Grow Your Creativity
Chris Dunmire : Zen Garden

Your Creative Impulse

Zen Garden

Use the art of Zen gardening to relax, rejuvenate, and enhance creative flow. (Bonus: Desktop Zen garden project!)

By Chris Dunmire | Updated 2/28/16

Are you creatively blocked, stressed, or stuck? Try Zen gardening. Zen gardening is a contemplative way to unleash your creativity with the delightful side effect of being a meditative, stress-relieving, and relaxing activity.

The ancient Japanese discipline of Zen (Sanskrit for meditation) is not only for Buddhist monks trying to reach a state of spiritual enlightenment, but a transformational tool for creatives of all kinds to use to quiet their minds and allow inspiration to flow forth.

When you combine Zen meditation with the hands-on cultivation of a rock garden, artful sandscaping, or simply raking sand with no attachment to the outcome, you'll enjoy the many benefits this holistic activity will bring into your life.

What benefits? Cultivating a Zen garden is a meditative, relaxing, and stress-relieving activity, perfect for calming down or centering yourself after a busy day. It's also creative, artful, and skill-building as you practice designing visually-appealing, flowing scenes over and over. This nurturing gift to yourself takes only minutes a day, rejuvenates your mind, and enhances your creative life.

The Book of Meditations (Toysmith, 2001), a booklet that comes with a Zen Garden Kit explains the purpose of Zen gardening:

“The purpose of cultivating a Zen rock garden is to learn to open your mind and see more than what is before you. The kit includes a wooden platform, sand, rocks, and a wooden rake. These elements, when combined allow the Zen gardener to experience what Zen masters have practiced for centuries. You can experience Zen rock gardening on a personal level wherever you chose. The rocks resemble mountains and the sand water. As you rake the sand around the rocks, you can choose patterns and designs reflecting swirling pools or swift streams. It is the patterns evolving from the contemplative mind that provide the more serene landscapes. Experiment, meditate, and enjoy.”

Traditional Zen gardens are life-size and usually require space to maintain. If that doesn't work for you, enjoy similar benefits by purchasing a mini Zen Garden kit. Or, if you'd like something more customized, make your own self-contained garden like I did. Here's how.

How to make a desktop Zen Garden for about 10 bucks

To make your own mini desktop Zen garden you'll need:

  • sand
  • a shallow tray
  • rocks
  • a raking tool

Materials: If you're a purist who desires to follow traditional Zen Buddhism ways, you'll want to use earthy materials like wood for the tray and rake. However, if you're open to modifying the practice and use a variety of tools and materials including metals and plastics, you'll expand your creative toolbox and overall experience with this fascinating art form.

Cost: You can make your own Zen garden like mine in the photo above for about $10.

Sand: White sand is used in the Zen garden. You can find white sand at craft and hobby stores or at garden centers, usually near the fish tank and shell areas. You'll need about 1/2" to 3/4" inches of sand to fill your tray.

Shallow Tray: You can buy or build a tray to hold the sand and stones in your Zen garden. Since water and other liquids are absent, you can use any type of materials that works for you: wood, metal, plastic, ceramic, etc.

While the tray can be of any shape or size, it should be shallow enough to allow easy access to cultivating and raking your garden, yet deep enough to allow ample sand and some space at the top so the sand doesn't spill over the sides easily. A 1-inch deep rectangular tray is ideal for your Zen garden. Other possibilities include a picture frame, baking pan, round terra-cotta plant dish, or shallow box. Whatever you choose, a dark color contrasts beautifully with white sand. In my example above, a 17 1/4" x 11 1/2" x 1" large dark gray cookie pan is used.

Rocks: Any small rocks or polished stones will work in your Zen garden. Choose rocks that appeal to you. If rocks don't appeal to you or get in the way of your sandscaping, don't use them. Small polished stones are used in my example. You can also use shells or other materials that appeal to you.

A Raking Tool: Make your own raking tools from dowel rods or use alternative items like forks, combs, and other pronged-tools to rake the sand in your Zen garden. Ideally, raking tools will have evenly-spaced nibs like a garden rake, but can also have a flat side for raking the sand smooth. In the example above, I used a black plastic picnic fork for both raking and smoothing the sand.

Creating Harmonious Joy

The Book of Meditations says, “A Zen garden is for contemplations, for finding truth and personal enlightenment. It transcends space and time.” Once you have all of your tools and materials together, find a quiet space alone where you won't be disturbed and:

  1. Pour the sand into the tray and distribute evenly.
  2. Begin raking.
  3. Rake the sand into formations, lines, swirls, dunes, oceans, mountains, valleys, artistic sandscapes, and whatever else inspires you. Use the rocks. Or not. Be a purist or be free. There are no rules — only possibilities for personal enrichment and nurturing yourself and your creativity.

When I first played with my Zen garden, I relished how effortlessly my mind became engaged in the flow of creative possibilities. I would rake in shallow straight lines. And then in zigzags. Then in deeper circles and swirls. I formed rivers and mountains. Plunked in some stones and raked around them. Created dunes, removed rocks, and raked some more. I moved openly into the formless potential and cleared my mind of the day's chaos by raking the sand in the box completely smooth with a flat sided tool. Kind of like a free range etch-a-sketch!

Zen rock gardening, sand combing, artscaping, or whatever you'd like to call it, is something everyone can enjoy and benefit from. If it appeals to you on any level, I encourage you to give it a try and see how nurturing it it feels. Bet you'll like it. •

© 2008, 2015 Chris Dunmire. All rights reserved.

About Chris Dunmire

Chris is a deeply engaged creative spirit, lover of wit, words, and wisdom, and the driving force behind the award-winning Creativity Portal® Web site. [...]

More by Chris Dunmire

Imagination Prompt Generator
Fortune Cookie Messages
Treemendous Memory
Collage Art Primers

Copyright ゥ 2000– Chris Dunmire,, and respective copyright owners. Creativity Portalョ is a registered trademark. All Rights Reserved. Privacy.
Copyright ゥ 2000–. See
copyright, trademark, & privacy notice.
Site Features
About Contact Site Map What's New Series Authors Project Playground
Social Media
Facebook Twitter RSS