Altars: creating a space for prayer and intention

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As you probably know, the path of meditation and mindfulness, whatever point you’re at and whichever way you do it, is never short of challenges and obstacles. I think this is especially true in the city, where the pace of life beyond the front door can whisk us away in whirlwind of busy-ness and doing, and is a frantic assault on our senses and our spirits. One element of my own personal journey that I find to be a great source of clarity and inspiration is the altar. And nowhere are these more abundant than with our friends and teachers in the Costa Rican forest. So here is some inspiration.

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Creating an altar is much more than just throwing some pretty things on a shelf and dusting them once a month. It is a space for intention and purpose, a rare opportunity to focus our attention on what we are grateful for, what we want to receive or manifest, and give thanks and definition to our sources of inspiration and power. Within this focused framework, we are better able to turn inwards and explore our inner skies with clear intentions – whatever worries and catastrophes we might be juggling in normal life. I find that bringing a purpose or prayer to my meditation really helps to quiet the mind and let me feel the present through my heart and my senses – and doing this with a devotional altar can often be a deeply healing and nourishing experience.

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And they are not just for intention and purpose: an altar is a beautiful place to make peace with that which doesn’t serve us anymore. Old habits, negative people, events that no longer deserve our energy and care. In therapeutic use, throwing old emotions, words and concepts into a fire is an ancient and symbolic way to leave the past behind and make peace with what it gave us. In times of transition, gathering old burdens and limitations, either physically or mentally, and offering them to your altar can be a beautiful form of closure. In a group this collective healing is so powerful and unifying.

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But what to do alone at home? This is our own journey and there are no rules. Just purpose and intent – two such powerful forces which can dramatically alter our everyday life and the way we approach its tasks and duties.

In my own practise I like to bring trinkets and talismans from travels and happy times in my past – a constant reminder of what I have to be grateful for.

Incense and candles fill the room with warmth and comfort and make a devotional offering to the higher powers we are connecting with through our meditation, and if you work with crystals they are a beautiful addition. Even if you don’t, see which one calls you. Quartz, the universal crystal, is a wonderful altar centrepiece: it is a balancing stone, absorbing surrounding energy and so neutralising and protecting us from modern interrupters such as wifi, electromagnetic waves and environmental pollution. Within the same capacity it can strengthen and balance the chakras and activate our own inner energy; this stabilising capacity makes it a great companion for meditation and healing.

A beautiful fabric covering or clean earthy texture such as wood or ceramic makes a good setting – remembering the connection to cultures and traditions that we resonate with, or the earth itself. Flowers or a plant remind us of our synergy with nature and bring an other-wordly beauty and energy.

And if there is a particular theme or concern in your life that you need help with, that you’ve thought about and thought about until the mind is crazy and it’s now down to the heart to figure out, bring it in to the altar somehow. On a piece of paper, in a physical object – make friends with it and get to know it in your heart and body. Often it is from this deeper space that we find a little more resolution and clarity and the helicopter mind can quieten down and return to what it needs to focus on.

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Just like our gardens and our homes, our spirits need some nurturing too… take some time today to make yourself an altar and create a space of love and devotion in which to explore yours.

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