Twice last week I bumped into friends while in the midst of busy days. These are women who I adore, but haven’t seen in much too long, each of us consumed with the busy-ness of our own lives. Taking ten minutes to dive deep into a visit, while all of life continued to swirl around us felt like a blessing in my day.
We must choose to create these moments in our days. Day Schildkret, author of Morning Altars: A 7-step practice to nourish your spirit with nature, art and ritual says that “the biggest intention of creating morning altars is to interrupt my day; to step outside of the incessant screen time, stress, and non-stop pace of my life. It is a way to step into timelessness, which for thousands of years is the way humans have lived on this planet: timeless and present and in awe of the natural world. As modern humans, we are worshipping other gods: time and speed. The consequences are stress, isolation, and anxiety, which so many are suffering from.”
Heartbreak led him to creating his first morning altars, while taking his dog on walks, and discovering treasures from the earth right outside his back door. “It started as a very personal practice,” explained Schildkret, “a love letter between me and the earth. Eventually people started to find them and find meaning in them, and ultimately the practice renewed my faith that I can continue walking in my life.”
Creating these mandalas, or impermanent earth art, is about “stepping into wonder, imagination, curiosity and surprise, all of the qualities the wilderness, the natural world, brings forward; all qualities children have in spades. Kids, earth, and art happen without thinking about it. In our culture all impermanent are is subjugated to children, while permanent art is for adults. This idea of impermanence is deeply woven into my work, and the intention,” explains Schildkret.
Schildkret describes the creation of morning altars as a “practice of being in the presence of change. Sometimes the way you think things should be aren’t like that, and the question becomes, how do you respond to that? I’ve built so many altars, and none of them exist anymore. Some have been destroyed in the process of creating them, a gust of wind comes along and blows away what I have spent hours creating.” We can begin to let go of what we are holding onto by releasing our attachment to what we create.
Schildkret explains his experience with the creative process, “I try to step out of my own way. When I can really wrestle myself out of the way, something very alive and mysterious wants to speak through me- some may call it a muse. I know when it’s present because my hands have trouble keeping up with it wants to do. It’s almost like a deer that’s bounding in front of me, and I’m just trying to keep up. I know the difference when I’m struggling with myself, and when something else is playing through me. It’s a very different feeling.” Even if you feel that you don’t have a creative bone in your body, consider being open to a sense of play and curiosity. “Somewhere inside of you is your five year old self, who knows exactly how to play.”
For those who feel removed from the natural world, Schildkret invites them to look around with fresh eyes. He has led workshops in the very heart of cities where, at first glance, there is nothing natural to collect. After foraging, participants returned with a variety of unexpected materials. “When people can practice the skills of curiosity and wonder,” he says, “they realize how much they are missing in the world around them.
Day will be leading a workshop in creating impermanent earth art at the 9/11 memorial at ground zero on November 2 “as an offering of ephemeral beauty to the memory of those that have died, to the grief of the families, and to the spirit of New York.”