“It’s not called Awesomeness Festival anymore,” a man tells me, just a few hours into what is now known as A-Fest. Toss out your preconceptions of a frat boy doing blow for the first time: A-Fest is a $3,000 ticket festival for so-called conscious entrepreneurs. The man in question is Vishen Lakhiani, owner of A-fest and Mindvalley, an online personal growth platform. We’re sat in the chic lobby of a five-star resort and spa on the edge of the Dead Sea, and Lakhiani is telling me that A-Fest’s goal is to change the world. Over the next four days, I will be undergoing what he pitches to me as “accelerated personal development” at the world’s most transformational festival.
There’s a lot of bold statements going around and it’s only 9AM. I’m not too sure what I’m meant to be transforming into by the end of the week, but I know it should be a far cry from the cynical Londoner I’m currently bringing to the table. I’m handed a lanyard with my name on it and sent on my way.A-Fest is a twice-yearly members only event that Lakhiani started in 2010. Ticket prices begin at just $3,495 and can increase up to $4,495 as it draws closer to the event. The cost isn’t the only hurdle in getting to experience the four-day festival – first, you have to become a Mindvalley member (membership is $499/year). But rest assured, once you have sold your right arm and worked out how to get to the chosen exotic location – which varies every year – you could be rubbing shoulders with Hollywood royalty like Patricia Arquette or even past speakers like the ice lord himself, Wim Hof.Like calling a baker an artisan tastemaker or the guy that poured you a rum and coke a mixologist, the motivational speakers of A-Fest are “spiritual gurus” and “transformational leaders”. I meet a self-described transcendental space cowboy (AKA a guy fucked on magic mushrooms) who tells me he has the ability to time travel. I wonder why he has specifically chosen to travel to a Marriott hotel in Jordan to hang out with a sea of fedora-wearing optimists. What does he know that I don’t?
Has he come to revive his wandering soul in the Dead Sea Awakening ritual, a mud-covered float in the salty sea? Or perhaps to listen to Big Sean’s feng shui teacher, Marie Diamond, who uses dowsing to detect “stress zones” in your home that impede your ability to make money? Or had he come to hear Calvin Harris’s “I Feel So Close to You Right Now” being played on repeat morning ‘til night? I was about to find out.
Throughout the days at A-Fest, you are sat in a Marriott hotel conference room where Mindvalley speakers take it in turns to try and transform you. On Day 1, I listen to a woman who injects stem cells into sexual organs. Why? I’m still not sure. She spends over an hour discussing dick injections in a floaty dress fit for Eurovision. It seems personal growth takes on new meanings here at A-Fest. There is a breathwork session called SOMA – one of the only legit-sounding things on the timetable – led by founder Niraj Naik. Unfortunately, the screams and dry humping of the worked-up attendees around me force me to leave early, for fear of a panic attack.Every evening there are communal dinners, or should I say, “extravagant banquets”, where we are encouraged to make “connections”. These nights are often themed, in a bid to help you choose which fedora or feather combo works best. At the Welcome Changemakers dinner, we are encouraged to dress like a changemaker. A moodboard PDF is provided in advance to attendees, with images of people covered in glitter or adorned in large crowns and – you guessed it – fedoras.
Some people have borrowed money or saved up for years to get here, mainly because they believe they’re going to make connections with the millionaires or billionaires who will fund their self-help business. With all this manifestation going on around me, everyone’s on a high. There’s something about the A-Fest energy that makes people leave social anxiety at the door. At one point, I’m approached by a man with his arms open, radiating joy: “I created you!” he tells me. “When I woke up this morning I created you!” I give the man a hug and try to absorb his delirium.Despite my cynicism, I can’t help feel that, Lakhiani has created a world for people to escape to – one where anything feels possible. Me transforming into a a self-help guru overnight, though, I’m still not sure – so I head to bed after dinner before the DJ starts playing EDM.Back in my hotel room, I start to deep dive on a few of the characters I’ve met on Instagram, of whom a suspicious majority appear to be bestselling authors. I soon learn motivational speaking also includes upselling your own work. I begin to rework my IG bio in my head: “Sydney Lima, changemaker, global visionary, award-winning filmmaker and bestselling author. Award emoji. Star emoji. Peace emoji.” Breathe.By the closing party my cheeks hurt. I can’t smile anymore. I am broken by positivity. It’s true over the last few days I have gained some skills – I’ve learnt where best to position my bin to attract abundance into my life (thank you, Marie Diamond). And I’ve gained some friends – here’s looking at you, transcendental cowboy. But if A-Fest’s goal is to change the world, then I’m not too sure that this new world – one populated by bestselling authors, headwear and Calvin Harris – is a world that will have room for me.@sydneyzlima