Meditation

Mindful In May

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).

Dr Elise Bialylew- Founder of the Mindful in May campaign

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.

Want more?

Watch an animation on the Mindful in May campaign here

And follow the campaign on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Enjoy the things you have now

I used to save things for another day. A better day. Like fancy bottles of wine and champagne. Like perfume.  As a kid it was stickers. I would find beautiful illustrations, logos, typography and burrow these treasures away. Years would roll by. I’d routinely clean my room and see these stickers over and over again. Unused, while I still waited for their “right” home. In a conversation with Ghostpatrol, he told me that he uses his stickers. I guess that’s the point of stickers. They’re not meant to last forever. And they’re not meant go unused.

In one of my catch-ups with friend, Jonni Pollard (meditation teacher, founder of the 1 Giant Mind app & regular contributor to this blog) I gave him a hug. He smelt nice. He told me he always wears this Jasmine perfume, which is quite expensive on the scale of perfume prices. I questioned why he used it every day because it was so expensive. He replied with a smile “Nah, I use everything I love now, there’s no need to wait for a special occasion, every day is a special occasion.”

Since then I’ve used everything that I would have normally saved for another time. Beautiful candles, certain clothes and shoes, stationary, body creams and aroma therapy. And those fancy bottles are being popped. There’s no need to wait.

 

Written: My home in LA

Listening to: Ambient noise and Pharrell Williams and Justin Timberlake "Brand New" on repeat in my head

 

(Image by the amazing Margaret Zhang)

Dr. Happy: Next time someone pays you a compliment

Just the other day I was with a group of friends when one of them turned to another and complimented him on some success he’d recently achieved. In response, he blushed slightly, shrugged his shoulders and then said, “Oh, it was nothing really. I heard you’ve been doing great!” Shimmy, shimmy, wham!

This is what psychologists call “discounting positives” and “deflection” and it is, in my years of experience, one of the most common causes of low self-esteem and unhappiness.

I should note one thing. That person to whom I just referred a few sentences ago? He is actually me!

You see I’m an expert at self-deprecation, deflecting praise and focusing on that one person in the audience who didn’t like one of my presentations rather than the 99 or 999 who loved it. And this is why I can relate so well to my many clients who practice similar self-defeating strategies.

Most people see this is something quite innocent. Here in Australia, especially, we’re constantly keen not to appear to be arrogant or too much of a tall-poppy just waiting to be cut down. There’s no doubt there are cultural differences, and this tendency is less common in some other parts of the world, but it’s still common and it’s still far from innocent.

Those who engage in this type of destructive dance are guilty; guilty of bringing themselves down, which is one thing, but they’re also guilty of slapping the other person, he or she who went out of their way to pay a compliment, fairly and squarely across the face. By not accepting someone’s compliment you’re effectively saying “your opinion doesn’t count for much or anything; in fact, you don’t count for much or anything”.

And it was when I realised this, that I was not just protecting myself against immodesty but insulting my good friends and colleagues, that I decided there had to be a better way; and I’m pleased to note that there is, in fact, a much better way because accepting compliments need not lead to anyone becoming a big-headed, maniacal monster who thinks s/he is the best thing since sliced bread. Rather, appropriately and humbly accepting compliments is more likely to lead to improved relationships, with one’s friends and with oneself.

So next time someone says something nice to and/or about you, pause for a minute and reflect on why they’ve said what they’ve said. Consider asking yourself whether they’d intentionally lie to you or say something nice just to manipulate you?!?! Assuming the answer is “no”, then take what they say at face value, thank them for the positivity, savour the moment and then move on.

I’ve written many times before about the importance of avoiding extremely negative thinking and self-destructive put-downs; it’s just as important to avoid the bad habit of pushing away positive feedback and complimentary comments from others if you want to enjoy positive feelings and positive relationships.

 

University of Technology Sydney

Dr. Timothy Sharp is a clinical and coaching psychologist who’s sometimes known as Dr. Happy! He’s the Founder and Chief Happiness Officer of The Happiness Institute and you can find him regularly tweeting at @drhappy.

 

 

Image Source: Pinterest

Quality friendships

Over the past four years I’ve had to start building friendships from scratch again. A necessity that came about from my frequent travels and my gradual move to to America.

The quote, "your life is a reflection of your thoughts" rings true. Through our thoughts, we build our environment around us.

