Winter for most North Americans, is a season of short days and long nights, and often challenging weather, that inspires or requires stillness, resilience, taking stock, and stocking up. The quietness invites a state of contemplative hibernation. But darkness can also feel expansive and vast, like the night sky itself, which can leave us feeling vulnerable. Connecting with the wisdom of the season, by using nature as a backdrop for mindful, intentional reflection can bring comfort and inspiration. Winter reminds us that nothing is permanent, yet at the same time, even in a time of dark stillness, seeds are waiting to begin their everlasting cycle once more.

One way to tap into the wisdom of the season is to create a nature altar. By formal definition, an altar is “usually a raised structure or place upon which sacred acts are performed or sacred objects are displayed”.

This definition sounds big, formal, and imposing but in contemporary life, altars can be both secular and non-secular. They can be spiritual, non-spiritual, personal, and communal. Some people have a special shelf where they place gifts of special importance, or objects related to their ancestors or lost loved ones. Some people create an altar dedicated to objects they love and that remind them of things that reflect their beliefs. You don’t have to be a part of organized religion to create a space to hold important objects. And you don’t need an officiant to create a mindful ritual experience that can help you gather insight, resilience, strength, or peace in this season.

Ben Martin, a certified Life-Cycle Celebrant® in Colorado uses nature altars to bring into resonance a fleeting beauty that may only last for hours, or perhaps a day. One might question the value of creating something intentionally beautiful if it will only last a short time. But that is part of what Winter brings to us. The reality is we cannot focus only on what is everlasting. There is a deep value to paying tribute and harvesting gratitude for the gifts in life that are fleeting, or impermanent while we can.

Ben offers a set of actions for creating your own nature altar:
Nature Altars for the Solstice

Starting Point

1. ) Harvest a batch of natural elements. Ben harvests pinecones and many times sprigs of
evergreens from a beloved forest near his home. Pinecones speak of legacy and a hidden
geometry. The seeds are arranged in a tight spiral in a fascinating Fibonacci sequence—a
sequence that is derived by summing the two numbers that precede it to determine where it is
going. This pattern is stamped all over nature and gives an architecture to its object with such a
coherent beauty.

The pinecone is a traditional symbol of human enlightenment, legacy and that which is eternal and is a great metaphor for Winter.

For those who live in different climates where evergreens are not predominant, go out to your yard, a park, a hiking trail and harvest a mound of nature’s gifts. The idea is not to plan, but to gather spontaneously the gifts that nature has provided all around you.

2.) You need a center point upon which to build your altar. It might be a self-made five-stone
milestone marker or cairn of rocks, raised branches, or even a mound of earth or sand. If you are
doing this in your own yard, you might consider a center candle (with a tall glass hurricane holder)
to light when you have completed the creation. (Weather and regulations permitting).

3.) Working from the center point, lay the rest of your natural treasures in pleasing shapes and lines, following your heart and creative inspiration. Let nature guide your hand. It will take time to lay out the objects you found into a shape you find pleasing. Here in lies your opportunity for mindfulness and peaceful contemplation.

With your altar built, wander through the symbolism you see, and the patterns that emerge, sit with any feelings or sift through thoughts that have surfaced. Bring along the following guided meditation to help you.

Your Guide to Wandering in Wonderby Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant Ben Martin

(A meditation map to this place, time, and you—Bringing Back the Boon)

This place invites you to connect with it and find its story locked in its earthen toughness and ruggedness. Where is its beauty? What is the texture of its skin? Where are its hidden treasures?

This time invites you to connect with it. In the midst of this time and place, may you connect with this sacred center. May you find connection with the significance of this day, of your journey that has brought you to this honoring, of the beauty infilling this milestone moment. Your Guide to Wandering in Wonder[1]by Certified Life-Cycle Celebrant Ben Martin.

Please step into deep time (it does not matter how many minutes elapse but how deep a connection you can achieve with the timeless.) And from this nexus of time, place, and you, take one artifact to carry with you from your altar space – an artifact (feather, rock, juniper branch, cactus spine, grasses) of your journey that has caught your eye, captured your imagination, spoke to you, brought you in touch with a texture, color, or play of light. Take that one element with you and with a last glance, leave your nature altar behind, to let the season and the weather and nature do what it will with this expression of a moment in time.

As you walk away and return to your daily life, carry with you all the lessons you learned, the gratitude’s harvested and the peace you found in these moments.

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