At this time last week, I was sitting in my chair in Estes Park Colorado, at The Wake Up Festival, listening to Jeff Foster, day three of my journey there. At least I think I was sitting in my chair – I may have been floating in the air, or laying on the floor dying into Who I am.
It was an incredible experience and I’m about to give an unabashedly impassioned retrospective of this festival. Not because I’m paid to do so by any means, but because, as I sat there in my chair, I wished that I could give every one of my friends and family the gift of attending this festival.
First though, it’s not a “festival,” like say Wanderlust or Coachella. It’s five days of something in between what Sunday School or church should have been and the courses you wish they would have taught in University. It’s extremely well run, featuring the best of the best of modern day spiritual teachers, Ivy League professors and heads of Clergy, shaman and mystics and few sound healers too.
I’m a Virgo and very prone to my sign’s traits of being able to point out how anything could be done better, and I don’t think a festival or gathering of this kind could be done better. It’s deep – there’s none of the superficial sales-y stuff I somehow find myself in at “spiritual” events in my hometown of Los Angeles. It’s the real deal. It’s delivers raw truth in the teachings, the kind that you wouldn’t expect to experience at something with the name ‘festival’ in the title. This is a place to go and absorb.
I don’t know if there were fifty people there, five hundred or five thousand. But when Jack Kornfield got up on stage, there was just he and I. He found a crack in my heart that I didn’t even know was there, and filled it with an intangible wisdom and courage that stuck, right in the place where the book I read last week was already forgotten.
I almost didn’t make it. My husband had a huge new business meeting, I couldn’t find anyone to cover for me to watch our two young kids. One of my daughters was in a play I had to miss. This website was having technical issues – how could I justify letting all those things go to cover the Wake Up Fest? The list of things goes on, but I’m so grateful I made it. To be honest, I didn’t expect it to be such a unique personal experience. I was going as a member of the media, but I came home a filled soul.
Here’s 3 Reasons why you should consider attending next year:
1- Many of us just don’t prioritize physically attending events like this, and instead practice alone or in a cyber space. (And in fact many people don’t even have access to this type of open-minded spiritual gatherings where they live.) We used to gather to hear uplifting messages in the weekly Sunday meetings of the traditional churches we grew up in, but now many people have a hole where the experience of spiritual community used to reside. So if you are a modern seeker, you must seek a physical community.
2 – To hear these great masters, teachers & authors deliver their message, to practice with them in person is priceless. It’s like the difference between looking a photo of the ocean or being there. (bonus: they’re all accessible at the event – bring your books to get signed.)
3- It’s a great tragedy that our educational system provides no curricula for life. There is plenty of college worthy content in this space – scientific studies on happiness, libraries of philosophical theories and of course loads of unifying spiritual beliefs that should teach us about being human, about dealing with life’s ups and downs. This four days of life class.
It’s for those reasons; finding community and the deepening of wisdom, that I hope you’ll either attend the Wake Up Festival, or find something similar that provides this experience.
Personally, I wish I could attend something like this every week or every month. I can’t, but I do hope you’ll meet me there next year – I’ll definitely send you a reminder! (Make sure you’re signed up for our email list.)
Here’s a run down, the nuggets if you will, of what I took away from the speakers I personally heard. (There were many more – I missed Adyashanti and others – and each of these speakers provided so much wisdom, it would be impossible to get it all down but there’s a lot of great messages from these masters below!) Enjoy, and if you were there, please add or share your experience below.
Also, since you’ll have to wait a year for the next Wake Up Festival, we’ve put together a page of our favorite books by these teachers on page 1 in our Amazon store.
Wake Up Festival Highlights:
Tara gave us a two hour lesson on the nature of fear. It was powerful. Epic even. She reminded us that it’s not about getting rid of fear. We need it, we are conditioned to have it. But our frontal cortex allows us to be mindful toward it, and to find freedom to relate to it. We have the equipment we need to wake up out of the trance of fear. She explained that the whole of the spiritual path is to meet your edge and allow it. Then she invited us to have tea with our fears.
Mark Nepo -
Author Mark Nepo enlightened us on the importance of story, how we each have our individual stories, but that we are also part of each other’s stories. He told the story of how his grandmother made him feel special, and gave him the confidence to go forward with his story. (Which, is similar to my experience — the name of this website is not only a nod to joy (gladness) but also to my grandmother Gladis.)