I thought this was a topic worth writing about because friendships are something we all have. I hope my words aren't too "fru-fru" (that's my made up word for being super soft). But hey, fru-fru or not, enriching friendships are the ones we all deserve.

My environment is golden. It took a lot of living, self awareness, and refining my behaviour to come to this state that I can speak so proudly of.  Being naturally wired for happiness means the friendships are tops.

I can pinpoint three behaviours and attitudes that have gotten me to my ‘golden’ state: being positive, being generous, and being a good listener.

I see these qualities embodied by three of my friends, and have had a huge impact on all of my other friendships in my life, both existing and new.

One of my friendships forged in Melbourne taught me about positivity and generosity in huge proportions. She’s generous without any expectation for it to be returned.

By generous I don’t necessarily mean in giving gifts. I mean she’s generous in sharing her time with others, and making that time quality.  She’s uses kind words about herself and of other people.

She sees each day and the world differently to how I used to. Things that used to make me feel “ugh” or have fear over, she would be there to listen and then to point out the silver lining, or possible solutions.

Another good friend of mine from Sydney who also carries a positive disposition, in his own style. He’s the person that taught me that life is about creating beautiful experiences every day.

And then there is Phil, who is a relationship counsellor. I remember a conversation we once had when Phil was talking about the value of being a good listener. It woke me up. And I’ve applied his simple words to all kinds of relationships.

Even if we haven’t fine tuned the listening part, like I hadn't for so long, it can really come down to how we feel. How we feel about ourselves and then with others.

Deep down inside we all know what’s good and what isn’t. 

So last year, what would have once been a daunting move to America became a move filled with so much opportunity. I was completely aware that great friendships would only come if I made the effort.

I started treating myself with more kindness, more positivity. And acting that way to others - being open, and generous with time, experiences and conversations. Listening, especially early on, to be aware if our energies matched.

These kinds of friendships are genuinely supportive and uplifting. We share knowledge, our interests. And just like the first friend I mentioned, our words are kind.

The friends I am talking of don’t divulge information to me about others that they shouldn’t. There’s no room for gossip or unhealthy social comparisons. And I feel safe in sharing my goals and ideas with them to not be shot down, and goodness, hopefully they do too.

 

Written in: one of my favourite secret cafes in Hollywood, and my LA Home

Listening to: the following tracks on Pandora after entering “Harvest Moon” by Neil Young:

Going to California (BBC Live) - Led Zeppelin , Out on the Weekend - Neil Young, Wild Horses - The Rolling Stones, Razor Love - Neil Young, Beast of Burden - The Rolling Stones, Tupelo Honey - Van Morrison , Old Man - Neil Young, Helplessly Hoping - Crosby, Stills and Nash, Ventura Highway - America,  Amie - Pure Prairie League , And it Stoned me - Van Morrisson , Can’t Find My Way Home - Alison Krauss , Roll On Babe - Vetiver , Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd, In My Life - The Beatles, For What it’s Worth - Buffalo Springfield, I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight - Bob Dylan, Over the Rainbow/What A Wonderful World - Israel ‘IZ’ Kamakawiwo’ole

What you wanted to do as a kid

I spent some time upright in my bed last week and thought about some of my earliest childhood memories. To me, between the ages of 3 and 6, I felt I was really clear with what I liked and what I didn’t. An age where I wasn’t  influenced or persuaded to think differently. This connection to what feels good has really shaped the way I live.

As a child I loved nature, especially being in my grandparent’s garden. We lived on a huge block of land in Melbourne where my grandparent’s grew veggies, fruits, nuts and had chickens. Now I live in a place in Los Angeles where I’m surrounded by wildlife. Instead of hens there are hummingbirds, eagles and owls; instead of almond and fig trees there’s eucalyptus and bamboo.

I've loved music ever since I can remember. No surprise really that my career and life has always been intertwined with music. I loved television and the places it could take me. Hence, career in media.

Another one of my fondest memories were my family dinners, which is why I go to effort to create meals for friends here in LA and wherever I travel to. I’ve talked before about the memorable experiences that you can create over a great meal.

This way of living all came from the sparks I got as a child. I followed what felt right.

Yet in my stillness I remembered something that I loved but didn’t entirely get to weave into my life. And that is Art.

