Pivoting Towards the Sacred | Day Schildkret (Morning Altars)
On this episode we are joined by friend and fellow scholar, Day Schildkret of Morning Altars.
Day Schildkret is internationally renowned as the author, artist and teacher behind the Morning Altars movement, inspiring tens of thousands of people to make life more beautiful and meaningful through ritual, nature and art. BuzzFeed calls his work, “a celebration of nature and life." With nearly 100K followers on social media and sold-out workshops, installations, trainings, and public speaking events worldwide, Day is a thought-leader devoted to healing the culture by teaching people to ritualize the big and small moments of our work and our lives.
Day is the author of the up-coming book, Hello, Goodbye: 75 Rituals for Times of Loss, Celebration and Change (Simon Element), hitting #1 on Amazon for two days straight, as well as the author of Morning Altars: A 7-Step Practice to Nourish Your Spirit through Nature, Art and Ritual (Countryman Press). His work has been featured on NBC, CBS, Buzzfeed, Vice, Well+Good, My Modern Met and four times in Spirituality & Health Magazine.
We discuss how people know where they are, deep time, wanderlust and destination addiction, rituals as recipes and food for memory, where we find the sacred in the world, what it means to be hospitable guests in our time, remembering to remember through ritual, and finally, how art can help us to do that.
How we met at the Orphan Wisdom School
The origins of the Morning Altars project/book
How do you know where you are?
Deep time meditation
Wanderlust and destination addiction
Recipes and food for memory
Routine and ritual
Pivoting towards the Sacred
Rugs, water and barganing for understanding in Morocco
Guest, host, and Ghos-ti
Finding Home and Saying goodbye to home
Remembering to remember through ritual
Art bringing the pieces back together
Pivoting Towards the Sacred | Day Schildkret (Morning Altars)
Chris: Welcome to the End of Tourism Podcast, Day.
Day Schildkret: Thank you. I'm happy to be here. Let's dance.
Chris: It's a pleasure and honor to have you.
Day Schildkret: Thank you.
Chris: So, we always start the pod off by asking our guests where they find themselves today and you know, what the world looks like for you, where you are.
Day Schildkret: Where I am right now is in, is in Portland, Oregon and I had a moment to take a little bit of a walk before getting on this call with you and it's quite magical outside. The mist has descended upon the whole city. It's very hard to see.
Thankfully there's a park right near where I'm living and the mist has descended in such a thick and prevalent way that it actually transformed the park into something that felt like it wasn't the city, and so I'm very grateful for the mist because it's been raining here for, I don't know, six weeks.
Right. And the mist is like a little, you know, it's like a little gift. It's like water easing itself so that we could, you know, be transported someplace else.
Chris: Yeah, what a blessing.
So, day I met you some years ago now maybe five or six years ago at Stephen Jenkinson's farm at one of the orphan wisdom school sessions.
And you were dressed to the nines, as always, and firmly a part of
Day Schildkret: - not when I sleep, I'm really not dressed to the nines.
Chris: Birthday suits.
And yeah. And I just, you know, I remember having this conversation with you around the fire one night and, you know, wondering who is this incredible spirit that's come up and spoken these beautiful words, you know, into my ears.
I think we were very lucky in those days to be blessed with that on a constant basis. And so I'm very grateful to have you on the pod today and to get to see you, see you after so long. So, I'd like to begin if I can by speaking a little bit about Morning Altars.
Day Schildkret: Okay.
Chris: In 2018, you released your first book entitled Morning Altars: A Seven Step Practice to Nourish Your Spirit through Nature, Art and Ritual...
Day Schildkret: Which interestingly enough, you know, just to, to take the reins just for a quick second, you know, as an author, you really have, it's a dance with your publisher and you really have, you have a lot of permission to, to title your book, but you have very little, very little power to subtitle your book.
And and so that subtitle, the one you just read, was fine with me except one word in there. And without, you know, sometimes when I talk about this, I asked the audience to guess which word, but I'll tell you the one I had a big beef with, which was the word "your," and I asked them to delete that word.
So it would read, A Seven-Step Practice to Nourish Spirit Through Nature, Art and Ritual,
Chris: as opposed to "your spirit...".
Day Schildkret: Yeah. And they demanded that "your" piece, which is, you know, it's fine. And, but now I get to teach about it because the whole practice is sure. You, you know, it's like filling a cup and sure some of it spills on you and that's a blessing for sure. But the cup is not meant for you. It's meant to nourish something beyond. Right. So I digress, but it's
Chris: wow. Yeah. Such as the power of our language. And I guess often how we're disempowered by it. So I'd like to ask you about that book and the project Morning Altars, right. And I'd love if we could start by offering our listeners a little primer or introduction into Morning Altars, to how it got started and how it's grown since.