Mark reminded us that you can’t step into the same river twice – a story also evolves based on our perception, and our personal growth…over time some stories become more important than others. The story we’re in takes time to tell itself. Have patience and courage to let the story evolve. We do see our stories differently as time goes by. Write them down.
Sandra was the only Shaman and one of the few mystics on the speakers roster. She gave a great introduction to Shamanism, reminding people that it’s the oldest spiritual practice known to man – it dates back over 100,000 years and it was practiced all over the world, by every culture. Everyone in the world has ancestors who practiced it. There are culture specific ceremonies, but shamanism is not specific to certain culture.
Sandra explained Shamanism and how to work with spirits; spirits can help you ride the waves of life and connect us to source. It’s a path of direct revelation. The key to learning about it is to practice it, she said. It’s about the experience.
Oh my, David Whyte. He was the keynote speaker on Friday evening. I’ve read his poetry, but have to be honest; I don’t ever find myself buying books of poetry. But when David Whyte stood on stage and spoke, for 90 minutes, reciting his own poetry, and also quoting the famous and not so famous philosophers and sages, without ever once looking at any notes, never once interrupting the melody of his poetry with an “ummm” or a “like,” I simply melted.
When David spoke, I could clearly imagine a time, long ago, where women fell in love with and swooned over poets and writers and intellectuals instead of rockstars and soccer players and reality stars. As it should be.
One of the many things he told us is that what we’re most afraid of is our own unhappiness. Because “if you were to claim it, everything in your world would require downsizing – all the parts of you that told you it was not possible would need new jobs.”
If you ever have the chance to hear him, please don’t miss it.
Dr. Kelly McGonigal-
This PhD, Stanford professor and yogini took us through slideshows of the brain that should have put you to sleep, but each slide and study that she explained was SO fascinating – this is the class that should be a requirement for any diploma.
She took us through the functions of the prefrontal cortex, the Insula, the anterior cingulate cortex, and after showing us how the different parts of the brain work together, and how they signal other parts of the body, she explained how to connect with our highest self and stop identifying with the suffering. I mean seriously, how do we NOT learn this stuff in school?
This guy must be creating lots of spiritual crushes everywhere he goes. He’s like a younger surfer version of Eckhart Tolle, but with a British accent. He delivers his words with a really unique style, lush with intent, humor and compassion. His talks were like an orchestra of sensations for the ears, brain and heart to process together, to take in his direct and uncompromising message, which comes broken up with his funny laugh, and the too long pauses… which you later realize a real gift, to allow you the time to inhale and exhale….and allow his words go straight to your heart and feel their truth.
Jeff inspired a separate, full article of quotes. But my favorite piece of advice from Jeff’s keynote: “Perhaps all our suffering is pointing to the same place. Perhaps even this is God. Perhaps even this is grace. Even if it’s not the grace you read about in the books. You’re not really interested in a second hand life – in living someone else’s life. You want to taste it, taste life right now because you want to be alive. Taste the moment, the pain, don’t try to escape.”
The gorgeous Yogi entertained the crowd with her humor and her passion to move people to make difference. She pointed out that many people – no, most people in the world – live in perpetuated oppression, never allowed to challenge what religious authority tells them. Put to death for it even. But not us. We can question, evolve, transform, seek the truth. What a blessing. And why us? Were we just born at a lucky latitude or longitude or are we living out some karmic progression? I don’t know the answer, but we DO get to do this, be in this free-thinking, truth-seeking community of discovery. What a gift.
My favorite quote from her, paraphrased – “It’s why we must go deep, get raw, celebrate the opportunity to grow and transform. We do it not to be right, but because we make the world better. We make the world better not by being right, but by being love. By understanding the wholeness of our being. By expressing love and knowing truth. And we will make peace inevitable.”
Rabbi Rami Shapiro-
Rabbi Rami, delivered a fantastic, humorous talk on why he loves religion, and why it’s also really scary.
He points out that all religions stumble around the same ideas. Even though they divide us, every religion has the same perinnial philosophy or idea: The throught that you are not who you think you are. The extent to which you identify with who you think you are, is the extent to which you live with alienation, fear, suffering violence. The extent to which you live in the larger sense is the ability to live in more joy, peace and have an ability to make the world better.
