A bedroom, with its links to sleep and dreams, intimacy or aloneness, is one of the most beguiling and mysterious rooms in the home. The bedroom is the first room we see each morning and the last space we see at night it closes the circle of our waking life. It's a place which has to hold us through the night and keep us while we dream. Bedrooms are personal, highly personal. This is the room in which we are most likely to make love, to fantasise, to encounter our sensuality to meet another human being at the most intimate level. But a good bedroom is also a solitary sanctuary, a place outside the hubbub of the house, a tenemos of private dreams and deep nurturing of the soul. With its domination over the unconscious part of our lives, you might argue the bedroom is the most important room in the entire home.
Yet, despite its importance, the bedroom is often neglected. We pay more practical attention to the 'public' rooms of the house those which our visitors will see, those which hold court over the waking hours. The bedroom gets pushed to the back. Hopefully this section of the website will encourage you to look on your bedroom in a whole new light. If you want to delve even further into this area, do check out my new book, Spirit of the Bedroom which gives more ideas and lots of beautiful photographs (not my doing, I hasten to add).
Personally, my bedroom is probably my favourite room in the entire house. It's the room in which I am entirely myself. It faces east so in the morning the sun pours in through the windows and at night I can track the moon on the first half of its journey. House martens nest under the eaves and as I write this I watch their darting swooping returns so fast you think they will crash into our windows.
I've kept the decor calm. The walls are a warm cream and the carpet a slightly darker mushroom. Slatted wooden blinds filter the light, creating dapples. Bright duvet covers and soft throws and cushions provide splashes of colour, depending on my mood. It's a calm, uncluttered space yet by no means minimal.
Next to my side of the bed is a small bookcase with my most favourite books for dipping into before sleep and on waking. My collection of goddesses gaze rather sternly from the mantelpiece and three small altars sit on the window ledges filled with my 'soul' objects of the moment.
Curiously I find that the bedroom is a place in which I can fulfil my three major roles in life quite smoothly and without competition. I tend to go to bed before my husband and this early part of the night is 'me' time. When the bedside lights are on the room is bathed in a soft yellow light and feels like a welcoming cocoon. I often find myself sneaking off early so I can sit and revel in the peace after a long day balancing work and the demands of a small busy child. I am alone in the nicest possible way. In archetypal terms, it's my Artemis time wild, solitary, self-possessed, shy of company.
But light the many scented candles and it becomes a sensual retreat, a place of intimacy and closeness, of warmth and tenderness. Aphrodite comes out to play and the bedroom shifts focus.
Come morning, a small child squirrels himself into the middle of the bed and we all snooze companionably as the world comes to life outside. The bed becomes a ship, a space-craft, a nomad's tent, a cave. We share books and tell tales: it's precious bonding time before the onslaught of the hectic day. I find myself as Demeter, motherly and warm, embracing my family and revelling in their comfort.
These are my thoughts of bedroom. Yours will probably be quite different. But hopefully already you will be thinking about what you Let's look at how you might discover and achieve your desires.
Bedrooms need a lot of musing, a lot of dreaming. So don't race in and get painting, or shifting furniture. Spend some time first of all in quiet pondering. Let your mind range around and allow your unconscious space to pop up with curious and unusual ideas. In my earlier book, Spirit of the Home, I give lots of exercises for doing this but here are some introductory and highly practical ways to help you if you're not used to this process.
YOUR IDEAL BEDROOM
Spend some time looking through magazines (virtually every magazine and supplement now have home sections, quite apart from the huge number of dedicated homes magazines). Clip out pictures of bedrooms (or other rooms) that really appeal to you. Also cut out pictures which relay the kind of feeling you want from your room this could be anything: a beautiful sunset across a deserted beach; a tangle of limbs as children invade the family bed; a hot steamy sex scene or dappled light in a cool forest. Let your imagination run riot.
You may find some interesting concepts emerge. Perhaps you have always dreamed of a huge baronial bedroom yet the pictures you have picked show cosy, intimate spaces. Maybe you think you like cool minimalism but, if so, what are all these sumptuous velvets and tons of pillows and cushions doing rampaging over your clipped-out pictures? Our subconscious mind works in images so this is a powerful way to discover what your inner mind and soul really wants from a bedroom.
