How to Create a Meditation Altar

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In The Miracle of Mindfulness, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh says that we should meditate because “each of us needs to realize total rest… mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves.” Sometimes even a full night of sleep doesn’t help you achieve total rest. How can the restless truly rest in modern society? Mindfulness, or the art of living in the present moment, is an important state of being to achieve in such a busy world.

Develop a Meditation Practice

As we rush through life, many of us feel like we’re not quite present in every moment. According to Karen Kissel Wegela, Ph.D., to counter this feeling, practice mindfulness meditation. Meditation allows you to let go when stressed and accept yourself just as you are – your thoughts, feelings and emotions as they arise moment to moment.

It is important to have a daily meditation practice that grounds and centers you. Such a practice will allow you to feel strongly connected to and centered with yourself. Sometimes, breathing exercises aren’t enough. You need a physical place to go to and rest. While mindfulness meditation can be practiced anywhere, it is important to have a sacred space to call your own. An altar is a beautiful space full of sacred energy that you can tap into when you need. Anyone can create an inspirational altar with just a few items and pure intention.

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Meditation for the Love of It

Stay Mindful When Creating Your Altar

When creating an altar, start by setting an intention, finding a space, and surrounding your space with things that are sacred to you. It really is that simple.

When setting your intention, utilize your visualization skills and write down what inspires you. Close your eyes, and let the space come to you. What do you see and feel? Even if it seems random, focus on what resonates with you. You may feel pulled to sit on a pillow by a window, and let the trees carry away your worries. Write down all that comes to you.

Choose a word for your space. Serenity. Focus. Stillness. Love. Fluidity. It can be a plain or obscure word. What does this word mean to you? Do not look up the definition. Create one. You may choose to take this word and your personal definition and craft an item to display above or on your altar. You could even create your own affirmation or mantra surrounding it.

What do you want to achieve with this space? Perhaps you want to honor your ancestors and the wisdom they bestow upon you with this altar. Choose one sentence, and let it be your affirmation of intention. Will you use this space to connect to others? Will it be for personal ritual, where you will have tools for specific rites of passage? Will it also be a family altar? This may be your personal place of solitude where you read or recite mantras. This altar may be a family altar that deepens the bond between you each.

How often will you use this space? Will it be a place that you come to daily, weekly or as you need it? Perhaps it will only be used to honor seasonal changes, major life events or holidays. Also consider its position within the house. According to the EPA, indoor air can be two to five time as polluted as outdoor air, so if you seek sunshine and fresh air, the basement isn’t your best choice.

Your Sacred Space Should Be a Place of Stillness

On your journey to find the perfect sacred space, you’ll likely want somewhere private. It can be indoors in a quiet corner of your bedroom or outdoors under a covered area or spare building. What area of your home do you feel most drawn to and relaxed within? It may be your kitchen, with the warmth of love and the smell of freshly cut herbs. Perhaps it is by your garden. Remember, your sacred space can simply be the corner of a nightstand. It’s about the energy that you’ll cultivate in the space.

The direction of the altar may be important to you to consider too. Your altar may face East, as the sun rises on a new day or a new beginning. The altar may face West, as the sun sets into a quiet night symbolizing solitude and stillness within. The direction of the altar may be aligned with certain elements as well: North as Earth, East as Air, West as Water or South as Fire. The direction of your altar does not have to be chosen. It’s about what resonates with you and why.

Altar Items Should Support and Focus Your Intention

Once you have your sacred space in mind, collect items for the altar that reinforce your intention. The key is to include items that have significant meaning for you. Perhaps the altar is draped with an old tablecloth that your grandmother hand-stitched. The item could even be a guitar pick from the show that inspired you to follow your passion for music.

Photos of family members and friends, statues of animal totems or spiritual figures, candles, particular colors, leaves or flowers could all hold a specific meaning to you. Ponder the meaning of each item as you hold it in your hands. Feel the energy of the item, as well as the wisdom. Does the message of the item support your intention?

Add tools that will assist you with making the environment perfect: incense and incense holders, crystals, drums, bells or a pillow to rest upon. Select as few or as many items as you need. Maybe most of the items are purple because that’s your favorite color. Go with it! As you decorate, your intent will flow into the space, manifesting the meditation altar you desire.

Your Altar Will Change With You

Nothing is set in stone. Remember to change up your altar. Your intention or mood will adjust. The change might be general or quite specific, depending on what is happening in your life. As you move through cycles of personal growth, your altar will reflect these changes. As loved ones pass, you may choose to mourn or honor them at your sacred space. You may celebrate births and achievements. As you celebrate the holidays or honor the seasons, your altar might reflect each of these occasions.

You may find that your altar does not serve you any longer. In place of something once elaborate, you may decide on something minimalist. Your altar may, in turn, move from a simple walk in the woods to an entire bookshelf or a developed meditation garden.

Days or months may pass where you do not use your altar – and you may even neglect it. You may find that multiple altars spring up throughout your home, even appearing on your desk at work. Who knows? Where you work could be inspired to develop their company altar or meditation room.

