A post written by one of our regular, long-time practitioners who has been a valued part of our Kula & community!
Little Altars Everywhere
Little altars everywhere is a guiding concept for my interior design, both in the physical and metaphysical realms. I am a long time practitioner of yoga. I love that it is a practice. I practice yoga. I gain mastery. I practice. I shed. I practice. I grow. I practice. I simplify and the complex becomes achievable. I breathe in. I practice. I breathe out.
Yoga comes from a root word that means to join. There is a close relationship between the words yoga and yoking. I love the visual of oxen yoked and the slow steady power that is constrained, directed, and focused as they work in tandem under skilled direction.
As I practice yoga, I learn about interconnectedness and energy. I yoke my attention to my breath and to my effort. I am learning to bring mind, body, and soul together to skillfully discern. I aim to proceed with embodied thoughtful compassion. I have glimpses of weightlessness. I have moments of clarity. I feel the interior expansiveness of my body in brand new ways that connect me to ancient knowing. A lot happens in my life because of my yoga practice. I am learning to influence the how of my living. It’s a lot to keep in mind some days. It can be tricky to step out of habitual ways of being. It requires a deep honesty to keep questing for truth, to be at home in discomfort, to explore the edges, to practice living with a yogic integrity.
My time on my mat makes me a better person. I used to take classes once a week, then twice, now three a week is my routine and I am building a home practice of meditation, asana, and pranayama. Forrest Yoga illuminates my path at this point in my journey. My teachers have encouraged me to practice on my own, outside of class. I have also been urged to also take it off the mat. I have been supported both by friends and also in friendly encounters with strangers in growing this inclination to explore incorporating what I learn on the mat in class into both my home practice and my everyday being.
I had a crucial and influential teacher who challenged me in many ways, especially around accountability. Gianna Carotenuto pushed me to see myself as strong and complete. She taught me my home practice could be grown by doing just my favorite things on my mat at home. She challenged me to see that there is room in my home for both me and my work. So much of my life at that time was tied up in caring for others and keeping various children as safe and engaged as possible. I put a sweet little toy frog in my bathroom by my toothbrush to remind me to take the leap. When I told her about it, she replied, “That is an altar.” She had me tell my classmates about it later and we began to notice other touchstones and reminders we have in our lives and homes.
The power of imbuing objects with psychic power and inviting energy and intention through their presence in our lives is not uncommon. Wedding rings. Great grandma’s holiday candle holder. Baby’s first shoes. Bringing fresh cut flowers into our homes.
I like to think of several flavors of altars, influenced by learning I received from Rev Angel Kyodo Williams. She is a Buddhist teacher, priest, author and activist, working for radical liberation. She taught a grounding practice that she prescribed to be performed in three ways. I have come to regard little altars in the three similar ways. There are three Rs: regular, ritual, and random, that can be used to practice and strengthen grounding in presence. Regular practice describes a practice that is triggered by external factors like choosing to ground when crossing a threshold, or taking a complete deep breath at every red light. Ritual practice describes a more formal and self-conscious practice, maybe focusing on the honing or polishing of a certain aspect of the grounding practice. I am working on an energetic flow that is more fluid and maintains optimum viscosity. I do this on my cushion. And the third facet of this grounding practice is random. Whenever you think of it, do it. Ground in presence, strive for and explore 360 degree presence.
In my work with little altars everywhere, I have found three Cs: care, create, and revealed (crack).
Care for existing altars. Touch the mezuzah, light the candle, bring the flowers. You may also create an altar. It can be small like my little green frog or ornate like a shrine for a beloved; it may be subtle or obvious; created in joy or erected for supplication; crafted for protection, or as an invitation; an embodiment of celebration or thanksgiving.
There is an art to learning to ask with specificity for the kernel of most truth in your desire. Creating an altar structures this process by requiring an attunement to details and specificity that clarifies desire and enhances attraction. An act of creation is no small gesture. Merely stack a few rocks, arrange those potted plants just so, and make it smell and look good. Focus on gratitude and ground when you care for these spots.
If prayer is a concentration of positive thoughts, then altars are ways to amplify and focus thoughts or energy. We can tinker with our altars and view them as experimental microcosms for some larger energetic fields. We can invite more robust understandings. What is the soundtrack to this beauty? Play that. Journal about it. Record images, both representational and abstract. Play with themes of color and pattern. Find a poem or phrase to include.
The third, most mischievous, is the altar revealed (crack). Sometimes there’s a blue jay’s feather in your path. Or maybe you find a perfect sitting rock at the beach. Or a corner of your yard beckons you. I recently discovered I had inadvertently recorded 5-6 images over the course of two years from almost the exact same spot in my backyard. I came to realize that there is an access point for me there. I like to lie back and look up, noticing there, at that spot, the way the branches from two different trees move in the same wind. My sky altar revealed.
Small children are excellent detectors of small altars revealed. Take a walk with a wee one and see what they are drawn to. Notice what they notice. See what may be revealed about your world and your place in it.
In my experience, being more attuned allows me to perceive more messaging in the world around me. Altars can be cared for, be created, and be revealed. For me, it is a practice of noting and sometimes studying what is occupying or attracting my attention. This attention can be cultivated with an interior focus, too. I have areas within my body that are more full of information than others. Areas that call to be noticed and other areas within that are cloaked and secretive. My current teacher, Rosalie Battah, encourages us, rather than wincing or tensing, to receive the information we find in ourselves. She urges us to move away from story, and to go into feeling and learn what we can.
This practice is not for wimps or the fainthearted.
I have found in my interior landscape, I also tend to accumulate little altars, be they cared for, created, or revealed (crack). In my areas that are full of information, I often find myself constructing little stations to help me. Beneath my right shoulder blade and circling around my collarbones, there is a darkness. My breath powers light that I am learning to illuminate and radiate there. That feels like an internal altar. I have a sticky spot at the insertion of my hip flexors. My breath is Snoqualmie Falls, broad and powerful, flushing out the stagnation. The arches of my feet are often in need of celebration. Caring for, creating, and discovering these internal altars are a way for me to embody my practice with specificity. They are also useful data collection tools as I learn to better calibrate my energy.
Altars, their creation, discovery, and care are all tools for consciousness and focus. Both on and off the mat, both within and without my body, I find that as I practice care, more connection follows. I am careful with my altars, the small and grand gestures of recognition, appreciation, and attraction I recognize and connect with. I am reminded to be conscious of where, how, and why I am spending my energy and directing my attention. I encourage you to notice how you reinforce intentions, and remember your direction. How do you find your path and practice gratitude? Maybe light a candle, have a glass of water, or lie on the ground. Put a rock on your bedside table, recognize that feather and stone collection, that bunch of dried flowers, that corner of the shelf, that little green frog; those may be your altars already, just waiting to be recognized, cared for, and enhanced.