Now make your bedroom 'treasure map'. Take a large sheet of paper and put your very favourite images up on it. Add a picture of yourself and anyone with whom you share your bedroom. Leave it somewhere you can see it every day (the bedroom is the obvious choice!) and note your responses. You may well find that over a period of days or weeks your views change. If you do share your bedroom it can be a great idea to have your partner (or whoever) do a treasure map too. Do them separately and make a commitment not to discuss them until they have been up for at least two weeks. Then you could sit down and debate your desires: you may well find that you have more in common than you anticipated.
Having decided on what you want, you can think about how you might introduce these elements into your own space. The key here is always to come back to the FEELING you want. OK, you may not live in a baronial castle or a country cottage but what is it you like about these kind of places? What feeling do they invoke? What mood? If it's something like 'cosy, intimate, friendly and warm' you can reproduce that feeling in a high-rise apartment with a little imagination. If you crave cool and spacious but have a tiny room you can still give a feeling of expansiveness by using colour and furnishings cleverly.
WHOSE SPACE IS IT?
Another interesting exercise is to draw out a rough map of your bedroom. It need not be draughtsman quality but should be pretty much to scale. Mark in pieces of furniture. Now pick a colour for everyone who uses this room (ie yourself, your partner, possibly a baby or children who might invade from time to time.) Colour in the parts of the room used by each person (you can have stripes if any parts are equally used; if one person dominates though, colour it with their colour). This allows you to see who is actually taking up space in your bedroom. It can be very illuminating. You might think it's your shared room so how come your partner has his desk, his record collection, his piles of paper under the bed? How come half your wardrobe is taken up by your teenage daughter's clothes? What are all these toy boxes doing in here? This isn't to say any of these things are wrong but the exercise gives you the opportunity to figure out what's going on, and whether it works for you. Having a box of toys to keep an early riser amused is a pretty good idea but maybe he or she could be persuaded it's more fun to play in their own room? Or maybe the garish plastic toy box could be moved out and a rather lovely painted chest brought in instead so your room looks like a bedroom instead of a creche.
It's a good idea for everyone to do one of these maps you might find your impressions are totally different. Have a discussion (a friendly one I always find a bottle of wine helps the process, but coffee and cake is another fine option).
A Clean Clear Space
Whatever you decide and whatever style of bedroom you desire, at base it needs to be an oasis of calm, offering a space in which to sleep and dream. Above all else, it needs to be devoid of the insidious clutter which permeates all but the most anal of households. The first major practical step you can make to rejuvenate and restore your bedroom is to clear the mess. There is no 'correct' way of doing it. You can do a wimpish drawer or closet a week or just plunge in with a pile of trash bags and clear the lot in one fell swoop.
Take a long hard look at your bedroom and identify all the problem areas. Some will stand out like sore thumbs. But it's not a case of 'out of sight, out of mind', you need to go beyond cosmetic anti-clutter and check all those hidden places too: in your closets and cupboards; drawers and dressers; and, yes, under the bed! It may not be noticeable on a physical level but psychologically it's still clutter and, however subconsciously, you know it's there and it's affecting you.
Here's a quick check-list of what to do with all that stuff:
Clothes: Do they fit you (now, not in some hypothetical future)? Do they suit you? Do you actually like them? If not, give them to charity shops.
Cosmetics and perfumes: they don't last indefinitely. Chuck out anything that has been languishing for over a year or so.
Books, CDs: don't overload your bedroom with books and hi-fi stuff. If you don't re-read your books take them to book exchanges or to friends.
Letters and papers, cards and momentos: Select the ones you really want to keep and keep them in attractive boxes or files (cover them with pretty paper or fabric so they look nice). Try to remember that life is for living now, not for reliving yesterday.
Ornaments and knick-knacks. Somehow we seem to accumulate little bits and pieces in bedrooms. If it's been given to you and you hate it, let it go. I find the odd white lie (ie 'it fell and broke') useful here if challenged on the absence of a horrible gift.