He explained how religion is a human construct. How it is brilliant when it taps into something beautiful like “love your neighbor as you love yourself’ – and then the tragic irony of a religion that says ‘love your neighbor, but kill or hate all those people over there.” God is not like that. People are like that. Religions do that to get people to commit to their ideas. Religions are brands with taglines and slogans. (Death sells.) Question yours. Always.
Matthew Fox lead a non-denominational “Cosmic Mass” service on Saturday night, the closest that this festival got to being a festival the way I think of the word. I hadn’t heard of Matthew, and feel that I need to introduce him to explain this event: Matthew Fox is an internationally acclaimed spiritual theologian, an Episcopal priest, and an activist who was a member of the Dominican Order for 34 years. He holds a doctorate, summa cum laude, in the History and Theology of Spirituality from the Institut Catholique de Paris. As a spiritual theologian, he has written 30 books that have been translated into 48 languages and have received numerous awards.
With the Rabi, Sandra Ingerman Shaman, and Tami Simon joining him on stage, Matthew kicked off a mass that I at first I couldn’t quite fit in with the rest of my Wake Up experience, but days later I understand that of course everything there has purpose and meaning ,and his presence was a part of dismantling my own ideas of what a church service looks like. He’s certainly a radical, but our times call for radical leaders.
He reminded us that for most of human history, dance has been an important part of spiritual ritual. (And we danced, with Shiva Rea and Djs) We were reminded that the Pope did not invent mass. That we need to stop challenging the priests and pastors to keep us awake in the pew, but to become our own priests. He told us not to abandon religion and ritual just because the modern church abandoned us, but reminded us that we must gather in new ways to meet our modern needs. He pointed out that the West remains so out of touch with its own mystical tradition that many Westerners seeking mysticism still feel they have to go East to find it. But we can create the practice and find the wisdom our soul seeks and knows is true, he said. And so we did.
Anne is probably the person you’ll most want to have dinner with when this festival is over. She is as hilarious and loudly individual as you’d expect and then some. Feminist, mother, writer, comedienne, philosopher and intellectual, she’s like the crazy aunt that enters a room and casts a spell of wonder on every adult and at the same time makes every child there feel that there’s no one so special as them. You see your own specialness, your wildness in Anne Lamott.
Anne on Life: Life is like driving in the dark at night with the headlights on. You can only see a little ways, but that’s all you need to make the whole journey.
Anne on Writing: “You write and write and it’s great but then you have to cut 75 pages. So you go back and kill your little darlings that were so perfect and so well said, but they were not human, they were arrogant and weighty. So you cut them and thank them for getting you to the human stuff. Those days writing those words were not wasted. It’s just like meditation. I sit, it goes badly. The bell rings, and it’s ok because I get a piece of me back. And I still get full credit.”
Who better to close five days of being in spirit, getting to know your soul, and connecting to the higher source, than the author of “After The Ecstasy, the Laundry”?
Words truly can not describe how amazing his closing keynote was. I probably would have messed up the whole experience once I got home, if he hadn’t been there to take us home to the message. He led us through a couple of beautiful meditations, a poignant closing ritual, and mostly talked to us about this path, reminding us that everyone has triumphs and losses on it. “Last year foolish monk, this year no change,” he said.
He surprised most of us in the audience when he told us his wife asked for a divorce last year, after almost thirty years of marriage. He reminded us that “we all get lost, that we forget, in our small sense of self, and then we remember, that we are not that limited person. Your loving awareness, your spirit, can not be taken.” No matter what our circumstances when we get home.
“Who do you think you are?” he asked, “Who is born into that body with patches of fury hair, with a hole to put in plants and dead animals…how did you get in there? You come here and get joy and sorrow, pain and happiness. It’s the curriculum. It teaches the heart how to love. It’s messy.”
The secret of all of this, (“this” being both life, and being on this path) is to act well, without attachment to your emotions or what happens in your life. It’s about not depending on your hopes for the results of things. That’s the key.
His parting advice: ”Find the people who love the inner life. You need community.”
So, the over-riding message, take away from the Wake Up Festival, as I experienced it? Wake Up. Wake up to being present and fully alive. Wake up with this community of seekers of truth, to the acceptance of Suffering, and it’s trusty side-kick Fear, as part of the human experience. Don’t shame them away, or shut them away; invite them to tea instead.
Were you there? Do you recommend it to others? Please add, and tell others about your experience below!
Editor’s update: click here for info on the 2014 event.