One of the most recognizable styles used by interior designers is Japanese home décor, much of which has its roots in Buddhism. Influenced by the spiritual teacher, Siddharta Gautama (aka Buddha), Japanese design is often anchored by the harmonious proportions and the graceful lines of a Buddha statue. But over the years, the Asian school of interior design has been influenced by many other principles. One of these is the “Zen state of mind” that comes from Zen Buddhism, a lifestyle that aims for a state of continuous enlightenment through meditation and wisdom.
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This month we explore the fourth of the seven energy systems, the heart chakra. Anahata is the Sanskrit word for this chakra and a metaphor for the unconditional love and compassion that resides within our hearts, in spite of hardship and emotional pain. The heart chakra is located in the center of your chest. Its color is green and the associated element is air.
This unconditional love chakra represents the core of our spirit and emotional being. The heart chakra connects our spirit residing in the upper three chakras with the sense of self residing in the lower three chakras. As the seat of love and emotion, the heart chakra’s focus is the integration of ego and spirit.
This chakra allows the ability to experience joy and nurturing relationships. It provides compassion, generosity, and tolerance, by softening the mind’s rigid decisions and beliefs. As the center of intimacy, it allows feelings of happiness and the most centering feeling of all, love; to empower and guide us through the most difficult challenges we face.
When your heart chakra is open and balanced, you feel positive, nurturing and confident. Kindness and empathy are prominent in your decision making rather than being judgmental or critical of yourself or others. You are able to share humor, have vitality for life and feel energized by your optimism. You are able to love deeply and experience inner peace. There is a strong connection to animals and nature, and acts as a calming and healing presence to others.
Recall a time when you were upset about something. Think about how that situation dominated your thoughts and conversations, robbed you of sleep and left you feeling unhappy and fatigued. When your head leads over the heart, we can cut ourselves off from our emotions creating an imbalance.
When your heart chakra is unbalanced or blocked, you may experience difficulties with relationships, feel lonely, or awkward in relating to others. Is there someone you would like to forgive or are you carrying an emotional hurt that you can’t release? Avoiding intimacy, keeping people at a distance, becoming critical, suspicious or defensive can also be signs of imbalance. Postural signs of imbalance include sitting with your head forward, shoulders rounded and shallow breathing.
A heart chakra that is too wide open can also create problems. Being too empathic creates an open door for taking in the anger, sadness or depression of others and becoming trapped in their moods and feelings creating an unhealthy situation.
If you feel unbalanced, try spending time outdoors. Take a walk or meditate outside in a quiet, calming environment. Spend time with your pets – they are unabashed teachers of unconditional love and can open the heart. Experiment with keeping the feeling of being loved in the forefront of your mind. When you feel yourself drifting away from that feeling, breathe deeply and bring it gently back, allowing that feeling to flow through your body. Make a list of those you would like to forgive and try your best to release the hurt. Performing a service act such as volunteering or a random act of kindness is healing. Start a daily gratitude journal and note as many things as you can each night. With time, you will be surprised to see how long the list has become! Reach out and express appreciation to people. Reconnect with someone you have lost touch with. Visualizing an image of an open doorway is a powerful tool to opening the heart. The incense of sandalwood, rose, or jasmine is thought to open the heart chakra. Wear something green or decorate a room with green accents to remind you of an open heart. For meditation, the mala bead stone is jade.
In the next issue we will explore the 5th energy center, the throat chakra. To learn about the chakra system and healing meditations, you may consider the Chakra Balancing Kit available at www.chopa.com.
By now, 2012 is in full swing, your dance card is full and life is getting complicated. Longing for simpler days and a quieter life are but a dream. Just the thought of trying to simplify your life and streamline the number of things you have to accomplish each day can be overwhelming.
Most of us long for simplification, but the most daunting part of creating the life we want is “where do I start?” Many of you are probably thinking, “its too much to think about right now, I’m too busy!” This is the Aha moment! – identifying the need to take hold, change your life and create the life you dream of.
Leo Babauta, author of Zen Habits has outlined ten easy things that you can do today to make your life more meaningful. Start slowly, take on one item a day and slowly but surely, you will realize that you have made progress and it feels good!
1. Make a short list. Create a short list of the 5 most important things in your life. What’s most important to you? What do you most value? What 5 things do you most want to do in your life? Make these your priorities and as you make room in your life to accomplish these things, you will find that you are simplifying other areas to accommodate your goals.
