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March 20, 2013 / A Mindful Traveler

An Interview with Adam Pervez

Adam Pervez with the Abbot of the temple where he meditated in Bang Mun Nak, Thailand.

Adam Pervez with the Abbot of the temple where he meditated in Bang Mun Nak, Thailand.

Today I have the extraordinary privilege of interviewing Adam Pervez, a traveler who is both mindful and engaged.  Adam is the author and Chief Happiness Officer of the blog Happiness Plunge which inspired me to create A Mindful Traveler.  Over the past 19 months, he has been traveling through and volunteering in dozens of countries and currently is in India.

You’ve said that “my goal is to leave each place a bit better than the way I found it,” a wonderful combination of mindfulness and engagement.  Can you briefly share with us how you’ve done this? 

Sure. Having traveled extensively before this trip, I always sought to take from each place I visited. Whether it was pictures of monuments, great food, or incredible experiences, it never even crossed my mind that I could, in some way, contribute to the communities I visit.

The most direct way I have accomplished this is by volunteering. I’ve done everything from clean dog cages at a dog shelter, to install solar panels in rural Honduras, to holding babies at a Mother Teresa home for sick children in The Philippines. In each case I get to know local people, walk a mile in their shoes, and learn.

At the same time, I’m perpetually an ambassador. I carry with me the experiences I’ve had all over the world. I seem to find myself sharing experiences from various parts of the world daily, especially the Middle East where I lived for a couple years, that challenge the conventional wisdom and widely held stereotypes that fuel…ignorance. I’m not sure what else to call it.

You write very movingly about your experience meditating at a Thai temple. How has your mindfulness practice developed on your travels and what is your daily practice like now?

In all honesty, despite learning a way of meditating at the Thai temple and later at an Indian ashram, I don’t practice meditation daily. I do use various aspects of meditation to stay calm in difficult situations, but yes, I need to work more on this. I’ll be taking a break from traveling to do some writing soon. I hope to focus more on these aspects during that time and create a routine of sorts to make meditation a daily practice.

In your writing, you neither hide frustrations you encounter on your travels nor do you cease to be optimistic.  How do you maintain this equanimity on your travels and in your life?

Great question. I think it all comes down to attitude. I say happiness is a decision. Crap happens to everyone every day. How you respond to it dictates your disposition. I’ve decided to be happy and optimistic.

How can other people make the decision to be happy?

For me, this decision is merely a prism you install between you and the outside world. When you put this prism between you (you control yourself) and the outside world (which you have no control over) then you can tweak things so they are positive. You could argue this is naive, but better to be naive and happy than “realistic” and perpetually distraught.

It’s almost like art. The artist’s gift is his/her prism, revealing the world in his/her own way. We appreciate this. Life is art too, and we all have the capacity to create this prism to look through, to be grateful for every good thing that happens and shrug off all the bad stuff.

I think we all know people who are naturally happy and optimistic. For some this comes naturally. It’s their gift. For others, myself included, it’s something that has to be cultivated and practiced before it becomes second nature.

What has been your most important realization as a result of your travels?

I would say that even before the Happy Nomad Tour, from my previous travels I realized that people everywhere are good and generally want the same things out of life. It’s what motivated me, in some way, to explore the world the way I’m doing now.

Otherwise, two important realizations from this trip. First, I feel more ignorant than before I started this trip. How? As I’ve traveled I have learned how much I don’t know. So although I’ve learned so much, I’ve learned how much more I don’t know. It’s a very humbling experience.

Second, I started this trip with the goal of changing the world a little bit here and there through my actions and efforts. As I’ve gone along, however, I’ve realized that in order to change the world you must first change yourself. Thus, as I’ve been in Asia I’ve focused much more on changing myself to live up to my potential. I think the Adam living up to his potential will be far more impactful than a very well-meaning Adam far off from his potential.

Rumi said “Yesterday I was clever, so I wanted to change the world. Today I am wise, so I am changing myself” and that has been my motto the past few months for sure.

In addition to volunteering and making sure they spend their money so that it benefits local people, what can travelers do to ensure they leave the places they’ve visited better off than they originally found them?

In Honduras I realized how little interaction actually takes place even when it comes to volunteering and helping others.

I imagined it like a bridge with aid/volunteers/do-gooders on one side, and local people on the other. Too often the local people are submissive and too often the do-gooders go in thinking they have all the answers. If both sides talked more and understood each other more, there would probably be a lot more benefit.

When I visited the San Blas Islands in Panama, one such example was present. Some well-meaning Christian missionaries brought an American-style playground for the kids there. It’s a small island and they put it in the only open area available. It’s where the kids used to play soccer. Though the playground was awesome the first few days, in reality the kids would much rather play soccer. Now the kids can’t play and the unused playground is there. Bringing two proper goals and some soccer equipment would have gone much further there, for example.

How can people best live your philosophy on their travels and in their daily lives?

In all honesty, my philosophy is independent of traveling. Traveling is my passion, and the Happy Nomad Tour incorporates all my passions. But I don’t advocate others do what I’m doing. I advocate they do what makes them happy, what allows them to pursue their passions and live up to their potential.

But yes, in reality my philosophy is just trying to make the world a better place. The easiest and most immediate thing they can do is try to improve their local community. If everyone did this then the entire world would be a better place. As a traveler I still do this via my Crazy Hair Fundraiser, for example. Who doesn’t want their local community to improve? It’s a win-win situation. But yes, while traveling you can try to make a difference too 🙂

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