Day Schildkret has been creating impermanent earth art since the age of 5, though it wasn't until one particularly profound experience 5 years ago, that he felt compelled to turn Morning Altars into a movement. Since then, he's inspired people around the world to connect with the world around them, work through emotions and make beauty just for the sake of making it.
Read on to learn about mandalas—and why you should begin making earth altars on the regular.
How do you define the Sanskrit term Mandala, both as an ancient symbol and modern practice?
It’s interesting because the actual word Mandala translates into ‘circle’. While some of the time, it’s used to refer to mandalas that are physically circular, it can also be interpreted as WHOLE, as a circle is whole and complete. My daily practice is to go outside and build impermanent earth mandalas. When I create one, I practice beginning something, creating something, and then letting it go and change. It's a very WHOLE process because it has a beginning, middle and ending. So, it's really a practice of being in relationship with the wholeness of life, which is totally impermanent and changing.
Why create earth mandalas?
We need more beauty and meaning in our lives, especially nowadays. So many people in today’s culture are struggling with feeling disconnected, uncreative and anxious. Maybe its from being on screens all the time or needing to be productive all the time but there's a need to return some of the simplicities of life. The practice of building a Morning Altars is turning the found into profound. This practice gets me out of my head and my home every morning, has me connecting with the earth, has me being creative and intentional, has me exercising curiosity and wonder. And most importantly, it has me practice letting go each and every time. It’s deeply impactful and so simple.
Take us through the steps of building an altar.
There are 7 movements in my practice, which anyone can do anywhere. Even in the center of a city — and believe me, I lived in Times Square for 7 years so I know it's possible!
Go outside with a basket and forage for 30 minutes with ‘beginner’s mind’, meaning take in everything as if you’re seeing it for the first time. Allow yourself to be surprised, to follow your intuition. Always follow these two rules of foraging —
#1 Give before you take: acknowledge you’re dealing with living things, so give to nature before you take from it – whether it’s water, poetry or a song.
#2 Practice the one-fourth rule: if you see a community of flowers, only take ¼ at most to prevent overtaking.
Return to the place you’re going to build. Sit there for a moment and listen to place, allowing yourself to be fully present to where you are.
With a hand broom or your hand, create a blank canvas. Create a sacred space, clearing away that which isn’t meant to be there anymore. Symbolically, it serves to help to clear the clutter around and inside of us.
Lay out your foraged items and create your palette—whether according to color, texture, shapes, whatever speaks to you. Next, simply start in the center and ripple out. You’re creating different geometric shapes. There are four elements to consider:
#1 Consistency: Incorporate a lot of the same material
#2 Symmetry: By letting the altar be symmetric, it communicates to the body a sense of relaxation and release
#3 Proximity: Arrange the mandala in a way so it has room to breathe
#4 Color: Honor the relationship of the different elements to one another
After you’re finished building, offer it up to yourself, someone else or something in the world that you want to nourish and feed life. For instance, ‘May this altar bring more peace and healing to the world.’
Take a picture and spread the seed. You’re sharing a mandala built out of the things around you, and it’s amazing to see this feedback loop of inspiration from around the world. Check out #morningaltars and #earthmandalas to get started.
This is the act of impermanence. You walk away knowing that this thing you’ve spent so much time making perfect, is going to change and be destroyed. The practice is to know that life is impermanent, and therefore, when you’re in the presence of something impermanent, its value increases. Acknowledging that nothing is going to last forever makes you value life infinitely more.
Create a mantra inspired by the word Mandala
"I practice welcoming all of life – its beginning, middle and ending."
Now, about you…
How did you begin making earth mandalas?
I started this when I was 5 years old, I would run outside after a rainstorm and save the earthworms. I’d dig holes in the ground and help them get back inside the earth, then I would decorate their holes as a little housewarming. It was adorable. I’ve always felt the need to have my hands in the earth, but it wasn’t until I went through a major breakup 5 years ago that I felt the need to start a daily practice.
I couldn’t bring myself to do anything besides go on walks with my dog. Early one morning, we sat under a tree and I saw a community of mushrooms, eucalyptus leaves and bark, and found myself mindlessly rearranging them for an hour. When I was finished, I looked and it was beautiful—and I felt lighter. I decided to challenge myself and go back to the same place for 30 days and spend one hour building. After the 30 days, I didn’t want to stop because it was so healing and brought me back to life. I’ve made a mandala every day since.
How has the practice impacted your perspective on life?
I have hundreds of these stories from people who send me altars and stories around the world. A woman in England sent me her altar, saying she made it after she dropped her kids off at school on the anniversary of her mother’s death. She was flipping through Instagram, landed on @morningaltars and got inspired to go into the forest behind her kids’ school and built an altar for her mom. She said it was the first time she felt like she had connected with her since she passed away.
We had a newly married couple at a workshop a few weeks ago, and they said the month since they got married had been the hardest month since they met. They were having trouble communicating with each other, so they built altars for each other to try to communicate everything they couldn’t say. The altars looked like storybooks and we all started crying when they talked through the symbolism. It was a profound experience. Knowing how these little impermanent pieces of art are profoundly impacting people has totally altered my perspective on life.
Why did you choose to share your work on Instagram?
Morning Altars is a movement. I want to see people in every country all over the world create earth art out of where they live. Instagram is an AMAZING way for me to share my art and inspire others to share theirs. I see it as a way to spread seeds. I want to do what I can to put more beauty into the world, living beautifully and creatively and hoping to inspire others to do the same.
We hear that you just finished your first book! Could you tell us a bit more about what to expect?
Yes! I'm over the moon! It will be image-rich like a cookbook where the photos are gorgeous and bleeding onto the whole page where you can see all of the different textures of the altars. It will include altars I’ve created, wisdom, stories from people whose lives have been impacted by making a Morning Altars. It will also teach the 7 steps and why it’s important to practice building earth mandalas in this day and age. My goal is for it to serve as beacon of inspiration and beauty.
(Ed note: It's now available here! Just wait until you feel the cover...)
Any final words of wisdom?
NOW GET OUTSIDE AND MAKE SOMETHING BEAUTIFUL THAT FEEDS LIFE, YOUR OWN AND THE WORLDS!