One of the art classes I enjoyed the most during school was ceramics. The spark came from turning clay into something that would be useful and beautiful to me.

I connected this thought with my recent move to LA. My move has meant starting anew with everything. And that means buying new items, like ceramics.

You may be thinking, they’re just plates and bowls, Faustina. Who cares? Just buy them.

Well, instead of buying a set over Amazon or at Bed Bath and Beyond, why not follow that spark and at least try and make my own?

They may not look incredible to begin with. I'll probably knock clay off the spinning wheel on numerous occasions, collapse the soft clay when trying to make a bowl. But the spark will keep me on my seat.

And my logic says that the cost of a single awesome plate would be the same cost of an introductory lesson to ceramics. The knowledge and skills to create my own - BOOM!

So I booked myself into a one-on-one intro ceramics class. I start tomorrow. Yes to the kid in me! Follow the kid within. 

Written in: My favourite secret cafe in LA

Listening to: General noise

How meditation helped me sleep

I used to not sleep well. In fact, most of my life I don’t think I’ve ever really slept as consistently well as I have for the couple of years.

I would stress and over-think. Sometimes the thinking was useful, cool ideas for creative projects, but most of the time I would worry about the next day ahead, what could possibly go wrong, what wouldn’t go the way I wanted it to, and then recount all the things I wish would have turned out better in life.

Sometimes I would grind my teeth to the point that my jaw would ache. Then my exhaustion would carry into the next day.

And then there’s that feeling like you’ve never slept, even though you clocked the hours? HELL.

That was part of the numerous reasons why I was curious about meditation.

I’d often hear that a person’s mind could be clear. Really? You could consciously control your thoughts, and quiet your worries and stress?

That was the lure.

As soon as I picked up meditation 4 years ago I noticed things shift. Regular practice helped me ‘not think’ for periods of time.

Yes, thoughts still come to mind but they drift away and I’m back in my zone, where -can I quote the LEGO movie right here?- “Everything is awesome!” I had to.

Some may think when you get to that, “Everything is awesome” state you go back to the stress of every day life when the meditation is over. Not really. What I found is that meditation allowed me to respond to the day better, in a more relaxed, logical state. 

I curbed worrying before I fell asleep for good when I consulted Tim Sharp (AKA Dr. Happy- now also a regular contributor on this blog) on my anxiety around transition. These issues in many ways were intertwined.

Dr. Happy taught me to allocate a certain time of the day as “worry time”. That way, I trained my brain to not delve into thoughts when my head hit the pillow. I opted for the middle of the day.

I would write all my thoughts down for a few minutes and analyse them. And when I looked at what I had written, I would realise how unhelpful all these worries were. And if there were legitimate concerns I would work out ways to logically find solutions.

Now the habit or clear, logical thinking works on an almost instantaneous basis. No more harbouring worries.

Now my time to sleep is completely mine. As it should be.

 

Written in: One of my favourite secret cafes in Hollywood

Listening to: General noise and DCUP’s Someone Told Me

The joys of going offline

Since we all got smartphones do you remember a time when you completely hopped offline? Prior to the Christmas break I couldn’t. And I didn't realise how much I desperately needed to until December 25th hit. I went offline for almost two weeks.

I'd been entertaining the idea for a while. For every reason I loved being connected, there was also a side of me that felt that being constantly online, always available, became tiresome.

These days the social media space and the professional space are inextricably linked for me, and most people. My phone is the home for almost all communication. Except for real face-to-face connection and my love for old-school handwritten notes.

I wanted a break from the neck-tilted-downward-to-glowing-screen. Live life away from capturing it all. A break from filtering images, broadcasting, emails and the sometimes social media obligation I'm sure all of us feel - right?! At least sometimes.

So what happened? I went through a life audit. 

I didn't anticipate to. But putting away the habitual action of unlocking my phone to check my email, Instagram, Facebook whatever - had me observing how I used the Internet and how others were using it around me.

Firstly, I knew that in 2013 I had wasted a heck of a lot of time online. Those moments where I got sucked away from something that's far more important in front of me, around me while I'm scrolling, liking, commenting. Even doing it in the presence of people I was spending time with and they'd naturally do the same. Ridiculous.

Over my break, I could see my pre-offline behaviour in others. Couples, friends, family members in cafes and restaurants all around me sitting in front of one another, by each other's side, physically there, but giving their attention to their mobile phone.