Day Schildkret: Absolutely. Well, the practice really started when I was five years old. Unbeknownst to me, I was the little boy who I was, I would say, obsessed with saving worms from my driveway after a rainstorm. So, after a rainstorm, I would grab leaves and I would escort each worm that had been displaced from the ground back into, I'd dig little holes and really bring them into some semblance of a homecoming faithfully, each worm.
And then I would decorate each hole and I'd put little berries and twigs and, you know, I'd have a constellation of little decorated wormhole homecomings on my front lawn. And, you know, that's the earliest memory of this practice. And then it's, you know, I've always had this, I'd say back and forth dance with creating art in nature.
I was an artist in residence at a variety of retreat centers, creating art in nature. I've always been very called to it. However it wasn't until, in one year, my father died and I basically went through a divorce, a huge breakup. And I was so grief laden at the time that I had no capacity to do my work, I had no capacity to live my life.
I had no capacity to socialize. I was wrecked, completely wrecked by grief. And when my dad died, he had a dog. So I adopted her and she saved my life. She got me out of the house because I probably wouldn't have left the home without her having to go on a walk. And so every morning we would leave the house and I would be walking Rudy, miniature schnauzer, and my head would be down because I'd be in my mind, in my thoughts. And she would be doing the dog thing, which is curious and attentive and alert and interested. And because my head was down, I occasionally came upon beautiful objects, a Crow feather, or, you know, a beautiful leaf with all of the colors, you know, greens, yellows, reds, or whatever.
I'd come across different objects that fell in nature and they would pop me out of my minds and into the place. And then I would fall back into my mind again, one morning, Rudy and I meandered to the top of the hill in a place called Wildcat Canyon in Richmond, California.
And it was some actually similar to the weather it is today. It was fog, very foggy and Misty, and it was dawn. And we came upon the intersection of three paths in this park and under this eucalyptus tree was this patch of really, truly amazing, almost like watercolor painted mushrooms. And I was so taken with the beauty that I sat my ass down under that tree.
Rudy was not happy about it, and I'm not sure what compelled me to do this, but in retrospect, I know, but at the time I had no idea, I just started to arrange the mushrooms into a shape and then it just felt right. I took a little bit of eucalyptus bark and caps and a little bit of this and that, leaves, and an hour went by and for the first time in probably seven or eight months, I felt lighter. I felt as if I returned to my self. You know, I wasn't so lost in my thoughts and lost in my grief. Okay. So that really surprised me. And I made a commitment to come back to that same spot for 30 days and make a new one each day.
And so I did, I would wander with Rudy on our morning walks. We'd sit under the same tree. We'd make this, I'd make a completely different piece. Impermanent and 30 days came and passed and I didn't want to stop. And you know, what happened from there was truly remarkable because I started to share this very personal practice that was all about me metabolizing my grief. And I started to share just the beauty, and occasionally the intention, with friends and family, and their response was transformative.
They were feeding me with their praise and then I started to share it on social media and the strangest things started to happen, which is like, you know, if social media has any positive quality of these days, it's this: it is a seed carrier. It's like a wind. And so I was putting out this beauty, like a seed into the wind and that seed would like be on this super highway and it would land in like Brazil and it would sprout in the imagination of someone who's there going through whatever they're going through and they would create an altar out of their land and their place and their own intentions and then they would blow that seed back into the superhighway, through social media. And it would land back in my, my place. And that started to happen all over the world. I was getting altars from Poland and Australia and Iran and England and Canada and Mexico, and people started to create altars out of their land and their place for their lives.
And we were suddenly inspiring each other all the time. And in looking back, remember I said, I didn't know why this was so powerful and looking back, I realized that what I was doing was creating some semblance of order that I could see 'cause my mind and the world was so disordered. And so I actually, it was, it was actually helping, healing, orienting, guiding, metabolizing, all of these things legitimately with my hands, by making something that was so symmetrical and so precise, impermanent, no attachment to it, but just for a second, so precise actually helped orient my inner landscape. So I was like, oh, there is such a thing as order because as you know, grief just you're in an ocean.
Day Schildkret: You know, there's no grounds. So to have a little bit of grounds for just, you know, five minutes or whatever, actually gave me something to stand on.
And so I wrote this book because I realized there was seven steps to the practice. Each step is its own. I mean, I don't even know how to tell you how... this practice is teaching me all the time. We're eight months into our first ever teacher training. I'm teaching a hundred people from five continents. Wow. ...how to bring this practice... We have prison psychologists. We have, we have memory care nurses. We have art therapists.
We have grief doulas. We have birth doulas. I mean, we have the whole spectrum from five continents of people who are learning this practice to bring it back to their people in their communities. And so, you know, in a way it's like I've been faithful to something that chose me. I don't know how. I didn't grow up in this way.
And in that book, I kind of dropped a very subtle thing. Very subtle question, which is, could it be that there was a seed from a long, long time ago in my ancestral lineage that was also, you know, put into the super highway of time and that it landed in my life and it's the soil was right and it's sprouted.
