Today is Garden Meditation Day. There may not be a holiday more in tune with the principles of feng shui, in that Garden Meditation Day appreciates the need for inner peace and mindfulness and cultivates an appreciation for nature, which we are directly a part of. In honor of the holiday, I'm happy to share my experience with a very similar practice known as kado.
In her book, Heaven and Earth Are Flowers: Reflections on Ikebana and Buddhism, Joan D Stamm writes: “to contemplate a flower, a natural mandala of vibrant color and perfect form, is to glimpse the face of the divine."
Last week I attended a Spring Kado retreat at a Shambhala center with Marcia Wang Shibata, a Master Shambhala Kado Instructor. Kado means “the way of flowers” and is a contemplative practice of flower arranging using classical ikebana forms.
I am in love with ikebana and Kado practice and use the offering of flowers as part of my meditative practice. This practice brings me so much joy, and I wish to offer to you, my readers, three remarkable things I learned last week from Marcia Shibata and the flowers.
Do not expect from a flower that which it cannot give.
In our first arrangement, we were given hosta leaves. This plant has full soft green leaves with delicate stems. I tried for several minutes to arrange my leaf exactly where I wanted it. I had this vision in my mind and I really wanted the hosta leaf to stay in this “perfect” spot. While sitting there frustrated with my hosta, I heard my neighbor grumble. When I peered in his direction, I couldn’t help but giggle. His hosta leaf also had a mind of its own. And although it’s not a flower, this hosta leaf taught me not to expect something from it which it cannot give.
Never compare yourself with others.
After my finishing my first arrangement, I got up and looked at the others in class. I suddenly felt uneasy and insecure. Mine looked busier than the others. Did I do it wrong? I started moving things around in my arrangement, but it still looked crowded. I really started to doubt myself. Marcia came by, and with hesitation I said, “Um, I think mine is too busier than everyone else’s”. Marcia looked at me directly and firmly said “NEVER compare yourself with others”.
Fragile things don’t open when traumatized.
There were some irises that were purchased for the class. None of the flowers had yet opened at time of purchase. We patiently waited a day or two, and some of them started to open up, showing off brilliant purple and yellow colors. Sadly, there were quite a few that never opened. The flowers remained tightly shut, with dried and shriveled tops. Marcia noted that they likely were traumatized during their travel to us in the US (probably from Holland). She reminded us that when traumatized, fragile things don’t open. It was truly a beautiful poetic statement. She also said that “like our hearts, each is flower is different, delicate and beautiful.”
In our modern worlds, we have sadly lost touch with some of our rituals and traditions such as feng shui and ikebana. Feng shui isn’t just moving furniture around. Ikebana isn’t just arranging flowers. They are both traditional contemplative practices that teach us how to live in harmony and in balance with ourselves and with the spaces we inhabit.
When you get the chance, spend a little time contemplating how things in your life are arranged. Are they too cluttered? To empty? What you surround yourself with matters immensely, so these practices are absolutely worth the time.
AC: “The places children learn in shape them, and help them shape the world. Space, light and movement are integral to wellness and success. Every child deserves beauty and inspiration in their daily life.” Tell us more about this statement and how someone can integrate this into their home for their children.
MRH: We’re an amalgam of the experiences we’ve had and the environments we’ve encountered along our journey. We contribute that energy, who we are, to the world every day (whether we’re conscious of it or not). I believe we, as adult guides, have a responsibility to provide inspiring, healthy, stimulating, and even beautiful learning environments so our children can discover their personal skills and gifts. The gifts they’ll eventually contribute to the world in hopefully positive, meaningful ways.
After several years creating what I’ve termed Kid-Smart Spaces for elementary and middle schools, I’ve learned academic achievement is directly linked to supportive physical environments. Integrating this into your home means being thoughtful and deliberate in creating your child’s spaces, especially where learning is involved.
What are some important things parents should consider in designing and decorating their desk/homework area?
- Kids are like us.
If you think about it, kids react to many of the same stimuli we do. If you had to work in a small space with bright red walls, only had one foot of desk space to work on because of messy, scattered papers or if your desk faced a window with a great view might you feel anxious, frazzled or distracted? When you’re designing their play and study spaces, put yourself in their shoes.
- Beware of overstimulation.
As adults we often get stuck thinking kids' spaces need to be bright and stimulating. Certainly areas of play can be high energy, but beware of overstimulation. Mental, process-oriented tasks require balanced spaces that are conducive to processing information and thinking creatively. Think through what kinds of activities your child will be doing and decide whether certain design elements might be counter-productive to the task at hand.
