiet/private place (N.B. when booking Air BnB’s or hotel rooms, as well!).

The first step of practice

What I’ve learned then is that the first step of practice always seems to return to: honour your space.

Before returning to Clear Sky, I spent a week with a close friend whose home I had never visited before. When I arrived, I was delighted to find the entire space clean, sparkly, and organized. From the first night, I was able to relax, unwind and practice… effortlessly! This made a fantastic transition for my return to Clear Sky, and I was able to slide into the beautiful space and structure with ease.

There’s another benefit to a well-honoured space: it brings out all of our hidden fidgets, shining a light on our inability to sit still. When there’s clutter, anxiousness can hide under the auspices of needing to clean and tidy and organize. But when a space is consistently beautified, our puttering is caught and seen for what it is, like a mouse busily foraging in the middle of the night.

As Blaise Pascal put it, “all of humanity’s problems stem from [our] inability to sit quietly in a room alone.”

Everything is tidied.
The dust bunnies are enjoying a happy life outside.
The bed is made, the dishes are dried, and the laundry is folded away.

In the busyness of the world, especially when living in a disorganized, untidy or cluttered space, anxiousness can run amok in the unconscious. It was not until months of living in a meticulously maintained space that I realized the depth of my anxiousness: with the puttering opportunities removed, the body began to fidget, and with it the fidget of the mind became rampant… or so it appeared.

Edited By Andrew Rogers and Ava Maclean

2 thoughts on “Why You Should Zen-Up Your Space

  1. When my husband died, I realized that my concern to keep things tidy was more of an obsession than I had realized. Even though it is conducive to good practice to keep everything clean and tidy, it is always, as usual, a question of balance. Keeping things simple and organized has a fulcrum, where on the one side things are messy and chaotic and demand attention, and on the other side they are not quite perfect demanding attention from perfectionist tendencies. I have found that that fluid point of comfort between rigidity and spontaneity is more of an interior point than exterior.

  2. Now I’m starting to better understand my anxious spouse who can’t stop cleaning the house and won’t sit still for more than 5 minutes before he needs to be tidying up something.

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