My altars are a central part of my life – both my spiritual practice and my not-obviously-spiritual activities. I have fewer altars than you might imagine; there’s 3 – 4 main ones depending on how you count. Each altar receives attention at a different rate; two see daily/near-daily attention while others receive weekly/near-weekly attention.
My ancestral altar has seen very little activity in several months because well, my ancestors have not been home in a long time. They were present for a brief moment a few years ago and I thought, “Ah! My ancestral practice is finally working!” but they faded not long after. There was another minor flare of activity a year or so ago but again, they fade. (I know people might say that I should persist nonetheless, that I should continue giving attention and feel confident that my efforts have effect – but I’ve tried ancestral work for many years and received next-to-no time with them, relative to my investment. And no, I don’t think I’m owed their returning of my attention but I also don’t know why my ancestral practice has been so challenging overall. I need to speak to someone more knowledgeable than myself.)
There are times, like the present moment, when I struggle to do even the most minimal activity at my altars. One of the altars that I give daily attention to has a very formal style of interaction and I just can’t manage to rise to that standard. I’ll drop some incense there, say good morning, and that’ll be it. That’s on the days I manage to do anything at all. And of course, I then use this as evidence that I’m a bad practitioner, that I’m failing at my practice, that I lack any of the discipline that gives structure to my sentiment.
This problem quickly becomes a self-perpetuating pattern; I feel bad for not doing my practice, so I avoid the site of those bad feelings which leads me to stay away from the altar where I do my practice. I know I’m not alone in this experience. I remind myself that devotionalism isn’t intended to be a weapon with which I harm myself, but wow am I good at making it into one.