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Build Your Altar : Tend Your Life

Times can feel tough. When have a sense of feeling squeezed, unmoored, angry, or in distress, help comes through reminders to connect to something larger than is right in front of us. This is one traditional role of the altar: to remind us there is sacred ground.

Altar building and tending, like other rituals in our lives, orient us to the world within and around us. These activities remind us to pause for a moment, to breathe, and to reconnect with what feels important to us. These spaces and activities offer reminders to the parts of us that rely on instinct that we have a connection to the world that is larger than what we think about it. These parts respond to the colors of flowers, or the lighting of a candle, or the image that calls us to the sacred. Altars can be bold and big, stealthy, or small. One blue candle. Or a green plant in a yellow pot. A single image. A sea shell. An altar is any space that centers us, and reminds us to connect.

Those of you with small sacred spaces strewn about your homes or offices, how long has it been since you have dusted, polished, or rearranged? Are there so many objects, crowded together, you can’t even really discern what is in the jumble, or remember what meaning they had for you, once upon a time? Clear some space. Put some objects in a cupboard for one season, or build a smaller altar with them somewhere else. You might even make public altars with these objects, like friends of mine in Portland OR did: painting old slim desk drawers, gluing objects inside of them, and affixing them to telephone poles around town. The neighbors ended up tending the shrines, adding objects and offerings of their own. These public altars became sacred reminders to others. One of my neighbors has an altar affixed on his front porch. I like to look up the steps to see what offerings he has left there on any given week: a pyramid of oranges, a flower, a cup.

There is an altar that I see each time I open my front door. I make sure offerings are changed there, and I greet the deity it is dedicated to as I enter and exit. We have a small kitchen altar. I have an altar in my bedroom. Any space can become a call to the sacred, because what is sacred exists everywhere, all we need is to take a moment to remember.

Those of you who have no small sacred spaces, why don’t you build one? I’ve known people to decorate old Altoid tins and keep them in the car glove box for pre-work meditations. Or people who hung a picture of the woods in their work spaces, making time to gaze upon it every time they entered that space.

Matchbox Shrines by Terra Maya, Etsy

We can make altars anywhere, and they can look like anything, but their presence reminds us that we are connected to something larger and deeper than what our ego insists. Tending our altars reminds us to tend to our lives in more profound ways. Life isn’t all about getting ahead, or our next meal. Life is about connection to what we consider to be sacred.

Over time, our lives become the altars that we tend, each act or word a sacred offering.

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