December 30, 2009

Visiting Home

Going home for my younger sister's wedding in May was an incredible experience not only because I was able to be around my amazing family and friends, but also because I could experience America during the middle of my service in the Peace Corps.

On couches, in cars, walking around my old college campus, sitting on the sand at the beach and many places in between I was able to be with those closest to me and try to explain the incredible experiences I have been through in only a year in Mongolia. My blog and monthly newsletters have been helpful in sharing general thoughts and big events with many people, but nothing comes close to a personal conversation with someone. Responses are immediate, questions and answers volley back and forth and precious moments of silence shared between best friends while both think about things they have never considered before are worth more to me than anything. It's not easy to make sense of everything I am going through as a Volunteer, but talking through it with people I love makes it easier. Not only that, but I think it helps them in their lives too. I can't count how many times people said, "Wow, I've never said that sort of thing out loud before. I don't think I've ever considered it quite like that." Unfamiliar with the usual cultural references on recent movies and happenings, conversations immediately turned to central life themes, purpose, love, service, possibility, and life goals and I would prefer those topics every day of the week. Maybe more than anything Mongolia has taught me that we should all be in touch with who we truly are and what we believe, every minute, and I felt very lucky to do that with so many outstanding people home in America.

December 27, 2009

Leadership Lessons

I had a very helpful conversation with my dad about leadership and our Peace Corps Merit Badges project. I want to be a good leader and help this project to do a lot of good for lots of people, so I asked him about how to be a good leader when running an organization like this. He could think of three things to keep in mind: (1) surrounding yourself with talented people, (2) being open to new ideas, and (3) being reflective and trying to improve.

He also talked about staying true to your principles and being clear about the vision of why we do what we do. He felt our mission of helping others and doing good work shows through our organization and our activities. Volunteers, family and friends, see the story that we are writing and the grassroots effort that we are beginning as a way to improve the lives of our community and the Peace Corps community and that is what they are buying into when they join the project and become part of the story.

It will be very important for us to be clear about our dream for this project, since it seems that every time we dream, the dreams come true. I am surprised and honored by the people who are already involved in the project and I am very excited to see where it goes in the coming months.

December 26, 2009

Gandhi Jeans

Homegrown organic Gandhi Jeans. The newest fragrance, Mother Teresa's Compassion. Trademarked Words of Wisdom from Jesus, Inc. The biggest and bestest buns at Buddha's Burgers...

I'm glad Gandhi never made jeans, Jesus didn't incorporate, Mother Teresa didn't commercialize and Buddha didn't franchise. Does it seem silly that they would? Don't think it didn't occur to them. There are plenty of temptations out there to own, control, manipulate and capitalize on others for fame, power and wealth. It is one of the greatest temptations for any leader to lose sight of the greater good and seek after personal gain. There were plenty of wealthy business men during Gandhi's time, plenty of famous people with designer products in Mother Teresa's, lots of powerful people purporting expensive advice all around Jesus and plenty of hungry people waiting to be fed during Buddha's time. I don't know the names of those wealthy, famous, or powerful people. I know and admire these four people, and many others, because they didn't charge for what they sold. They didn't donate a percentage of profits, they donated everything. They gave their ideas, names, and lives away for free. They fed people without a dime. They healed people without formal training. They listened, learned, walked with and helped more people in one day than most people ever do in their whole lives. Then, after they died, they kept helping people.

Money is part of our world but I want to be like these people. No matter how much money I have, selling out will cost more than I can afford.

December 25, 2009

Discover Your World

Living in line with truth is the point of meditation, truth about the world and the way things really are. Buddha said, “Your work is to discover your world and then with all of your heart give yourself to it.” Those two things are in order because you need to understand your world and yourself first before you can give yourself to it or anything for that matter. Who are you, really, deep down? What are the ways of the world, the kinds of truth that will always be and principles that will never fail? I have a long way to go but with some time, patience, and meditation, I think I know a little.

Everything Changes
Here is one of my favorite quotes from Abraham Lincoln, “It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: 'And this, too, shall pass away.' How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction!” At the smallest level we can observe particles constantly in motion at incredible speeds. At the largest level galaxies flying away from each other in our enormous universe. Somewhere in between civilizations flourish, mountains crumble, life ends and life begins. All around us our world tells us that everything changes and yet...we act surprised. Not my body. Not my car. Not my life. Surely something must stay the same. Just this: everything changes.