And here I am tending to something that is so beyond me. I don't even sometimes I'm just in awe of what this gift is. Hmm. So that's a little bit of a backstory ish. There's a lot more to say, but it gives your listeners a little bit of an idea of what, what we're talking about.
Chris: Yeah, thank you for that, Day. And congratulations on this incredible endeavor that you've given yourself over to over the years. Now, I wanted to ask you about grief. Uh, you've spoken a bit about it already, and this notion of coming to the biggest dilemmas or issues in our lives, whether they be personal or cultural.
And so with Morning Altars, as a kind of example, How might staying home and learning home, be a way to grieve and find love in the relative dross of our times? You know, for example, by spending time in one's own backyard and one's own neighborhood and rediscovering the land and soil and waters that place.
How have you seen that arise in the work that you've done?
Day Schildkret: I'd say, I mean, this isn't particularly just a grief practice. This is a practice of, this is really just a, it's a life practice. So, with life comes celebration and grief and wonder and doubt and whatever, you know, to me, this is a response to life.
And you know, the three pillars of this practice are really nature or place, art or creativity, and ritual or meaning-making. And, you know, in terms of placemaking, you know, the second step of this practice is very much committed to cultivating a lived relationship with the place that you are and learning her language and recognizing that you're in a place that is far older than you and will outlive you.
And and to learn her language is to, is to really go far deeper into your own. And so the impetus to do this, to me is, yeah, it's a way to give gratitude or to grieve or to celebrate or all of the things that I mentioned, but the way into the practice is by connecting to the place herself.
And then the heart skill of doing that is wonder. That is the appropriate. The way I teach it's the most important skill, it is the bread and butter, it's the heart language to connect to the place, is to be awed by her, radically amazed by the bigness of her and the smallness of her. And to me wonder is what keeps us connected and keeps the place alive.
You know? So oftentimes I'm advising people like you don't need to go anywhere to do this practice. You can do this in your backyard. Actually, why not? Like, see if you can bring some amazement to the place that you're so familiar with, that you've actually discounted it, that you think, you know, where you are. You think you know where you are.
Well, maybe you're calling the place by a name. Right, but that's just something that is actually preventing you from going deeper into this place. Wonder and the reason of connecting to the place through wonder is to actually for a moment consider maybe you don't know where you are.
One of the questions that I teach my students, one of the activities we do is to sit in the place where you live and to ask the question, where am I.
And to refuse any answer. Hmm Hmm. Okay. So if your mind comes up with an answer like I'm in Portland, Oregon, push that aside and keep asking the question, where am I? And that question leads you into a, into a place of mystery and wonder, and relationship. And so suddenly, you know, the non spoken language starts to reveal herself and answer that question. The shadows of the trees, the color of the leaves, the cry of the crow, all of these ways that the place herself reveals for whereness to you.
And so that's one of the practices and, you know, wonder is the heart skill of this practice.
Chris: That's beautiful.
Yeah. I pulled a quote from, from morning altars, where you write "lost means that something has gone, but wandering means something else entirely. Wandering is the practice art of listening and letting yourself be drawn to that, which is here alive and communicating. It requires you to become attuned to where you are by observing what else is there with you."
And, you know, it seems to me in that sense that, you know, everything in that passage, whispers that one be present in a kind of radical reciprocity with the local world. And, you know, I think everything you just said there stresses deeply local as opposed to political or just political or just historical, just cultural, et cetera.
Day Schildkret: Local. Yes. And the local is a gateway to so much learning. For instance, at a recent teacher training for the practitioner certification that we're doing, we did something, I call it a deep time meditation. I recorded an audio for them, and I had them go sit in their sit spot in a place where I have them sit once a day for at least 15 minutes.
And the time meditation brought them back in time in their imaginations to imagine the place herself 15 years ago, 50 years ago, 100, 1000. A hundred thousand, 1 million, a hundred million years ago. And to see the place and to imagine, were the same trees here? Were the same people here? Was water here, you know, and to really hear from the place, where she's been and what you're sitting in the presence of.
And then we did the same thing forward in time, 10 years or 15 years from now, 50 years from now, a hundred years from now, a thousand million, a hundred million. And, and then they built an altar. They built an altar with the question, what is our place as humans in this web of time and this web of life?
Wow. And so, you know, you can imagine what they made was just profound, all by sitting in this thing that we're calling local. Right. But when we do this deep time meditation, yes, it's local, but man has this place changed and will continue to change.
Chris: incredible. Sign me up, sign me up!
And so, speaking of, you know, deep time, you know what happens, I guess when we, and we think of other places or when we're constantly thinking of other places or times as modern people often tend to do in the context of nostalgia or wanderlust. Right. I I'm sure some of our listeners would wonder, but what does something like morning altars have to do with the end of tourism or wanderlust? Right.
