It was a balmy November morning in Montego Bay, Jamaica and I nervously awaited my turn to jump into an ice bath. I was taking this plunge under the guidance of Dutch daredevil Wim “Iceman” Hof. Arm-in-arm, a crowd of us gathered around the hot-tub-turned-ice-bath as Hof led us through a series of chants and breathing exercises, preparing our bodies and minds for the imminent trauma of being submerged in freezing water.
“Who’s in control?!” the Iceman bellows, to which we responded in unison with the bravado of warriors on the precipice of battle: “I am!”
After a few cycles of this mantra, we leaped. Instantly, every muscle, appendage and orifice tensed as I followed Hof’s voice and practiced his breathing method. My senses were enlivened with the bitter sting of ice on skin—even my thoughts felt cold.
Time slowed down and our five-minute ice bath felt like it stretched into an hour. Finally, upon Hof’s command, I slithered out of the tub and made a frantic dash to the ocean, where I quickly defrosted in the warm, Caribbean sea.
This was my second, and most epic, encounter with the wild Wim Hof — who’s garnered acclaim for his ability to resist cold temperatures (most notably by climbing Mount Everest shirtless). I first met him on the day of my arrival, only four days prior to freezing my phalanges off in the ice bath. I was sitting in the sand with two other people—passing around a guitar and having a sing-along—when a commanding voice from behind me asked to join.
It was the inimitable Hof, who proceeded to play the guitar and serenade us, two skills I was unaware he possessed. In a nice twist of fate, it happened to be my birthday.
The music bonded us and a friendship was forged. This catalytic moment sparked a long night — speckled with free wine and Hof’s eccentric antics. His boisterous demeanor, personal magnetism, and habit of dropping into the splits at any given moment made the evening feel like following a one-man parade.
Later in this same Jamaican weekend, I smoked sacred herbs and listened to live reggae at a Rastafarian village, attended a psychedelic costume party at an 18th-century jungle estate, snorkeled at sunset, drank until sunrise and sat in on lectures from some of humanity’s brightest minds. A global amalgamation of learning, experiencing, networking and partying, this alleged “work trip” was unlike any conference, summit, festival or retreat I’ve ever attended.
It’s in a category all its own but if I had to label it, I’d call it… a learning festival.
The invite-only four-day event of which I write is the bi-annual A-Fest, organized by the progressive education collective, Mindvalley. Founded by Vishen Lakhiani, Mindvalley is attempting to change the educational paradigm for people of all ages by offering an alternative to the typical—and financially debilitating—university system. At A-Fest, I not only acquired new knowledge, but made deep connections with the mashup of creatives, iconoclasts, and geniuses in attendance.
“The ethos of A-Fest is that the greatest happiness we can have in life comes from experiences and connection with other human beings,” Lakhiani says. “At a certain point, there’s only so much that money or career accomplishments can get you. What truly creates happiness are your friendships, are your social connections, are the experiences you had in life.”