Altared Consciousness: A is for Altar

“Awareness needs constant refreshing. If it becomes a habit, even a good habit, it will need to be reinvented again and again.” ~Rick Rubin, The Creative Act: A Way of Being

“Do you remember...
The 21st night of September?  
Love was changin' the minds of pretenders...
While chasin' the clouds away.”
~Earth, Wind & Fire, ”September”

From early childhood into early adulthood, my awareness of the autumn equinox was minimal.  September was associated with the beginning of the school year.  It still embarrasses me just a little to admit that I was the kid that looked forward to returning to school: sitting at a desk, observing and listening to teachers; eager to learn about almost anything beyond my personal experience.  School was a happy place, although I dreaded the homework, as much as anyone else.  Decades later, it’s not too surprising that I now begin each day sitting; ready to observe, listen and learn.

When I sit down by my meditation altar each morning, the neighborhood is just beginning to awaken.  The loudest sound is the clock ticking in the room.  The day ahead is often full of scheduled tasks and commitments.  But before that begins, random thoughts, feelings and ideas are allowed to emerge and fill my Morning Pages.  The flow of words may be interrupted by a hummingbird sipping its breakfast, clouds moving across the sky and a few tears.  After the pages are written, I face the altar to recite prayers and verses before sitting in silence.  When the bell chimes, signaling the end of my meditation, it’s pleasant to feel at ease within my mind, body and spirit.  But some days are unpleasant, when I’m just going through the motions; disconnected from what I’m doing and saying.  In those moments, there is frustration and disappointment.  But after three years of sitting in the same seat nearly every morning, I know that just showing up as I am is enough.  There was a time when I didn’t believe this.

“The Fall Equinox asks us to sit on the edge of enoughness.”
~Day Schildkret, Hello, Goodbye

More than five years ago, standing at a desk, the inception of this morning routine began with reluctance.  I had finally decided to begin the practice of Morning Pages.  I wrote, “Ok.  My first morning page.  Already I don’t want to do it.”  It felt like homework and I resisted it.  I had plenty of work at home; chores to complete daily.  By the end of the first page, my fingers were numb.  For all three pages, I was numb to my feelings.  I wonder if I had sensed how much the pages would completely disrupt my life; eventually leading me back to an abandoned meditation practice; revealing an accumulation of inner chores that depleted me.  Somehow, I chose to return each morning and finish that first notebook.  It was filled with observations of all I could be or do or experience, if I just had enough…  By the end of that year, I had had enough.  Enough self pity, enough self loathing, enough self hatred.

“Awareness needs constant refreshing.  
If it becomes a habit, even a good habit, it will need to be reinvented again and again.”
~Rick Rubin, The Creative Act: A Way of Being

For decades, I had been creating and tending beautiful altars throughout my home. Put in locations where they could be easily seen; they were reminders to pause, take a breath and feel gratitude.  All of these altars had meaning, refreshed each season with intention.  But with the exception of the Ofrenda to celebrate Días de los Muertos, I didn’t spend a lot of time with any of them or connect with what they truly represented; a desire to live in alignment with my values.  Brief pauses in between tasks throughout the day were no longer enough.  So, in the darkest room of the house, on the darkest night of the year, I created another altar with space for me to sit in front of a candle and an image of Padmasambhava.  My meditation practice had resumed.

“Every action you take is a vote for the person you wish to become.”
~James Clear, Atomic Habits

Three months later as the world was shutting down, I was shut down by Covid.  Unable to leave the house or work from home, the next six weeks became an involuntary personal retreat. My morning practice evolved into daily practices.  My altar became a compass when it wasn’t an anchor.

Meditating at least twice a day, unwinding with gentle restorative yoga, listening to dharma talks and reading wellness authors, I slowly gathered my strength.  (And yes, a fair amount of binge watching of lighthearted entertainment and cute animal videos provided necessary belly laughs.)  Zoom meetings several times a week encouraged me to keep showing up, as I was, even when miserable.  When I finally had the ability to walk outside, my thoughts were as unrushed as my stride.  Chores had become choices when done with kindness, generosity, humor and gratitude.  And when they couldn’t be, a quiet voice wondered if I was tired, dehydrated or hungry.  Or just needed a hug.  My resilience increased as my practice strengthened.  I made a conscious commitment to continue and develop the routines that supported this way of being.

“I have this odd sense that what was outside has become very inside.”
~Barbara Brown Taylor, “On Being” podcast

After the bell chimes, the first thing I see is the altar in the morning light.  Uplifting, colorful and playful, it no longer resembles the somber, modest display of that dark room.  

Throughout the year it is refreshed.  Items that no longer support the vision of my practice are removed; items that renew my devotion are added.  The altar changes as I change with the seasons.   

Like previous altars, it has been created with intention, full of meaning.  Images and words remind me of how I wish to walk in the world.  Each day I am able to return to it as I am, gently realigning with what matters most to me.  Over time, the altar has become less of an anchor and more of a compass that I carry within me, to help me navigate through the day.

 As I prepare to step away from the altar, birds are chirping, the morning commute hums and the children of the neighborhood can be heard laughing as they leave for school.

“Each morning we are born again.  What we do today matters most.”
~Gautama Buddha

Meet the Author

Rebecca Zendejas has had a lifelong fascination with places of worship and the creation of sacred space within daily routines. Inspired by the celebrations of Samhain and Dias de los Muertos, in October of 2020 she created a Community Memorial Altar at Paradise Found.  The public was invited to add the names of departed loved ones to the altar. In the years that have followed, it has become a beloved autumn ritual.  As an artist and woodworker, Rebecca designs and creates one of a kind altars for the home, office and community spaces.  She can be found on Instagram @zendohous or contacted by email:

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