First I’d like to introduce myself and apologize for being one of those lucky people you hate because back in the early 90s I happened to have scored one of those beautiful, rent-controlled, fire-placed, South-facing apartments in the West Village. Again I’m sorry and so I will make up for it, New York, by offering you my very humble credentials and writing to you each week about why it’s important to create a more attractive, comfortable and effective home for yourself and your family no matter where you live in New York. Each week I’ll give you some tips to inspire you to work from the inside (your mind) out and how to work from the outside (your home) in. I’ll address you if you are single and living alone, but also if you are in a partnership or living with roommates.
First, a bit more about my beginnings as your “inner home” consultant.
I’d been living in said apartment (don’t worry, I won’t mention it too much in this blog) for about a year and Sandra dropped by for one of her unannounced visits. She walked around in the sunshine coming in through my clean open windows, flopped down on my sofa, and said, “Can you please come to my apartment and make it look like this?” She said she was serious and so began my 12-year career now as an organizer, life coach, advice-giver (only if asked) and for the past eight years, a mind trainer (otherwise known as a meditation teacher and hypnotherapist). The way I see it, I am doing the same thing with everyone: giving people tools to create a better internal and thus, external environment. And sometimes I do it the other way around.
Over 2,500 years ago, Buddha Shakyamuni taught that the world is a reflection of our minds. I’ve since come to understand that he was also saying, “Your apartment is a reflection of your mind and vice versa.” I’m not sure if I remembered this (as I’m an avid studier of Buddhism and meditation) when I set out to help Sandra or whether it would simply come to make sense somewhere down the road to today.
Sandra’s account of what I’d done for her went like this: “You have completely changed my life!” My account went like this: “I took the heavy, dirty, dark-colored blinds off the one window in her north-facing apartment in the far East Village and washed the window. And oh, I also slyly convinced her to throw out half of the dusty unworn clothes in her closet.” After that she claims her whole life shifted. She changed careers, threw out a bunch of other stuff, painted her apartment and well, decided to very soon after that, move to New Mexico. I just shrugged. Really I had no idea that opening up and letting in some light to her world would help that much. But indeed it did. It was then Buddha’s profound teaching began to make more sense as I looked more closely at the “world” in my own apartment and other friends began hiring me to do the same. I thought, “If our world is a reflection of our mind, perhaps our mind is a reflection of our world!”
I knew nothing at the time about Feng Shui, although I had read some of Karen Kingston’s work and other design theories and decorating schemes and knew about some psychological elements about creating space. I just seemed to have an intuitive sense about what to do with the objects of a person in a space. And so that intuitive sense developed after Sandra so kindly told everyone she knew about what I did for her and I began pursuing this fun job as a new career.
In the homes and people I’d organize, I’d recognize similarities between their state of mind and their environment. Sometimes I’d teach them breathing exercises if they were suffering from anxiety or I’d simply listen to a couple’s complaints about each others’ messiness or tidiness. Other times, we’d get right to work on their apartment, move some furniture around or clean out a closet and that would affect their state of mind so they could relax. I kept remembering Buddha’s revolutionary tenet: the world is a reflection of your mind. Meaning that what you are seeing out there is showing you what’s in here. So, if you are experiencing an environment, person, or situation as difficult (or for that matter, attractive—we’ll get to that later), the difficulty lies in your response and is not inherent to the environment, person, or situation out there. If the problem is in your response, meaning your mind or your experience, then it can be changed. Yippee!
Over the years I’ve studied this central Buddhist view and have come to realize that we can change our responses by training our minds. We can learn to respond (rather than react) to situations with a more skillful attitude once we understand that trying to control the environment, people, and situations is basically futile and that real control lies in our own mind. Shantideva, the great Indian Buddhist scholar, explained that in order to protect our feet we can either cover the entire earth with leather or we can cover the bottoms of our feet with leather. The exact quote goes like this, “Where would I find enough leather to cover the entire surface of the earth? But with leather soles beneath my feet, it’s as if the whole world had been covered.” See Geshe Kelsang Gyato’s translation of Shantideva’s Guide to the Bodhisattva’s Way of Life. I think it’s clear which makes more sense, but in training our minds, sometimes we need a little help from our “externals”.
Manipulating the externals may not finally give us lasting happiness, but in my business I came to realize that moving around some things can sometimes nudge or even wholly move our minds. I would move a desk and its chair closer to a view of a tiny piece of sky or I’d coax my customer into giving the painting of the sad-looking, solitary woman standing on a hill a break or at least getting it out of the bedroom. These seemingly small acts of changing the externals would have great effect to inspire more change.
So these are some things for you to ponder as you begin to take stock of your apartment and your mind. Until we meet again here’s something for you to do:
Clear out some time in your busy schedule — let’s say five minutes to start — and sit on a chair, your sofa, or a cushion on the floor. Close your eyes and watch your breathing for 10 rounds of breaths (one inhalation and one exhalation is one round). At the end of this cycle, think about your apartment, your home. Ask yourself these questions:
What areas of my apartment feel great and which feel stuck or ugly or strained? What room do I love spending time in, which one do I stay away from? Spend some time here as the answers may not come immediately. You might do a separate meditation for each room and then break it down even further to specific areas in those particular rooms. For example, what do I like about this one closet, what do I dislike about it? Or, do I love/hate my bed, my sofa, my work area, my kitchen implements? And so on. Open your eyes and make a list if you like. If you live with your partner, family or if you have a roommate, try not to judge for now. Keep the focus on what you think of your space, regardless if you have control over it or not. Be general at first and in the coming weeks I’ll give you some ideas about how to work with your mind and more particular areas of your home.
Next week: Get rid of the gross stuff . . .
Sara J. Wendt is a Certified Clinical Hypnotherapist and Space Organizer. You can find out more about her at www.greenwichvillagehypnosis.com.