How frequently or infrequently that you use your altar is not as important as your awareness of your evolving meditation practice, that your altar evolves with it. Follow what resonates. Trust what you know your practice needs. Personal ritual is important to your growth, to mark your rites of passage and to see where you have been and where you are going. You can’t do that without first looking at where you are. Your altar will witness each of these places with you and it will not judge. No matter if you are crying, if you are angry, if you are joyous — this place of mindfulness is a placeholder for you to connect with your center, reinforcing your connection to others and the world in the process.

Whatever you choose to do with your altar is valid. Every altar is different and serves many purposes. This is your sacred space. There are no rules, only what you create for the reasons that are sacred to you specifically.

Honor What Speaks to You

Honor what speaks to you and speak back. Remember to speak back. Honor your voice and the wisdom you find through the use of your altar. An altar is a space than transcends multiple realms of being, the conscious and the subconscious, as well as this plane and higher planes of existence. It is a meeting ground of body, mind and spirit. It is not just a physical space with a few knick-knacks.

This sacred space is yours to do what you please with, a space to connect with yourself and to rest. Entire conversations will have taken place within you, and at first, nothing will seem to have changed. You will find that your sense of self becomes more concrete and palpable as you use your altar. Your connection to the Earth will seem to pulsate beneath your feet like blood through veins.

Listen to your instincts and respond. When you do, you are mindfully living in the moment. In turn, your life will resound with the beauty that you see in the smallest or largest of things, as well as the joys and even the sorrows. Listen to yourself, and be just as you are within your sacred space. And when you have trouble sitting still, move with Pure Love.

Soham: Wisdom You Can Access

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I first learned to meditate over 40 years ago. Friends of mine learned Transcendental Meditation in high school, but I couldn’t afford the fee. I had friends in college who also learned the TM method, but again, I was unable to pay and no one was parting with any information about the process. Stubbornly, I took it upon myself to research meditation techniques in the library and learned as much as I could. This was my introduction to mantras. I chose a mantra and one beautiful day, sitting under a tree, I gave it a whirl. It changed my life.

Your first mediation is never forgotten.

Eventually, I learned the TM method from a certified teacher. Although the basic idea was the same, I was given my mantra and in my first experience, felt a great opening of consciousness that I hadn’t experienced before. It was different. With this in mind, I began experimenting with mantras. One day, I meditated with the Soham mantra, not knowing what to expect. I found it to be peaceful, relaxing and connective in a way that’s hard to explain.

One With the Universe

Soham is Sanskrit and essentially means, “He whom I am.” It could be translated as, “I am He,” implying, “I am one with everything,” The “He” in this case is the Universe and the singularity of the divine. Soham is an ancient mantra and one that has been used in different ways, by numerous groups and societies. Some believe that it can connect us to what are known as, “The Ascended Masters.”

A Human Tendency to Expand and Interpret

The term “Ascended Masters” was coined in the 1930s and used to define spiritual adepts whom, after their time on Earth, ascend to a place where they help guide humanity and commune, or merge, with those who seek their wisdom. This movement gained great popularity and had a vast following, one that still exists today. This wasn’t the first time such an idea had been put forth. Theosophy, through Madame Blavatsky, had “The Great White Brotherhood.”

Many have accused Blavatsky’s work as being discriminatory, or outright racist. Some have pointed to her writings as being instrumental in helping to design theories for the Nazi party. It’s hard to know the actual truth behind all of this, but I genuinely don’t believe that Blavatsky had any such thoughts about singling out one race, or type of people, as being “less” than others. I’m certainly not an expert on Theosophical philosophy, but I’ve read some of her works and can see both sides of the argument. The complexity of her writing style is open to a myriad of different interpretations, as is often the case with any spiritually based text.

This brings me to a point. One of the things that human beings tend to do, is take a basic thought and then expand upon it, often to fulfill our own philosophical ideals and agendas. A quick look at history should convince us of the power of this process.

Through rhetoric and dogma, it’s often possible to reinterpret the underlying purpose of a text, in order to rationalize our unique point of view.

This has been done again and again in religion and is also a powerful tool in politics, where interpretations of founding documents are hotly contested and reviewed. Perhaps this is one of the dangers of proclaiming a text to be sacred. They may, in fact, be sacred, but the interpretation of these texts and ideas are usually man-made. Some seek to overcome this ambiguity through an individual, a human channeling a specific source, one pure and spiritually unquestionable. Enter the Ascended Masters, or so say those who believe in the doctrine.

I’m wary of most spiritual systems. It’s not my desire to demean, nor cast doubt upon, any religion or philosophy. I’m a metaphysician and have been a seeker for most of my life, so I’m used to being left out, considered odd, deemed ignorant, thought simpleminded, or daft. I’ve experienced way too much not to believe, but I’ve also seen enough to realize that there has to be a standard of feasibility that allows us not to be deluded, or worse.

