Emptied Altar

Smoky quartz, garnet, hematite.

Each one missing.

I take a deep breath and let out a long sigh. “Ronin.”

He never misplaces pieces of my altar roughly or callously, but with great intention and care. I find them hiding near windows, under the bed, on the bookshelf, in nooks and crannies around the house. If I catch him in the act, he offers a sheepish grin and a little shrug - “Sowwy, Mama!”

It’s not as if I haven’t set firm boundaries around this particular spot where I place special objects for my spiritual efficacy. I’ve been clear with my kids, reaffirmed the lines, redirected the interest, and asked with both gentle and harsh tones for my things to be left alone. My oldest has always understood and practiced amazing restraint, leaving my things be and admiring from afar. But my middle child - oh, that masterless samurai. That vagabond wanderer. That two-year-old mischief maker with horns and a tail and a dazzling, delighted smile. He really, really tries, I can tell. But he just can’t keep his fingers from the magic. I can hardly blame him.

Yesterday morning at Mama’s Hip, my friend Carly led me through a series of yoga poses that perfectly opened and aligned my body and spirit. As I leaned into a twist and laid my head on my mat, I could see clearly under our community couch: lost toys, dust bunnies, and mysterious odds-and-ends hid in the shadows. In the front room, I could hear the quiet noises of Shannon’s daughter playing as her mother watched the shop. I had to smile and giggle, again and again, at the wonderful way life deepens our practice. Brandi Carlile’s lyrics wafted in the air, singing of her child:

“The first things that she took from me were selfishness and sleep
She broke a thousand heirlooms I was never meant to keep
She filled my life with color, canceled plans, and trashed my car
But none of that was ever who we are…”

Lines of simple, poignant poetry found my ears as my heart opened, my shoulders fell, my eyes closed. They told of riding the breath like a steady steed back to the center of your being that never fails and is always with you. The clutter and clamor are always, always, always there. What never changes is the soul at the center…who we are.

I have learned, in being a mother and partner and friend and changemaker, to accept being rearranged and displaced. It’s a reality forced upon people the globe over. Yesterday, I wept holding my baby as I read about children in Yemen starving and watched their hungry mothers struggling to nurse them. What does it matter that I have my crystals and incense, my prayer books and mala, my poetry and practice, if I cannot let my heart be broken? if I can’t surrender what I’ll never know? if I can’t catch my breath, and find a way to the next right thing I must do? to let my children play, and wonder, and be free?

My special stones are in the right place, all the time. My altar, though disheveled, is an instrument of practice. Each time I discover a new, secret altar in an unexpected place, I strive to sigh in wonder instead of resentment, to feel the abundance of love and mystery my children bring my life instead of honing on the struggle. Making life with my children is a sacrament. It is an honor to be emptied. Only then can I find rich fulfillment in my soul.