Mindful in May is a global meditation challenge to get people meditating while raising money for clean water projects in communities in Africa. MIM is the brainchild of Australian Doctor, Elise Bialylew. Being an avid meditator, I was curious about how this movement all started with one woman. Elise is a triple threat. A doctor, coach and wellness innovator with a background in Psychiatry. As an experienced health professional and facilitator of mindfulness meditation, Elise has seen firsthand the powerful effects that meditation can have, especially in our increasingly hectic lives. Combined with a fierce passion to make a positive difference in the world, Elise thought, “Why can’t I address these two ideas simultaneously?”… the Mindful in May campaign was borne.
My chat with Elise about the Mindful in May
Before we get into Mindful in May can you tell us about your roots? What part of Australia are you from? Where did you grow up? DOB (if you’re cool with me asking)?
I grew up in Melbourne although have spent a lot of time travelling around the world - I love discovering new people, cultures and ideas.
I’m 35 (and a Virgo).
When did you decide to become a doctor, and why?
I had decided I was going to be a Psychiatrist when I was 16 years old (I know, it’s pretty funny in retrospect). I don’t think I really understood what Psychiatry entailed back then but I was always deeply curious about the human condition and the ingredients that are required to live a thriving life. At medical school, I remember being completely blown away as I held a human brain in my hands and wondered how a one kilogram mass could house a lifetime of memories, thoughts and desires. Studying medicine, although at times so difficult, has given me a deep appreciation for the miracle of the body.
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 and 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.
Learning meditation has been one of the most valuable educations in my life. It has transformed me, and my career, in ways that have left me feeling a lot more aligned with my values.
So tell us about Mindful in May. What is it exactly?
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 program particularly supportive for time poor people that are new to meditation. It is delivered daily to your inbox and includes: weekly audio meditation downloads, exclusive video interviews with leading global Experts in the field 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 of Mindful in May was really an integration of a number of different passions and influences in my life. Whilst training in Medicine and Psychiatry, I became a bit disillusioned as I felt there was something missing in the medical paradigm in terms of wellbeing. This led me to take time out to explore the world and work out if I wanted to continue in my training. My travelling took me to West Africa where I studied percussion, Cuba where I explored dance and then Sri Lanka following the Tsunami to work as a medical volunteer. Through these travels 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 miles balancing litres of water on their heads as a daily ritual for their families. Children were dying from preventable illnesses often associated with unsafe water and sanitation issues. 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’s been both a strength and an occupational hazard in my profession as a doctor working in psychiatry 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 was life changing. It taught me so much about how to manage stressful situations and gave me ways to more skillfully manage my emotions both in my personal and professional relationships. As someone who thrives on doing and creating, it supported me in remembering to take time to be present, pause and literally catch my breath in the midst of the business of life.
It helped me find greater happiness and clarity around my purpose and direction and it opened me to a deeper understanding of the mind and it’s intimate connection to our wellbeing at a cellular and genetic level. Mindful in May emerged from all of those experiences. It is really about supporting people to feel a stronger sense of interconnectedness and meaning, offering them tools to be active participants in their wellbeing, and simultaneously making a difference in the world.
How long has Mindful in May been running? What are some of the results you've noticed both for the people that have participated and where the money goes?
This will be Mindful in May’s third year. It’s hard to believe it’s now a global movement with thousands of people from 28 countries around the world who have been involved.
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 improved relationships. Many people were surprised at the benefits gained from such a short daily ten-minute meditation practice.
How much of the dosh goes to communities and where is it going in Africa?
94% percent of the donations and fundraising are directed to the water projects. In 2012 the donations went to Ethiopia to build three water projects and provide clean water to nearly 1000 people. In 2013 the money raised went towards water projects in Rwanda, which are currently being built.
So how can people get involved?
Just visit the website www.mindfulinmay.org and make sure you sign up before May 1st, donate to the cause ($25, which gives you access to the one month online meditation course) and inspire your friends and family to get involved by joining your meditation team or sponsoring your challenge.
The ten-minute-a-day Mindful in May campaign kicks off on the 1st May - get involved! Register here by April 30th.
Watch an animation on the Mindful in May campaign here