A collection of visionaries, luminaries and live-your-best-life movers-and-shakers met at the YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park this past week for the Wake Up Festival, which is orchestrated every year by Boulder's own Sounds True media company. This year's lineup included Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat Pray Love), k.d. lang, Jill Bolte Taylor, Rick Hanson, Seane Corn, Mark Nepo and many more. With keynote and session titles like "Tools for Peace," "Reduced to Joy" and "Filling the Hole in Your Heart," there were myriad lofty lessons to be gleaned from the teachings on hand; here are our top five.
5. Don't take yourself too seriously.
Everyone presenting at this conference had good reason to take themselves seriously -- big names with bestselling books who no doubt hear all the time how brilliant their ideas are. Although areas of expertise, levels of education, skills and qualifications varied wildly, one thing that each presenter has in common is a sense of humor. Life is absurd and we're allowed to acknowledge that and laugh about it -- and ourselves. When presenters at a festival like Wake Up are willing to bare their flaws and laugh about them, it sets an atmosphere of safety and freedom for attendees, who can clearly see that our flaws are what make us interesting and human.
4. Pain can become a source of strength.
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There were so many sad stories surrounding this conference, including one presenter who almost didn't make it because of a loved one in rehab. These stories were shared freely -- joyously, even. I overheard a conversation between a presenter and an attendee about sexual abuse; the attendee wanted to help a loved one struggling, and the presenter had been there herself. After giving some solid tips on how to help the survivor process emotions, the presenter added, "It was a horrible thing that happened to me, but I mean every word when I tell you that I wouldn't change it because it made me who I am and brought me here to have this conversation with you." When we live through our personal horror stories, we have the option of coming out of the experience as braver, stronger and more empathetic people.
3. Nobody has the answers.
With all of these human luminaries on stage, it's entirely possible that at some point during the conference, someone let slip the meaning of life. However, each presenter was clear that they are just as baffled as you are by the universe -- they've simply made it their job to study these mysteries. The focus of the conference was inspiration and guidance, encouraging attendees to take their own steps on a journey toward enlightenment, but not one presenter pretended to have reached that lofty state. Beyond some basic life tips like "take care of each other" and "work on your own spiritual path," there were no hidden secrets disclosed, and that's okay. We are a species collectively baffled and dazzled by our environment, and let's not pretend that it should be otherwise.
2. But our teachers are everywhere.
We might not know who has the answers or where to find them, but when we're ready to learn, our teachers are waiting for us -- often in the most unexpected places. There were many discussions about students and teachers throughout the conference, and according to the life experts illuminating the way, some of our most profound teachers are the ones we least expect. So instead of waiting for a guru to cross your path and offer you the opportunity to learn more about how to successfully be human, look at the people already in your life -- particularly those people who annoy you. What does your reaction to that person teach you about yourself? Or maybe the teacher you've been waiting for is an experience -- or maybe it's your own self, and you simply haven't put together the pieces yet.
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1. And we're all in this together.
Everything is connected, and it all comes back full circle sooner or later. This is basically the Golden Rule, personified -- because if everything is connected, then what you do to someone or something else, you are doing to your own self. Maybe that's the meaning of life -- and, hey, if not, it's a pretty good guideline for how to muddle through from birth to death.