Friday, December 18, 2015

Parliament Perspective....

I have been meaning to write this post for quite a while now but just could not find the words or even process what I had been a part of....

Sometimes, events just need some time to sink in and for me, The Parliament of the World's Religions held here in Salt Lake City back in October needed some time.

I had heard about the Parliament way back in February when I saw an ad that the H.H.H. Dalai Lama was going to be attending and since hearing him speak is a life goal, I did some research and put my name on a list to volunteer.  My logic being that it was good 'karma' to volunteer to hear him speak.

Months went by, and I do mean months......

In July, a friend of mine called me and told me he had been hired by the Parliament and needed some help.  This phone call started an adventure that I could not of predicted, and I'm not sure now that if I had known what was to come if I would chose to do it again, but I know this, it was a life changing event.

Me, Geoff and Christine....last day of the Parliament
Geoff, Christine and I started calling from a database to fill over 3000 volunteer shifts over 7 days of the Parliament and set up and take down.  I made calls all over the country, emailed all over the world, and by the end more people had my cell phone number that I was really comfortable with.....Diane joined the motley crew and helped keep the spreadsheets sane.  We worked long hours, weekends, and had trouble shutting it down, because as the work really got going, the reason behind it got in our heads.  The Parliament had the potential of being amazing and we just wanted to see it happen.

By the time the dates of the Parliament rolled around in October, I had lost track of the hours I had put in and was quite frankly already exhausted, but on the morning of October 15th, I arrived at the Salt Palace Convention center at 4:30 am, yes am and the actual event started.

Thursday was insane.  Just INSANE!  The good news is that the attendees really did not see the chaos behind the scenes, but it was exhausting.  The Salt Palace is a LARGE facility and by the time I left, later that I intended, I had logged over 13 miles.  During the chaos, I was helping the Sikh community get Langar ready and I met an amazing man,  Dr. Balwant Singh Hansra..  He is an emeritus board member of the Parliament and was the main coordinator of Langar.  I was running around like a chicken with my head cut off and he took my hands in his and just had me breathe for a moment and told me it was all going to work out.  I didn't get the opportunity to see him again until Sunday and could not miss the opportunity to take a picture with him...
He was the calm in the storm of Thursday

Friday, thank goodness, was sooooo much calmer and I had moments of seeing the benefits of all of the work.  I was able to sneak out of work for a few minutes and attend a Plenary session, which was a main session of the Parliament, and hear Marianne Williamson speak and a few others.  I was renewed, rejuenivated, and excited once again.  I still worked long hours but it was doable.

Saturday had a slightly later start time, 5 am, and we seemed to of hit our groove.  Most of the volunteers had already done a shift, so they knew what to do, Langar was running smoothly, and the attendees were understanding the layout of the facility.  We were still busy, but it was by the time my shift was done, I went home and changed and went back to attend the evening Plenary session.  My reason was
Jane Goodall...the legend
I could not believe I was in the same room, not 15 feet away from her, hearing her speak.  It was a goal of mine to hear her speak, but here is the most amazing part of the Parliament, the other speakers  that also spoke that evening also blew me away.....It was more than I could of ever hoped.

There is not enough time or space for me to accurately describe, praise, or promote the others, so I am going to just list them and hope that a name might catch your eye and you find a book of theirs, search for them on google, or ask someone about them...
                    Karen Armstrong
                    Dr. Tariq Ramadan
                    Mairead Maguire
                    Robert Pape
                    Medea Benjamin

It was an incredible, yet very long evening, that I am so glad I went back and attended.....

Before I go any further, I guess I better explain Langar, since I have mentioned it a couple of times.  Langar is a free meal that is put on by the Sikh community.  It became the most popular event of the Parliament.  I don't know if I will be able to explain why, but the energy in the hall where it was held was AMAZING.  When you went in, you first took off your shoes, a scarf was placed on your head by members of the Sikh community (a very beautiful experience), and then the people you were with were led to your place.  You sat on the floor in a community style, not knowing who you would be next to and were served.  The food was delicious, but it fed you on a deeper level....a community belonging level.  Everything was donated, all help volunteered and I can not thank the generous Sikh community enough for doing it.
The beautiful women who put scarves on at Langar
Sunday was my day off during the Parliament and it did not go as I had planned.  When the Dalai Lama was announced to speak at the Parliament, they also announced that there would also be a talk at the University of Utah as a gift to the community.  I managed to get tickets to it and was very excited.  However, as many of you know, H.H.H. the Dalai Lama was advised in late September to cut back on his schedule and return home to Dharmsala to rest, which meant he would not be attending the Parliament or the speech on Sunday.  I never thought I would ever say this, but this is my truth...I am grateful that he did not make it.  It allowed me to attend the Parliament all day on Sunday as a participant, not in my volunteer shirt, and soak it in.

I enjoyed a leisurely Langar, I wandered thru exhibits, and attended a full Plenary session not in an exhausted state.  It was incredible!  While wandering an area, I saw a keynote speaker from Saturday night sitting on a couch and went over to tell him how much I appreciated how much I enjoyed his talk and ended up chatting with him for over 20 minutes.  Unexpected connections happened all over the event and added to the experience.
Tibetan Monks working on a Sand Mandala

an interactive exhibit where you wrote on a heart your wish or statement for the world

a gathering of angels....they walked in silent meditation, weird but cool

The Plenary session on Sunday had the focus of Climate Change and had amazing speakers once again....the list of speakers amazing and long, but I have to mention Chief Arvol Lookinghorse.  His passion and direct connection to the earth was heartbreaking and an immediate call to action.

Monday was a bittersweet day as we were glad the work was done, but sad that the energy and experience were coming to an end.  I can not tell you how many times people came up to me and the other volunteers to give their sincere Thanks for the work we had done.  I was brought to tears many times.  Throughout the 5 days, I had met people from 26 different countries, many many US states, and a multitude of different religions and we had gathered in peace, understanding and learning.

I just realized that I really never explained what the Parliament is and what it hopes to accomplish. I think the best way to do that is to give you a link to the Parliament of the World's Relgions...


However, for me, this quote from the website sums what they are trying to accomplish..

The Parliament of the World's Religions seeks to promote interreligious harmony, rather than unity. The problem with seeking unity among religions is the risk of loss of the unique and precious character of each individual religious and spiritual tradition; this understanding is key to our framework.
Interreligious harmony, on the other hand, is an attainable and highly desirable goal. Such an approach respects, and is enriched by, the particularities of each tradition. Moreover, within each tradition are the resources (philosophical, theological and spiritual teachings and perspectives) that enable each to enter into respectful, appreciative and cooperative relationships with persons and communities of other traditions.

If you go on the website, you can also see more of the amazing speakers who were in Salt Lake City and the opportunities to get involved, no matter where you live or what you believe.  They are planning another Parliament in the next couple of years, and I plan on attending wherever it is....

Still absorbing an amazing, exhausting experience....


  1. excellent review, excellent writing. It's so wonderful to read this, knowing exactly what you were experiencing. It was such a gift to share it all with you. The good the bad and the AMAZING! Thank you my friend...

    1. Thank you Christine!!!!! The best part of it was having people like you come into my life!

  2. I loved reading every word, Melissa. I'm happy you had this experience and that you've had enough distance to write about it ... and share it with us. Well done, my friend.

    1. I keep forgetting it doesn't show my name. Tis I, Marti Ashby. :)

  3. The world is your oyster . . .


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