In many religions, death is rarely the end of the journey.
Samsara Burt was a part of her family’s lives long before her earnestly awaited birthday — her parents, Lax and Travis, indulged in activities with their three children that included their soon-to-be-newborn.
“During snow the kids and the hubby and I, we would go skiing and they would scream her name downhill while I filmed them,” Lax said. “We went babymooning to Long Beach and wrote her name all over the sand.”
In short, they were the definition of eager, and as prepared as any Enumclaw family could hope to be to welcome a new life to the world.
Samsara was born March 21, 2017. She died two days later.
Hurt beyond imagining, Lax, Travis, and their family spent the summer healing from their unexpected loss. Their spiritual journey for answers led them to many outlets for their sorrow, from painting and photography to hiking and dancing and, for Lax — an India native — especially yoga.
And it was on a yoga mat last September that Lax had the idea to hold a festival to both celebrate their daughter’s life and offer the healing practices that helped Lax and her husband through their grief to others experiencing the same pain.
“I remember having a huge breakdown. I think I cried, it just happened. I think it was needed,” Lax said. “And then I turned around and I said, this is what we should do. Let’s do this. We can do it at the library… something for her birthday. Let’s do something.”
Out of death, life; Samsarafest was born.
Organizing a festival of healing
Like all of their children’s names, Samsara’s came with strong meaning to Lax and Travis.
Taken literally, Samsara is a Sanskrit word meaning “journeying,” referring to the endless cycle of birth, death, and rebirth taught by Hinduism, Buddhism, and other Dharmic faiths.
It’s also the meaning behind Samsarafest — to help people journey through their pain, and return to the world healed from their grief.
At first, the Burts thought they’d start small and host just a half-day of healing activities like yoga, massage, or meditation at the library for anyone who wanted to attend.
But as she talked to her friends and members of the community about their idea, Lax realized the space at the library just wasn’t going to cut it.
“I didn’t know how many people in my own circle have experienced miscarriages or had difficulty bearing a child, and going through it over and over, and there’s discouragement there, too,” she said. “There are so many different stories.”
So Lax and Travis moved to planning a day of activities at the Danish Hall, but even then, something told them it wouldn’t be enough.
“The things that healed us, that is definitely part of the story, even what we learned from others, what has been healing for them,” Lax said. “So we pulled from that, and half a day became one day, and then we heard when people come, they can’t just come and let go, they need to settle in, so it became a three-and-a-half day event with many people who wanted to volunteer their time to hold that space.”
In the end, the Burts went with the Enumclaw Expo Center, renting out almost the entire facility for four days to host a number of live music events, hands-on workshops, fire and drum circles, and more.
“So when it was coming together so organically, as we were getting all around to it, we would chuckle to each other, ‘Can we do this?’ kind of a thing,” Lax said. “And Travis would say, ‘She’s guiding it. It’s happening. Let’s go with it and see.’”
To legally host the event, Lax and Travis created Samsara’s Studios LLC last October. The studio is located in downtown Enumclaw, where they periodically host various classes and workshops in the same spirit as Samsarafest.
“We should have, now that I think about it, go on a nonprofit status, but I don’t know how to do all that. We were in a deep place of grief, so now we have started looking into it, but I don’t think we can get the nonprofit status in time,” Lax said. “We can always grow a nonprofit arm, is what somebody said. And then, if you do raise money, it can pull into the non-profit, so we can keep things accessible for people who can’t afford it.”
Making Samsarafest affordable to the people who need it is, besides organizing the festival, the most important thing to the couple.
As they say, one of the biggest reasons they were able to pull through the most difficult time of their lives was because of the strength of their Mount Rainier Christian Center community.
“We didn’t even know most of the people — and we’re vegetarian — and people went through the trouble to learn to cook Indian food for us… that’s the silent support that the community carries you,” Lax said, adding that she wants to take that community energy and give forward to people who need help like they did.
Of course, putting together a four-day festival is expensive, but the cost of such an event seems to matter little to the Burts.
“We are dipping into our 401K. It’s the stupidest thing to do,” Lax said. “This festival is a less than graceful balancing dance.”
The Burts are not making money on this venture. While they expect around 500 people to attend Samsarafest, the vast majority of attendees will be coming for free by invitation of Lax and Travis.
“Our doors are still open to families we haven’t reached,” Lax said. “Come to this festival and benefit from it. There’s not cost to them, they just need to email us.”
Tickets for the event, which can be bought online at www.samsarafest.com, are meant to offset the cost of bringing people in need of healing to the event.
Luckily, many of the musical performers and workshop leaders are volunteering their time to Samsarafest — Lax said it might have been because her family’s story resonated with them, or because they have similar stories of their own.
Because of this, the Burts believe the festival will be welcoming, intimate, and real.
“It’s not like one of the yoga festivals, the scenes that happen a lot which are trendy hippie,” Lax said. “I want to keep it very sincere and honest.”
Schedule of events
The full schedule for Samsarafest is online, though it won’t be cemented until mid-February.
Organizing and administering the festival has been an adventure in itself, the Burts said, since they’ve never done anything remotely like this before.
“The best thing we ever planned is a Mario birthday party for our oldest, and we took a lot of pride in doing that,” Lax said. “We eloped and got married, so it isn’t that we haven’t planned anything, but going from that to a festival is a huge… And we decided to profoundly ask for forgiveness if things don’t get orchestrated as well as it should. It’s the first year, but we’ll learn a lot.”
The weekend kicks off Thursday, March 22 at noon with check in, followed by Tai-Chi lessons, Barre Yoga, hiking, and more. The official opening ceremony is at 6 p.m., and attendees are asked to wear white to set their intention for the weekend. Live music by Jessica Abbot (The Abbott O’Dell Roadshow) and Anastasia Allison (The Musical Mountaineers) comes shortly after.
Activities for Friday start in the dark hours of the morning and continue through 6 p.m.. Activities include mountain yoga and a snow shoe hike, an equine assisted healing workshop, learning how to make a home apothecary, and even sessions with an angel medium. The night ends with an music showcase, featuring D.J. Drez, Abhilasha Iyer, Michael Trew, Savanna Woods and more.
Saturday is much of the same as Friday, with musical hikes, talks with Hannah Rose Crabtree, the founder of Pocket Mansions, crystal sound baths and belly dancing lessons. The night ends with an Agni Mandala fire ceremony (space is limited) and a dance party open to all, hosted by D.J. Drez and Jesse Blake.
The weekend winds down Sunday with workshops on home birthing, immersive watercolor, devotional worship, and a closing ceremony featuring many of the music artists that performed throughout the event.
People attending the festival are able to camp outside, but under a roof, at the Expo Center, or can check in to one of various inns or lodges in the Enumclaw area.
Food is generally not provided, although vegetarian dinners — provided by Griffin and Wells and local farms — can be bought some of the nights.
Even though the first Samsarafest is still a month away, Lax and Travis are committed to hosting a second festival in 2019, and hope their connections with up-and-coming businesses and sponsors that resonate with the festival’s message will help keep the event going far into the future.
“Year four is our marker,” said Lax. “By year four, we have this aspiring goal that we can bring this event at absolutely no cost, just like we did with year one.”
The Burts can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information, or to share your story with them for a full-festival family pass.