How do you spiritually nourish yourself? One way, for me, is at my alter. For 25 years I have had alters of one kind or another. My alters have evolved over the years with me.
Initially, I was inspired by Catholic 'poustinias,' or prayer huts, and placed a small bamboo table in a tiny storage closet that I painted white with a gold ceiling and put mystical Jungian mandalas and some mystical Christian images on the walls and I used to go into my prayer room and pray or meditate or sometimes just cry. That was when I lived in Grad Residence. Later I lived in a condo and then a house. My alters shifted to objects as conduits of healing energies and my predilection to the Divine Feminine. Various crystals and incense holders and statuettes and semi-precious stones found their way onto my makeshift alters. When I had a cottage I used make alters by heaping sand into three foot high mounds and flattening the tops and putting shells and stones and feathers and sometimes incense in the sand. After a wind storm blew down some trees, I salvaged a double tree stump that my husband hauled home and on which I placed crystals and representations of the four elements, incense in sand, a shell with water, a candle, and fresh flowers as often as I could afford them. I taught yoga in my home then and my students often brought flowers for the alter too. After my marriage ended I rented out the top floor of my house, which was my room, shared my daughter's room, and had my desk in the kitchen, so I didn't have an official alter for years. My alter then was a quartz crystal ball from Brazil, figurines, Quan Yin holding a baby, Venus of Willendorf, Green Tara, special stones, mystical rainbow obsidian, rose quartz, blue lapis lazuli veined with copper, a large smooth flat stone glued with numerous cottage pebbles, a moonstone white and glistening with colour, glass crystal prisms in the window to catch the dancing sunlight, small quartz crystals scattered in amongst the books, and candles on deep blue glass and wrought iron spirals on my desk.
After I sold my house, moved to the West Coast and rented a three bedroom house, I was able to create an alter in a corner of my room. This alter is quite Tibetan Buddhist and Goddess. An oil painting of the Sri Yantra that I did as a meditation hangs on the wall, the bindu, or centre point, positioned exactly at eye level. The two small figures are Ch'en Rezig and White Tara, masculine and feminine Buddhas, imported from Nepal, their faces painted with real gold apparently- they are exquisitely beautiful. Everything is collected on a hand-carved wooden table from north Africa. At the side is a thick pole from my cottage, found on the beach and so smoothed by the motion of the water of the lake, wrapped in sheepskin and hung with a headdress of feathers. I have Native drums and rattles near, as well as Tibetan bells. My alter space is small, wedged between the wall and a circa 1920s mirrored oak cupboard, and I have to sit with my right knee bent, the left one on the floor- somehow exactly in the pose of Green Tara. Unfortunately I don't do my daily meditation at my alter because sitting like Green Tara for extended periods of time is not very comfortable. Each object on my alter contains years of precious memories and I love to caress them with a silk cloth as I dust them, keeping them clean and shiny.
What do I do at my alter? Why, I commune, of course. Sometimes I do rituals that I make up, or follow procedures from books, incantations and dream magick, entering into the vast and creative flow of universal energy. Mostly, though, at my alter I allow the meditation, the prayer, that life is to flow through me. As I sit, doing a Kundalini meditation, inviting the light of clarity in, images of the world move through my mind, often the suffering of those who I have read of in the news, the suffering of those I love, my own, and I cry, grieving. I ask many questions, always the endless questions, and receive answers intuitively, in feeling. And I am guided here, at my alter, when I need to understand something in my life or make decisions. At my alter I can be myself and can enter into my own deepness to find the wisdom that would be the best path to follow, even if tomorrow it changes. At my alter, I feel close to what is divine, close to everyone on the planet and to our earth itself, spiritually close to all I know and love. I ask for unconditional love and acceptance, and to be able to give these gifts to others. I am comforted, healed, made whole enough to continue on.
Ultimately we carry our alter with us. Many of my friends find comfort at the alter of their church or synagogue or mosque or temple during quiet times. Though it is wonderful to have a sacred space of your own. I hope everyone has a private alter, a reserved corner for special mementos, a garden you've nurtured, a special place in the woods to go and commune, or a tiny triangle in a city park with a tree through which to view the sky, even a bath of soft warm scented water with rose petals can serve as an alter space where you honour yourself and the radiance of life.