We're strange creatures we humans in that we need an arbitrary date to make a new beginning: a new week, a new month, or best of all a new year. All of these are entirely arbitrary: calendar dates agreed upon by a bunch of people once upon a time.
But not always and forever…different bunches of people changed them over time. They added in new months and in some places lost several weeks. Some religions believe we're in one particular year, others believe we're in a different one.
And yet, we need a point, an anchor, or maybe just a hook, upon which to hang our new start. We can't possibly begin a momentous undertaking on just some random Thursday in August. So we put it off – waiting for a turning point, upon which to turn. The new year, the solstice, Samhain, something…
It occurred to me on Sunday that the Autumnal equinox was as good a point as any other in the year upon which to 'start something'. Why wait for the turning of the year? Why not start when the year is in balance?
So I am.
I am taking this autumnal equinox, when the day and the night are equal, a balance between light and dark, as a starting point for a new exploration.
Last year (or was it the beginning of this one…it's been a strange year and I forget things)…but anyway, back then, I started a "sky" project, which shuddered to a slow halt after life had slid me sideways. I will pick that up again some other time, for now it binds up memories that I need to work my way through...
For now, I'm starting a new creative exploration: for now I'm looking not upwards, but down and across. I'm looking into the natural world, but also into the man-made, and maybe even the me-made. For this next year, starting and finishing at the autumnal equinox, I'm going to explore, seek out, and maybe even create, water altars.
So what is a water altar?
I don't know.
I was told I had created one, when I shared a failed photograph that I love regardless. I'd been trying to capture the creatures in a rock pool, and all I caught was the water, and the light and the weed…and I still LOVE the picture, even though it isn't one I set out to take. "You've created a water altar" Jackee told me… and I told her I was going to steal that notion. So now I am.
Others will have their own ideas – and I'd love to know what Jackee's is, I never did ask her – but because I don't know, I get to make it up.
So for me a water altar is any patch or pool or bowl of water that catches our attention and focuses our minds beyond our self.
It's a point of mini-meditation – a few seconds only maybe, but maybe longer, maybe very much longer – in which we feel connected to something else. If nothing more, it is at least a thing of beauty. I believe that any time we experience beauty, we step beyond our selves. They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder – I say it is in the soul of the seeker. Beauty isn't visual. It's deeper than that. You don't see beauty, you experience it. You feel it…it sparks a response.
Water altars, I've discovered in the 18 months or so since I first heard the expression and started capturing them where I find them, are one way in which I can step beyond myself and experience an abstract kind of beauty in nature. So now, I'm going to take the next step and start deliberately seeking them out.
But this is where I start with this again. So here we go… over the course of the next year I'm going to seek out (and maybe create) water altars and share my thoughts and musings in whatever way they arise, because for me that's the point of any sacred space: that it is a space, and what matters is how you respond to it. As I've said before, I hold to no religion, but I do believe in sacred spaces…and it occurs to me that if I can stumble across water altars, if I can make water altars, then maybe everywhere has the potential to become a sacred space if we want it to be.
Having given up the sky project (albeit temporarily), I was already drawn to the idea of water. I had also thought about the idea of the equinox as a starting point for something new, but I hadn't firmly drawn the two together.
Then someone called me, and told me that they were standing in the woods in the rain, because they wanted to talk to me. Calling me mattered. They called it a definition of love: making a phone call in the woods in the rain.
I agreed, but I also heard another call: to go walk in the rain myself. It was a city streets walk, but not far from my front door, I found what I didn't know I was looking for. This is the start of this journey.
You might call it a puddle. I'm calling it an altar, and a starting point.
I loved the way the railings are reflected but broken by raindrop-ripples; I love the intersecting circles of those echoing drop-spots, the leaves newly minted in ruby and garnet and bronze and gold, some still mint-green, glistening beneath the water, jewel offerings – weather-smudged and fleeting. I love how surreal this is, for all it was – for a moment, captured – utterly real.
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