Other people's stuff. It's even more vexing if it's not even your stuff which is clogging your room. Give the offenders a certain amount of time (a couple of hours? A weekend?) to claim any belongings they really want. After that, out they go. Playgroups and nursery schools might be grateful for any old toys and games. Clothes might be welcomed at a women's refuge or a centre for the homeless.
Magazines. It's strange how magazines multiply. Two options here. Either pass round amongst friends when you've read them or donate to local hospitals or doctor's surgeries. Or snip out your favourite pictures and put in a treasure journal of favourite images (see Spirit of the Home for more on this).
Planning Your Bedroom
Now it's time to have some fun. Look back at your treasure map. Have any clear themes appeared? If not, try these swift exercises. Jot down your first impressions, however silly they may seem (they just might be illuminating).
Which five words would you use to describe your ideal bedroom?
Think back to bedrooms you have had in the past (both in your home, other people's homes, during childhood, on holiday etc). Which were the most appealing?
Are there any films or books which have bedrooms which trigger your imagination? What are their elements?
Write down five smells you would like in your bedroom.
Write down five sounds you would like to hear in your bedroom.
Write down five sensations you would like to feel in your bedroom.
Write down five things you would like to do in your bedroom.
Can you paint your perfect bedroom? It might just be colours or shapes rather than a literal representation.
If you could have a 'fantasy' bedroom, without thought of budget or practicality, what would it be like?
Your answers should allow you to build up some ideas of what you might like in your bedroom. In actual fact, most fantasies can be achieved or at least a good approximation of them. As anyone who has watched the numerous house 'makeovers' on television knows, you can do an awful lot (sometimes too much!) with a small budget and a large imagination.
In case you're still having trouble, let's think about some possibilities.
Generally speaking, bedrooms fall into three distinct categories, outlined below in very broad, crude strokes. Your own bedroom might want to borrow elements from several types.
SERENE SLUMBER PALACE
This is a place where sleep is taken very seriously. Other activities may take place but over and above all else this is a temple of dreams. These rooms should be kept as simple and uncluttered as possible so nothing intrudes on your consciousness. Obviously the bed is of extreme importance it could be of any design but above all is built for extreme comfort. Invest in the very best quality mattress you can afford and, in my experience, the largest size bed you can accommodate.
Bed coverings are vitally important too. You may prefer a duvet or old-fashioned sheets and blankets. Perhaps a lovely old quilt or warm fleece throws on top.
Inspiration could come from:
Log cabins warm and cocooning, tucked away from the world, simple rustic wood with the scent of pine. Homespun fabrics and woollen rugs (knitted cushions, tartan curtains?).
Country cottages cosy and welcoming, simple and childlike. Flower-sprigged cottons or stripes and checks (gingham?), old lace and overstuffed eiderdowns. Jugs of wild flowers.
The night sky stars, planets, the moon. Dark, embracing indigos and midnight blues. Glimmering stars on the ceiling. Plenty of candles or maybe lamps which project stars and planets onto your walls.
Dreams and visions soft, ethereal colours, evoking dreams. Murals of delicate dream or fantasy images. Furniture evoking castles, or palaces. Child-like? Maybe. But so what?
Japanese simplicity clean lines and low-level living. Tatami matting, futons, bamboo screens, paper lanterns, sculptural flowers, banners or flags with silk screen printing, origami mobiles?
Temples and sanctuaries cool, calm and serene. Trompe d'oeil columns and statues; real statues of goddesses, gods, Buddha, the Goddess, a large bowl with water and floating petals?
Yes, OK, you sleep in here (a bit) but by far the most important role of this bedroom is sex. You'll have a robust bed (if you're very energetic maybe consider something low-slung like a futon) but also other furniture which might have interesting possibilities (squashy bean bags or floor cushions; a chair suspended from the ceiling or, hey, a chandelier if your joists and joints are strong enough). Texture is wildly important all the old cliches of satin sheets (yes, they DO feel gorgeous) and fur rugs work well but also titillate your senses with velvet, fleece, rubber, feathers. Lighting should be versatile to suit your changing moods. Although having mirrors in your bedroom is not great feng shui, this kind of bedroom won't be able to resist at least one carefully positioned and maybe even the inevitable one on the ceiling above the bed (just make sure it's firmly fixed!)