The result? I've finely tuned my manners in the company of others. I instantly worked out ways to be far more economical with time.

The scrolling, liking, commenting can happen sparingly. Shorter emails to everyone. Communicating with friends via long form emails - no more. Picking up the phone, FaceTime (for free), or Skype makes up for writing and re-editing written catch-ups. And when phone calls turn idle, it's okay to say, "chat next time."

Twitter. The news as it's breaking? Not necessary. For years the television hasn't been on in my house in the mornings because the urgency, the content - murders, kidnappings- was all something I found extremely stressful as I started my day. I get the business of news, the competition for sources to be the first to deliver information. I also know that I can play catch up with the richest sources of news when I really need to.

Then there's the benefits of being offline and fully present. No interruption. No streams of information coming at me from all over the world. 

More time was spent completely engaged with every activity I shared with my family. That Peppa Pig Big Splash Show in Piccadilly Circus? I didn't take a single sneaky photo to blast to the masses about how awesome my afternoon was. I just told you waaaay after the event on this blog instead. Boom! Or the urge to quote-tweet Barry Humphries while he was thanking us patrons during his Farewell Show in London? I took in all his positive reflective talk in real time.

As we constantly share our lives through technology, my aim is to not allow it to take away from living in the moment. I'm sure many of us do it better than others, sometimes though, especially from offline mode I do see myself slipping into that world a little too much. So much so this offline mode is something I'm going to practice regularly. I'm talking chunks of hours in the day, most weekends and even whole adventure trips away.

All the people that I know online will all still be there when I get back.

 

Mostly written in:

My Home in Los Angeles

Chunks written in:

 The Natural Kitchen

77-78 Marylebone High Street

London W1U 5JX

& on American Airlines Flight 137 from London Heathrow to LAX

Listening to: Jazz in The Natural Kitchen, London and silence

Image Credit: http://jayroeder.com

Dr. Happy: It's not just the thought that counts

If you’ve ever been told that “it’s the thought that counts” then with all due respect to your advisor, I believe he/she was only half right! Thoughts obviously do count; I’ve written many times about the benefits of optimism and the importance of developing a positive and constructive attitude for happiness and success.

But intentions without congruent action can be (and often are) near useless. Many of us when at school “meant” to do our homework but that didn’t ever satisfy our teachers. Similarly, many of us have considered exercising more and/or eating less but continue to engage in bad habits that do little to enhance our health and wellbeing.

John F. Kennedy once said…

There are risks and costs to action. But they are far less than the long-range risks of comfortable inaction.

And just as notably, Gandhi has been quoted as saying…

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

What these two memorable quotes recommend to us is the importance of character – or the willingness to do the right thing at the right time (no matter how difficult it might be or seem to be at the time). There’s no doubt this isn’t always easy; but there’s also no doubt, as hinted at by JFK, that the alternative’s not much better (and often, far worse in the long run).

So if you’ve ever experienced the sting of regret (and let’s face it, who hasn’t?) give some serious consideration to putting these tips into practice to ensure that you don’t just think about living a good life but more importantly, you actually and actively love living your best life:

• Regularly schedule pleasurable activities in your life because fun and positive emotions are important • But also, regularly schedule satisfying activities into your life because the sense of achievement that comes from accomplishing something challenging and meaningful, even if not fun, is highly valuable • Be really clear about your values (e.g. honesty, fairness, altruism, courage, courtesy, dignity, excellence, growth, relationships, justice, kindness, modesty, temperance etc.) and do your best to behave consistently with these as often as you can • When faced with difficult decisions, weigh up the pros and cons and ask yourself, honestly, “what’s the RIGHT thing to do?”

And finally, don’t ever forget these final two tips…

Remember, firstly, to always acknowledge to yourself when you’ve done the right thing; too often we discount our achievements believing we’re avoiding arrogance but this false modesty can just undermine future attempts to act positively.

And don’t ever forget…actions speak louder than words!

 

University of Technology Sydney

Dr. Timothy Sharp is a clinical and coaching psychologist who’s sometimes known as Dr. Happy! He’s the Founder and Chief Happiness Officer of The Happiness Institute and you can find him regularly tweeting at @drhappy.

 

(Image Credit: 750 year old Sequoia trees in California, photo by Michael Nichols)