And I think that nostalgia or wanderlust are based in a kind of modern and ancestral escapism or exile that often thrusts us into foreign places, temporarily, but in order to discover and enjoy foreign lands and cultures. Now when we travel elsewhere, a consequence of our movement is that we generally ignore and forget what's happening back home.
And the beauty often that exists there, right? And we choose the reverence of the open road over the reverence we could have and I would argue, should have for the land and local soils of the places that feed our lives. And I feel like your project and practices offer a kind of an antidote to wanderlust and for what I would call the relative abandonment of home that seems to shape our time so deeply. And so what kind of reactions do you have to this work among the people who have taken it in as a daily or weekly, or common practice in their lives in regards to their relationship with home and the relationship with perhaps wanting to be somewhere else?
Day Schildkret: I'll tell you the first step of that. It is holding both things at the same time. So for example, the first step of this practice is called "wander and wonder." I'm not ignoring in this practice our capacity to wander, right. I'm including it. The second step of the practice is called "place." So there's a relationship between our need to explore, to get out, to get lost, to discover, to be called, to leave home and to return.
So they're both true. And they're both in this practice now in that first step, "wander and wonder," I discuss a lot in my book and in my course about "destination addiction," you know, because there's a way when we're so focused on getting there or getting to this ideal thing, we're finding the right thing or whatever, that we're so focused on the destination that we undervalue the journey of where we are. So I focus quite a bit about a lot about that and being in relationship to the place as she calls you. But the wander itself, there's beauty in that and there's innocence in that. And there's so much wonder in that and sure I'm doing that in a local, in a local place, but the spirit of wandering is upheld in my practice.
However, it's not indefinite and there's a return and the return is: you've wandered, now, go sit someplace and return to the place where you, where you started and bring what you've collected along the way back to that place and listen to her. And let her wander around you. And so it doesn't demonize the wander, it upholds it, but it also, it also limits it.
Just to bring this into an ancestral conversation. I mean, my people, my own ancestry as have been wandering for over 3000 years, most of the time, because we're kicked out of or we're forced out because of, you know, people wanting to kill us. I mean, that's at least my ancestral history up until 70, 80 years ago, or just very recently, you know?
So there's a synonymous understanding between my ancestors and this wandering thing, but there's also a deep longing for home and a deep longing to return. And so much of our rituals, my ancestral rituals are home-based and you can feel the thumb prints of home in our rituals that are still carried out in what we call the diaspora.
And I wrote about this one in particular, in my new book Hello, Goodbye. But there is a ritual that we do in a holiday called Sukkot, which is a harvest holiday. And we spend the entire week and little impermanent huts outside of our homes to remind us of our wandering past. And we shake three branches, myrtle, willow, and palm, while holding the citrus fruit called an etrog and we shaped them in the seven directions that entire week, multiple times a day, if we can, in order to call the rains down.
However, I'm an Oregon, right? Why do I need to call the rains down there already? It's already raining. So the question is, you know, do we stop these rituals because we're no longer in the local place where they originated and they don't serve the same purpose or maybe they do, or do we carry them forward?
And it's a very complicated question. It's actually like, it's not an either, or it's a both -and. You know, rituals change and remain the same because the people change and especially our location changes. And so many of us are still wandering, but these rituals are what ties us back and helps us remember home, our origin.
So the morning altars practice works similarly. We leave and we return and the ritual has both movements in it - coming and going or going and coming.
Chris: Yeah. You write in morning altars that place is a memory keeper. And you know, I've seen a lot of these rituals in my time and my family and elsewhere around food.
Right. And that the way that we can remember ancestry and remember where we've come from, remember how we got here, that food is, not always, but often the last remaining bond or link to those journeys and to those old countries and old wandering ways.
Day Schildkret: Yeah.
Chris: So I wanted to ask you about your new book, Hello, Goodbye: Seventy-Five Rituals for Times of Loss, Celebration and Change. What was the inspiration for this book and what have you learned in writing it?
Day Schildkret: Yeah. I'd say, Hello, Goodbye is standing on the shoulders of Morning Altars. Morning Altars is ritual. Each step of that is a ritual and I realized that, you know, creating altars is one ritual that I'm quite practiced in, but I'm an artist. And I have a very active imagination and I wanted to create a book that offered more rituals for moments where people are really looking to mark those moments because they're being marked by them.
And so the impetus for the book came from my own experience of going through some major life transitions and looking to my own tradition and not finding rituals to mark those moments. For instance, my dog died. The same dog that I, I started this conversation out with. Rudy. What is my own traditions offer to mark the loss of a pet, which by the way, if you've had one, you know, is a major fucking deal.
But the religion offers nothing. The culture offers nothing. And so if the burden is left on the people who have no literacy when it comes to ritual. So I was inspired to write this book because I wanted to offer the people recipes. And you're talking about food. And I would say in addition to food, one of the last things that the people hold onto are their rituals.
