Where I live in Tucson, Arizona I can walk just half a mile from my home into the hills and find places were ancient worshipers etched symbols in the rock to honor and connect with the Sun or the spirits of the land. I often hike in the desert and find such images in places that are naturally awe inspiring and distinctive; hill tops with grand vistas, cliff faces, or womb-like caves. In other places I might stumble upon a campsite in some desert valley that was probably used for generations, with it’s scattered pot shards and discarded stone tools. If I look around, I’ll soon find some intimate spot were people have carved or painted symbols of the hunt or ceremonies. After seeing enough of these you begin to recognize many of the same symbols that seem to be icons representing an event, experience or entity. They are obviously places of reverence, to be returned to over and over again. From our earliest beginnings, we humans have created special areas in our personal environment to honor the mysteries and forces of our world.
I saw prasad being offered for the first time many years ago on the Hindu island of Bali in Indonesia. First thing in the morning, Balinese practice this very personal form of worship by offering small, colorful rice cakes, flowers or fruit to their household deities. The sweetness and simplicity of it is very touching. In a quiet and casual puja or ceremonial offering accompanied by a short prayer, everyday activity is aligned with the unseen, Divine forces. Honoring and evoking the spirit world insures protection, support and a higher collaboration. It sets a tone of mindfulness and reverence.
In India, there are grand temples dedicated to specific forms of the Divine - Ganesh, Siva, Kali and others. These are moving, powerful places. Even the smallest village has its modest “temple”. This might be a tree or rock with a collection of sacred items on or around it. And every Indian home has a altar that is the focus of household prayer and offering. Where the monumental temples have specific conventions of geometry, form and function, the home altar can be very personal and individual. Each household has its particular deity that the family honors. Within that each individual my honor his or her own special form of the Divine.
Personal Sacred Space
Many of us naturally collect mementos from our lives, things that remind us of special events or meaningful experiences. If we see our own lives as a manifestation of the Divine then these things can take on an even deeper significance. In my own home I have created a special area on the mantel of my fireplace were I have placed collected objects that represent various things to me. I have a lovely silver sculpture of Ganesh, the remover of obstacles. There is a bronze of Siva Nataraj. These things you might expect from someone who studies and practices yoga. Yet arranged around these established icons are very personal, one of kind objects with deep, personal symbolism. Four feathers are at the feet of Ganesh: an owl feature for wisdom, a falcon feather for insight, a colorful macaw feather to remind me of the joy in life, a blue jay feather for self-expression and a woodpecker feather for perseverance. There are photos of people I consider my teachers, small books of prayers in various languages. Spiraling shells to remind me of the path of experience, learning and the movement of the universe. I’ve placed various stones and crystals meant to carry and emit special energies. There are other natural objects I’ve picked up and kept to evoke the memory of some specific event in my life. I’ve also evolved my own sort of prasad that I perform at this spot each morning. It’s a sort of small ceremony that is a time for me to reflect and align my intentions for the day. I honor and offer gratitude for the abundance, support and love I receive from the people in my life, from the earth, from my teachers as well as for the guidance I receive from I know not were. It helps me feel a gentler, more open connection to the world around me and to feel supported in all I do.