This amorphous, subjective realm exists somewhere between hard fact and faith.

It’s for this reason that I’ll discuss the Ascended Master concept a bit differently than some might. I’ve known individuals who consulted with an Ascended Master, through a channel, and received advice, only to have another channel of the exact same Master contradict the advice earlier given. It always amazes me that the seeker is able to rationalize the discrepancy, through some excuse or the other. It speaks to the unreliability of the process at the very least, and to much bigger problems, at worst.

Ascended Masters: A Conceptual Offering

I believe that anything can be mined for its positive, beneficial value and doesn’t have to be presented in a specific form to be of use. This doesn’t imply that the Ascended Master belief isn’t valid, or is unworthy of study. I’ve known many who have been followers of its doctrine and received value in their lives, some through personal work and others through relying on a Master being channeled. It simply isn’t my way of doing things.

To be direct, it seems overly religious and even though the Masters are purported to be from various cultures and eras, it strikes me as being a form of Saint worship. As I said, there’s nothing wrong with that; it just isn’t my thing, but it still has value. With that in mind, let’s look at what it can offer you.

We Are Never Alone

A common thread throughout spiritual cultures is a belief in a place to where our consciousness can ascend to and there share information and commune with fellow members, past, present and future. These locations have different names, appearances and purposes, but they all share one goal, to help those in need, or who seek truth. By this doctrine, we are never alone.

I do believe that there is an intelligence that seeks to guide us, one that is powerful and ancient.

I consider this intelligence to be the accumulated knowledge and wisdom of all humanity, from the beginning to the present. I don’t see a need to identify specific members of our species in this, as that quickly turns into a form of worship and defeats the purpose. This could be considered a form of ancestral guidance, since it depends upon people who have passed, their only agenda to better their progeny, namely us. Incidentally, I consider our time on this planet to be just as important and to have the same goal.

If we’re not doing something to better the human experience, then we’re missing the point of being human.

How then can we find this place and connect? The ability to receive this information, this wealth of humanity, is not only possible, but within your grasp. It takes concentration, determination, sincerity and the ability to listen to truth without fear, or prejudice. I believe that this has been one of the motives behind much of the ritual that we have been obsessed with over the millennia. Luckily, connecting is much simpler than it sounds and one method of doing so is the use of mantras, one of them being Soham.

I mentioned earlier that I’ve used different mantras over the years and can attest to the fact that each mantra has a definitive and unique energy. Some of these mantras have had influences that I was able to discern, while others are still a mystery to me. Each sound in Sanskrit has a specific energy and combining different sounds can be like putting together commands on a computer, accessing more information than seems possible.

The Soham Mantra: The Oneness of All

The Soham mantra, by the very nature of its meaning, “I am He whom I am,” indicates an association with the divine monad, the oneness of all.

As one meditates upon this word, it becomes a personal appeal, from us to the Universe, to unite with everything. By extension, we are then connected to the wisdom of all and can gain an inner understanding of ourselves, perhaps otherwise inaccessible to the conscious mind. This is something that you can do and benefit from.

Practice: Soham Meditation

As with anything, there are different opinions as to how the Soham mantra should be used. I find it to be aligned with natural breathing. When I inhale, I think, “So.” When I exhale, I think, “Ham.” There are masters who contradict this, insisting that Ham is the inhale and So the exhale. There are just as many masters who disagree with them. Many practitioners vocalize their mantras aloud. I prefer silent mantra repetition and personally feel silence to be more powerful, but in truth, it’s completely up to you.

A simple way of using the Soham meditation is to sit in a relaxed way that connects you to your process. For me, it’s a comfortable chair; for others it may be a yoga position. Do what you feel connects you to your source. Close your eyes, or leave them open if you prefer, and begin reciting the mantra, either out loud or to yourself, and forget about a goal. Breathe in, “So.” Breathe out, “Ham.” Let the words resonate in your mind, but don’t overthink it. Be in the moment and allow yourself to be devoid of motive or purpose of thought, other than to be.

Your mind will race, but never scold it. Instead, smile and return to the mantra.

I never ask for information or wisdom directly, but you may do so if you choose. I open my mind to whatever may come. Sometimes it takes a few minutes, other times information is there quickly. I have meditations where nothing comes through at all, except a deep and profound sense of calm and the conviction that something much more powerful than me is present. That’s good enough for me. Once again, determination, patience and sincerity will eventually deliver results, often spectacularly.

The information is out there and is designed to be accessed by every one of us, not just channels who speak for Ascended Masters. There is nothing supernatural about any of this. In fact, I believe that this is an important part of Humanity. It seeks to guide us in the way that will make us better than we are and can help to pave the way for the future. It reasserts our ethics and redefines our values in an ever-changing world.

I consider it to be a link in the chain of the spiritual evolution of our species and I pray that we will always listen. Tap into the source and listen to the voice. Everyone will benefit. Never forget, it begins with us.

I wish you all peace and love.

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