April 28, 2011

What Would You Do With Unlimited Sponsorship?

What would you do with unlimited sponsorship? By this I mean unlimited money or resources or connections to do something great - something you've always wanted to do. Maybe that means reading 100 incredible books and reviewing them for thousands of people. Maybe it means traveling to every country in the world. Or maybe just trying to help people change themselves and change the world. 

That last one, in case you didn't already know, is what I'm trying to do with Advance Humanity. The second to last one is Chris Guilbeau at the Art of Nonconformity. And the first was Brian Johnson with PhilosophersNotes. Both Chris and Brian have been very inspiring for me personally as I think about what I want to do. 

Often, I think we overestimate the cost (as Chris has mentioned before) of how much it will really take for us to achieve our dreams. I think it's also easy to forget that sponsorship doesn't just mean money, like $50,000 to achieve your dream. It can also mean in-kind donations: maybe someone who can provide you with the space or technology or resources to get things done. Also funding or sponsorship can come from all kinds of places that you might forget about: like people who want to buy your writing as you go. In both Brian's and Chris's projects, they wrote things as they went and people gladly supporting them as they creating their dream work. 

On any given day, we all have a chance to do incredible things things that we've always dreamed of doing but never really thought were possible. Not only are they possible, there are tons of people out there who want to help you make your dreams a reality. I, for one, am right here with you. So when I ask what would you do with unlimited sponsorship, what I'm really asking is "What will you do when you realize that sponsorship is all around you?"

Have a great idea you want to make a reality, tell us about it on Facebook!
Photo by miningpeople

April 25, 2011

Why I Recommend 10 Days of Silent Meditation

I'm a big fan of Vipassana meditation, which is a free course organized for people who want to learn about meditation in a comfortable, quiet and safe environment over a 10-day period. I went when I had some time before Peace Corps in 2008 and I really enjoyed it. Meditation can seem like a confusing concept, but I found this retreat really easy to understand and very well run. 

You can read more about my experience here and here, but I wanted to share some thoughts from Daniel who talked with me a few weeks ago before he went on the retreat himself. He just completed the retreat earlier this month and I thought you might enjoy hearing what he had to say. I just asked him a few questions and he gave some great answers:

Why did you want to do this retreat?
I saw the Dhamma Brothers documentary and was intrigued. Not sold - just curious. I'd also been exposed to Asian philosophy before. I liked that Vipassana was avowedly NOT religious.

Were you nervous?
I was very nervous. In the days before the retreat I kept trying to justify flaking out. I got close several times. I was seriously afraid that this could be a cult. Mostly, I think, because the whole course was free. Who does that? If you're giving away a week-long course with food and board, surely you are in the business of mind control. But I kept telling myself to just be curious about this thing.

Was it rewarding?
It was immensely rewarding. Not in the sense that I got out and had a smile permanently tattooed on my face, or that I decided I wanted to worship someone. I felt noticeably better in a way that feels sustainable. Meditation is a practice, and after 10 days you really are able to begin the practice solo.

What would you tell someone who is thinking about going, but they are a little nervous?
I would never try to talk someone into doing a Vipassana retreat. If they don't want it, they absolutely could not handle it. But to someone who is curious but hesitant, I'd say go for it. Don't commit. That'd be silly. But go and give Vipassana a chance for ten days. Ten days. It's sounds long, but you'll have the right combination of business, rest, challenges, and support. No one will ask you to do anything weird, no one will ever even kind-of push you to give them your money, and if you really hate it, you can leave without any trouble. But, if like almost everyone else who went on my retreat, you're a nice, normal, curious, nervous person, you've got ten short days to lose and a whole lot to gain.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Daniel, it's awesome that you had such a great experience! 

If you want to learn more about Vipassana meditation, you can visit their website at dhamma.org and sign up for a retreat of your own at any time. Good luck and let me know if you ever need any help!

Have questions? Ask us on Facebook!

April 21, 2011

How To Start Your Own TEDx Event

This week I had a great Skype conversation with Chris DeBruyn, a former Peace Corps Volunteer in Mongolia, who is currently teaching in Iraq. Together with another former PCV, Kevin Johnstone, they are doing some amazing things with projects like Development Now and they have even bigger plans in the works. Chris is an inspiring guy and I look forward to seeing where his projects take him!

