A few days ago, I returned from a week in Toronto attending the 2018 Parliament of World’s Religions.  I would like to take a moment and share some of my reflections on the experience with you.

I have many friends who have attended other Parliaments and consistently raved about the experience. This was my first to attend and overall I had a very positive time there.  I came home with 2 bags of books, brochures, business contacts…as well as many fond memories of my interactions.

Years ago, I heard a speaker at a conference say that when they attend such gatherings, they considered their time and effort to be there to be well spent if they obtained at least one new idea that they could implement and verification on an idea that they were considering.  Since then, I have used a similar yardstick to measure the value of my conference attendance. My that rule, the Parliament easily met the standard.

Interestingly (and unusual for me), I attended the Parliament with very little in personal intentions.  I did have some expectations around my support of the New Thought faith “meet and greet” area with which I was assisting (all of which were met).  However, beyond that I approached the conference with the idea of simply immersing myself in the experience, letting go of any attachments to expectations, and being open to connections and interactions with anyone and everyone.

Here are a few observations:

Contrary to the name, not all “religions” are there. 

This was probably the biggest surprise to me.  Most, if not all of the groups there were on the progressive side of things.  I met no fundamentalists or representatives of faiths that teach “exclusivity” (that their way is the “one true way”).  I heard that some sessions did have some such attendees speaking but if they were there, their voices were a very small minority.  In retrospect, their non-attendance should not have been a surprise given that if you think your way is the only way, you probably weren’t going to get any agreement with your position at such an interfaith event.

Contrary to the name, there are a lot of “non-religious” groups there.

There were scientists, humanists and many other secular group representatives.  A special subject track of the Parliament was related to care and stewardship of the planet with a lot of energy being given to ecological issues (such as dealing with global warming) and political concerns.

Applying Spiral Dynamics to the experience was useful.

If you are familiar with the Spiral Dynamics model, then know that most of the attendees were at the “green” level but that a good subset could be seen as exhibiting the integral levels of “yellow” and “turquoise.  It was a lot of groups “preaching to the choir” in their presentations and exhibits.  In addition, I found myself in many conversations where I brought up the model and gave a quick explanation of it as it related to the discussion.  Many attendees are in positions where they are trying to promote programs or policies that relate to green or integral levels of consciousness yet are confounded with dealing with people exhibiting red, blue or orange levels of thinking.  I suggested that read up on Spiral Dynamics to see if it helped them.  (If you are interested, here is a link to the first part of a good summary article here which explores the connection between Spiral Dynamics and New Thought.)

You need to “let go” of experiencing it all.

The Parliament was 7 days long. Sessions started in the morning and went into the night.  There were many different spiritual practices you could explore, there were films, a gigantic exhibit hall, daily plenary sessions and many many concurrent breakout sessions.  There was an app that you could use to review the content and “add things” to your calendar.  I did that and found that many times there were 3 or 4 things occurring at the same time that I wanted to attend.  I had to pick one and let the others go.  In some instances, I would be so engrossed in a conversation with someone in the exhibit hall or the New Thought area that I simply lost track of time and missed all of the breakouts at a certain time.  Many others told me that they had the same experience.  Early on you learned to “surrender” the idea of going to everything you wanted to experience.  It’s a good lesson for life.

You need to take time for yourself.

There was so much that sometimes I had to withdraw into a quiet area and simply reflect.  Other times, I skipped things and went back to my hotel or out to the streets of Toronto to explore.  I skipped one day entirely to be with myself and my thoughts and to experience the city.  I came back the next day energized to experience the Parliament more fully than if I had not taken the time.

You need to follow your intuition.

Some sessions I planned on attending, at the last minute I felt the need to go somewhere else.  This gave me some great experiences and introduced me to some ideas and people that I would not have met otherwise.  It’s good to rationally plan on what seems most interesting or important to you….but it’s also good to let life guide you.

“Spiritual people” can still display excessive egos.

This was no surprise.  For years, my life exploring spirituality has led me to experience a number of people who are inspired teachers and speakers from whom I have learned a great deal about life….yet to also discover that they are still human and working on their “own stuff” in their own life…especially those who exhibit a good degree of narcissism or strong, excessive egos.  There were plenty at the Parliament too.  For example, many of the breakout session that I attended would have people get up at the Q&A part to supposedly “ask a question” which was really more about their own self promotion of their books, websites, ideas.  There were also those who rushed to speak with the more famous speakers after sessions, get their requisite selfies and have that personal one-on-one conversation that they could drop in conversation with others later. It can be funny when you sit back and simply observe. (And, yeah, I took a selfie with the Parliament signage, see above!)

Let go of your usual judgements.

All of us can be judgmental.  My last comments about spiritual people with egos is certainly a judgement!  Yet, in the context of the Parliament I really tried my best to set my personal opinions about ideas and people aside and to listen to what was being presented.  If I can listen for ideas that are useful to me or the world without continuously filtering and flavoring them with my own previous thoughts on what I was experiencing, then I could truly be open to new ideas that might be beneficial.  “Judge not lest you be judged” says to me that when you are judging things, your judgement says more about you than the other person.  When you are judging others, you are really exhibiting your preconceived thoughts.  That’s often hard to remember.  However, when you around people who are offering something new, it is best to set your judgements aside temporarily the best you can.


Final Thoughts:

The Parliament only meets every few years.  I hope that I am able to go again to the next one….but in any case, I am very thankful for the opportunity to have attended this conference in Toronto. I met a lot of new friends with whom I hope I stay in contact and heard about a lot of new groups that I hope to explore more about in the coming months.  However, one doesn’t have to wait on such “Parliaments” to find ways to reach out and discover such new things in life.  There are opportunities all around us if we simply look for them.


Mark Gilbert

ps.  For more information about the Parliament, here is their website.