Interview with Yossi Ghinsberg by Speaking.com
International bestselling author of Jungle, (over one million copies sold), a true story of survival against all odds in the Amazon rainforest, Yossi Ghinsberg is one of the most celebrated inspirational speakers of our time.
SPEAKING.COM: Why do you think storytelling is such an important aspect of the human experience?
GHINSBERG: I am a natural storyteller and I was never trained. The body language, the tone, the vocabulary, the timing, and the silence – all these emerge naturally. This is my gift and talent, and my calling as well. People respond to a good storyteller in a way that is much different than good lecturers or presenters. People in general don’t like to listen; they have stories and voices inside their heads they would rather listen to. When ideas are presented they tend to judge them, oppose them and quickly get bored by them.
Good storytelling is different, as it instantly turns adults into children. They lean forward, are attentive and absorbed. They not only listen but also actually feel the story inside themselves, processing their own emotions with their full attention.
In this optimal state the ideas and insights presented are far more effectively received as they are not encountering objection and boredom. Instead they are like seeds sowed on fertile grounds, ideas that will live and grow. There is no question that the value is many times greater when a good storyteller takes the audiences on such a journey.
SPEAKING.COM: What is “corporate spirituality” and why is it important?
GHINSBERG: It is a term that is attributed to what people perceive. I do not adhere to any spiritual practice that ends with an ‘Ism.’ Yet I have found that life is a spiritual experience. I have experienced the miraculous and been touched by the mystery and grace of life. I have studied all philosophies and religions in my pursuit of wisdom, yet I never became a disciple of any. I found enlightenment in nature itself and that had consequential impact on my understanding of life, and my conduct.
The principles of corporate spirituality are simple yet deep and powerful. In essence they are seeing oneness and the futility of separation. Understanding that a company is an eco-system, our planet is an ecosystem and that ecosystems adhere to the following spiritual principals: we are all interrelated, we are all interconnected, and we are all interdependent. Such principals mean we are a family and that we all have to take care of each other for any of us to thrive. But this doesn’t conflict with profits and increased returns to shareholders. On the contrary, the economic rewards are much greater with corporate spirituality. It makes greater profits.
SPEAKING.COM: What are three of the most important “laws of the jungle” and how do they apply to daily life?
GHINSBERG: Each of the laws contain all the rest of them so I cannot judge which is the most important; however, the most basic ones are:
If you want to be human be a beast first: it is opposed to the very popular belief that we are not a superior species positioned here to rule and exploit nature. Instead, we acknowledge that we are also an animal. The notion that we are an integral part of nature and part of the family of all life is a colossal paradigm shift. It opposes the monotheistic notion that we humans were appointed to rule, exploit and manage the world of flora and fauna. We are not good managers. We have pillaged the planet, raped the lands, despoiled the waterways, depleted the seas, contaminated the atmospheres – all because of our notion of separation from nature and a lack of understanding that hurting nature is in effect hurting ourselves.
The second law of the jungle is be the music not the conductor: it explores the possibility that we are here to play an important role rather than manage, with an attitude of harmony through specialization. Each species is thus like a musician in a symphony, a valid and indispensable part of the most amazing artistic creation ever made, and while humanity can play the first fiddle there is no need to be the conductor.
The third law is the seasons always change: understanding the transient nature of existence brings deep wisdom and the discovery of equanimity. Everything is moving, so passing phenomena is best experienced without too much attachment. Objecting and clinging to phenomena is a futile yet common approach. This principle leads to acceptance and contentment, and at its highest level it is this principle that is the gateway to enlightenment.
SPEAKING.COM: How can people and organizations welcome and adapt to change?
GHINSBERG: Change is difficult because on the one hand time is the most real and precious resource we have and it passes without stopping. It is rarely acknowledged and valued in this way. On the other hand time can only be experienced as now, an eternal moment from which we cannot escape. So understanding both the fleeting and ever present nature of time is tricky.
Understanding the nature of time and the role of change can be instrumental to individuals and organizations in adjusting attitudes, releasing attachments, being fully present and engaged and hence first to take the right action to adapt and proceed.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some ways in which people can overcome adversity and keep their dreams alive?
GHINSBERG: I touched on this issue earlier. The point is that sooner or later everyone experiences adversity during their journey. The dream is the most important aspect of life as it gives a person a sense of calling, a purpose without which life is quite shallow and empty. Without purpose it is hard to find true motivation to keep going. There’s a great danger, when adversity conflicts with the dream, that people will perceive the adversity as bad luck. They then become victims of it, they fail, their spirit breaks, they become subdued and never dare to dream again. They do not fulfill themselves or their potential.
On the other hand when we understand that adversity is there for a reason, that it provides the resistance that causes strength and growth, we may still have to go through some hardship and pain but we do not see ourselves as victims and let the adversity kill our dream. Instead we become stronger, smarter, and more creative. We shift, we move, we pivot to find a way, or we make one.
SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the successes your clients have achieved with your help?
GHINSBERG: I’ve worked around the globe with hundreds of companies, from round tables with a team of executives to auditoriums filled with thousands of people. I have hundreds of endorsement letters from clients and many anecdotes – some are most amazing.
A good example is the VP of a huge Australian corporation who quit his job after hearing me and took a sabbatical to tour the world. The company endorsement read: “we wanted you to inspire them but not that much!” It was a light-hearted statement and a year later the executive was back.
Other companies have created projects named the ‘Ghinsberg challenge.’ But most precious to me are the private letters I get from audience members who share with me how I touched their life. This is sacred, and intensely rewarding.
SPEAKING.COM: What do you want people to learn from your presentations?