Inspiration could come from:
Bohemian style brothel clashing fabrics and textures; velvet and embroidered silk, stained glass lanterns, screens and gilded mirrors.
Pacific holiday Hawaiian garlands, fresh fruit, sea and sand. Kitsch and wild, think about plastic palm trees, fake flowers, bamboo beach mats, a paddling pool (with plenty of plastic matting around it!), a tape of sea sounds.
Jungle fever lush vegetation, tropical colours, exotic animals. Go wild in the jungle with ropes slung across the room, animal prints and fake fur rugs; rush matting; furry snakes and iguanas (feel great stroked across naked bodies!), jungle sounds.
Hollywood boudoir all satin and silk, faded pastels, Art Deco lights and favourite film posters or photographs, lingerie and lounge suits, dramatic dressing gowns, candelabra and (of course) a casting couch.
Bedroom as 'time out' zone, a place of private meditation and ritual, or simply somewhere to hide away and read and think. This bedroom may well have a desk or escritoire, possibly a bookcase or shelf for favourite tomes, a comfortable armchair or (if space allows) a small sofa or daybed. It's a place to fire the imagination and soothe the soul so it will have plenty of interesting objects and pictures. The bed will be a cosy retreat snuggling up with a good book is as important as sleeping or lovemaking here. This kind of room runs the risk of becoming cluttered more easily than the other two so make sure you have plenty of good, attractive storage. If your waking activities start to ruin your sleep it may be an idea to invest in a nice screen which can be placed in front of your desk or books out of sight, out of mind.
Inspiration for this kind of room could come from:
Writers' retreats or artists' studios: a neat, measured Jane Austen style room or a wild Bloomsbury Group haven. An easel to display your favourite inspirational pictures; art materials for when the mood strikes.
Teepees, yurts and benders. Ethnic weavings, earthy pots, colourful patterns; musical instruments in a corner; a CD player for drumming or guided visualisations.
Woodland glades wild flowers and trees, wood and stone, running water, nature spirits and Green Men. A woodland painted on your walls, jugs of wild flowers, herbs and branches. Willow figures and rough-woven baskets.
Seaside huts and cottages fresh blues and white, driftwood, shells, cotton ticking, deck flooring, hammocks. Models of boats and seabirds.
Darkness And Light
Of all the rooms in the house, the bedroom is the one in which it is most important to get the balance between darkness and light just right. Curiously, it's something about which we don't often think. Yet light and dark affect us just as much as color and sound and scent. Now we have electric lights we are no longer governed by the daily cycle of sun and moon so much, yet part of us still remembers the days when we would rise with the sun and go to bed with the sunset. According to the Indian system of ayurveda, that is still the healthiest way to live our daily lives. I'm not suggesting you get up with the lark (although everyone should see a sunrise once in a while) but it can be quite illuminating to become aware of how we are subtly affected by the light in our homes.
Natural light changes throughout the day and in each and every season. It never stays the same. Even moonlight changes throughout the moon's monthly cycle. Yet we tend to bathe our rooms in solid blocks of artificial light. Try to introduce various kinds of lighting so you can alter the mood as and when you want. Try these tips for introducing the full spectrum of light into your bedroom:
Keep your curtains open at night and enjoy the phases of the moon. Some people find that moonlight can give them very vivid dreams but do try a spot of moon-bathing from time to time.
Start to change your bulbs to natural day-light bulbs wherever possible. They are more expensive but well worth the outlay.
Keep lighting flexible. Do you sit under the overhead watchful eye of just one central light? Add more light sources so you can alter the mood of your bedroom. You need a good bright light by your bed for reading but you could also have uplighters, floor and wall lamps to help create mood and atmosphere. Install dimmer switches to give you even more flexibility.
Be inventive. Almost anything can be transformed into a lamp nowadays investigate lights made of rock salt (they give off beneficial negative ions), lava lamps, oil lamps. Some lights project moving scenes onto your walls; others can project a whole scene onto a wall. If you're creative you can make your own light shades (molding fabric over ready-made frames) or painting scenes on large paper shades to fix over light bulbs (check the safety).
