“A home altar is a way to pay respect to our ancestors and the world around us. It reminds us that whatever we love is also within us.”
These are the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, as read in chapter seven of his book Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice. As I allow myself to drink in the wisdom of spiritual teachers more and more, I notice a common reoccurring theme that everything we truly need and love already exists within ourselves. Although I admit I’m not yet at a point where I can fully grasp this beautiful concept, I love the notion that an altar can serve as a reminder of it.
In recent years I’ve found that I love creating altars. I find so much joy in collecting bits and pieces that I feel a connection to – stones, flowers, candles, bells – and arranging them in a designated area until everything feels just right.
An altar can also include photos or statues of ancestors – whether blood, spiritual, or both – allowing us to feel rooted.
“When you touch someone who authentically represents a tradition”, Nhat Hanh says, “you touch not only his or her tradition, but you also touch your own.”
He also adds that placing statues and other objects on an altar does not mean we’re worshiping these things. Instead, they are to serve as a reminder of that which they represent. For instance, a statue of the Buddha can serve as a reminder of “our own capacity to be mindful, awake, loving, and accepting.”
In East Asia, as Nhat Hanh explains, a family altar exists in every home – and each family member is able to contribute something whenever they like. This way, everyone in the home feels a connection to the altar. Whenever an important family event occurs – be it a birth, a graduation, or a return from a long trip – the family offers incense and announces the news to their ancestors.
By mindfully placing hand-chosen objects in a specific area of the home, suddenly a connection portal is born. And as we re-connect with ourselves, with our ancestors, and with the world around us, we’re able to find peace, ease, and stillness at once.
+ Do you have an altar in your own home?
This post is part of our Book Club series, featuring Making Space: Creating a Home Meditation Practice by Thich Nhat Hanh.