Nature, Children, and the Home Alter
While looking at a sunset, the ocean, a quiet green clearing mottled with shade, or listening to breaking waves on the shore, our hearts feel lighter, even elated. Nature offers an entryway into the experience of awe. By gathering up a bit of nature and placing it on our table or home altar we can bring a taste of that awe into our home, a reminder that life is wondrous each day. Flowers, stones, and other natural relics have the ability to lift us up to a place of heightened awareness as we sweep our floors and wash our dishes.
In the Hearth community we create flower arrangements for our home altars in order to infuse our homes with nature’s vibrancy. The arrangements sit in for the 10,000 gifts of the Earth. Joan Stamm writes, “Given that flowers, plants, and all living things express and give rise to this highest state of human experience-our love and sanctified joy- is it any wonder that we put flowers on altars, and offer flowers to Buddha?” Natural arrangements on our altar remind us that, even during challenging times, there is beauty.
Flowers and plants are also teachers of impermanence. Each day, on altars all around the world, monks, nuns and lay people replace dying flowers with fresh ones. Even the most glorious live arrangements will end up in the trash heap. Our home altars offer this daily dharma lesson on impermanence. No matter how carefully we may preserve our flowers, they will die- and in a rather short period of time. When we make friends with the inevitability of impermanence, when we stop fearing or fighting the way life is, we become freer.
My granddaughter, Nia’a Rose, and I took a walk one winter morning on a mission to find something for our home altar. We traveled through wild grasses down by the creek where I pruned a few grey branches that were hanging off a dormant tree. We stopped to talk to a neighbor I’d never met before. When I told her we were looking for things to put in a flower arrangement she invited us to prune one of her bushes that had bright red-orange berries on it and to cut some rosemary from a bush towards the back of her property. We came home with beautiful, unexpected colors and scents for our altar, had a refreshing walk in nature, and made a new friend. Our time outside made us feel closer to the land and the season. Instead of cursing the cold, grey landscape, we noticed the abundant life sleeping under cover. At home, our arrangement depicted the state of hibernation that sets in at this time of year in Sonoma. Some long, dusty grey branches with tiny green shoots coming off them in erratic patterns, a splash of red-orange winter berries, and a couple sprigs of fragrant rosemary with tiny blue-purple flowers on their tips, lay on the table awaiting the vase.
When children spend a great deal of time in front of the TV, or some other form of electronics, they are in danger of missing the lessons nature so elegantly teaches. By taking a walk outside with our kids we provide them with the opportunity to remember this Earth’s wonder and beauty. If we walk with the intent to be aware and look around us, the time spent becomes even richer. We get to know the plants that are native to our area and become intimate with the unique qualities of each season. We connect with people in our neighborhood and life feels friendlier. There is so much to be gained by a walk in nature. Learning becomes what it is meant to be, a joy.
Enjoy a walk with your children. Search for things to put on your home altar that remind you of the world outside your home-fruit, stones, shells, twigs, flowers or any other natural objects. Some Hearth city dwellers have reported finding signs of the natural world while walking down city streets and through parks. Are there leaves on the ground? “Weeds” in the cracks? Is there an interesting stone? Even in the dead of winter there are pigeon feathers and brown gnarly branches that show their growing pattern.
In spring my home altar displays pink and white apple blossoms and jewel toned tulips. In winter it holds pruned grey stalks with tight little buds sleeping snugly in the chill air till spring. In fall there are red, orange, and yellow leaves and in summer, roses. All seasons are beautiful- infancy, childhood, the teen years, adulthood and old age. Each season has its unique gifts and challenges. The more we celebrate the changes and flow with them, the easier life becomes. When we enjoy the natural world, and share it with our children, we become more comfortable with life’s inevitable changes and are reminded to appreciate, even see the beauty of, impermanence. Through our little home altar we are reminded to celebrate life.