Altars can bring beauty,
meditation, remembrance The Chronicle & Dhamma Times
San Francisco -- I
make altars to connect the creative with the spiritual. I usually have at least three in
my home and one at my office. Depending on the season, I arrange a revolving altar on the
mantel in the living room.
Most of my friends also
have altars in their homes for beauty, meditation, remembrance of the dead or anything
that requires focus.
As an interior designer,
I try to gently encourage my clients to place altars in their homes when they remodel. It
is a slow process.
Altars allow us to focus
on different wishes, needs and spirituality. They shouldn't be permanent. One of my
friends encourages her guests to add to her outdoor altar at her Stinson Beach house.
Occasionally everything gets blown away or buried by sand.
Altars can be used as
affirmations. When my daughter was traveling in England, I had a picture on my bedroom
altar of her and me, along with one of her drawings that said she loved me and little
things to keep her safe.
When I'm struggling with
a situation in my life, I modify an existing altar or make a new one to reflect on things
I should think about.
At my office, my altar
features Kwan Yin, the Buddhist goddess of compassion; also oranges, pomegranates and
lemons, Mexican money icons, plants and flowers, Virgin Mary candles and cards and other
symbolic items that concern success, money, but also guidance and generosity.
A simple ritual can
direct one's attention to the meaning of the altar. If I go to work and can't concentrate,
I burn some candles and incense and sit for a minute. Afterward, I usually know what I
A seasonal altar can
include the family in its creation and celebration. For the winter solstice, my daughter
and I arrange candles, sparkling items, evergreen branches, Christmas tree decorations,
fake snow, glass fruits, anything that will light up the night.
The altar in my art
studio has different deities of creativity and items for inspiration. When our backyard
landscaping is finished, I will arrange an altar to bring peacefulness into the space.
I made an altar for my
father when he died last year. Since he died on Nov. 1, an important time of year for
Mexicans, I also put Day of the Dead items on his altar.
A few weeks ago, my
stepmother came to visit for the first time since his death. Our family was going to
gather at my house and I decided to make a big pot of spaghetti and a salad.
As I began to prepare the
sauce, to chop and saute, it occurred to me that I was enacting a ritual. For years, my
stepmother would grow tomatoes and my father would make a very spicy, wonderful sauce. It
would be frozen and eaten in the dead of winter when any of us would happen to visit.
I began to feel my dad's
presence as I continued, both his encouragement and his criticism of my cooking. I stopped
and gathered up some items, a candle, some pictures of the Virgin Mary, a few mementos and
built a quick altar to honor my father and the process of cooking a nurturing and loving
meal for my dear family.
My stepmother tasted it
the next day and said it smelled and tasted like my dad's and I told her of the altar and
his presence during the preparation.
I love visiting homes
that have altars. They are so comforting and show attention to spiritual matters, a part
of life that is often overlooked as we try to keep house, make a living and be a success.
There is a simple
pleasure in arranging an altar. It does not have to take up much space, but it can give
you a focus, as well as joy and peace. And to me, it's really a work of art.