Do you suck at meditation? Me too. Actually, it makes me think of my daughter. She’s in her first year of school and learning to read. Is she good at it? Not really. In fact, sitting down to a reader each night is quite painful and for the most part, I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t rather sit and play lego with her. She takes aaaa-ages to get through what might take me 2 minutes to read. But she is learning. And if I let her give up now, that would be a pretty disastrous effort on both our parts. All because she’s not so good at it now doesn’t mean she can’t be. Your mind and meditation is really no different. So I ask you to keep reading with that big beautiful heart of yours totally wide open to learning and discovering the potential and possibilities of mind medicine – that is, meditation.
Elise Bialylew is a doctor, coach and mindfulness meditation teacher with a background in Psychiatry. She is the founder of Mindful in May, a one month global mindfulness meditation campaign. How beautiful! I’ve been asked to participate in this years campaign and I must say – I’m in love with the idea. Mindful in May has inspired thousands of people around the world to learn how to meditate, whilst raising money to build clean water wells in the developing world. When she’s not teaching mindfulness she’s often losing herself in salsa dancing or african drumming.
Today we interview Elise about this fabulous cause and what it’s all about.
How long have you been meditating for? What are the benefits you’ve found from meditating?
I was fortunate to be introduced to meditation by my mum who took me to conferences about mind-body wellbeing and who had shelves full of books by Jack Kornfield, Thich Nat Han, Jon Kabat Zinn. One of the first meditations I experienced was guided by a Tibetan Monk – a meditation on dying – the purpose of which is to connect you with the reality of impermanence. It sounds like pretty heavy going for a 15 year old, but it sparked my curiosity to learn more about consciousness. However, there was a long hiatus between that time and when I started to explore meditation in a deeper way. That was triggered by a need in the face of stress that came with working as a doctor. I’ve been going to meditation retreats for many years now and teaching it to my one on one clients and in group settings including in the health and corporate sector.
Learning meditation has been one of the most valuable educations of my life. It has transformed me and my career in ways that have left me feeling a lot more aligned with my values.
What is Mindful in May?
Mindful in May is a one month, global, online meditation challenge that brings the benefits of meditation together with an opportunity to contribute to a global cause. The one month meditation program includes an accessible, well researched course particularly supportive of time poor people that are new to meditation. It is delivered daily to your inbox and includes: weekly audio meditation downloads, exclusive interviews with leading global experts in the field of wellbeing and mindfulness and cutting edge science to keep you connected to your challenge.
The idea is that while you learn to meditate and be mindful, your donation and fundraising will ripple across the world to help improve the lives of the one in nine people on the planet who live without access to clean, safe drinking water.
How did you come up with the idea- meditating and raising money for clean water projects?
The idea came to me one day while I was meditating. I was interested in exploring how I could use the power of technology and community to offer people an accessible way to learn how to meditate, and create a global community of meditators who could keep each other accountable to a daily habit and make a tangible difference in the world. For several years before that, I had been attending silent Vipassana meditation retreats and I was discovering the benefits of meditation in my own life. I had also discovered the compelling research that was coming out which demonstrated that regular meditation could not only reduce stress levels but actually change the structure and function of the brain and positively impact our health at a genetic level.
The idea for Mindful in May arrived in a moment, but really it was the integration of a number of different passions and influences in my life that had finally come together. Whilst training in medicine and psychiatry, I became a bit disillusioned as I felt there was something missing in the medical paradigm of wellbeing. This led me to take time out to explore the world and contemplate whether I was going to come back to finish my training. I travelled through West Africa, India, Cuba and worked as a medical volunteer after the Tsunami in Sri Lanka. Through this time I was exposed to rich cultures, but also to the devastating reality and injustice of global poverty.
In West Africa, I remember watching in disbelief as women walked for hours each day burdened by the weight of the water which they carried on their heads from distant water sources to bring back to their families. Children were often dying from preventable illnesses associated with unsafe water and poor sanitation. Witnessing the way people were struggling to have their most basic needs met, had a profound impact on me.
I have always been very sensitive to other peoples suffering. It was both a strength and an occupational hazard in my profession as a doctor and so I’ve needed to learn skills to be present to peoples suffering without being overwhelmed by it.
This is where meditation came into the picture.
For me mindfulness meditation has been life changing. It has given me strategies to manage stress and helped me find more focus and clarity when faced with life’s challenges. As someone who thrives on doing and creating, it supports me in remembering to take time to pause, re-focus and literally catch my breath in the midst of the business of a day.
Our mainstream culture recognises the importance of doing regular exercise and eating well if we want to be physically fit, yet up until recently, the mind has almost been taken for granted, until something goes wrong with it. Our minds are our most precious resource; they are the source of happiness or depression, creativity or self-destruction, problem-solving or problem-making. It seems strange that we hardly take the time to care for what is our greatest asset. It’s part of our culture to maintain physical fitness and vitality. We brush our teeth everyday to take care of of our hygiene and external appearance. So what about our minds? Why not take time each day to look after our mind, to ensure it is functioning optimally? Current scientific studies are showing that regular meditation effectively maintains a healthy mind that is more focussed, clear and creative.
Three years ago I created Mindful in May, I imagined there were many people in the world who wanted an easy, accessible way to learn how to meditate. Over the past three years thousands of people from around the world have signed up to learn how to master their minds by learning mindfulness and make a positive difference through raising funds to build clean water wells in the developing world.
How many people got involved last year? What kinds of people? Any stories you could share? Businesses etc?
There have been thousands of people from around the globe who have taken the challenge. It really is a mix of people including busy tech entrepreneurs who are searching for ways to improve their focus and reduce burn out, wellbeing seekers, and people who want to have a positive impact in the world.
Last year we had businesses sign up and create their own meditation teams at work – including Five Am Yoghurt, Loving earth, Lululemon and even Google! We have Magda Szubanski as an ambassador and she’s shared that MIM supported her to create a habit of meditation which she has sustained in her life.
What are some of the results you’ve noticed both for the people that have participated and where the money goes?
People who have participated have expressed many different benefits including more focus, better stress management, a deeper sense of connectedness and appreciation in their lives, more kindness to themselves and an improvement in their relationships and ability to communicate amidst negative emotions. Many people were surprised at the benefits gained from just a ten minute daily meditation practice.
If people want to get involved this year and haven’t meditated before how can they learn?
Just visit the website www.mindfulinmay.org and make sure you register before May 1st. It’s $25 to register which gives you access to the one month program including the weekly audio meditations and exclusive interviews with leading experts in wellbeing, mindfulness and mindset from around the world .Then you can create your own meditation team and inspire your friends, family and workmates to get involved by joining you or sponsoring your mindfulness challenge to help raise money to bring clean water to those in need in the developing world. Thirty dollars is all it costs to bring clean water to one person for life this May.