2. Drop 1 commitment. We all have obligations that we have committed to but don’t really fulfill us and take up valuable time such as participating on a committee, being on a team or coaching a sport, something that you do each day, each week or each month. Pick one of these tasks and eliminate it – Today. Make the call, write the letter and resign. You will feel a weight has been lifted from your shoulders. Long term, begin looking at all your commitments and if they don’t support your short list of priorities, consider eliminating those as well.
3. Purge a drawer. Pick a shelf, a drawer or a corner in your room. Just organizing one small area can be liberating. Make that space your base of simplicity and use it to launch a bigger area from there. The key to purging is: 1) Empty everything from the drawer or shelf or corner into a pile. 2) From this pile, pick out only the most important things, the stuff you use all the time and love. 3) Get rid of the rest. Give it away or throw it away right now. 4) Organize the things you kept in a neat and orderly manner so they are easy to locate when needed.
4. Set limits. Set limits for the things you do regularly such as household tasks, email, etc. Try to stay within the limits you have set for yourself. Today – try setting limits for a few things in your life and tomorrow, try to stick with them.
5. Shorten your to-do list. Take a look at your list. If it’s longer than 10 items – simplify it. Try to find at least a few items that can be eliminated, delegated, automated, outsourced, or ignored. Shorten the list. This is a good habit to do once a week.
6. Free up time. Simplifying your life in general is a way to free up time to do the things you really want to do. It can be difficult to find the time to even think about simplifying. If that’s true for you, free up at least 30 minutes one day to think about simplifying. How can you free up 30 minutes a day? Wake earlier, watch less TV, eat lunch at your desk, take a walk for lunch, disconnect from the internet, shut off your phone, do 1 less thing each day.
7. Clear your desk. It’s such a simple thing to do, and yet so liberating! Get started: 1) Clear everything off your desk and put it in a pile. 2) Process the pile from top to bottom, one item at a time. Do not defer decisions on any item – deal with them immediately and quickly. 3) File each item, forward to someone else, dispose of it or put it on your to-do list or make an action file. If it’s a gadget or office supply, find a place for it in your desk drawers or get rid of it. 4) Be sure to remove all knick knacks. Your desk should have your computer, your inbox, perhaps a notepad, and maybe a family photo. 5) Going forward, place everything in your inbox, and at least once a day, clear and organize your desk to keep it neat and the to-do’s prioritized.
8. Clear out your email inbox. This has the same psychological effect as a clear desk. Is your email inbox always full of read and unread messages? That’s because you’re delaying decisions on your emails. If you have 50 or fewer emails in your inbox, you can process them all today. If you have hundreds, organize them in a temporary folder and deal with them in batches of 20 at a time. How to get to zero: 1) process them top to bottom, one at a time, deciding and disposing of each one immediately. 2) Your choices are to delete, archive, respond immediately (and archive or delete), forward (and archive or delete), or flag it and note it on your to-do list to respond to later (and archive). 3) Work through the emails until the inbox is empty. 4) Each time you check your email, process to empty. Liberating!
9. Move slower. We rush through the day, from one task and appointment to another, until we collapse, often exhausted at the end of the day. Simplify your life by doing less as outlined in items 1,4 and 5 and doing them more slowly. Eat, drive, walk, shower, work – slower. Be more deliberate in everything you do, and mindful of the present. This isn’t something you’re going to master today, but you can begin the process!
10. Single-task. Instead of multi-tasking, do one thing at a time. Remove all distractions, resist any urge to check email or do some other habitual task while you’re doing the task at hand. Stick to that one task, until you’re done. It’ll make a huge difference in both your stress level and your productivity. Try these steps and see your life become fulfilling, more satisfying and giving you the time to pursue your dreams – simplified!
This month we are going to explore the third of the seven energy systems. The solar plexus chakra, also known as Manipura, is the Sanskrit word for shining jewel and is believed to be a metaphor for the inner beauty of oneself. It is located in your abdomen just above the navel and is associated with a vibrant yellow color. Its associated element is fire. The primary purpose of this chakra is power, integrity, self-discipline and personal esteem. It provides us with the necessary strength and endurance to work through life’s challenges while remaining true to our core values of honor and ethics.
The solar plexus chakra is where our sense of ego, self-control and our sense of authority are based. If you have ever experienced “butterflies” in your stomach before a presentation or during a stressful situation, this is where your 3rd chakra is housed and actively at work!
