One of the first challenges to a DIY at-home spiritual retreat is that it’s AT HOME. How can I meditate when the dogs are climbing over me, the baby is crying, the sink is full of dishes and the phone is ringing? Believe me, I hear you. When I was living as a Buddhist Nun at Tara Mandala retreat center in Pagosa Springs, Colorado, there were NONE of these distractions. In fact, it was almost too quiet…
But now, I’m a mom, I’m self employed, running my own business (The Holistic Homestead), no dogs…yet, dishes, laundry, telephones, etc. There is a big piece of me that yearns for the divine silence of a huge, empty temple first thing in the morning, slowly filling the water bowls, lighting the butter lamps, and settling quietly on my cushion for morning prayers. That’s why I created our annual online winter retreat, so that if only for nine days out of the year I can sink deep into winter, touch into my heart/spirit, and give myself the space to just * b r e a t h e *.
Even when space is at a premium, either time wise, or money wise, or space wise in your life, it is possible to create spiritual grounding by building a small shrine. What this little space looks like will be completely unique to each household and individual. If you are a solitary practitioner it may have to be in a corner of the bedroom, or take up the flat surface on your dresser, or even on a windowsill. If your whole family is religious to a certain extent, you may want to dedicate the mantel to sacred objects and images, or cover the television with a sacred cloth for one week and decorate the TV stand with candles, incense, prayer cards, and elements from nature.
1. Choose a space
Whatever the space you are imagining to dedicate to your heart/spirit, make sure it’s an open space that you will see many times every day – even if just in passing. Your altar will serve as a subtle reminder of the stable center that is your spiritual life, and your intention to honor your need for spiritual nourishment.
2. Go on a scavenger hunt for sacred things
Books, heirlooms, photos, sacred art, instruments, candles, gifts, cards, journals, and objects from nature like rocks, feathers, branches, flowers and soil are symbolic of your heart/spirit, and of where you’ve been, who you are now, and what you wish to accomplish. Since our focus for this year’s retreat is “Cultivating Compassion” you might look for things that evoke empathy, and an awareness of the suffering of others as well as the goodness of humankind like newspaper clippings and pictures of saints like Mother Teresa or religious leaders like the Dalai Lama.
3. Consider sacred geometry as you build your shrine
How does Spirit work? What is the shape of compassion? Would you build a heart shape out of rocks, or draw a spiral with sand? Is there a religious symbol with which you identify such as the Star of David or the Sanskrit “OM”? Would you paint “Allah” in Arabic or “Mu” in Japanese? Or maybe your relation to spirituality is as simple as a circle, built with the four elements, symbolizing the oneness of everything? Allow this symbol to be the floor-plan for your shrine.
Send us pictures of your altars to be featured during our Winter Retreat! E-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org