During our conversation Chris and I got to talking about TEDxUlaanbaatar, which we are organizing here in Mongolia, and asked "How do you start a TEDx event?" I thought you all might enjoy hearing what I said in case you want to start your own TEDx event. Note: It's a lot easier and way more awesome than you imagine!
  1. Get Motivated
  2. Advertise Your Intentions
  3. Gather Around Incredible People
  4. Be Open To How Things Might Unfold
  5. Stay Enthusiastic

1. Get Motivated
Early in 2010 I thought about my dreams for the future and I made a long-term goal that I wanted to speak at the worldwide TED conference. I've been a huge fan of TEDTalks for several years and I hoped some day, maybe in my fifties, I would have lived an enlightened life and have something worth saying up there on the stage. Throughout the year, however, I kept seeing TEDx talks mixed with TEDTalks. TEDx events are independently organized events that happen all over the world, in little grass huts with a dozen audience members and university auditoriums filled with hundreds of people. The more I read about TEDx, the more I thought this was something we should do in Mongolia.

2. Advertise Your Intentions
I joined the TED.com community by creating a profile, with a little bit about what I do here in Mongolia, and searched all the profiles to see who else was in Mongolia. Then I messaged everyone from Mongolia (about 35 people) and said I was hoping to do a TEDx event here in case anyone was interested in helping. All that probably took about 30 minutes. Then I posted an update on my blog and started a small facebook group called TEDx in Mongolia. I got several responses, including one from Mende who I then met in November, and one amazing meeting led to another. When you put your intentions out there and tell people about your dreams, I find that people are generally very supportive. Be clear about what you want, how people can help and you'll be amazed at how people will come out of the woodwork and find you.

3. Gather Around Incredible People
Once you meet some incredible people, hold tight. This goes for anytime in life really. If you are already around a great group of students, colleagues, and friends, ask them to get involved in on your project. A TEDx event involves organizers, speakers, production staff and people with a wide variety of talent. If someone has a heart for the project, they will have plenty of opportunities to add valuable support. Meet with these people regularly, start to figure out what types of roles and duties people fall into, and keep each other excited.

4. Be Open To How Things Might Unfold
There are some guidelines that need to be followed which you can read about on TED.com (including applying for a free license and so on) but it's important to remember that a TEDx event can unfold in unexpected ways. You might picture it happening in a small meeting room and it evolves into an auditorium event, or the other way around. Details change, plans evolve and unexpected opportunities present themselves all the time, but the idea remains the same. TEDx and TED are about ideas worth spreading: inspiring speakers, innovative ideas, incredible stories and bringing together people who want to change the world for the better. The specifics of how that happens are usually just icing on the cake.

5. Stay Enthusiastic
As people get involved and as things like a website or formal team start to materialize, be sure to stay guided by your original intentions. Watch videos on TED.com to remember what great speakers look like and sound like, talk with people who have never heard about TED before and see their reactions when you share videos with them, and get back in touch with why you wanted to do an event in the first place - read things you wrote down, talk with the first people you met who inspired you.

Going down the road of starting a TEDx event is very rewarding, I can't recommend it enough. Regardless of how things turn out, you will meet incredible people and make awesome connections. Good luck and let me know how I can help anytime!

Have more questions? Join us on Facebook!

April 19, 2011

Love Wins

Earlier this week I posted a link to the cover article I was reading in TIME magazine about Rob Bell's new (controversial) book Love Wins. It touched off dozens of comments from several of my friends on Facebook and it's also touched off debate at the national level back in America which, while being here in Mongolia, I have only read about online. The issues of heaven and hell are complex certainly, but I appreciate the opportunity to talk with friends about what matters to them and think about how these questions apply to our lives. A few people asked what I thought about everything, so I thought I'd respond here. I will read the book soon, but here are my initial thoughts on some of the issues that were brought up.

Openness and Acceptance
To start, Peace Corps has taught me that judgment and certainty don't serve others as well as openness and acceptance do. Peace Corps' mission is to promote world peace and friendship, which involves getting to know people deeply - not only for a few hours or weeks, but for months and years. In a world full of ten-second soundbites, dramatic moments,and  quick fixes, this is more important now than ever before. Relationships take time, friendships develop slowly and we have to work hard at them. When Peace Corps Volunteers go through training we teach them to be aware of their expectations, the lenses through which they see the world when they enter into service, and the standards that they (often subconsciously) impose upon others. All of these things create barriers not only between us and others, but better us and our better selves. I visualize judgment and certainty as a closed fist and a full cup. They aren't ready to accept anything else or take anything more in. Openness and acceptance, however, are something like an open hand and an empty cup. They are ready to reach out to others and fill up with experiences and ideas. Moment to moment we have that opportunity to be closed or open.