Like I was saying about Sukkot. And so in the introduction to this book, I tied them together, rituals and food, both of which are ways we can remember. And you know, so each chapter of the book is devoted to a different life transition. Loss of a pet, divorce, miscarriage, coming out of the closet, having a baby, becoming a father, becoming a grandparent, moving from your home.
And part one of each chapter is looking deeply into that transition. What's happening. Historically, what has happened, philosophically what's happening, etymologically what's happening. You know, just really looking deeply at that life transition. And then the second part of each chapter is offering one to three ritual recipes because I truly believe that, like food, recipes are traditional and invented.
They both come from someplace and they change all the time. And in the book I wrote about my ancestral, my mom used to make amazing it's called mandel bread, which is like a biscotti. Very good. And her mother taught her and her mother's mother taught her. And you know, it goes all the way back to what my family called the Old Country.
But the recipe kept on changing. So recently I was living in California and so I would use California almonds, and the recipes change based on what's happening to the people and where they're living. And so rituals work the same way. They come from someplace, but they need us to keep reinventing them to keep them alive.
They have the same architecture. So, you know, a lot of this book is drawn upon my own tradition and, you know, Judaism really has taught me a masterclass in ritual. We have such beautiful rituals. However, they get stale. They don't mean anything sometimes. So as an artist, I see that and I say, okay, we have to renew and reinvent our rituals so that they can still remain as nourishment to feed the people and to feed the place and the feed the spirit, you know, so life transitions are the perfect opportunity to mark, to put something down so we can orient to, okay, like who I was is no longer who I am or where I've been is no longer where I am right now or what I thought was isn't.
And these are moments of distinction and rituals help us distinguish change. Oh, I'm not that person anymore. I'm this person, you know? And so they become food for memory, rituals do. And they help us remember like, oh, something's changed, something broke, something was repaired. You know, something was born, something died, someone died and they help us to mark the distinctions so that we can continue to live our lives.
And to not think that we're living this old life.
Chris: I love that: food for memory. And what comes to mind is this notion that, you know, if you are a member in a particular religion, if you read a particular sacred text that was written one or two or three or 4,000 years ago, then certainly it's gonna be read out of context not only because the languages are different, but because so much has changed, in the worldviews and the cultures and the weather of people's lives since then.
Now you write in, Hello, Goodbye, you make the distinction between a routine and ritual. So, you know, if I were kind of reading and taking as literal gospel, something that was written say four or 5,000 years ago, would that be routine and would my capacity to kind of alter that or try to bring it into an understood standing that is contemporary, would that be ritualistic?
Day Schildkret: They're totally two different streams. They get confused in our modern culture because modern people have very little relationship with ritual. So, and they have this, I don't know, they have the same letter. Like they're confused all the time. People say my coffee ritual. It's not a coffee ritual.
It's a routine. The etymology of the word itself tells you what a routine is. It's connected to the word "root," meaning it's getting you from point A to point B. So you might have a bedtime routine that's about cleaning up, doing the dishes, brushing your teeth and getting to bed. You're trying to get to bed.
Ritual plays with meaning. It's totally different thing, rituals about meaning making, sane making and distinction making, and it's about intentions. So, it doesn't care about getting from point A to point B. It's trying to create meaning so, you know, sure, you can have a coffee ritual. The question is, what is it distinguishing?
What are you marking with that? And most people, that's not what people are interested in with that. They're not interested in it meaning anything. They're interested in getting there and it getting, you know, on their route of their day, which I get. My routines keep me afloat, but my rituals do too.
And they're very different, very different. And they help with different things. Hopefully that answers. Your question.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. Now, my next one to return a little bit to the notions and contexts of tourism and travel, right. There is a tourism industry that no matter where you go in the world exists, and no matter how hard you try to escape it, has its fingers in the pudding.
You know, it's the largest industry in the world. So anywhere one travels with some exception, they're going to be paying homage to that in some degree. Can those forms of travel hold or make space for ritual, or does it merely collapse into routine? Because at the end of the day, we're prone to these industrial forms of travel and consumption when we go somewhere.
Day Schildkret: I mean, the question becomes what's the intention. Anything can be pivoted towards, I mean, I'm about to use a phrase from Arnold van Janette, who's an ethnographer, but he uses a term pivoting towards the sacred. That is your intention pivoting towards the sacred. That is the point. That is the purpose and point of ritual. It allows us to turn towards the sacred. Anything could be made that this, this glass of water right here could be purely just because I'm thirsty or I could be in the presence of this water and recognize all that it's given me and where it comes from, how it got into my hands, how it's feeding my life, what that means, being overwhelmed with gratitude and wonder at that, you know, just right now, just pivoting towards the water.
I lit a candle on my altar before this call. You know, that is pivoting me towards the sacred. When I led an altar, I mean, my altars these days are, always start with the question, what if this was the last? So when I light the candle on my altar, I asked the question, what if this is the last, what you're the last person I'm talking to?
