A Living Altar

One of the things I love most that Evelyn brings to our writing through grief retreat is the living altar she creates and tends. Each day it changes; every day it evolves. People are invited to add things they find in nature and to place an item on the altar that represents a loss they’re grieving. People bring photographs, icons, letters, memorabilia, and other symbolic keepsakes with them from home, and soon, they’ll be invited to put them on the altar and describe why they chose that item to bring.

Evelyn stresses that altars are not connected to a particular religion; in fact, altars have been found in every religious tradition. “Our altar is about beauty and creating a community healing space,” she explained to the group last night in our opening session. “When you’re feeling something intense, turn it over to the altar. The altar can hold it. What we’re creating here is a sacred place to slow down and meet your inner divinity.”

Last night, in our first session, Evelyn and I focused on “creating the container” for the workshop. I went over our ground rules and group agreements, designed to create a safe space for writing, sharing, and listening. I talked a little about the week to come. Then we each introduced ourselves by lighting a candle and sharing our intention for the week as well as a resource we had to offer to the group: things like presence, a sense of humor, the willingness to write the truth, courage, the wisdom of age and much more. I think it’s important when leading a group to let everyone know that they are not just at the retreat for what they can get—but also for what they have to offer the group. Participants learn as much from each other as they will from us, their teachers. One of the most important things we’re doing this week is forming a safe, sacred healing community.

There were a lot of very tired people sitting in our circle last night—many had traveled far: from Ohio, Minnesota, Canada, Colorado, New Zealand, and Australia. So, we didn’t dive into writing last night.

But this morning after breakfast on our first full day, I’ll give some basic instruction and we will begin to write!

Here are some images from the altar in its early first incarnation, before the group has begun to co-create and transform it.

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