It's Not About Us
Another funny thing about judgment and certainty is that they're all about us. Often us against them, in fact. During Peace Corps training one of the exercises they put us through was "The Community and The Problem." In the exercise there are two groups, one is a group of community members and the other is a group of helpers from outside the community who have been told there is a problem they need to fix. The helper group is encouraged to be culturally sensitive as they meet the community and then identify and fix the problem. As the two groups meet for the first time, the real problem starts to unfold. The helpers come in asking questions and trying to fix things - walking around from person to person, exchanging a few pleasantries but always getting confused, frustrated and disappointed by the lack of answers. By the end of the exercise, the helpers usually end up thinking the community doesn't want to talk about their problem and the two groups feel separated by some invisible force. The separation, which isn't fully understood until the facilitators explain it at the end, only exists in the minds of the helpers. There was no problem for them to come in and fix. The community was doing fine and was told just to welcome the new group and just be their friends.

It is a fun and frustrating exercise to go through. Often we come into a community with something we have identified a problem, but later come to realize that we are the only ones who see it that way. As Carl Jung was famous for saying, "When you have a hammer in your hand, every problem seems like a nail." If we put down the hammer for a moment, we start to see that it's not about us. It's about trying to understand others, know them and love them. It's natural that projects, great work and changing the world might come from that, but that's all secondary.

Sincere Ignorance Is Sneaky
Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity." This quote always stuck with me, but confused me. I find it hard to ask myself, "Am I being sincerely ignorant or conscientious stupid right now?" Maybe it's because ignorance and stupidity are such strong words. I'll reword it...
"Is there any way, in my life right now, that I'm acting genuinely, but with a lack of knowledge or information? Is there any way I'm trying to do what is right but have a lacking of understanding about the situation as a whole?"
I have to answer a resounded yes. Pretty much every day I act without knowing everything, I try to do what is right without having an understanding that is complete. I do my best but I also know that I need to grow, change, and learn while allowing others to do the same. I am ignorant and stupid a lot, but admitting it helps. I think King is saying it's the sincerity and conscientiousness that make those dangerous. Sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity mean saying we know things we don't know, and pretending we have a perfect understanding of something about which we only have a limited understanding.

Rob Bell was inspired to write Love Wins because of a comment someone wrote next at a peacemaker photo exhibition featuring a quote from Mohandas Gandhi. TIME magazine writes:
A visitor to the exhibit had stuck a note next to the Gandhi quotation: "Reality check: He's in hell." Bell was struck. 
Really? he recalls thinking.
Gandhi's in hell?
He is?
We have confirmation of this?
Somebody knows this?
Without a doubt?
And that somebody decided to take on the responsibility of letting the rest of us know?
I would hope, having not read the book yet, that Rob Bell doesn't say whether or not Gandhi is in hell. That's the point. He wouldn't claim to know something he doesn't know. 

At the end of the day, regardless of whether people like or dislike the book, I'm grateful that Rob Bell has been willing to put himself out there and ask difficult questions. I think wisdom often comes not from accepting the right answers but from asking the right questions. And as Socrates, probably the most famous questioner of all time, said, "As for me, all I know is that I know nothing... God only is wise... the wisdom of men is little or nothing... I appear to be wise, because I do not fancy I know what I do not know."

To comment on this post, please join Advance Humanity on Facebook

April 17, 2011

TEDx Gaining Momentum

As I wrote on the TEDxUlaanbaatar blog earlier this week, we have been gaining a lot of momentum with the project. We have several confirmed speakers who are going to be fantastic, including Ganhuyag Chuluun Hutagt who will speaking on Mongolia's unique economy, Didi Kalika speaking on helping Mongolia's children and Sanchir Tserendorj speaking on ethnically Mongolia people living around the world.

Our team organizing the event is becoming more incredible every week and we have been working long hours, including all-day most Saturdays, to make sure the TEDx event will blow away our audience and be a landmark event for everyone involved. I feel honored to be part of the project, and astonished that such a small idea between two friends has become such an incredible project. If you'd like to get involved or learn more, please visit TEDxUlaanbaatar.com anytime.

By the way, have you joined our growing community on Facebook? Please join us!

April 11, 2011

Three Lessons from a Gobi Desert Train Ride

Last weekend I was able to travel to the Gobi Desert with Jonathan and Tunga so that Jonathan could renew his visa and continue working here in Mongolia. On our way down there were a couple wonderful things that we were able to experience beyond the beautiful Mongolian landscape and the fact that, after my first train ride ever, this is definitely my new favorite form of transportation.

Friends Are The Best Company
Trips are always more fun when you're travel with people you love. On the train ride we were in a small cabin and since it only fit four people we almost had the whole thing to ourselves. With one new friend each way, the four of us stayed up late playing cards, games, talking, laughing, shooting video and eating tons of random snacks we had gathered for the 17-hour trip. What could've been a very long ride seemed to fly by and it was one of the best trips I have ever had.

