Yesterday, Memorial Day, concluded an eventful and engaged 4-day sojourn for Ananda Farm, as first-time vendors at the Folk Life Festival at the Seattle Center. For myself (and others), this was the first experience with Folk Life altogether; an event which has continued since 1972 to be one of the largest free festivals in the world, celebrating music, arts, food and culture from the world over, finding home now in the PNW. This year there is an estimated 250,000 people who attend, 6000 performers (volunteers!), and 800 volunteers.
For us as Ananda Farm, the experience was a surprising and joyful one. Only two or three weeks we ago received invitation to vend, after not having been initially accepted upon applying some many months ago. Though this had the benefit of kicking the ananda herb shop production into overdrive, none of us were quite sure what to expect, nor, how best to share our own mission as a yoga-nature farm with the public at large. We are of course in the peak of gardening season, with continuous rounds of weeding, planting, seeding, watering and mulching, happening in approximately that order, as often as we have the time!
Yet for all the effort required from the farmers to participate and share in the event, what to mention the frequent commutes from Camano Island and back to the Seattle Center, what we found at the end of the festival was something we all could feel Joy in.
My own experience didn’t actually begin at the festival until Sunday morning. Having somewhat organized our team into shifts, we also realized the importance of keeping a presence and efforts moving in the gardens and at the farm. Hailey and Paean on the other hand, found energy and joy to participate each of the four days. Arya, 3 full days, and Sharon opening the first two. Stanley joined us on Saturday, and Justin Lee, who encouraged our participation from the beginning, seemed present throughout, including at the farm until 2am the night before the first day! Whew.
All that aside, what I’ve found great feeling and joy in reflecting upon, both the last two days at the festival, and again this morning, is the Spirit which manifested in the magnitude and vision of this event. A principle of permaculture, and one Swami Kriyananda spoke of as a ‘trend in the New Age’, is that of “Unity in Diversity.”
In often silently, and joyfully traversing the Seattle Center grounds the last two days, what I experienced in myself was far different than what anything I expected. Averse to large crowds in general, I found my approach to the festival to be cautious, if not a bit withdrawn. But as Sunday morning moved along, and I felt a contagious sense of contentment bubbling within, no doubt shared by Paean, Hailey and others, I couldn’t help but begin to feel a sense of awe at the incredible collection of culture, people, art, sounds, instruments, dogs, sites, and beyond. Thankfully, with 4 farmers present throughout the two days of my attending, shifts were indeed possible and necessary. That meant quite often we could each take time to walk about, enjoy and even bask in the joy being shared by so many.
My own first walk through the gardens of folk life, brought me to the main garden (stage) featuring an incredible group of taiko drummers, traditional to Japan, banging, dancing, and smiling throughout. The people in the crowd, myself included, all willingly reciprocated the good will, whether previously ‘aware’ of this style of music or not! Upon venturing beyond that same morning, I was inspired to feel the joy emanating from a 10-man brass band, and then again a beautiful celtic group occupying the traditional stage. On and on it went. It wasn’t even until yesterday, that I stumbled across the Gospel stage – pure heart and soul belting, wriggling and praising the Lord!
What to mention, in all of this, of the vendors. From african baskets, to hand woven monk robes, to the highest quality woolen blankets and olive wood spoons, to our very own ananda farm. The Diversity of culture and harmony together, was both stunning and inspired. I couldn’t help but realize the delicate balance manifesting within the gathering, when one of the singers pointed out in fact the irony of a ‘beer garden’ lingering nearby the gospel stage, to which the beer gardeners gave a few hearty cheers.
As the hours passed by (vending continued each day, from 11am to 8pm), my own inhibitions about participating in this mass of humanity seemed to melt away into a peaceful feeling of happiness to be present in such a vast garden of dance, heart , song, and soul. I found my way a few times to the bluegrass stage, and then was legitimately awed to observe the break-dancing, culminating in a rather incredible spinning back-flip off the stage. Gradually it became clear, the more I could forget myself in this process, the more enjoyment was coming to me in each new moment.
Between all this sensory experience was always a much appreciated return to the tangible peace of the Ananda Farm tent. Located on the outskirts relative to the heart of the festival, but also conveniently at one of the main entrances where many friends entered and exited from, the beautiful colors and relative calm and quiet of our booth was priceless, indeed. From this little booth, we met hundreds of people, made more than a couple thousand dollars in sales (a lot for us country mice in the big city!), and even found the right moments presenting themselves to share about Ananda, yoga, meditation, and the soon-to-arrive visiting Swamis Jyotish and Devi, and their events two weeks from now. Though certainly these subjects were not of great interest to a majority of the attendees present in such a hub bub of activity, to a few visitors it appeared to be even their sole (soul?) purpose in attending. Regardless, it seemed, most all who visited seemed to be positively impacted by their time at Ananda Farm. Many dozens of new folks now know about farm suppers, lavender festival, the Ananda meditation temple, East West Bookshop, and the Living Wisdom School. What it will come of it? Only time will tell. And yet, what has already come from it, has been wonderful, indeed.
For in the process of participating in this event, I myself realized my own role wasn’t to convince, nor sell anything. It was, and always is, to be present. To enjoy each moment. To not merely wish to talk about what we are doing, but to honor what you are doing. And as much as anywhere I can remember, Folk Life does this. 100 years ago such an international celebration would be unfathomable, but today, it so commonplace that we can simply ignore it’s relevance in our own tiny bubbles of the world. All’s well and good, and surely a festival of this size isn’t for everyone, and yet, there can be no question that there is something for everyone. Be it a Mozart sing along, inspired art galleries, hand-made cribbage boards, or the stage with the Diwali celebration of Light.
As a farm stand we did well at folk life. But as a collective garden of people, many people grew this memorial day weekend. In feeling the joy in myself of receiving what so many give to each other, I felt calmness and expansion in so much vastness of experience around. Beyond all the multi-farious forms of music and arts and food manifesting, there was dynamic energy. There was consciousness. And there was Joy.
May this memorial weekend and all future folk life festivals serve as a reminder to bask in these universal virtues, of energy and joy, of unity and in diversity; and may we all strive to honor this in each other.