What word describes your Search for Meaning?

Instructions for Living:

Pay Attention,

Be Astonished,

Tell About it

Mary Oliver

This past weekend, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking at the Search for Meaning Book Festival sponsored by the School of Theology and Ministry in Seattle, Washington. Since I had never attended previously or even heard of the conference before for that matter, I was surprised when it greatly surpassed my expectations.

First, the event was free so anyone could attend. Unusual in this day and age but something the conference committee had determined was crucial. There were more than 2,500 people in attendance. Folks clearly came from all walks of life and all religions. The keynote speaker was Pulitzer Prize winning poet Mary Oliver, whom I also wasn’t familiar with before the weekend.  Finally, I was asked to present a second time in the afternoon when one of the other presenters, a Rabbi was unfortunately unable to attend due to a death in his family.

Clearly, when we step out of our comfort zone we are surely going to grow in ways we least expect.  I  am not a poetry reader and that’s probably why I didn’t know who Mary Oliver was prior to the conference, but hearing her share her poems and even share something about each of the poems, brought them to life.  I was mesmerized by her gift of writing and storytelling in just a few short words. Additionally, I met folks at the conference that I might not normally have an opportunity to meet. People with different religious beliefs and yet a spiritual commonality between us that allowed each of us to learn from one another.  Certainly, we as a universe could use some more ways to bring people who are different together to dialog freely and respectfully.

Finally, being asked to present a second time stretched my ability as a speaker. Knowing many of the attendees in the second session had originally planned to hear a Rabbi, was a bit daunting. Plus giving two speeches within a few hours of each other was not something I’d done before. However, the experience allowed me to stretch professionally and succeed. It also allowed me to connect with a second group of participants and if I hadn’t agreed to speak the second time, I would not have had that chance.

When we give of ourselves we open ourselves up to new possibilities. While I gave of my time by agreeing to be a presenter at the conference (one of the reasons that the conference is free is that all the authors come free of charge) I also received so much in the process. Having no expectations of this event actually improved the experience. I had no preconceived notions about the conference and in that place it was very satisfying.

Saying yes to something today will stretch you out of your comfort zone.  Strike up a conversation with someone you might normally not speak to. Say yes to an experience that sounds different or daunting. Try something new. There are hidden gems along the way and you just never know what you will learn. I  received a new appreciation for poetry and found a poet I enjoy. I even purchased a book to continue this new appreciation long after the conference ends.

The conference committee asked us, “What word would you use to describe your search for meaning?”  That isn’t the easiest question and perhaps at different times in our lives our answer will be different. But for me, today the answer is saying yes!

Search for Meaning Book Festival will take place next year in Seattle on March 9, 2013. Put it on your calendar, it’s well worth it!