Let Go
When we meditate on this fact, when we apply it to our lives, we are forced to let go of our preconceived notions of how things will go or how our lives should or shouldn’t be. Life isn’t meant to be permanent, it is meant to be experienced. Love and let go. Laugh and let go. Meditation is about truly seeing the world as it really is, in this moment, experiencing it and then letting it go. Moment to moment awareness, of this repetition, this kiss, this smile, this beauty, allows us to truly give ourselves to it. Whether it’s your first or your last is irrelevant. In fact, if you truly experience your life moment to moment and let go of expectation, you will do what many people hope to do: the popular and often sung idea of “living every day like it’s your last.”

The nice thing about truth, about life, is that everyone can experience it for themselves. Actually, everyone has to experience it for themselves. Meditation and enlightenment rest entirely on the shoulders of the person doing it. No one can do it for you and all the words in the world will mean nothing if they don’t live out through your experiences. As you grow stronger in your body and your mind, be sure to grow stronger in your understanding of the world around you. Then, when you are ready, give yourself to it with all of your heart. At least that’s what I think. And Buddha too.

December 22, 2009

Peace Corps Budget Increase

The big news in the Peace Corps community, maybe some of the biggest in a long time, is that we have been approved for a huge budget increase in 2010. It was the result of the collective efforts of hundreds and thousands of people around the world including Push for Peace Corps, NPCA, Peace Corps Headquaters, Peace Corps Worldwide, Senators, Congressmen, and many other people I can't begin to imagine. This will be a huge boost for our organization at every level and allow things to happen that have only been dreams in years past. Expect to see a lot more Peace Corps countries opening, record numbers of Volunteers recruited, accepted and invited to serve, and I would venture to guess record numbers of current Peace Corps Volunteers extending their service a third year.

I am part of the Peace Corps legacy. Learn more about the Peace CorpsPeace Corps' 50th Anniversary celebration starts in 2010 (in honor of John F. Kennedy's first speech on the idea) and ends in 2011 in Washington, D.C. I feel very lucky, as I am sure many other Volunteers do, to be serving in this organization at such a great time of support and growth. I believe in our mission and am very proud to be a Volunteer serving here in Mongolia. Thank you, everyone in the Peace Corps community, for your hard work and support. I hope we are making everyone proud.

December 20, 2009

Lifted Up

I was really moved by Pixar's newest film Up. I loved the story and message, and I particularly enjoyed the throwback to a vintage sense of adventure and the timeless "wilderness explorer" mentality. The merit badges were also way awesome and very inspiring.

I laughed out loud really hard (all by myself) throughout the movie. It's nice to remember how incredible each addition is when Pixar adds to its already outstanding collection of films. It is one of the best movies I have seen in a long time. Thank you Pixar.

December 18, 2009

A Series of Meditations

Starting right after Christmas weekend we will begin a 5-week series of meditation classes here at our hospital with a different teacher each week. This is in collaboration with our meditation center project and will help prepare our teachers for more classes and students in months to come. Methods of the teachers will differ, which will be beautiful I think, and allow students (patients, professionals, doctors, nurses...) the opportunity to see and choose from different meditation techniques. Lessons will be about a half hour, to encourage participation and attendance, and will last for seven days before we change teachers. In the second week I will be teaching using very simple techniques I have learned from Vipassanna meditation and the Dalai Lama. I am very eager to learn from the other meditation teachers in the weeks to come!

December 14, 2009

Quiet the Holiday Noise

This morning I read some great advice from ZenHabits, one of my favorite email subscriptions:
During these holidays, think about what’s most important to you. That might be your loved ones, or a loved one, whether that’s a spouse or friends or kids or parents or whatever. It might be your work — what you create and are passionate about. It might be something else. Focus on that during these holidays, and remember that the rest is just noise. It’s not important. Fully experience what’s important to you, and let the rest fade away.

It's great advice. I know the holidays can be stressful, especially the further we move away from being the young people who get presents and become the older people who give them. But don't feel pressured by others. Be honest with them and with yourself. If something feels like too much, take a step back and try to simplify your involvement and your life. It's better for everyone if you give yourself to what you really care about rather than spreading yourself thin, or trying to be everything to everyone. I hope you have a wonderful holiday season and focus on the things you love the most, the rest really is just noise.

December 13, 2009

Building The World We Want

"We can build the world that we want. Nothing can stop us but inaction, lack of imagination, and lack of courage." - Eleanor Roosevelt

What I think makes this quote so beautiful is how clearly it lays out the challenges before us when we try to close the gap between the world as it is and the world as it should be.

It's so easy to sit back and wait. To get distracted. To put it off until tomorrow. We all know we could die at any moment, but what are the chances of that right? We all know there are people in the world that need our help, but what can we really do right now? We all know that the challenges before us are huge and serious, but it's overwhelming to sit around and think about that, yeah? I hear you. I get it. But I also think the worst thing we can do when faced with the path before us is not take the first step. I agree with Martin Luther King, Jr., "How soon not now, becomes never." Think about what you should do today in case you die tomorrow. Then do it. People in the world need your help. Help the person right next to you. Be there for them, listen, help them with their dreams. Don't think of the challenges we face as overwhelming, think of them as a chance to grow and do things you've never imagined before.