That is my way of pivoting towards the sacred is bringing the sacred into the conversation. Now, bringing this back to your question on tourism, you know, to me, it's a lot of the problems in this world is that we're running around without any tethering and we call it freedom.
But the tethering is our capacity to pivot towards what connects us, where we come from, what feeds us, what cradles our lives. And you know, this term pivoting towards the sacred is us choosing to turn towards the places that we come from and the people we come from and the ancestors we come from, the food that feeds us and them.
And that's just a matter of turning towards, not away. You know, another word Bayo Akomolafe uses the word, which I freaking love the term withnessing, you know, to be with that, which is that is witnessing. So to me, pivoting towards the sacred is a capacity to be with what you're in the presence of, not turn away from it.
So will that impact tourism? Probably. I think a lot of the, a lot of people running around this planet are on the take and trying to get as much as possible.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, when you mention this beautiful understanding of pivoting towards the sacred, what comes to mind for me in the context of tourism especially in regards to ruins or churches, pyramids and modern pilgrimages, is that contemporary or modern people tend to live in secular worlds or worldviews and with tourism, so much of this desire, I think, to pivot towards the sacred is always found or directed towards other places, that the sacred is always found elsewhere, but never in one's home.
And so do you think this relative poverty or misunderstanding of where the sacred is justifies these movements? Right. I think the question at the end of the day ends up being, where is the sacred?
Day Schildkret: Well, I mean, you can do it with everything that is around you. I think that question of "there, not here" is a question that I've been wrestling with, especially with the Morning Altars practice for years, which is, you know, it's building a muscle of wonder and awe and a capacity to pivot with a leaf on your driveway, with your neighbor next door, with the slice of butter on your bread and to, and to practice letting these sounds escape your lips.
So there's really no "there." that's an illusion. I mean, sure, there's a "there" and I've traveled my fair share and I've participated in tourism, you know, and there's a lot of wonder to be had in other cultures and other places. But the muscle that's atrophied that must get stronger is a capacity to fall in love and in wonder with the places that you live. It's a very different experience going to another place with a strong capacity and connection to your own place. That's a very different way of traveling.
Here's an example in this new book I wrote about, I think in the chapter on, moving into a new home and the whole chapter is really about seeing the house as alive and that the house was born, you know, existed before you moved in and will exist after you leave, if you leave and your job is to greet and meet and learn from this home. In a way it's an animist's take on that.
And so I traveled in 2012 to Morocco and I was very transparent in this book about how I showed up. I was looking for a rug and I showed up to each rug shop to try and find the rug that I liked and to get in and get out and get my rug.
And it was the culture that was teaching me at the time, which was it's impossible, if you've been to Morocco, it's impossible to get in and get out of a rug shop. You have to sit, you have to have mint tea, you have to talk about your families. You have to talk about your losses and your wins, your struggles.
About two hours later, they finally present some rugs to you. You then have to sit on the rugs and talk about the thread count, and then you learn the families that created the rugs and the stories that the patterns on the rugs are speaking to. Wow. And then, then you have to negotiate and if you don't negotiate, it's insulting.
Mm. And thankfully, you know, I being Jewish, I'm very good negotiator, considered a very good skill there. And that was considered actually praiseworthy. I was praised quite a bit, but it was a slowing down and connecting and being in relationship around transactions. That was a huge lesson to me in how to be, you know, in my own place.
And so therefore the way that I travel now is to carry that lesson that I learned there in my tourism. I learned that lesson. And so when I travel now, I carry that same capacity to slow down, to not just go into a shop and to try and get the thing that I want. You know, I try and practice relationships in my travels and I'm not an expert at that.
And it's a little be a life practice. To me, that's one way of me pivoting towards the sacred. Those rug shop experiences were ritual, were ritual. That tea, that was ritual tea, those rugs being displayed, that all had its own cadence to it, its own choreography to it. And they knew it and they were that that had been passed down there.
That's not something these shop owners invented, it was cultural, you know? And then you got to see like the oblivious, tourists, like American tourists who are going in. And I was traveling with a friend at the time and we were trying to get water at a bodega and he turned to me and he was so angry. And he goes, I'm just so fucking sick of bargaining for water. And it just can't, they just have a price. I just want to pay the price, you know, and I turned it and I was like, this isn't your place, dude. This is how it's done here, to learn the way it's, it's done, you know?
And anyway, all of that is to say those skills, I was able to learn, receive, practice these skills because I have a practice of being in relationship to the place that I live or the places that I've lived. So they're related. So,
Chris: so what it means perhaps to be an honorable guest in a place is dependent or tantamount to your capacity to be an honorable guest in the place that you live?
Day Schildkret: Yes. And I'd say, I take it even further and say, etymologically the word "guest" and the word "host" are intertwined and with good guesting and good hosting, you can't even, sometimes you can't even tell the difference. There's such a, a dance of reciprocity happening of receiving and giving, receiving, and giving that they, that they have the same function.