Shadow and shade is just as important as light, particularly if you live in a hot, sunny climate. Wooden slatted shutters create a cool haven of shade from the heat of the sun. Soft billowy muslin and gauze diffuse the light into softness - you can cool the effect even more by choosing limpid shades of blue and green. Canopies and awnings over windows can reduce the glare while growing plants and creepers around the house and windows can deflect the heat.
If you live in a city and never see the dark, think about investing in a pair of heavy drapes or solid wooden shutters for your bedroom. You may find you sleep much better - although make sure fresh air can still circulate through your room.
Blessings And Rituals
By now your bedroom should be shaping up nicely. You should have a clear, calming flow of energy and have furnished and decorated it to suit your heart and soul. In this final chapter, let's look at some practices which you can use to keep your bedroom as the perfect sanctuary.
Rituals are important. Ceremonies, however small and seemingly insignificant, bring a sense of purpose and peace to everyday life. They offer a chance to be still for a while, to take stock, to balance yourself amid the hurly-burly of normal days.
These rituals are all very simple yet highly effective. Try them out and see how they feel. But do bear in mind that they are only suggestions you don't have to follow them by the letter. Feel free to shift elements, or add your own words, actions or props. They need to be 'your' rituals.
CONSECRATING YOUR BEDROOM
This lovely blessing calls on your guardian angel to consecrate your bedroom. You will need a candle, an oil burner (or a bowl of hot water), some lavender essential oil and four pebbles or small crystals.
1. Sit in the center of the room and breathe quietly and calmly don't force the breath, just allow it to deepen naturally.
2. Reach out with your awareness and try to get a sense of the room around you. What atmosphere does it have? What atmosphere do you WANT it to have?
3. Light a candle and ask your own guardian angel to come near and bring love and peace to your bedroom. You might have a sense of a divine, loving being embracing you with its soft wings. (NOTE: if you have experience of other guardians, such as power animals or deities from various religions, you can equally call upon them here).
4. Let five drops of lavender oil fall into the water of your burner or bowl. As each drop hits the water imagine a spark of loving energy (like a tiny fairy) flying out from the oil to each corner of the room. The last drop's energy shoots to the center of the room. Imagine your angel smiling with pleasure at the lavender spirits.
5. Ask the gentle spirits of the lavender to bring you peace, rest, relaxation and sweet dreams.
6. Imagine your aura (an egg-shaped bubble of energy around your body) becoming suffused with a beautiful soft pinkish-gold color. Allow that soft colored light to expand beyond your aura, growing until it embraces the entire room.
7. Hold the pebbles or crystals in your hand and imagine them, too, imbued with the pink-gold light. Place one in each corner of the room to hold the love and light intact throughout your space.
8. Thank your guardian angel - you may also ask for any particular blessing or protection. In return envisage a flame of pure love shooting from your heart to your angel.
9. Softly blow out the candle and the oil burner, if you are using one. If you have chosen a bowl of hot water you can leave that in place.
Bedtime Cleansing Ritual
This gentle blessing marks the break from day to night and eases you into sweet dreams.
1. Run a deep bath (mix a few drops of your favourite aromatherapy oil (lavender, chamomile or geranium work well) in a little milk and add to the water.
2. As you take off your clothes, visualize all your daytime anxieties and concerns dropping away. As you take off any make-up and brush your teeth, imagine all the negativity of the day being cleansed away.
3. Soak in the bath, allowing any vestiges of irritation and worry simply washed away. Gently pat yourself dry and put on your night clothes.
4. Light an oil burner by your bed and add four drops of lavender oil. If you prefer you can put the oils on a tissue and keep them by your pillow. If you have a bedroom crystal place it by your bed to protect you through the night.
5. Lie down and, as you breathe in the soothing scent of the oil, cast your mind back over the day. Review it without judgment. Start at the beginning and end you as you are now, in bed.
