Sanctuary, on a personal level, is where we perform the job of taking care of our soul.
– Christopher Forrest McDowell
It’s noon on Friday. I’m writing from a black upright desk in a tiny rectangular office with delicate lime green and white checkerboard fabric covering two small windows. Soft light glows through apricot lampshades near a pair of seafoam colored candles flanking an ancient statue. Pictures of treasured family and friends surround me. Toby, my beloved Jack Russell poodle, dozes at my feet.
In these crazy times with our world upside down and inside out, I find the sanctuary of home soothes my soul like nothing else. Altars abound in multiple rooms of my funky, 90-year-old, white stucco and red tile roof cottage. They each hold objects gathered through the years – symbols of nature, inner reflection, compassion, faith, love and life. These collections contain candles that are lit where I relax at night, where I work during the day, and whenever my spirit needs it. Today is one of those days.
The statue of Our Lady of the Harvest, purchased years ago at Spanish Market in Santa Fe, adorns an antique Japanese single drawer table in the hallway. The skillfully carved and painted wooden figure represents the importance and appreciation of nature for the food it provides and beauty that nurtures us.
Ancient stone Buddhas from Burma and Laos watch over my dining table and remind me to be still and go inside for a few minutes each day. I read recently that the negative effect of too much technology can scramble our brains. The article cited research showing excessive stimulation from phones and computers can challenge our ability to focus, something I have experienced personally, and that even a short time spent meditating each day can help concentration and attention span.
An antique carved statue of Quan Yin, surrounded by piles of papers I am working on, sits in the middle of a tall wooden table in my office. This saintly feminine figure represents mercy in many Eastern spiritual traditions.
She reminds me to have compassion for beings in the world who are struggling in their lives, and to extend mercy to whoever I encounter in my daily travels. (I admit the latter can be challenging, especially when I’m driving.) Quan Yin’s presence in the room at this moment imbues not only compassion for others, but for myself.
The last altar pictured displays symbols of other things I hold near and dear to my heart. It includes an array of Russian icons of Christ, several crosses and angels, a painting of my dog Joey who passed, a piece of wood from a cherished 80-year-old Cypress tree, photos of people I love, sacred rocks and crystals, and bittersweet berries that retain their beauty all year long.
These altars make my home feel sacred. They help me stay grounded despite the latest breaking news of the day. I hope sharing them will inspire those of you who might be inclined, and have not done so, to consider creating a feeling of sanctuary in your home in ways that are meaningful to you.
An altar can be made of anything, from an upside-down shoebox on a nightstand, to a wheelbarrow in your garden, to an ornately painted statue from Tibet. Or anything in between.
The objects displayed in your altar need not be of religious significance. They can be anything that represents what you value in life. And if you can’t quite conceive of having an altar in your home, a few candles gathered in a special spot can also serve to soothe your mind, heart and soul at the end of a challenging day.
For the love of creating sanctuary and light,