You know, I've traveled in the last three and a half years. I've been on the road for three and a half years. Not, you know, not really because I want to. I'm in service to something bigger than myself and I, but I've let myself be hosted hundreds of times. And at the beginning of my travels, I got to see where I was so deficient in that function.
I also got to see a lot of bad hosting. But I also got to see a lot of expert hosting and those expert hosting taught me how to be a better guest, you know, and there, or expert hosting is already tending to your needs before you even knew you needed it. You know? And so that's been a blessing of my travels is learning how to participate in this dance of sacred hospitality.
And it's humbling, especially, as a guest, it's very humbling. You're in someone else's place but gifting and giving and caring and offering and feeding and showing up with that generosity is a way to pivot towards the sacred to use that same phrase.
I mean, some of the best places I've stayed in my travels, the hospitality itself is very ritualized, very ritualized, and it's quite beautiful and also heartbreaking because it reminds me of what so much has been lost. And I'm having a memory right now while we're talking of a time where I spent a month in the Ukraine bringing food and medicine to housebound and elderly people.
And I also, I was there leading rituals. It was a Jewish ritual that for Passover, we were there leading what's called Seders around the country. And I don't know how maybe it's because these people have been living there for a long time, but they taught me so much about hospitality to the point where I would go into someone's home.
And these are poor people. And as soon as we'd walk in, the best of everything is on the table, their best vodka, their best fish, their best potato, everything, they're giving it all to their guests, you know? And that's, that was so remarkable, you know, 19 at the time, but a huge lesson to me as to how sacred they saw their guests.
This isn't just like a, oh, like we have to got to give them, you know, it's polite to feed them. No, it was like spirit was walking into their home and they were greeting me in the same way. You know, I was embodying a function, so they taught me that. And you know, it's been a lot of learning.
The road is a, is a teacher, you know, hard teacher. Thankfully there's still a lot of good hospitality on the road.
Chris: Beautiful. Day. I wanted to ask you, is there such a thing as a bad ritual?
Day Schildkret: I don't know if I would use the word bad and it's a great question. It's a question that's breeding questions. One of the things that comes to mind is there are, and in my book, I hard-stop this. There are stolen and appropriated rituals. I don't know if I have the right description is bad, but people steal and appropriate rituals because they're starving for them and they see someone else housing, something that's like a feast.
And they're so hungry because there are people have forgotten their own rituals that they're, that they don't even realize that they're stealing. Right. They have to learn that they are. And so, you know, a bad ritual is one that's that's ungrounded and untethered and stolen from another people, you know?
So to me, that's part of it. And I'd say also a ritual that is trying to get there is not a good ritual. And in my book, to my publisher's chagrin, I encourage my reader a lot to pay attention to getting in and getting out, wandering into a ritual meandering out there, as important as the ritual itself. And with even all of that, do not have any guarantee that this ritual is going to work.
I've been a part of many failed rituals for many reasons. So I I'd say, you know, humble yourself and like let the failure of a ritual be the learning. And you know, is that bad? No. Failure is not bad, it's learning or it can be if you're willing to.
Chris: If you had to choose or create a ritual around travel, around your next trip, what would that look like for you?
Day Schildkret: Funny enough, two days ago. I don't know if this is what you're asking, but it's my most recent travel. So and maybe it can be, re-imagined but I was living in a tiny home for four months.
It was a shelter in the storm. It gave me a lot. I gave it a lot. We cared for each other. I cleaned it. I was ready to move into this new home and I realized, of course, I have to. I'm practicing what I'm preaching, this house is alive, I'm alive and a proper goodbye is needed. And so what came in the moment was orienting myself in the directions of the home.
So I faced the east and the east is a direction of new beginnings and wonder and springtime and initiations of things and et cetera. And I remembered what began in that house. You know, what new vision started there? What new relationships were sprouting there.
And I spoke them out loud and I thanked the home for the newness that it offered my life and then I turned towards the south and I did the same thing and the south is summertime and the ripening of things, the fullness of things and I gave thanks for the love affairs that happened and the passion that occurred in that house and the beautiful feasts that were made in the home, et cetera.
And then I went to the west and the north and then above me and below me. And then I brought it back to just my heart and offered a deep, you know, one last deep goodbye to that home. And it felt received in a way, and it felt respectful. And so I don't know if that's a response to traveling and tourism, but you know, to really find our place here or you use this word local, you know, to understand where we are, we have to, in some ways, orient ourselves in the directions. And the same way I was talking about shaking, the lulav and the etrog in the directions, you know? And so to me that was, that came in the moment. I didn't even think about it. And I actually, afterwards was like, I should've put that in the book.
But it felt deeply reverent and filled with memory and filled with a lot of both joy and heartbreak for this place that I lived in very temporarily. So, you know, that might be something I do on the road as a way to honor the many directions that life has taken me.
