Attending the 2015 Parliament of the World’s Religions

Parliament-of-the-Worlds-Religions-2015-graphicLast year I heard about the Parliament of the World’s Religions to take place in Salt Lake City, Utah and thought: “I want to go.” It was while I was on the Compassion Tour. I knew it would be soon after its ending, wondering if I would be able to pay for it once I completed the tour.

Fast forward to the day before the event was to take place. I’m sitting in an office with a pastor who I’m meeting for the first time. He mentions there’s a group from the church going with a spot that opened up.

He asks, “Do you want to go?”

I think for a bit, being without funds for a plane ticket and food during the stay. I tell him to give me a day to think it over. The next morning I’m to meet with a couple confidants I meet with regularly. I think: “I’ll run it by them.”

At our meeting, before I even bring it up, one of them says that she wishes I could attend the event this weekend. She was going.

Hmmmm….

I tell them I was just offered a spot yesterday. The other confidante says he would pay for the plane ticket. I close my eyes, connect with my intuition, LISTEN, and say YES! to the Universe.

I spent the day organizing everything with those helping—time of arrival, hotel accommodations, ground transportation, etc. I was also offered money for food by the pastor, which I accepted. Everything was set for me to be in Salt Lake City the next day.

I arrived Thursday evening, dropped my suitcase at the hotel, and went straight to the convention center. I received my name tag, a tote full of flyers, and the schedule half the size of a phonebook.  I then took some time to acquaint myself with the surroundings.

9,000+ people and over 300 booths, seminars, discussions, and panels to choose from. People with different styles of dress, language, and skin color everywhere. All in the name of peace, non-violence, climate awareness, equality, love, and compassion.

So much going on at once!

It was challenging finding my way around such a gigantic place. Over 700,000 square feet. The plenaries were held in huge rooms that could fit three 747 airplanes. There were four other large rooms of equal size which held most of the booths, an area to relax and meet others, an art room, and the lunch area for the langar. There were also three floors of smaller conference rooms where other workshops/talks were held.

I texted a few people to find out who else I knew who would be there. I found my friend who went and also ran into a couple others I met from the Compassion Tour—Tom and Anne. We had dinner, I went back to the hotel, and slept. Asjad, my roommate, came in later, I said a quick hello, and went back to sleep.

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With Marilyn Turkovich, Executive Director of the Charter for Compassion. Photo by Reed Price.

The next morning I headed back to the convention center and found people I knew affiliated with the Charter for Compassion. I ran into Reed who hosted me on Bainbridge Island during the tour and also Marilyn who’s the Executive Director of the Charter. I spent the morning finding my way around the large complex and looking through the schedule for what to attend. I went to the Compassion Games International presentation facilitated by Jon Ramer, Sommer Joy Albertson, and Sande Hart. I was also invited to a couple smaller evening gatherings.

Each day lunch was served by the Sikh tradition of langar—the common kitchen where food is served to all the visitors for free. At the langar, only vegetarian food is served, to ensure that all people, regardless of their dietary restrictions, can eat as equals.

Upon entering, we took off our shoes and were directed to the end of the line. We were then adorned with a white head covering. Each person was instructed on where to sit, either on the floor or at a table, depending on one’s choice. We were given a plate and utensils, quickly followed by people coming by offering food from large pots.

Sitting among the hundreds of people gathered for a meal, I could feel the appreciation and positive energy in the atmosphere. People served selflessly. Smiles everywhere. Being sustained toward a basic human need of food. And done so with much love.

While sitting at the edge of the gathering, I was able to see people in line before they sat to eat. I spent time making eye contact as people passed by. Seeing the common light shining from behind so many different faces. As I watched, I deepened into being centered, knowing I am a part of this whole.

I spent Friday evening attending an awards ceremony. The Charter for Compassion gave Louisville recognition for being the most compassionate community. Mayor Greg Fischer received the award from Joan Brown Campbell and Karen Armstrong of the Charter.

Ms. Armstrong influenced me to start asking about compassion in 2009 after watching her TED talk. I noticed Reed speaking with her, so I asked him if he could introduce us so I could personally say a “thank you.” He did. I know what celebrity is like so I made it short, telling her about how I viewed her talk and have been asking people about compassion ever since. She acknowledged me with a nod and, being on her way out, left.

Friday being such a full day, I spent Saturday morning for self-care. I slept in, took a hot shower, ate breakfast slowly, shaved, and then spent the afternoon with the notebook asking about compassion. I would ask people as they walked by. When I sat to rest on a couch, I would also ask people to write then.

It was a conversation starter. I found myself once again in “street therapist” mode, listening to people share a challenge currently happening in their lives. A few “clients” were people sharing how tired they were from walking all day. Others shared about where they were on their spiritual journey. Funny what happens when you open yourself up compassionately to others.

Sunday I spent some time asking about compassion and found myself being incredibly sleepy after the langar. I took a nap in the gathering room before attending Susan Partnow’s Compassionate Engagement, Listening with Spiritual Ears workshop. It dealt mainly with compassionate listening, with a great exercise of listening silently to someone sharing a challenge happening in their lives. The room was full of wisdom as people shared their experiences with compassionate listening, life stories, and positive energy.

Monday I slept in because of rainy weather. Needing to be out of the hotel by noon and meeting a friend to head to the airport, I decided to skip a last visit to the event. I took a shuttle to the airport, fortunate enough to be on the same flight as my friend. We drove back to Davis, both feeling full of a spiritually uplifting experience.

Reflecting generally on the event, I realize the power of compassion, non-violence, equality, multi-faith respect, connection, silliness, action, honesty, courtesy, and most of all, love. Upon returning to Davis, I still feel a tinge of the gathering while writing this blog a couple weeks later. I feel it on my skin, like a silky layer of light softly caressing every movement I make. I feel joyous, delightful, enchanted with spontaneous rapture.

I’m grateful for all those who made it possible for me to attend this year’s Parliament of the World’s Religions. May we all remember the peace, love, and compassion inherent in our being.

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