6. If you are feeling tense or stressed, run through your body, in turn tensing every muscle in your body and then releasing it. Screw up your toes, tense your calves, pull back your knees; tense your thighs and buttocks. Pull in your stomach, your abdomen, tighten your chest. Make fists, tense your arms, shrug your shoulders. Screw up your face and take a deep breathe in, hold, and let it all go. Repeat again.
7. Is anything still worrying you? Scribble down any worrying thoughts on a pad by your bed. You can deal with them in the morning.
8. Now ask your guardian angel or other guardian to watch over your bed and send you sweet or useful dreams. If you have a power animal you could ask it to accompany you on a healing or useful journey in your sleep.
9. Blow out your burner and feel the soft sweet breathe of your angel or animal brush gently against your cheek as you drop into a deep peaceful sleep.
There are plenty of other rituals you could perform in your bedroom. You might think about:
Waking up and greeting the day rituals. Perhaps incorporate some yoga (the Salutation to the Sun is ideal) or some tai chi.
Sacred Sex rituals. Tantric and Taoism practices offer some wonderful sensual and sexual rituals. Explore these incredible traditions.
Releasing negativity. Don't allow your frustrations and annoyances to fester. Maybe use some aura cleansing or visualisation. Or put your gripes literally on ice (write them down, put them into a container of water and freeze!).
We humans have always built altars or shrines, it seems. Evidence from neolithic times shows our ancient ancestors kept certain places sacred and invested them with a numinous quality. But nowadays few Western homes (apart from those belonging to people with an orthodox faith) have any vestige of sacred places or shrines. Yet an altar is a simple thing to erect. All it takes is a small space - it could be a window ledge, a table top, part of a dressing table, a bookshelf
. I'm quite willing to bet that maybe, in a small or totally unconscious way, you have already made some kind of altar in your bedroom. Maybe it's a couple of beloved photographs. Perhaps a crystal or a candle. You might have an incense burner and have positioned a vase of flowers next to it.
These are altars in themselves - small places of focus which make you want to stop, pause, ponder, say a prayer maybe or remember someone with love. What you put on your altar is totally up to you. But they should be things that speak directly to your soul. Not 'lookgood' things; not even particularly 'feelgood' things but things that have a deep resonance for you. Sometimes the items on an altar can be very soothing but more often they will trigger all manner of emotions: tapping into your soul lessons. They might even make you recall and ponder your fears, your insecurities, your needs.
If you are not sure what to put on your altar then follow the old, tried and tested formulae. In most traditional cultures, an altar is built using things that represent the four elements. So earth is honored with something living, such as a plant, or with the fabric of the earth - a stone, a bowl of earth, maybe a ceramic pot or a beautiful piece of wood. Air is traditionally represented by incense as the smoke moves through the air towards heaven - you can easily buy incense sticks or freshly made incense which you burn using a charcoal block on a fire-proof container. If you're not keen on incense you could substitute an aromatherapy oil burner with the same effect. Fire is obviously represented by candles. Water can easily be evoked with a bowl of clear fresh water or something brought from the sea or river - some sand or a pebble or shell. In addition, you could add a favorite image - maybe a mandala, a goddess, saint or angel; perhaps a statue; a crystal, some fresh flowers .
TIME FOR BED
So there it is, the end of this little book and time to say 'good night'. I hope it's helped you discover your ideal bedroom and given you some ideas beyond fancy paint effects and bizarre ways to use MDF! Above all, I'd like to think it's helped you turn your bedroom, however small or apparently insignificant, into a truly healing space, a sanctuary for body, mind and soul. I wish you good nights, bright and cheery mornings and sweet dreams.
About the Author
Jane Alexander is well-trusted as an expert in natural medicine, holistic living and contemporary spirituality. Her aim is to simplify the often arcane concepts behind alternative health and spirituality and make them accessible and meaningful to everybody. She is the author of sixteen books on holistic living, including Spirit of the Home, Live Well (a western guide to ayurveda), The Detox Plan, The Five Minute Healer and The Weekend Healer. Her website was recently given 5 star top rating by The Good Web Guide who said "If she didn't exist, you'd have to invent her and the Mind Body Spirit movement probably owes her a great debt of gratitude..her books are all worth buying." Visit JaneAlexander.org and find out why.
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