Control of technology key to a healthier, happier life
The secret to a mindful home, experts warn, is that “we need to know how to and when to unplug so that we are not constantly being bombarded by technology”.
When you long to get home at the end of a trying day, to close the door and block out the noise and haste beyond, is it the colour of the sofas you look forward to most? Or something deeper?
If the beacon of respite that is your inner sanctum is more about a feeling than a look, and that feeling is good, pure and peaceful, you have the essence of a mindful home. According to the mindfulness movement which is hugely popular – and rooted in ancient Eastern philosophies – this is the foundation for a happier, healthier life.
“It’s to do with the yin yang theory,” says Dr Venus Wong, deputy programme director of MSS (behavioural health) at the University of Hong Kong. “Whatever happens outside – whether it be the work environment or for children at school, we are exposed to a lot of uncertainty, changes and stress. This is the yang side – very active, energetic, restless.
“In the home environment, we can proactively create the conditions to counter-balance all the yang energy in our everyday life, which is more on the yin side – restful, quiet, simplicity – so that we can truly slow down, feel safe, and rested. In the long run, such conditions will definitely be helpful for our overall wellbeing.”
So how to create a mindful home? And can it co-exist in a smart home?
Absolutely, Wong says. “Technology can be blended into the home environment as long as we know how to make wise use of it.”
This boils down to who is in control – you or the device. Do you really need to be checking emails late at night, when no-one else is working? Is what you’re reading online beneficial - or is its content adding to your anxiety and distress? Reflecting on those two questions can help us to develop an internal monitoring system to guard against technology overload, Wong suggests.
Professor Craig Hassed, mindfulness co-ordinator at Monash University’s department of general practice in Melbourne, Australia, and co-author of the book The Mindful Home (Exisle Publishing), agrees.
“A connected home can also be a mindful home but we need to be in control of the technology, rather than having it run our lives,” Hassed says.
“We need to know how to and when to unplug so that we are not constantly being bombarded by it and to keep clear boundaries around it such as in the evening, when we are with our families and when we are sleeping.” For balance, he recommends rationing screen time “and taking time to consciously connect with the real environment and real people, rather than just virtual ones.”
The physical environment of the mindful home is one which responds to the five senses.
Visually, this means simplicity in colour and form, and keeping the space clutter-free. “Zen practice is about letting go,” Wong says.
Playing soft music in the home will nurture the sense of hearing, but Wong recommends appreciating “real sounds” as well. “Open the window in the morning and notice the sound of birdsong today – nature holds real sounds which change with the seasons.”
Avoid artificial fragrances to appeal to the sense of smell. Enjoy instead the natural fragrance of plants and flowers; do a tea meditation; or inhale the aroma of coffee brewing. This simple mindful act can bring about a state of calm, Wong says.
For taste, eat mindfully. Taking 10 minutes to finish an unhurried breakfast can help you start the day with clarity. At every mealtime, focus on the food, not on distractions such as the TV.
Touch can be a hug, warm and deep, with a family member, or the connection of holding a loved one’s hand. For those living alone, notice the feeling of tap water running over skin, or the softness of a beautiful textile.
Nurturing the senses in the home environment is important, agrees Hassed, who covers this topic in his book. “It helps to feel alive, clear the mind and bring us into the present moment.”
So fill it with items which are beautiful, as well as useful – and appreciate their beauty, he advises. Choose quality. Add soft, cosy cushions. And pay attention to lighting – light being “energy, and the very source of life, mentally and physically”.
A mindful home is also a sustainable home, Hassed adds. Living consciously is far more enjoyable than “living on automatic pilot, plugged in to a device but unplugged from the environment we live in”, he writes.
This means keeping our homes free of unnecessary or excessive exposure to chemicals and pollutants; and reducing the home’s environmental footprint by using energy and resources more efficiently.
It also involves living “a measured life”, caring about our own health and wellbeing, and about people, place and community.
Wong also recommends reserving a special place in the home for meditation or yoga. Whether this be a corner of a room, a bath or a balcony – the important thing is its consistency.
“This is your safe place, that you know you can always go back to,” she says. “It will be your anchor in times of turbulence.”
Neelam Daswani, a meditation teacher at Art for Living, a global NGO present in 155 countries including Hong Kong, outlines why.
Consider your mind like a computer whose memory is full. It can’t take on anything more until something is deleted.
“Meditation is conscious rest,” she says. “You get in touch with an inner fountain of energy which most people don’t even realise they have.”
With meditation practice, Daswani adds, impressions that we do not need to retain – like old phone numbers clogging a mobile phone – slip out of our consciousness.
“When we start meditating, all that useless information disappears, so you feel lighter. You become a source of joy.” And if you don’t have happiness, you can’t share happiness with others, she adds.