Wondering & Wandering

posted in: Community, Mindfulness | 0

Photo Credit: Day Schildkret

Over the next year, I’ll be sharing a bit about a new course I’m taking called “Morning Altars.” This is a full, year-long class that meets weekly for a couple hours and then we meet for very full weekends five times during the year, all of which is online. I am on the Teacher Track, meaning at the end of the course I can guide others in the practice. This past weekend was our first.

Let me begin by explaining the practice and how I landed here. Morning Altars is a practice in creating impermanent nature art – using items in nature to create art – and it is so much more than that. It reminds me of the part of my Forest Bathing experiences where we create what I call “Forest Art” – a piece of art created as a group, using items we find during our Forest Bathing. It is often the most impactful part of the experience for all the participants (myself included) and, as is common with art and nature, it can be very healing.

It’s creator, artist Day Schildkret, turned to creating impermanent nature art as a way to heal after a bad breakup. This developed into a daily practice that he found healing after grief and other heartache. Some morning altars are simple and small, others, like those he creates for large events are large and intricate.

You might compare morning altars to those sand mandalas that Tibetan Buddhist monks create, just to dismantle and release them when they’re done. It’s all about the impermanent nature of things and letting go. You also might look to nature artists, such as Andy Goldsworthy, to get a glimpse of what these installations might look like.

All this sounds pretty easy, right? But as I learned this weekend, there’s so much more to the process than just creating something beautiful. It’s about healing the broken parts of ourselves, healing our hearts, so it’s a lot of inner work. It’s also about creating a precious relationship to the land, connecting to the place itself, allowing her to invite you in, asking permission to take and always giving in return.

After the Saturday class, whose theme was Wonder & Wander and which lasted over eight hours, I wasn’t sure this was right for me. In addition to the larger group of about 40 people, we also break into smaller study groups of nine, which includes three teacher assistants. I’m not big on study groups, I’ve always worked best on my own. I’m also not a very “woo-woo” person, and most of the group is. So I was skeptical that this would work for me.

And then that evening, shortly after class, I received a call that a close friend had lost her battle with cancer. I really didn’t process it at that time. And then as I began the Sunday class, I realized that this would influence my work that day. Our first exercise of the day was called “Who Are You?” that is asking that question of nature as if it were the first time you were beholding something. Asking the question and waiting for the answers to present themselves, and then asking again. Then spending time journaling with the question “What is something in my life that I have forgotten it’s magnificence and I need to behold?”

For me it became a practice in gratitude, and as I shared about the experience with my study group of nine, I began the grieving process. I received the love and support of that new community and for me, that changed everything.

So now, I’m in it for the long haul. I may still roll my eyes at some of the comments and I’ll have to set my filters a little higher, but that’s more about me and I’m a work in progress. I’m excited to see where this year and this practice takes me and will continue to update you on my progress. And if you want to see more of the work of Day Schildkret, check out his beautiful book, Morning Altars: A 7-Step Practice to Nourish Your Spirit through Nature, Art, and Ritual

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