Altar Meditations

I love to draw and paint the hallowed energies that surround me during meditation. After a meditating, I go to my studio to draw. I create geometric shapes in the area around the figure: these appear to me as if they represent an unconventional altar. As I continue to draw these sacred spaces, I often place the meditator close to nature. For me, nature herself is an altar, a reflection of the divine on earth.

I usually draw the figures small relative to large natural forms around them. This feels right to me, because, when I’m near hills, caves, lakes, or trees, I feel minute compared to their grandeur. For me, the meditation experience naturally diminishes my ego, a good thing. Altars in nature with small meditators symbolize the process of reducing my distorted grandiosity. 

In Asia, where monks and nuns have meditated in caves for thousands of years, enclosed natural places that invite meditation are a revered tradition. Several years ago, my meditation group traveled to a large cave on the Big Island of Hawaii and spent hours in the chill underground, meditating. Luckily, our leader advised us to wear rain coats. Caves are drippy. Feeling cozy and dry in a plastic poncho, I loved meditating deep within the earth, listening to the uneven rhythm of water drops.

For me, sitting near vegetation is restful and a wonderful place to meditate. I often draw a large bush or tree that provides shade, majesty and peace that helps calm my mind.

In a similar fashion, a high cliff or nearby hill seems to provide shelter and a naturally tranquil atmosphere, especially if there’s nearby water. In the Grand Canyon, while my hiking group went up a steep trail that I didn’t want to climb, I found a small waterfall and perched on a pale orange, flat piece of sandstone that, oddly, felt as soft as a seat cushion. Perhaps the innate energy of the place or the large boulders and water induced calm. In the dry, crisp air, I had one of the best meditations of my life on that spot for over an hour, filled with blissful energies and empty of thoughts.

When I yield to the meditation process and let go of busy thoughts, I feel at one with a great inner expanse. Sometimes I see a colorful aurora borealis in my inner eye, and, at other times, a rich dark blue. Perhaps, that’s why I draw vibrant compositions with people meditating in or near the sky. In the drawing below, one person sits on the ground with hovering clouds, colored by sunset, sinking low towards her. Another meditator is so drawn to the atmosphere that she levitates above the earth. At its best, to me, meditation feels like suspension in the ether, complete freedom.

K. Kauffman, Clouds Low, 20”x24”, ink, 2023

I love meditating with a group, especially if there are monks or nuns with me. It usually helps me have a more profound experience. In the drawing, Cloud Horizontal Six, I depict such a group and the feeling of drifting on a cloud.

Feeling suspended on a cloud in meditation can also feel like floating on water. The drawing below captures gently swelling waves, energetically carrying me along in mental surrender to the rolling motion of a relaxed mind.

Through my drawings, I realize that nature provides an ideal altar for meditation, adding positive energies to my contemplative experience.