I first became aware of Day Schildkret and his work at Wanderlust Festival in Lake Tahoe. Day is known internationally for Morning Altars and has encouraged thousands of people of all ages from all over the world to forage, build and be awed with Earth Art. Day is igniting an international movement by sharing the art, teachings and spirit of Morning Altars as a tangible spiritual practice that renews and redeems our relationship to wonder, creativity, nature connection, generosity, and impermanence. He taps into the roots and foundations of yoga with a unique perspective and inspires us that a daily practice does not have to be done on the mat. Here we catch up with Day to learn from and be moved by his creative soul. Much gratitude Day!
What are your earliest memories of making altars?
I was five years old and making the tiniest of altars. I would run outside after every rainstorm and witness the driveway covered in displaced and homeless worms, wiggling around trying to find their way back into the ground. I felt so much sympathy for the pathetic worms that I would literally dig small holes in the earth and escort the worms back into their proper place. But I wouldn’t stop there. Apparently, I wanted their little homecomings to be met with beauty. So I would adorn each hole, creating miniature art installations with flower petals, tiny sticks, and fallen berries, until there was a constellation of worm-hole mandalas scattered throughout the front yard. While my parents probably thought it was cute, to me it was everything. I was helping these helpless creatures find their way home — and marking that journey in beauty, with an altar. I didn’t know it at the time, but our capacity to mark moments with beauty is entirely human.
Can you talk a bit about your love for nature and connection…
That’s like asking me to speak about my love of life. It’s almost indescribable.
I think it’s best to start off by speaking a bit about my disconnection from nature and my journey of discovering it again. After college, I found myself working on Broadway and living in Times Square on a street that had about a thousand people walking by my front door every hour. There was barely a tree in site. Everything was pavement. The billboards lit the city so brightly at night that it looked like daytime. My days were rushed and stressful and, as you can imagine, there were consequences to living that way.
Yet right down the block there was an oasis: A community garden lush with green grass, a winding path and an old magnolia tree. That garden brought me back to life and reminded me how crucial being connected to the natural world is.
My love of nature is my love of the interconnection, diversity and unexpected magic of life. This love requires me having a beginner’s mind and being able to be awed by what I see. This love reminds me that to truly connect with nature, I must slow down and open my eyes and heart to what I’m connected to. Nature is alive and always communicating.
Any words of wisdom you can give someone that is wanting to start this kind of daily practice? Would you say that making altars is a yoga practice for you?
The word of wisdom is simple: Begin. Take a step outside and just wander for a bit, looking around for leaves or bark or anything that inspires you. Sit on the earth and just begin to arrange these pieces. You’ll be surprised how easy it is when you choose to begin.
I started this as a daily practice years ago because I had a relationship breakup that totally broke my heart. I couldn’t do yoga, couldn’t meditate. All I could do was take my dog on a walk in the hills here. It was a huge act of courage at the time to just walk out my front door. But what I discovered and remembered was how connected I feel when I’m creative and in nature.
The word yoga in Sanskrit means “to join,” “to unite” “to bring together” – it’s the practice of connecting oneself to something greater. My Morning Altars practice is yoga practice for me as it’s all about connecting ourselves in the moment: to nature, to creativity, to the present moment.
Who and what are some of your biggest inspirations?
Perhaps I can answer this question by describing my smallest inspirations. The magic I make when engaged in my craft is given to me by what lives and grows on the land. There have been little leaves I have found that are splattered with all the colors of the seasons on its surface. Or a perfectly rounded river rock that looks like it was shaped on the potter’s wheel. Or the flowering puff of a thistle plant that desires any opportunity to ride the wind. When I sit down to create, these gifts of the land are my inspiration and give my imagination the endless ideas of shapes and patterns. Every single Morning Altar that I have made has been inspired by the place I am at and the objects of that place.
How do you maintain your amazing curiosity, creativity and beginner’s mind?
Maintenance is a practice of keeping something you love alive and well. And this practice, like any practice, exercises a muscle and a skill. Like playing the guitar or learning a language, to become skillful at something requires a commitment to take time to tend to it everyday — to be willing to meet it everyday. I believe in yoga this is called “finding your mat.”
Curiosity, creativity and beginner’s mind are skills that we must exercise daily to not lose them. As children we are born into these kind of skills — we begin with 100% and are asked to maintain them. However, the dominant industrial culture we live in requires us to trade in these enormously valuable skills for the promise of certainty, knowledge, productivity and competence. And, like any muscle that isn’t exercised, it atrophies when underused.
So maintenance is a practice of keeping something alive. I keep my curiosity, creativity and beginner’s mind alive by committing to my Morning Altars practice everyday. I get to behold the wild turkeys that parade by the creek or the squirrels chasing each other up a redwood tree. I get to practice making something new everyday using my own hands and being awed by what I made. It’s a practice so I mess up all the time — but my commitment has never been stronger.
Any tips on how to turn passions into a sustainable way of making a living?
The etymology of the word “sustain” means to “hold up” like you would with the foundation of a home. Anything that is sustainable and endurable requires a willingness to be flexible, adaptable, innovative and persistent. For passions to become a living, it really requires a shift in mindset that includes uncertainty and not knowing. It asks you to tell your passion that no matter what, you’ll be there for it. No matter how uncertain things are, you won’t abandon it. What happens when you alter your mind in this way is that you learn a certain kind of grace and courage that is needed when making your passions into livelihood.
You are also a Purpose Coach and created Legacy of Livelihood. Please tell us more!
I’m passionate about people remembering that they are needed during this time. There are too many people in the world living a life that is purposeless, needy and disconnected and there’s enormous negative impact on their health, relationships and on the planet itself.
We need as many people as possible attempting to live creative and regenerative lives. We need as many people as possible remembering that everything they benefit from has been given to them from generations before and that their purpose directly impacts generations to come. We as a human species are at a crossroads: Do we continue to take from this planet with an incessant, insatiable appetite or do we show up with purpose, meaning, generosity and responsibility for a world greater than ourselves?
I’ve worked with hundreds of clients as a Creative Purpose mentor because I want to see other people living their passions and purpose everyday. I want to see people taking risk and living creatively without any guarantees that its going to work out. Living with purpose right now requires us to proceed with our life’s calling in the midst of uncertainty.
I absolutely LOVE witnessing my clients get strong and devoted to living their passions.
What is one way we can all bring more beauty into our lives?
The more beautiful everything around you is, the more beauty is in your life. So, I think the question should be: What does it look like to make everything that surrounds me as beautiful as possible? What does it mean to bring beauty to your partner or your neighbors or your office co-workers? What does it mean to make your home or working space more beautiful? How can your greetings to strangers be more beautiful?
The more beauty you give, the more spills all over you. That’s what is needed in this world.
To view the mesmerizing magic of Morning Altars, visit: www.morningaltars.com