One of the best ways to nurture a meditation or prayer practice is to create a place within the home that is dedicated solely to this purpose—an altar.
An altar offers us a visual reminder to make time in the day to reconnect with our hearts. It also provides a place of refuge. Whatever is happening in the world around us, we know that when we sit before our altar, we are leaving the worldly chaos behind, and moving into a state in which we can find peace and security.
So how do we choose where to put our altar?
Locations for churches, temples and other holy buildings tend to be chosen based on their energy fields. Similarly, when choosing where to put our home altar—our mini version of a temple—we don’t need to engage the thinking mind. We can simply seek the answer from our hearts or intuit: Where does it want to go? Perhaps the answer is on a dresser in the hallway, a wooden crate in the northeast corner of the bedroom, or even in a portable shoebox. I was once guided to move my altar into the garden in the middle of February. By trusting my intuition, not only did I learn to release the judgments I had towards frigid weather, but I also learned that I could sit happily in difficult or uncomfortable circumstances just by connecting with my heart.
And what do we put on an altar?
While sometimes we may practice meditation with the goal of calming the mind, at an altar we are practicing meditation to awaken the heart. For this reason, it is helpful to place a photo or symbolic representation on our altar of someone or something we love deeply, or of a spiritual guide or teacher to whom we are devoted. That way, when we come to sit in meditation, our hearts naturally want to open, because we’ve set an intention. By setting an intention, we’ve created a foundation for our practice. The devotion and gratitude we have for that intention motivates us to sit in stillness even during the busiest of times.
When it comes to adorning our altar, there are no rules. Perhaps we are drawn to put 100 objects on our altar to honor that all things are sacred, or just a photo of our spiritual guide and a candle as a reminder of the simplicity of being present, or maybe our altar is more fluid—changing often. The expression itself can offer us clues about how our hearts are feeling. If your altar wants to be simplified, perhaps it’s time to look at whether your heart is calling out for simplicity in other areas of your life.
Above all, it’s helpful to remember that nothing is unworthy of being on our altar. Spiritual teacher Ram Dass, in his book Paths to God, shares that he chooses to include photos of people in the world with whom he is having a testing relationship—a friend, family member, partner, the odd politician or two. In this way, he says, when he sits down at his altar for his morning meditation, he can immediately feel his heart close and is therefore provided with the perfect opportunity to practice releasing anger and to remember that nothing and no one should be left out of our hearts.
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