There is nothing more difficult yet more gratifying in our society than living with sincere, active, constructive hope for the human spirit.

Maria Popova

A vessel – most simply – is a container for holding or carrying things. We’ve all had an experience of tending a vessel of some kind – whether a cup, a vase, or a boat – and giving our time and attention to its creation or care. Perhaps you’ve pieced together a favorite mug that had broken apart, patched the hole in an inflatable raft, or even created a pitcher or bowl out of unformed clay, holding your hands just so at the turning of the potter’s wheel. In so doing, you offered whatever was required for the vessel’s purpose to be fulfilled, for its capacity to be created or restored.

The heart is literally a vessel for life, delivering blood and oxygen to our bodies to keep us alive. Figuratively, the heart as a vessel holds both our sorrows and joys, our longings and sweetest memories. It is the homeground for our dreams, yet also suffers under the weight of our hardships. As long as we are alive, the heart – and all that it holds – needs our tending and care. As you continue your personal journey of cultivating hope as an orientation to life, how would you like to shape your heart into a vessel of hope? What are the daily practices and sources of inspiration that will nourish and maintain this vessel? How will you intentionally make space for hope in your heart so that your sorrows are held in hope’s embrace and your joys can fully flourish?

Day Five: Building a Hope Altar

Here on this final day of the practice, we invite you to begin building an altar as a testament to hope. Whether simple or elaborate, an altar offers a meaningful and tangible focal point for a particular intention or honoring. In this case, the invitation is to create an altar that will support the ongoing cultivation of hope in your heart. We suggest starting simply so that your altar will be an immediate source of inspiration, meaning, and joy.

  • Choose a place in your home or workspace that you’ll see most days – the corner of a bookshelf, a space at the end of a counter, the top of your dresser. Begin building your hope altar by establishing the space with a favorite piece of fabric or scarf; even a placemat or cloth napkin will work perfectly. Keep it simple.
  • Place something at the center that represents your heart. 
  • Over the course of a week or so, add something each day that inspires or reminds you of hope – a plant, photos, stones, mementos, perhaps things you have kept hidden away because they are so precious to you. Take them out and let yourself see them! 
  • Try making your hope altar a multisensory experience by playing music as you add to it, placing a drop of favorite oil on a stone, or lighting a candle.
  • Allow your altar to remain as simple or become as elaborate as you’d like, but don’t let an elaborate idea keep you from getting started!

As you build and add to your altar, consider the following:

  • What insights or guideposts from the first four days of the practice do you want to include in your altar? For example: What will you place on your altar to remind you to open to life’s mystery? What will you include that reminds you to embody hope in action? 
  • Consider making your altar part of a daily gratefulness practice by giving thanks for the sources of hope that you’ve placed on your altar. How does this intentional appreciation help make your heart a stronger container to hold hope?
  • Remember the power of keeping messages of hope in your awareness and within sight. How might you use your altar as a focal point for meditation, a source of conversation with family or friends, or simply as your personal touchstone reminding you of hope? 
  • As you actively tend your altar, allow your altar – in turn – to tend you.

We invite you to share your reflections below. How will you continue cultivating your heart as a vessel of hope? What are the first things you will include in your hope altar?

Deepening Resource

The Great Czech Playwright Turned Dissident Turned President Václav Havel on Hope by Maria Popova in The Marginalian

You may recall that the invitation to our five-day practice began with these powerful words from Václav Havel: “Hope is an orientation of the spirit, an orientation of the heart. It transcends the world that is immediately experienced and is anchored somewhere beyond its horizons.” In these two sentences, Havel captures the meaning of hope that we aspire to cultivate – hope as an orientation of the heart. In this excellent piece by Maria Popova, she offers us Havel’s sweeping thinking on hope in an accessible and beautiful format. As you continue to deepen your own thinking about hope, may this piece serve as inspiration and guide.

Photo Credit: Oksana Zub