Years ago, while looking for a piece of mandala art to hang in my living room I discovered the work of Day Schildkret. I followed him on Instagram actually, @morningaltars. I loved how he made mandalas out of natural things– impermanent earth art. It pleased my eye and spirit to see them come up in my feed. Fast forward several years– when I saw that he was coming out with a book called, “Morning Altars: a 7-Step Practice to Nourish Your Spirit through Nature, Art, and Ritual” I knew I wanted to get my hands on it!
First, I felt sure it was going to be gorgeous. (I mean check out his Instagram feed!) And I was curious about what steps he would recommend that others do to make their own altars. I also loved that he was breaking it down into manageable actions that would presumably go beyond just arranging leaves on the ground and move the mandala making into something that was relevant and practical with who you are and what is happening with you in your life, as well as help you make it sacred.
The other reason I was so interested in it was because mandala making is a lovely grounding practice. If you’ve been one of my Intuition University students you know how important grounding is. I teach this practice in every one of my group classes– it’s that important to an optimally running intuition and life. To be effective on earth, we need to be in our bodies. Being grounded not only feels vastly better than the spinning out feeling that can come with not being grounded, it is also a way to keep yourself and your life in balance and harmony. It’s a way to align your spirit and being with your animal body (your human form). It’s a way to slow down and help you move at a natural animal pace. Which not only makes things more enjoyable, I also believe it makes you more effective while on earth!
Mandalas and making them can help you ground. And I’m always looking for (doing, and recommending) different grounding practices to my students. Different moments call for different measures. (Here is a link to my all time favorite grounding practice.) It’s nice to have an arsenal of practices that you can use in different moments when you are feeling like you really need to center and connect to the wisdom within and feel the giant supportive earth below.
I built my first nature altar inspired by Day and “Morning Altars” on a recent trip to New Mexico. I started with Day’s first step, “Wander and Wonder.”
“Rather than seeking to find a path, I advise you to go off it. Don’t walk straight lines. Get distracted. Take the long way. Roam! Wander! Explore! Let the scent of a warm, fragrant breeze tempt you in a completely new direction. Follow that spritely sparrow under the shrub. Get out of your head, get out of your home, and put that wondering mind in some wandering shoes. Open your front door and be taken, be taken, be taken.”
He continues, “Wandering is the practiced art of listening and letting yourself be drawn to that which is here, alive, and communicating. Wandering is not aimless– it’s attentive. You’re not gone, you are truly arriving.”
Wander and wonder “is a treasure hunt that transforms the mundane into the magical as you forage the treasures that will fill your altar.”
Day recommends bringing
A large basket or bag for big treasures
A few smaller bags for those delicate items
A pair of scissors
Water and a snack
A willingness to be awed by the ordinary
But when I did my first one, I just brought myself, and a willingness to be awed! So don’t let your lack of a basket deter you from the practice! Wandering down a waterless riverbed in Santa Fe I shuffled along until a place just below a tree called to me.
There I gathered objects and began to create. To me, on this day, it felt spacious and fun. I loved having the freedom to chose and create something that brought me joy in the moment with no other agenda than that.
Of course you can go deeper than that. Day recommends using nature mandala to mark anniversaries—important moments—even the death of a loved one, a wedding, a birth, you name it. And/or you could make this your family’s new Thanksgiving tradition. You can also create them with specific intentions in mind or as you ponder certain “wonderings” as Day might refer to it.
That day in the dry Santa Fe air as I pieced together my natural objects I found myself permeated with a deep sense of gratitude. Every part of me was glad for this experience—for the connecting with nature, for the freedom to have this beauty be ephemeral, for the way it drew me to really noticing and appreciating the land around me and all the tiny treasures it offered. I created until I felt I was done. Then I sat with it for some time, said a prayer of gratitude, and went on my way. I can tell you, even as a nature lover, it was so much more meaningful than just a simple walk outside (which I also love.) I felt loving and loved back by the earth—and maybe it sounds crazy, but I had a sense that the earth herself, this little spot I chose also appreciated the simple dedication and awareness that I brought to that moment and place. I felt connected and in communion with what was around me.
So if you are looking for an inspired thanks giving practice on this holiday of gratitude I recommend wandering and wondering, and creating. If you are looking for something grounding, centering, with meaning, and connection to the divinity of the moment, the space around you, and the feelings in your heart I recommend making an altar (or many) this holiday of gratitude (and beyond). I also recommend gifting this book to yourself or others! It’s such a visual treat– it’s beautiful to behold– even just sitting on the coffee table. (Though hopefully, even just sitting there it will remind you of a grounding practice you can do if you just put on your shoes and walk outside!) On Day’s website you can also find calendars, greeting cards, his altar art installations, and info about where he teaches altar making.)
In Day’s book you won’t find a specific formula that you can’t do without, or must read before you begin. For example he doesn’t give you a geometric formula for creating a nature altar—rather he advises, “The most useful skill to employ when creating altars is play.” He inspires you with his own gorgeous examples and personal stories of the transformations that have taken place in him as he has created hundreds (maybe thousands by now) of altars. He gives you many tips to inspire and deepen your practice— and he gently guides you into creating your own magic.