GHINSBERG: To be inspired to live life fully, to know that challenges are part of the path and that sometimes the bigger your vision the greater the resistance to it, but that this is part of the journey and not a reason to give up. I want to inspire people to dream without the hindrance of self-limiting beliefs and/or limiting cultural conditioning.
I’d like them to find the courage to revisit and reexamine some of their fundamental thoughts, beliefs and emotions by vicariously experiencing them rather than just intellectualizing and entertaining them. I’d like them to feel invigorated, to regain a spark in the eye and a spring in the knee, to know they, and no one else, is the protagonist of this life they are living, that their uniqueness is something they have to find, hone and shine on the world; that they are strong, worthy and beautiful.
I’d also like to challenge the paradigms they are trapped in and living by, and so expand their perception and the opportunities in their lives.
SPEAKING.COM: What kind of special prep work do you do prior to an event? How do you prepare for your speaking engagements?
GHINSBERG: I like to learn about the company or organization, and get an in-depth briefing from the relevant executives. I like to arrive on the scene as early as possible and get a feel for the place and audience. That way I can adapt more naturally to how the event rolls out. As to inner preparation, I take some notes to create a structure to fit the event, theme and timeframe.
I like to sit quietly and meditate on the event, so I can disconnect from other issues and be 100% present. I enjoy meditation, as I know inner balance is what is most valuable when I speak. It is not about what I say but how I am saying it. Audiences sense this and respond to it, knowing my presentation is real, alive and authentic.
SPEAKING.COM: Have you had any particularly memorable speaking engagements or unusual situations arise while on the road?
GHINSBERG: So many it’s hard to choose just one. I had many adventures in exotic places like the deserts of Dubai and Oman. Most memorable are those events where I met people who touched my life, in places where I’ve made new friends for life. Yet the ultimate experience is to know I was of service to someone, touched them, alleviated their pain and inspired them. This is what makes my work such a humbling privilege.
SPEAKING.COM: Who are some of your favorite audiences?
GHINSBERG: I have no favorites, because every mind and heart that is wide open and allows me to come in with my stories and insights is showing a generosity and trust that I consider sacred, so I tread gingerly. So there are no preferences. In some places, like India, the culture is such that sometimes I get a standing ovation before I started speaking. It is always great fun to know the room is there ready for you, loving you and ready to be taken by you.
SPEAKING.COM: What types of audiences would most benefit from your message?
GHINSBERG: They all do, because my message is universal and I adapt very well to different audiences. My message is not specific to any industry, age or gender, nor do I teach a method to improve any particular department such as HR or Sales.
I touch consciousness and empower the individual, expanding their capacity to deal with circumstances and leverage hidden opportunities they couldn’t see before. I speak to all types of audiences around the world, though I usually speak in corporate environments to inspire and empower the individuals and the company.
SPEAKING.COM: What made you decide to start doing speaking engagements? What got you started?
GHINSBERG: I’m a storyteller. Addressing audiences is a gift I feel the calling to share, an innate need; there’s an aspect of me that only comes to fruition and life when I speak in front of audiences. I love this aspect of me that rises up. I’m in awe of it and the first to get inspired and listen to it. In a way I need my talks as much as my audiences – sometimes I feel I need it more. It is very aligning for me.
When you do what you are supposed to do, it feels naturally good, and that sense accompanies my speaking. What got me started is a story that needed telling: my experience surviving in the Amazon against all odds. It has inspired millions around the world in the form of books and a documentary series. Soon it will be a motion picture.
SPEAKING.COM: Which of your keynote topics are the most popular? How are your keynote presentations unique? Which of your keynote speeches do you enjoy the most and why?
GHINSBERG: The following are my topics:
‘The Power to Survive’ – Telling the story of my harrowing experience being alone in the Amazon and bare to the bone for weeks, isolated from society, deep in a hostile forest during the worst rainy season in a decade.
These circumstances caused me to discover that victimhood is a choice; adversity is something we all encounter and can deal with. I find that for the first time I can trust and rely upon myself. It is a powerful story of self-discovery, and vicariously takes people through the experience instead of just listening. In this deep space, where the audience and I are one and our emotions exposed, the insights and inspiration become cathartic and transformative, even life changing to many.
‘The Wevolution Revolution’ – The harrowing Amazonian survival story sets the background and deeply engages the audience. At that point I reveal the enlightened insights that transformed and changed my life forever.
I then tell the story of my return to the Amazon and the building of Chalalan, the most celebrated and award winning resort in the Bolivian Amazon, fully owned and operated by the most isolated Indigenous community.
It’s a real Cinderella story that shows that sometime the amateur can achieve more than the professional since their dream is not tainted with doubt and assumptions about what is not possible. Yet this story has far greater meaning, showing that the rainforest is an ecosystem that thrives on synergetic cooperation and that this is a metaphor for life on the planet as a whole. Core paradigms of scarcity as our reality and competition as the optimal way of dealing with it are revisited and challenged. Nature demonstrates that abundance is a better description of reality and that niche dominance and cooperation are more effective and more profitable.
I prefer the second topic as it takes my personal story far beyond self-discovery to actual global redemption, working towards the tipping point when the paradigm shifts and a new era begins–nothing less than that.
SPEAKING.COM: How much do case studies, personal stories and humor factor into the content of your keynote speeches?
GHINSBERG: I only tell my own stories. I have lived a rich, interesting and diverse life so the audience doesn’t get teachings I have learned but experiences I have lived. I open my heart and mind with complete devotion in a space of pure giving, sharing my life experiences.
All the content is original and personal, all the insights and messages are mine or internalized through life experience. My sense of humor is also authentic, because people react with laughter at various points when the intensity and the charge of the story require some relief.
This interview was originally published in the Speaking.com blog.