Let nature be your inspiration. Join local Santa Barbara artist Rebecca Zendejas as she creates earth mandalas made from materials gathered during early morning walks. The healing power of the natural world is a balm for grief, and a source of wonder.
“My altars are the mountains and the ocean.”
Sunlight gently illuminates the room. The tea is warm and birds are chirping in the distance. A crow caws. The city is waking up as I write. It’s Sunday, and after my morning pages, prayers and silent meditation, I will walk out the door with my backpack and a basket, into the neighborhood and up the hill. The path will be familiar, but not exactly the same one that I took last week. Along the way, I’ll collect seed pods, blossoms and leaves. When I reach my destination I will make a ‘Morning Altar’.
In April, a friend let me borrow her copy of “Morning Altars'' by Day Schildkret. It’s filled with gorgeous photos of earth mandalas made from materials gathered during early morning walks. The words are equally gorgeous and before I finished the introduction, I knew I needed to add this practice to my life. I decided I would make a ‘Morning Altar’ each Sunday on a neighborhood trail I had recently discovered.
“...all I can do to find my footing after the most grief soaked break up of my life is to walk…”
My own recent break up no longer feels ‘grief soaked’, but grief still arrives in waves, as it will do. Activities like meditation, walking and forms of creative expression have given me the ability to hold it gently when it does arrive, embracing it with love and gratitude; allowing it to be… as it is. However, recent events in the world have been more difficult to acknowledge and allow… as they are. I find myself seeking additional ways to steady my mind and heart. Beginning each day with kind intentions at my home altar has value; but my actions, how I actually walk through the world is what will make a difference.
By the time I reach the location for my morning altar, I am thankful for the shade provided by oak and eucalyptus trees. Only a short distance from my home, it took me a while to get here. Part of the experience is to slow down and wander. In addition to the stops that I made to fill my basket, I gave visitors directions to local landmarks, greeted fur friends walking with their humans and paused for drinks of water, as the sun rose higher in the sky.
Before removing scattered bits of the mandala I created last week, I eat my breakfast, then sit quietly for a moment. I’m surrounded by the chirping of birds, bees buzzing with purpose and a squirrel chattering. I have returned to this location for several weeks now and I’ve become aware of what remains and what has transformed, as spring becomes summer. I consider how the world has changed in the last week, the last month, the last year. As I begin to clear the space for today’s altar, I think of what has remained in my own life, what I’ve gently removed from it; what the winds of change have brought and then carried away.
“There is no doubt that my mind will wander, forget and get lost in thoughts of the past and future. But the key is to return to that center.”
Looking at the contents of my basket, I decide to begin with a strawberry tree seed. Its deep orange glow feels appropriate for the center of a Sun Day mandala. At the same time, it reminds me of a clown nose, and that what I am doing is a form of play, as well as contemplation. With that in mind, I begin to surround the seed with flowers that actually are the color of a clown nose. I think of the question Day Schildkret asks, “What is giving me my life?” The answer comes easily: the humor, the generosity and the resilience of those that have encouraged, nurtured and played with me… those that have loved me and have been loved by me. I can’t help but feel immense gratitude for all of the causes and conditions that have brought me to this moment. I take a deep breath, give thanks and allow my imagination to wander and wonder… what would happen if I put this leaf here?
“Creating a Morning Altar is about understanding how much you’ve been on the receiving end of the gift of life and demonstrating that you do not take that gift for granted.”
The inclination to make my first morning altar came from a desire to navigate the intensity of political discourse, social upheaval and tragic violence. I wondered if it could support my resolve to act skillfully when faced with challenges in my own life. If I could approach daily difficulties with the same patience, humor and care that I experienced while creating an earth mandala, then perhaps my brief escapes would be time well spent. When this morning altar is complete, the sun is directly above me and church bells are ringing. It’s time to walk down the hill. The basket is empty of seed pods, blossoms and leaves, but my heart is full and ready for the week to come...
“All nature is the temple; earth the altar.”