Tired of rise-and-grind philosophy? Looking for a mantra that digs deeper than “keep calm and carry on”? Us, too.
While the zaniness that is 21st-century life makes us want to check out in favor of a cabin in the middle of woods—zero cell reception, please—we know that’s not entirely reasonable. So, as the world grows louder, busier and far too focused on the hustle, it looks like we’re going to have to DIY our own havens.
See ya, double shot espresso with foam. We’re finding a new way to start the day. Let’s start with some Eastern zen spirituality and follow through with a few tweaks to your office workstation. Keep reading for how to transform your office into the Zen sanctuary of your dreams.
But First: What Is Zen?
Zen is a complex and deeply spiritual concept that is central to a school of Buddhism called Mahayana Buddhism. It began as a seedling about 1,500 years ago in China. Since then, it’s taken roots, spreading to Vietnam, Japan and Korea. Only in the last 50 years or so has it become widely recognized in the Western world.
What you need to know about Zen is that it isn’t just one thing—and it wasn’t developed by just one group of people. Because Buddhism came to China from India, Zen’s meditation practices are heavily influenced by traditional Indian meditation. It’s these practices that Westerners tend to connect most to Zen philosophy, but there’s a lot more to it than that. In addition to religious teachings, there’s a wealth of literature, art, and activities associated with Zen, including traditional martial arts.
It’s all dedicated to deepening a person’s understanding and sense of “the one”—the self, basically. Zen is about uniting the inner self and the outer self, the body, and the mind. Finding calm, both inside your own head and, more literally, in the world around you, is one small but essential part of it.
3 Ways to Make Your Office a Zen Sanctuary
Whether you work at home or you report to corporate HQ five days a week, there are lots of ways you can bring a little bit of Zen—and a lot more calm—into your workday. Even if you’re stuck in a cubicle, we have easy DIYs that can help you zero in on your happy space morning, noon and night.
Block Out the Buzz
Everything from your coworker’s gum-smacking to watercooler chatter to the HVAC system kicking in can distract you from even mundane at-work tasks. Why should a brief spell of meditation be any different?
To focus on achieving a more Zen state of mind, you need to be able to block out that background noise. In a cubicle setting, a pair of headphones and an app set to white noise (we know: irony) can help you accomplish this. If you’re working from an office with a door, try to eliminate as many noise sources as you can. Shut doors and windows, silence your devices and put a “no disturbances, please” sign up to prevent interruptions.
Surround Yourself with Nature
We know that going back to Mother Nature—taking a hike, sitting outside, swimming in the ocean—can calm you down. You might not be able to get a forest inside your office, but you can replicate its feel by filling your space with organic material.
Placing large potted plants in your office
Avoid standard philodendron and succulents. Instead, opt for something that triggers your imagination and your appreciation for nature. Right now, we’re loving the drama of a fiddle leaf fig. If you don’t have quite enough space for an entire tree, go small with a bromeliad.
Introducing natural accents
For a home office, you could purchase woven bamboo shades or a hemp area rug. In a corporate space, try a small wood bookshelf or throw a wool blanket over your chair. If you’re working out of a cubicle, consider lining your cubicle walls with cork boards and placing your monitor on a wooden stand.
Turning off the lights
Fluorescent lights are energy-efficient—yep, we know. While they’ve improved greatly over the years, though, they still give off an unnatural, sometimes ghostly glow, especially if you’re working in an older building that still uses old tube lighting overhead. If possible, turn out the lights (or ask for the fluorescent tube over your desk to be removed—a common request in offices). If not, think about using a more natural light source, like a salt lamp or a candle.
Seeing and feeling these elements will remind you to center yourself, whether you’re meditating in the middle of the day or you’re worked up after a difficult meeting.
Many meditative practices direct you to sit on the floor. If you’re in the middle of your office—and especially if you work in a cubicle—that’s probably not practical. Instead, try to ground yourself as much as you can while sitting in your office chair.
Here’s how to do that: Firmly place your feet flat on the ground or on top of a footrest if this is difficult. Rest your hands on your armrests, let them hang heavily at your sides or place them flat on the desktop in front of you. Sit upright, not slouched and not ramrod straight, either.
If you do feel comfortable sitting directly on the floor, go ahead and do it. You can roll out a small rug or yoga mat to cushion your body and help you get comfortable. Take off your shoes, sit tall, close your eyes and draw yourself inwards.
Bottom Line: Do What Centers You
Turning your office into a Zen sanctuary is less about following a bunch of rules—and investing time and money into DIYs—and more about finding the right items and atmosphere that make you feel calmer and more centered.
For many people, having a trigger action helps them ease into more of a Zen mindset. That could mean smelling essential oil, lighting a candle or turning on a specific playlist. For you, that could look like journaling, putting up an away message on your intraoffice messenger platform or sipping hot tea. Experiment until you find one calming activity. Then, build a Zen routine from there.