- Consider the “5 C’s”.
There’s a lot of conflicting information on which colors affect mood and in what ways. In an educational environment, bold, bright colors can be distracting and overly pale colors can cause sleepiness. Blues and greens have long been said to support focus and concentration, but I approve most colors. My recommendation is to find balance by using lighter shades on walls. For instance, instead of purple consider a lavender or grey/purple like Benjamin Moore’s Sanctuary. Instead of orange consider peach. Instead of red, consider a mauve or softer pinks. Use pops of bolder colors to accent the space through wall art, lamps, seat cushions, desk accessories, rugs, etc.
I have only one color caveat: I don’t recommend red for study spaces (psychologists have found it can raise blood pressure, heart rate and cause anxiety). If you really love it, remember to use it sparingly as only an accent.
(If you’re creating an art space, keep to neutrals because walls are a light source - either emitted or reflected - so the colors of a space influences the perceptions of the colors your child may be working with. Gray is the most neutral color for artists. And don’t worry - it doesn’t have to be drab. There are some beautiful greys out there).
I loved Anjie’s fantastic post discussing the Feng Shui properties of various colors. It’s a wonderful resource that can help you decide which direction to take.
This one’s a no-brainer. To use our skills of analysis and concentration, it helps to be comfortable. I don’t know about you but it’s near impossible for me to concentrate when my office is freezing cold or sweltering hot. Avoid setting study spaces up too close to windows or HVAC (heating ventilation air conditioning) systems. Also, it’s very important to be mindful of air-flow. Open windows at some point every day to let fresh air in. It’s energizing, it’s good feng shui, and it minimizes indoor air pollution and germs that impair wellness.
Neuroscientists at Princeton did a study on clutter and found that when parents dealt with their own belongings, their stress hormones spike. Children suffer doubly, first as they fight their own battle to focus in a cluttered environment, and again when the parent they depend on for direction and guidance is short-fused or under-performing due to clutter and overwhelm. It’s especially important to keep study spaces neat and organized.
An educational space in your home doesn’t have to be all about studying. Certainly it should accommodate more serious tasks like homework and papers but it should also inspire wonder, engagement, and fun. A great way to infuse fun into a space is through multi-functional, modular, moveable furniture. Toy storage that doubles as a reading seat or maybe it’s on wheels so it rolls out to the middle of the room when toys are used. Yoga balls are also on the rise for student use. Or, try mixing it up. Maybe they sit in a chair when completing a school assignment but switch to the beanbag when it’s time to read. Add a sense of play with fun desk accessories - throw in a Rubik's cube to strengthen problem solving and creative thinking. There are so many creative ideas out there. Your inner child probably has a few in mind!
Make them a part of the design process for 2 reasons. 1. When given the opportunity, kids have a ton to contribute. 2. Meaningful participation gives them a sense of ownership over their domain, connecting them to it and making them happier to be there. Some ways to involve your child:
- Let them pick certain decor elements (lamp/ desk supplies/ wall art) that reflects their interests, passions, and identities.
- Let them make the final decision between your top 2 paint choices.
- Let them choose the accent colors.
How do you create your own holistic space at home?
My home is both my physical and emotional safe space. I have several rituals, but one I particularly love and do every day when I shower is I run the hot water for a few seconds and toss in a few drops of essential oil. They rise with the steam and make the bathroom (and that entire side of the house actually) smell like a spa. I use peppermint and orange oil in the morning to get energized, and lavender and eucalyptus at night to soothe. Design-wise, I have a connection to every piece of art or decor in my space. It must evoke positive feelings or it goes. Which leads me to my last point...I’m an avid believer in the Feng Shui practice of channeling energy flow through de-cluttering. For those who have a tough time with this, Anjie can help you break through in big ways. I also recommend a book that taught me how little the stuff we keep is actually about the stuff itself! Throw Out 50 Things changed my home storage life forever.
Magalie René-Hayes is a Social Entrepreneur, Interior Designer, and Founder of FOUNDATIONS Design Group. She helps administrators, teachers, and parents create Kid-Smart Spaces™ that support academic excellence. As a result, hundreds of students have been impacted by inspiring physical nvironments that support them in discovering the gifts they will use to make meaningful contributions to the world. Magalie has worked on a variety of residential, commercial, and institutional projects in the New York Tri-State area and Los Angeles. She speaks on a variety of topics including personal growth, career transition, and creating “Kid-Smart Spaces” at school and in the home.