This chakra also holds our intellect, individual personality and cognitive thinking skills. When faced with a difficult situation and weighing the options, your may find the decision is often rooted in your “gut instinct”. This is your 3rd chakra at work. It is integral to facing and working through every day challenges at work, home or in personal relationships. It allows us to make confident decisions, handle a crisis and distinguish right from wrong and good from bad.
When your 3rd Chakra is balanced, you have the ability to be spontaneous and feel satisfied and happy in life. You believe in yourself and don’t view the world as a threatening or frightening place. Your self-perception has changed from belonging to a tribe (first chakra) to developing your own self-identity and a strengthened ego. The ability to clearly and freely express your emotions and decisions to people is the result of a balanced 3rd chakra. Having the courage to follow your “intuition” or “gut” in making decisions without fear of reprisal from others or fearing your own safety is also a key function of this chakra.
Signs of an unbalanced 3rd chakra are seen in long standing anger or resentment and fear of life. Ongoing criticism of others, refusal to admit wrongdoing and thoughts of helplessness without initiating steps to correct the situation are all indicative of being in a state of unbalance. An under active chakra will exhibit as indifference, poor self-esteem, feelings of being powerless, and remaining in unhealthy relationships. Over active chakra signs are seen in people who crave power, control and will frequently manipulate or bully to get their way. Success is measured by how much can be accumulated in both personal wealth and power rather than focusing on inner power. They are often viewed as impatient, short tempered and unable to cooperate for the greatest good of all concerned.
If you feel out of balance, try spending time outdoors in the sunshine. Burn a few candles, or build a bonfire, if you have the proper place! Introduce the color yellow into your wardrobe, your office or home as a reminder. Place sunflowers on your desk. Eat more yellow fruits and vegetables like bananas, squash and peaches. Try belly dancing! Go for a brisk walk, watch a comedy and enjoy deep belly laughs. Perform an act of service to nurture someone else through praise, respect and acknowledgement for a job well done. Using your time to teach a skill or support someone who could use a boost in their self-esteem are power gifts of the 3rd chakra. If you meditate, visualize a golden yellow; it will help ground your energy center to your physical body. If you work with mala beads, the gemstones related to the solar plexus chakra are amber, tiger’s eye, yellow topaz and citrine. Incense can also be a useful centering aide. Cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, ginger and orange are incense associated with the 3rd chakra.
In the next issue, we will explore the fourth or heart chakra.
As more homeowners look for ways to simplify their home décor, the word “tatami” is becoming a part of the American lexicon. Along with the better known tatami mats, which are often used in martial arts studios, designers are creating “tatami rooms” for their clients, complete with Zen décor and legless Zaisu chairs.
Yearning for a little simplicity in your life? Maybe you need a little Zen décor to transform your home into an oasis of tranquility. This pair of Slate Wall Sconces will serve as a constant reminder to simplify your life.
Zen home furnishings are known for incorporating natural elements like stone to bring nuanced tones and textures into the home environment. In keeping with the simple design of Japanese décor, these artfully created wall sconces are made from naturally quarried slate stone. Each sconce is etched with a graceful calligraphic design bearing the Japanese symbol for “Simplicity.” Plus, the soft lighting provided by wall sconces lends itself well to a peaceful state of mind.
The ability to be totally relaxed and comfortable during meditation is extremely important. Without a comfortable place to sit, beginners often give up too soon. If you plan to practice meditation regularly, you will need to create a separate space that is specifically set aside for quiet meditation. (more…)
Have you ever found yourself so stressed out that you need to visualize a peaceful place and take a brief mental vacation? Perhaps the picture in your mind looked a lot like this idyllic mountain lake, depicted in this 18th century woodcut image on a bamboo necklace.
The Great Wave, otherwise known as “Under a Wave off Kanagawa” is probably the most famous Japanese woodblock print bamboo jewelry by the well-known artist, Hokusai. The print depicts an enormous and threatening wave near the Japanese metropolis of Kanagawa, where Mount Fuji can be seen majestically rising in the background. It is actually part of a series of prints, all of which depict Mount Fuji under different conditions. (more…)
Wearing an exquisite piece of Tibetan Zen Buddhist jewelry has a way of changing one’s mood, enlivening spirits and helping the wearer remember to live in the moment. With this extraordinary new collection of bamboo pendants, women can wear a symbol that recalls the days of graceful Geishas and natural scenes by 18th century Japanese artists. These hand-made mixed-media pieces are expertly crafted in the USA with beads made from hand-rolled metallic paper and strung with complementary colored wire. The whole piece is strung on a comfortable cotton cord with adjustable sliding bead knots.