Creating an altar for sustenance

I do not have any spaces in my house that I consider to be altars, so last year while training for my celebrant work and altars very much on my mind, I contemplated creating a space where my Kuan Yin would sit peacefully.  Kuan Yin, the Bodhisattva associated with compassion, is an antique brass piece that my mom bought for my dad when I was very little.  At the time, she had little money and she paid the antique dealer in Princeton a little at a time to be able to get this beautiful object that spoke to her as a gift for my dad.  About ten years ago when I got interested in Buddhism and meditation and spirituality, I expressed my love of their art object, so my parents gave her to me.

Up until last year, Kuan Yin had moved around in my house and I had not created any ritual that involved her, though I know that I bowed to her from time to time and I certainly gazed at her for long stretches as well.  For altar inspiration, I looked at the beautiful book Sacred Rituals by London and Recio.  I had been thinking how much I loved my Bodhisattva sitting on my desk where I placed it just a week earlier when I had a class about symbols.  So, I chuckled when I opened the book and the first sentence I read was that one of the authors treats her desk as her altar.  I immediately closed the book, recognizing that I needed no more input and decided that I would create an altar on my desk.

The desk is a beauty.  When my husband’s firm moved from one of its earliest locations in Manhattan after thirty years to an office that had modular spaces, everyone was allowed to take any furniture they wanted.  Andy had been working at a large wood desk with flower-engraved brass pulls for years and we had an inexpensive desk that needed replacing.  He and I drove to the city in our RAV4 with the back seats removed to pick up the piece and anything else interesting.  Getting the desk to Cold Spring was no small feat.  We had to disassemble much of it and Andy carefully labeled sections so that we could reconstruct it when we got home.  And it was very heavy.  (We also picked up a wonderful bookshelf with sliding glass doors.  Andy subdivided each shelf so that he doubled the number of shelves and reduced their height to fit CD’s perfectly.)  Andy, of course, reassembled the desk with ease.

So once I had an altar location identified, what was my plan?  I began by clearing off the desk to mark the beginning of my new phase of work.  To signify readying to launch my own business, I also did a cleansing ceremony.  Andy had grown lovely sage in his garden that he kept in the freezer – perfect for a smudge stick.  The act of creating the smudge stick was a ritual in its own right (rite?).  Then I designated the desk as an altar and thoughtfully placed objects on the desk and spoke to what each provided me.  I inventoried each item that already sat on my desk and determined whether it served me moving forward.  Some items did not make the cut but I figured that the desk would become an evolving altar so some items might return.  My laptop computer has a practical role yet it is really quite beautiful with its sleek Apple design.  It provides me access to the world and to my writer muse.  But what about the pencil holder; should I replace it with a pot that I made (I did) and where should the Bodhisattva be located?  As the creation ceremony unfolded, I lit a candle and read poetry and designed a workspace where Kuan Yin reins over me with compassion, sitting on the windowsill.  I am so fortunate to sit and look out into the woods from my beautiful desk altar.

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