My good friend Amy Won of TreeSpace Studio has invited me to participate in her “Rituals” event. I love rituals, particularly traditional rituals that have depth, meaning and story to them. For Amy’s exploration into ritual, I have decided to share two of the most currently relevant. A few weeks ago I shared a special Lunar New Year Orange peel space clearing ritual. Today, I share with you a daily ritual that you can incorporate into a daily meditation practice.
I practice Shambhala Meditation, which is a path that was created by Chogyam Trungpa. He was very involved in the arts, and taught a calligraphy practice that I include before, during or after my morning meditation. Trungpa called this Dharma art, or Shambhala art, and the symbology is woven into many rich traditions such as Tibetan Buddhism, Ikebana, and feng shui to name a few. I participated in some classes that taught this dharma art style of calligraphy through the Shambhala center with Elizabeth Reid, Shastri Sandra Ladley and Anne Anderson Saitzyk.
My meditation instructor, Joe Mauricio, suggested this addition to my daily practice to assist in creativity, to free my mind. I remember after he told me this, I literally ran to the art store and bought all the supplies. The next morning I was like a blissfully elated child on Christmas day. I could not wait to do the calligraphy! I truly hope that this calligraphy ritual inspires the same excitement and adds some freshness to your rituals!
Anytime! But I practice this when I sit for Shamatha meditation, bright and early in the morning. I make my tea (green or chai!) and then sit at my meditation altar with my calligraphy tools.
What you need:
- Black Sumi Ink. You can also use tempera paint if you’re on a budget.
- Large pieces of blank paper. I use a large 18”x24” pad of drawing paper. For me larger was better – so I could really be expansive. But regular white letter size paper will do!
- Sumi Ink brush. Pick the size that you’re most attracted to. There’s no “wrong” size. :)
- Optional: Red Sumi Ink. Note, the “red” ink is really more an orange.
1. Take a seat and feel your body. It’s about feeling, not thinking.
2. I begin with a Buddhist chant:
GATE GATE, PARA GATE, PARA SAM GATE, BODHI SWAHA
“Gone, gone, gone completely beyond to the other side. I am enlightened.” This is from the end of the heart sutra, which speaks about form as emptiness and emptiness as form.
If you prefer you can just sit with a moment of silence instead.
3. Look at your blank sheet of paper. The blank sheet is “square one”, an open place of not knowing, an open field of space.
4. Pick up your brush and peer into your ink. Silently dip the brush into the ink. Listen to the brush in the ink. See how the ink glistens on the brush. Observe. Be sure to do this step between each stroke as well.
5. Your first brush stroke on the paper is “Heaven." You can also call it “Space." It is your first gesture, or offering to the paper. Just one movement, your first inspiration. Remember, first thought is best thought.
6. The second brush stroke is “Earth” or “Form." This second stroke responds to “heaven” and grounds it. It can bring it weight, stability. Try not to control the brush but make friends with it. Earth is the offering you have at that moment in relationship to the first stroke. Remember, first thought is best thought.
7. Finally the last brush stroke is the “Human” or “Energy” element. This is where you can use the red ink if you chose to. The “human” element connects the first two strokes. It enhances or completes the relationship. Just like humans connect heaven above (yang energy) with the earth (yin energy) below. Again, remember that first thought is best thought.
8. The calligraphy is complete with Heaven, Earth and Human. Look at your meditation and take it in.
9. After it dries, like with a sand mandala, let it go to the universe. You can throw away (or recycle!) the paper. My teachers suggest the art is also great to wrap gifts with! Or you can give them away. But best not to save them. Then, carefully and thoughtfully clean your brushes with fresh water.
This is a delightfully expansive ritual that I suggest all of you do and share with your friends. I find it is especially beneficial in the morning before your brain has a chance to jump on the daily stresses that hold back our creativity.
If this interests you, I encourage my readers to take some classes at Shambhala with the Shambhala Art teachers who have been trained to transmit the art. This is just my simple introduction :)
About Anjie Cho:
Best selling author of "108 Ways to Create Holistic Spaces: Feng Shui and Green Design for Healing and Organic Homes" and Architect for clients such as Satya Jewelry, Anjie Cho is a sought-after expert in the fields of feng shui and green living. Anjie Cho is a registered architect and certified feng shui consultant. A graduate in Architecture from the College of Environmental Design at the University of California at Berkeley, she has been creating beautiful and nourishing environments since 1999.
Visit her blog at www.holisticspaces.com
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