The word “festival” gets invoked so often in this region, it’s easy to lose sight of its true meaning. My dictionary defines it as “a day or period of celebration” (of Bluegrass, Wine, the Wild West or what-have-you).
I take this to mean, an opportunity to revel in something. Or I would, if I stopped reading right there.
Here is the complete definition of a festival: “A day or period of celebration, typically a religious commemoration.”
Next weekend, from Oct. 18-20, brings the fifth iteration of Spirit Fest to Ridgway. Though not strictly religious, these annual get-togethers are pretty much the antithesis of (say) a get-together devoted to drinking and dancing. They require a little more of you. And yet they are highly popular; last year’s event sold out. Becky Kent, the fest’s founder and chief programmer, was inspired to import this particular kind of get-together to Ridgway after she spied a booklet in a local parish church while on a trip to the Isle of Jersey, in the U.K. The brochure advertised a “Spirit Fest” replete with art, music and poetry that “focused on spiritual teachings of all faiths and traditions.”
Kent is quick to credit her inspiration for SpiritFest to that brochure — an idea that was already out there. Next week’s featured guest, the author and speaker Charles Eisenstein, has a similar philosophy. “I’m not the guy who has got it all figured out,” he writes on his website. “I know that my books and my other works come from a deep, inspired source, but that source is not me! I’m connecting to a field of knowledge, or to a story that wants to be told. This knowledge is as much my teacher as it is anyone else’s. I’m kind of ordinary, compared to some of the amazing people I keep meeting.”
Yet he’s not ordinary: Kent first learned of Eisenstein, a Yale University-educated philosophy and mathematics major who took years to figure out what he should be doing in his life, while watching Oprah Winfrey’s “Super Soul Sunday” a few years ago.
“He was the most unassuming young man, but he seemed interesting,” Kent recalled. Eisenstein was there to discuss a work of “sacred activism” he’d written entitled “The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible.” Kent bought the book, and read it, “And I was enthralled,” she said. “I shared it with some friends, and they liked it too.” Last year’s featured speaker at SpiritFest, the Franciscian friar Richard Rohr, is another Eisenstein admirer, Kent said. “He quoted Eisenstein in his morning meditation.” (Acclaimed British “eco-journalist” Rory Spowers, asked “Who inspires you?” has called Eisenstein “the most refreshing new voice…young and informed from a very spiritual perspective. Humble, but articulate; he’s not banging a drum and he’s not confrontational.”)
So Kent reached out to Eisenstein: would he be willing to speak at SpiritFest? The answer was yes, but was so busy, he could only do it in the fall (SpiritFest usually takes place each spring). This will be one of Eisenstein’s final engagements for a while; he plans to take the next year off. Between when Eisenstein agreed to visit and now, he published another book, this one not about relationships but about something precious (and of deep concern) to many in Ridgway: the enviroment. “We booked him before the book was published. I read it and said, ‘Wow!’” Kent said of the synchronicity. “I believe people will be extremely interested in this message.”
Eisenstein’s work, entitled “Climate: A New Story,” has been described as “flipping the switch” on climate change.
As Spirit Fest’s website explains it, “Many ask the question, ‘What is the biggest threat to humanity and the planet today?’… Charles will explore how the rhetoric and policies of the climate movement are often grounded in the very same mindset that creates the problem.”
“Eisenstein explains the science clearly, and correctly, as least as correctly as science understands it. His uncertainty and exhaustive review of many perspectives is refreshing,” an Amazon reviewer (who gives the book five stars) wrote. “He suggests that climate is not our most dire problem; the relationship we have with the earth, and with each other, is.”
When Kent asked Eisenstein how much he would like to be paid for his participation, he demurred: “Whatever you think I’m worth.” (For that matter, everything on his website, at charleseisenstein.org, is freely available, too.) In addition to sessions with Eisenstein next weekend, there will be live music from local Native American flute players and a “Rad Joy” session along the Uncompaghre River that focuses on water and climate change. (Radical Joy for Hard Times is a worldwide movement that seeks to “rebuild community relationships and deepen connection with nature and elements.” Learn more at radicaljoy.org.) “I’m delighted that the RadJoy session dovetails with Eisenstein’s visit,” Kent said. She’s optimistic that Eisenstein, who is becoming more well known, but is not as famous as, say, Father Rohr, will attract a sizable gathering, as Spirit Fest typically does. “Years ago, we brought Deepak Chopra to Montrose when people were still asking, ‘What is a Deepak?” Kent recalled with a laugh. “The climate is such a timely topic for our region, and Eisenstein can bring these ideas down to our level and make them understandable. I’m an introvert,” she added. Staging SpiritFest each year doesn’t come naturally; reaching out and organizing — the seemingly endless stream of phone calls and communiques involved in setting it all up — isn’t always easy. “But I have a feeling I need to do these things,” she said. And every year, “it all seems to work out.”
As Eisenstein might put it, Kent’s work on behalf of SpiritFest “comes from a deep, inspired source. But that source is not me.”