What An Altar Can Do For You And Your Home…

What An Altar Can Do For You And Your Home

One of the best ways to nurture a meditation or prayer practice is to create a place within the home that is dedicated solely to this purpose — an altar. An altar offers us a visual reminder to make time in the day to reconnect with our hearts, and of our own desire to sit down and practice. It also provides a place of refuge. Whatever is happening in the world around us, we know when we come to sit at our altar we are leaving thoughts to one side, and moving into a place or state in which we can find peace and safety.

SEE ALSO: Create Your Own Personal Altar 

So How do We Choose Where to Put Our Altar?

Locations of churches, temples and other holy buildings tend to be selected not because someone figured out where would be convenient for foot traffic, but rather for their energetic qualities. Similarly, when choosing where to put our home altar — our mini version of a temple — we don’t have to engage the thinking mind in the analysis. We can just simply ask from our hearts or intuit: Where does it want to go? Perhaps the answer is on a dresser in the hallway, a wooden crate in the north-east corner of the bedroom, or even in a portable shoebox. I was once guided to move my altar to the garden in the middle of February. I quickly learned just how much my mind had judged cold weather, yet it turned out I could happily sit in frigid temperatures once I let go of thoughts and became centered in the heart. My capacity to love the cold grew.

What do We Put on an Altar?

While sometimes we may practice meditation with the goal of calming the mind, at an altar we are practicing meditation to awaken the heart. For this reason, it is helpful to place a photo or representation on our altar of someone or something we love deeply, or of a spiritual guide or teacher to whom we are devoted. That way, when we come to sit down in meditation, our hearts naturally want to open and our practice is given a foundation. That devotion and gratitude also encourages us to sit during even the busiest of times.

But, of course, there are no rules in the realm of the heart. Perhaps we are drawn to put 100 objects on our altar to honor that all things are sacred, or just a photo of our spiritual guide and a candle as a reminder of the simplicity of being present, or maybe our altar is more fluid — changing often. The expression itself can offer us clues about how our hearts are feeling. If our altars want to be simplified, perhaps it’s time to look at whether our hearts are calling out for simplicity in other areas of our life…

Above all, it’s helpful to remember that nothing is unworthy of being on our altar. Spiritual teacher Ram Dass, in his book Paths to God, shares that he chooses to include photos of people in the world with whom he is having a testing relationship — a friend, family member, partner, the odd politician or two. In this way, he says, when he sits down at his altar for his morning meditation he can immediately feel his heart close and is therefore provided with the perfect opportunity to practice letting go of anger, and to remember that nothing and no one should be left out of our hearts.


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Helen Avery


Helen is a yoga and meditation teacher and journalist living in Brooklyn New York.

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