We Are All Part of A Legacy
This trip reminded me that all of us are part of a legacy (several usually). When we arrived at the station, at the border town of Zamin Uud between Mongolian and China, we were greeted by my fellow Peace Corps Volunteer Cameron who was kind enough to meet us at seven o'clock in the morning when we arrived. He took us to a wonderful little hotel that we never would've found on our own, which was the perfect price for three of us, very comfortable and very close to the small ger that he lives in next to his host family. Later in the day after lunch he showed us around his ger, a traditional Mongolian home, introduced us to some of his Mongolian friends and really made us feel at home. Being part of the Peace Corps legacy allowed all of this to happen - connecting us together even at the edge of the Gobi Desert. But then an unexpected legacy connected us together while we were visiting Cameron's ger. Looking around I noticed several Boy Scout books that he had on his shelf and asked if he was a Boy Scout back in America. Not only was Cameron involved but so was Ben, another Volunteer who happened to be visiting. Boy Scouts has made a huge impact on my life and it turns out it was a big part of their lives too. After some great conversations, a few days later we were all back in Ulaanbaatar, the capital city of Mongolia, meeting with my friends at the National Mongolian Scouting Association. We have already gotten several other Peace Corps Volunteers involved in the past week and it looks like it's going to be a great year helping a great organization. You never know how you'll connect to others, how the legacies of organizations you are part of interweave and link you to your past, present and future.

We Shall Not Pass This Way Again
Legacy is a very interesting word in English. It means looking back to where we come from and honoring the traditions that have brought us to where we are, and it also means looking at what we're doing now and how that is going to impact us later in our lives. I love that Chris uses the words legacy project to refer to what he does at The Art of Non-Conformity. I feel similarly that Advance Humanity is my legacy project, the thing that I want to define in my lifetime and then have continue after I'm gone. That's the third thing this trip helped me remember - trips go by quickly. Great memories, videos, pictures and writings help us remember wonderful times, but whether it's a trip into the Gobi Desert or a journey anywhere else on the planet, our time is short. As Stephen Grellet famously said, "I expect to pass through this world but once. Any good, therefore, that I can do or any kindness I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it for I shall not pass this way again."

I hope you're having a wonderful time on your journey right now, wherever you are.

Have you checked out our growing Advance Humanity community on Facebook?

April 10, 2011

Teaching An Old Blog New Tricks

Here is a quick little update regarding the blog. Blogger has just released an exciting update where you can view the Advance Humanity blog in a variety of creative ways. My favorite are the flipcard, snapshot, timeslide and the sidebar views. It's a fun way to look back through as many old posts as you would like, based on labels or date or what was written most recently. It's pretty fun and a nice way to explore articles that you might like. To learn more visit Blog.AdvanceHumanity.com!

Have you joined our growing community on Facebook?

April 6, 2011

Richard Sitler, Making Peace with the World

Advance Humanity is all about people who put themselves out there and try to do something great. For Richard Sitler, this meant traveling around the world for two years and taking pictures of PCVs in today's Peace Corps. We were lucky enough to have him visit us here in Mongolia and even take some great shots at our COS event last year.

His book, Making Peace with the World, was just published by Other Places Publishing, a company started by Chris Beale and former Peace Corps Volunteers from around the world. We would like to congratulate Richard for all of his hard work. The pictures in his book are amazing and really capture the spirit of what serving in Peace Corps is like now, fifty years after its inception in 1961. 

If you'd like to support Richard's work (and help him recover some of the cost of his lengthy trip) please visit his campaign here. He's been trying to raise money for his trip for over two years, and he's really close to finishing. Thanks for the inspiration and congratulations again Richard!

Have you joined our growing community on Facebook?

April 1, 2011

A Philosopher's Notes

As I have written twice before, I'm a big fan of PhilosophersNotes and the man who writes them, Brian Johnson. He is a very inspiring guy and has created some great businesses and resources for over a decade.

This week he is releasing a new book which he has called A Philosopher's Notes, with 100 of the best lessons that he has learned after reading more than 100 great books on everything from philosophy to positive psychology. The book is available for purchase, but it's also available for free in this newsletter that you can get delivered every day, once a week, or whenever you want. I've signed up myself and I'm really excited to start receiving great ideas from Brian when he launches next week.

The Advance Humanity Foundation is all about changing ourselves and then changing our world, PhilosophersNotes are a perfect example of just how we can do that. Discovering the great ideas of everyone from Emerson to Buddha to Campbell to Maslow and then applying them to our daily lives allows us to realize our own greatness and then go out and share that with other people around the world. Thanks for the great ideas, the inspiration and for being awesome Brian!

Have you joined our growing community on Facebook?