Chris: Wow. Thank you. Beautiful and a beautiful example, I think for myself and our listeners to consider as we move from place to place home from home. And what would travel look like? You know, travel and tourism, what would that look like if our days in those places were taken up in part by rituals like that, you know, and not just extending our time and a place, but deepening our relationship to it.
Day Schildkret: And our relationship to our ourself and our memory and the land itself. I mean I made many altars in front of that tiny home. So there's relationships cultivated and I'm not a fan of ghosting. Yeah. Well, I'm a fan of a proper and long goodbye.
By the way, don't underestimate the power of a greeting, right? Hello, goodbye. You know, these it's the title of my book is there for a reason because those moments are threshold moments and they escort in hospitality and presence and gratitude and generosity, or they don't.
Plenty of people leave places without saying goodbye. And plenty of people arrive places about saying hello. And I think we have to redeem our capacity to welcome and bid farewell, because then you're saying something is happening. I am somewhere or I'm leaving somewhere. So more courtesy when it comes to arriving and departing.
Chris: Yeah. At the very least courtesy. Thank you so much for that, Day. Is there a particular ritual that you, that you've written in Hello, Goodbye, that is, you know, I don't want to say your favorite necessarily, but perhaps one that's the most important to you personally.
Day Schildkret: You're saying "you're a father to many, but choose your favorite kid." I'll tell you, you know, yesterday was my Rudy's birthday. She's been dead now for three years and your listeners can't see it, but on my altar here, I have her leash. I cut it. And this, this cut leash was, is this ritual is in the book.
And this object, my dog's leash was something so used for so many years. I mean, this thing has so much wear and tear on it from the many, many walks every day and the many places we've been. And then within an instant, this object became totally useless. It just sat there, reminding me of my loss.
And so, we have a tradition in my Jewish culture of tearing our clothing for a loss. These days, modern people, they were pre torn ribbons, but when my father died, I took his suit and I ripped the cuff off. And I wore that cuff over my heart as a reminder of my laws and also a reminder to you that I'm grieving.
And so when, when Rudy died, I took this routine object and made it into a ritual object and I did it by cutting it. And then I wore that her leash, this cut leash, over my heart for a year as a way of saying goodbye to her and of remembering the impact she had on my life. And it's a very simple ritual, but it's very, very functional.
It's very beautiful. It's a very, very easy way to pivot towards the sacred. And so I don't know if it's my quote unquote favorite, but since it was just her birthday and I had her leash out, you know, have this ribbon out, it's a way for me to remember her and to renew her memory.
You know, memory's funny. It fades. And part of ritual's purpose is to remember to remember, as Robin Wall Kimmerer says in Braiding Sweetgrass. She calls it "ceremony." "Ceremony is a way to remember to remember" and it's because forgetting is inevitable. Even the things we love and the people and the places and the animals that we deeply care about.
It's inevitable. We forget. So these moments in our year, or these moments in our days where we have these little threshold moments, we can pivot and remember, and retie these tattered threads back together again.
And one last note just to like tie this, the whole thing into one, which is the etymology of art and artists is to bring back together again, is to take the many broken pieces and to bring them into a hole again.
And I see that as rituals role too, and that therefore I see artists and ritualists having a very similar function. And bringing the many into a hole again. Yeah. Which is the word, remember? I mean, that's what remember, it means, right. To re member, to bring the different members into one remembered.
Chris: Day, let me ask you, how might our listeners find out more about your work? How might they purchase Morning Altars and Hello, Goodbye?.
Day Schildkret: Well, there's a variety of ways, morningaltars.com or dayschildkret.Com.
And both you can get those books or, you know, one of the few benefits of having a publisher is that you could get them in your local bookstore on Amazon or Barnes and Nobles or wherever you buy your books. And Hello, Goodbye comes out January 25th. It's been a journey, my friend, and I'm, I'm ready for this book to come into the world. And I'm calling in all of the midwives to help me birth this book and have it have a good life.
Chris: I can't wait to have it in my hands and I'll make sure that all of those links and resources are on the end of tourism website for our listeners. My good man on behalf of our listeners.
Day Schildkret: It's mutual, my friend is in such admiration of you and your, and the way you walk in your world and your generosity and the way your mind considers things and the gift that you're giving in this consideration. And I'm so grateful to be in relationship with you and just to have an hour to talk to you has been delightful.
Chris: Yeah, it's been a real honor and reading your books, it's just given me so much pause to to consider this deeply spiritual or ceremonial or relational side of the politics of the local. Right.
And what it means to be at home in our time. And so on behalf of all of our listeners, my friend, thank you so, so much for speaking with us today and for your words and your willingness to speak on behalf of your life, those who've come before you, those who might come after and for the deep learning you've come to over the years.
Day Schildkret: A pleasure.
Chris: Thank you, brother.
Day Schildkret: Yeah. Thank you.