Compassion Fest isn't your Racine community festival.
For starters, the centerpiece of this year's Compassion Fest, organized Sunday by the Original Root Zen Center in Racine, was a sacred space roped off for sitting meditation. Master Teachers Linda and Tony Somlai, who founded ORZC in 1990, the Zen Center's abbot, Mathew Somlai, and other members of the spiritual community led the contemplative practice.
Prayer flags with simple intentions like, "You are peace," designed by festival-goers, were tied to the ropes around the sitting area. Over four hours, children and adult took turns sitting quietly as a simple, but profound, act of peace. A peaceful garden teaming with birds, flowers and grasses joined the contemplatives on the brisk fall day that showed signed of winter and summer depending on fall's wind and intermittent sunshine.
Creative and sharing activities surrounded Compassion Fest's "Sit for Peace." A "Wall of Peace" was laid out on an old brick path laid through the center of the DeKoven Center grounds. Festival-goers added marks and words to the 60-foot long banner, which is now on display along Wisconsin Avenue hanging on DeKoven's fence.
Further back was a "critter mandala," which was similar to the "Wall of Peace," except people used bird seed instead of paints to leave their marks. People used the different colored seeds - black sunflower seeds, cracked corn, peanuts, etc. - to decorate a roped off circle in the grass. At the end of the festival, the ropes were removed and the squirrels and birds helped scatter the mandala's energy throughout the grounds.
Nearby, kids activities kept young (and old) ones busy throughout the afternoon. A scavenger hunt, masks and decorating pumpkins were all available.
At another table, ORZC poets wrote "impromptu poetry" for a dollar a poem. They offered a menu of styles - haiku, rhyming, song lyrics, etc. - and topics - seasons, animals, love, death, etc. - for people to choose from. Another buck got you a decoration along with the poem.
Members of the Olympia Brown Unitarian Universalist Church's "Social Concerns" committee participated in Compassion Fest with an information table and a bake sale of their own.
The entire festival was fueled by a stellar bake sale and "Karmic Cake Walk," which gave participants a chance to take home an entire cake, coffee cake, pie or loaf of bread. There were also four specially roasted Compassion Fest coffee blends for people to sample and purchase.
Spiritually, the Master Teachers offered a "mantra" - a phrase repeated internally as a contemplative practice - for Compassion Fest. The mantra was: "Give, Happy, Peace." They explained the mantra is simple as it sounds: If you give, people are happy and there is peace.
Compassion Fest itself was a good example. As people shared openly through creative and contemplative practices, happiness and peace broke out from babies to adults.
Maybe it wasn't such a different festival. Like any group inviting people in, Compassion Fest was a chance for participants to spend a few hours living a compassionate, full life. At the end you wonder if every day could really be about creativity, sharing and happiness. It's worth a shot ... but where to begin. The first word of the Compassion Fest mantra was "give."
How about there?
Slideshow from Compassion Fest 2009