By: Jo Edmondson
Nighttime is my favorite. Just me and my candlelit pink walls. The flames of my candle jump at a constant rate with the spinning of the fan as the breeze flows through the linen curtains on either side of the room. The fresh jasmine on the altar. The sandalwood incense is burning, making the most beautiful shadows. The thick black smoke dances and flows toward my heart. In these nighttime moments I find the most beauty. The sun has been put to rest, my body becomes still, recovering from the heat of the day. A day that felt unbearable, impossible. The sound of my bracelets clink as I write in my journal. Ants crawling on the floor, so determined, even as the day comes to an end. A day of long deep breaths. I stare at my henna covered arm, it is so beautiful. For a moment I am transported to the river, my feet feel wet. The fish nibble my toes and I see a peacock in the distance. Today my head is fuzzy and my body is warm. I don’t want this henna to fade out. Sitting in front of my altar, hearing children laugh vigorously outside. Do they have a bedtime? Last night I dreamed I was stuck in a snowstorm as I rode a never-ending escalator.
So many jungle creatures sing outside, their voices interrupted by the occasional bolt of lightning. Eventually there came a moment today when I didn’t think I could take anymore. I rested my head on his forearm. He placed his hand on the small of my back for several breaths. I dug my forehead into his skin and cried.
I can’t stop staring at a photograph from my fifth birthday. It stares at me from my altar. I look at that picture-perfect moment of my life and scan all the memories that have accrued since then. I wear my hair the same way and my collarbones match perfectly to the photo. But now, I don’t look like a fearful little girl. I treasure this photo. I want to hold the kid in that photo, prepare her for all that is about to come. It’s going to be ok, I promise. I still fidget just as much as I did when I was five, especially when I am falling asleep. I can’t break away from this little girl, and I don’t have to.
The laundry list of things I am here to heal feels endless tonight. I still have a layer of red crust on the back of my neck from this morning’s treatment of medicated warm milk and herbs poured over my body. Stringing together a couple of sentences out loud seems too hard, unless I am laying down. Just put your hand on the back of my head.
I will sink in. I will float away as I pray tonight. I will dissolve into the candlelight and the soft breeze. Tonight I feel full of all of this beautiful light and just as full of all the dark shadows bouncing of the walls. The incense is almost out.
I will never forget these nights.
There are a million ways to create altars. Sometimes I like to play with the idea of creating a whole altar based around a specific theme or manifestation I want to invite. Every few days I like to clean off my altar, re-organize, make additions, take things away that no longer resonate. I like to have a plant or flowers displayed. If I have flowers I try and make sure they are fresh and the water clean and clear. This is a beautiful place for reflection, a time to bathe in the blessings of my life, a place to connect to my purpose. Pray for the planet and for all the people I love. Also, this is my space to crumble and dissolve when I lose hope and faith. It is a place for me to be held and literally altered, to fall apart and allow the deep pain in my heart to come out.
However, from this place a beautiful energy is created, one that can be used to heal myself and others. For me this also serves as my manifestation station. I believe it should be a personal embodiment of what holds me up and what my gifts are to the world.
Here are my must haves for my altar:
1. Sound: A bell, I ring when I first sit as a way to clear the space and begin my practice.
2. Smell: Incense, I got some beautiful mysore sandalwood while I was India that I am obsessed with, but choose a scent that lights you up.
3. Earth: I have a variety of stones, crystals, sticks and feathers that I have collected. I look at them and I feel more connected. From the desert to the deep woods, from years past.
4. Light: Candles, mucho importante to have fire present. For me, candles invoke the spirit within myself as well as allow me to invite others into the space for guidance and protection.
5. Symbols: I have several strands of mala beads. I always keep them on my altar, infusing them with loads of good energy. When I travel or have to leave I can wear these beads and it’s like taking the power from my whole altar and wrapping it around my neck. I also use them at my altar when I am practicing mantra or chanting.
6. Visual: Photo of myself as a kiddo. I think it is beautiful to honor the journey that I have gone through. When I see a photo of myself as a child I can see parts of myself I often forget, and it allows me to have more compassion and sweetness for myself. Also I like to have photos of others. Perhaps family or friends, people that inspire me, animals that I love, etc.
7. Words: I keep letters from friends, family, or sweethearts displayed on my altar as a reminder of all the love and support I have. I also recommend writing yourself a loving letter to display.
8. Vision: In February I made a vision board as part of one of my assignments for my 500-hour yoga teacher training. I filled it with images of the desert, images of spaces and design that inspire me, spaces that I hope to create for myself. I brought it to India and have been carrying it with me ever since. I keep adding to the images I already pasted down. It sits at the center of my altar.
9. Tokens: Anything significant and special. Do you have an object that lights you up when you look at it? Put those on your altar. Perhaps a family heirloom or something you were gifted.
Altars are powerful. Altars can be the first step towards manifesting your greatest dreams and desires, and honoring your path and your journey. But perhaps most of all, altars can help you tap into a deeper sense of self.
Josephine Edmondson is a yogi, artist, and the original babelord who is currently traversing the deserts of Southern Utah.