In the beginning of Stephen Covey's book the 8th Habit he quotes the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, "When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bounds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world." My experiences have led me to agree with that with all my heart. Finding something I love and letting my creativity loose on it has taken my life places greater than I've ever hoped to go. I say, expect that things will go better than you can comprehend and pursue your inspirations.

Maybe the hardest of the three, having courage this requires us to do what we are most afraid of. It's likely only you know what that is. People don't write down their dreams or share them with others for a reason. We have doubts. We aren't sure if we should be completely honest with others. With ourselves. But faced with the choice to give into our fears or move beyond them, I hope we all follow Ralph Waldo Emerson's advice, “Always, always, always, always, always do what you are afraid to do.” Starting now.

December 12, 2009

Typical Workday

One of the things I love most about Peace Corps is how it allows Volunteers to work with people from all kinds of various fields (health, business, youth, teaching) to do meaningful and exciting projects. Today I talked and worked with three wonderful Peace Corps Volunteer friends on one of our favorite projects together, had an amazing conversation on Skype with three inspiring ladies from the National Peace Corps Association, met for lunch to answer questions from the owner of one of our favorite restaurants in town about how he can improve his business and then talked with our excited friend about some future possibilities that could expand her small embroidery business ten-fold. I am a Health Volunteer, but as Peace Corps is fond of saying, we are all Community Development Volunteers. I am learning about leadership, project management, small business, and international development just by doing things that I love as a Volunteer and I am learning it alongside my Mongolian friends and fellow Volunteers. It's wonderful to have a day of work like this, which takes me all over the place and allows me to work with amazing people from all over the world. And it's a Saturday.

December 7, 2009

PhilosophersNotes Scholarship

I would like to present Brian Johnson, founder of PhilosophersNotes and huge inspiration to me personally, with the 10th Inner Peace Award for his generosity and overall awesomeness. He inspired me to go on a 10-day silent meditation retreat over a year ago (still one of the best things I have ever done), gave me a free subscription to PhilosophersNotes out of the blue when I first started Peace Corps, and has consistently shown me how awesome of a life a person can have when they do what they love. Then this to top it all off...

When I read a few days ago that the new PhilosophersNotes website will be offering Workbooks and iPods in January, I immediately thought about how cool it would be for all our Peace Corps Volunteers in Mongolia to enjoy the Notes like I have over this past year. So I wrote in asking if we could get a scholarship that could be shared with our Volunteers, totaling $200 with shipping. Within a day Brian responded saying yes and that he would handle it personally. So awesome! I really appreciate his great idea and his generosity. I think my fellow Peace Corps Volunteers will really enjoy PhilosophersNotes and I am very excited to share them soon. Thanks for being awesome Brian, I really appreciate who you are.

December 4, 2009


This is going to be hard to explain, but I want to try. Listening to heartbeats is something I do now. I listen to my own, I listen to other people’s: Tunga’s, my mom’s, my close friends and family. Sometimes I feel them, sometimes I watch them, sometimes I hear them. I have to be still to touch them, very attentive to see them and very quiet to listen to them, but they are worth it.

From what I understand the original word for God in Hebrew was not a word in a traditional sense. Yah and weh were breathing sounds in the language. It was sacred, so sacred a word that it was hardly ever said and yet said with every breath. I like the idea that you live out your beliefs about God with every breath. What if you had to express what God meant to you, not in words (which I think can’t come close) but in actions? Every time you breathe you have been given one more moment, one more chance to show what you think is most important in your life. Will you breathe and love, will you breathe and worry, will you breathe and give in to any number of distractions that take you away from your heart. When you breathe you have a choice.

When we talk about a person’s heart, saying for instance that someone has a “good heart”, we are talking about a part of us figuratively to mean something outside our normal mind. Something in us allows the mind to work and for everything else to function. It is fragile and special, but most of all it is quiet. Our heart beats in us every moment but we rarely hear it. Our lungs breathe but we barely notice. The point of tuning into it, to truly being aware of it, is to focus on what is really happening around us from the most basic point of life. Meditation is useful because it helps us see reality, not our ideas about it. As the mind quiets down, as it is told to quiet down, the calmness of that quiet process of life inside starts to come through. We are living and we will die. Our bodies are changing, always changing. Our heart is beating, but it will not beat forever. It might not even beat this next moment. Our lungs are breathing, but they will not breathe forever. Everything changes, it is always changing. Breathe, listen and choose how you are going use every moment.