Elise Bialylew – creator of the Mindful in May campaign.

Elise Bialylew is a medical doctor and wellness innovator, who has combined her passion for community with her professional expertise in the field of psychiatry, integrative coaching and mindfulness, to create the Mindful in May campaign. It is a campaign that supports the development of a conscious community interested in creating personal sustainability in an increasingly stressful world, while bringing compassionate action to alleviating issues of global poverty. She is a student and facilitator of mindfulness meditation, having attended retreats and seminars with leading national and international teachers in the field, including Jon Kabat Zin, Dr. Daniel Siegel, Alan Wallace, Ekhart Tolle, and Gregory Kramer. Mindfulness meditation has been transformative in helping her gain deeper clarity and personal freedom in life. Through Mindful in May, hundreds of people have been inspired to bring more calm, clarity and connection into every day life, while helping to bring clean water to the developing world.

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen?

There’s a natural ripple effect of becoming more open and compassionate which results in a willingness to  extend ourselves to others, bringing more connection and genuine happiness into our lives.

Mindful in May is a one month meditation campaign that emerged as a way to build a conscious community bringing more awareness into everyday life, while also contributing to a greater cause. Although it sounds cliche, the idea arrived one day whilst I was meditating.

I think meditation is sometimes considered to be a very internal, self focussed practice when in fact my learning has revealed it to be a very generous practice. It helps us get past our own self focussed thinking and worries and return to a more content, clear and compassionate state. There’s a natural ripple effect of becoming more open and compassionate which results in a willingness to  extend ourselves to others, bringing more connection and genuine happiness into our lives.

There are infinite distractions these days with the growth of social media and mobile technology, so I felt the timing was just right to take a plunge on Mindful in May. In the developed world most of us have our material and survival needs met, but it’s our minds that cause so much of our suffering: as Mark Twain stated: “I’ve lived through some terrible things in my life, some of which actually happened.” In the developing world it’s something as basic as water, which causes so much suffering for people. So Mindful in May addresses both of these issues by offering people a way to learn how to train their attention, strengthen their awareness and become masters rather than slaves to their minds, whilst helping to raise funds to build clean water wells in the developing world.

Although meditation looks like a whole lot of nothing, being mindful is a very challenging task in such a distractable world and the benefits aren’t necessarily instant. So I thought it would be powerful to connect the idea of practising for one’s own benefit, with the opportunity to make a tangible difference in the lives of others less fortunate.

Last year we had people from 12 countries who signed up and collectively managed to raise nearly $30,000 in a month. These funds were given to Charity Water (charitywater.org) and are now helping to build five water wells that will bring clean, safe drinking water to over 1000 people in Ethiopia.

I had witnessed the issues related to water in the developing world when I had travelled in West Africa many years ago. The poverty there had a huge impact on me and I was left feeling it would be so meaningful to help in some way. I remember watching in disbelief as women walked barefoot along cliffs for miles balancing litres of water on their heads, only to do it all again the next day. Water is a leading cause of disease and deaths in the developing world.

Some statistics about water:

  • Over 1 million children are killed every year by diarrhoea through dehydration and malnutrition.
  • Every 20 seconds one child dies from a disease caused by lack of access to safe drinking water, inadequate sanitation and poor hygiene.
  • 4 million people die every year from water, sanitation and hygiene related diseases.
  • In the past 10 years the number of children killed by diarrhoea exceeded the total number of people lost to armed conflict since World War II.

Accessing clean water is not something we usually think of as a luxury, but for 1 in 6 people on the planet it is a daily struggle. I discovered an astounding fact recently through UNICEF: “in just one day, 200 million work hours are consumed by women collecting water for their families, which is equivalent to building 28 empire state buildings each day”.

Here is a clip from Charity Water that gives a clear picture of the Global water crisis:

How do you make money? (please explain your business model)

I have a day job, I’m a doctor specialising in wellbeing and mental health. I work with clients through an integrative counselling and coaching framework.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months? (also, if your attending any events or meet-ups we’d love to hear about them)

At the moment I’m working on pulling together all the parts of  Mindful in May, refining the program that will run online during May and also organising some really exciting mindful events, including mindful meals, mindful movie and mindful music gatherings. It’s really exciting working on something that brings such conscious and creative people together.

I’m also working on launching an online counselling/coaching business, it’s been put to the side whilst I move through Mindful in May. I’m very excited about working with people in supporting them to remove the internal and external obstacles that are in the way of what they want most for themselves and helping people to learn better ways of attending to their own self care. Mindfulness, coaching and psychotherapy have been fundamental ingredients in my own life which have opened up new and exciting possibilities. So I’m really, really excited to work with others in that way, as I know how powerful it can be. I’m going to predominantly be working with people via skype as my aim is to become more mobile in my work so I can travel the world with my future family and continue living an adventurous life.

How do you make ideas happen?

The Life of an Idea

This image from Austin Kleon’s book, steal like an artist, really represents what it feels like sometimes. It makes me laugh as it really does feel like that sometimes.  For me the actual process is organised chaos (or if you asked my partner, maybe just chaos). There’s the spark of inspiration, then a little bit of simmering indecision and doubt, then once I pass through those initial growing pains of the idea, its full speed ahead. I really do focus and give my all to an idea when I have one. Sometimes it does take retreating from friends and family to really give time and focus to the tasks that need to be done. The people in my life are very understanding and usually tolerate my disappearing acts when Im in the zone of creating.

Another element that is crucial to making my ideas happen is full bodied passion. When I feel passionate about something I can’t help but make it happen. Cultivating supportive relationships with like minded people is another fundamental ingredient. When working on a big project like Mindful in May it is the relationships around me that really amplify what can be done, specifically my good friend Jenny Kirschner (@jennykirschner) was part of the first Mindful in May last year and this year new people have also come on board. I also have a very supportive community at the Hub Melbourne.

It needs to be said that many ideas that I have, don’t happen. Or at least, take a hell of a lot longer to happen than I thought they would. (Perhaps having kids is a good example of that!)

What does your typical day look like?

At the moment my workspace is the kitchen table. Typically, I get up at 7am, on good days I practice yoga with my partner then meditate, make a green smoothie, sometimes listen to a TED talk on the way to work, see clients in Fitzroy, fit in exercise (although thats fallen off a bit recently), come home and work on Mindful in May, catch up with a friend or my partner for dinner, then go to bed and start all over again. Usually there’s a random night out dancing salsa (my other passion) and sometimes a weekend away in nature.

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

As the Mindful in May project has been self funded, the major challenges have been finding external funding or working out a model for it that stays true to its essence but allows it to be sustainable for me.

Although not specifically related to being in Australia, as a woman in my 30’s time is a challenge. The idea of having a child is looming large and I have no idea how women manage to juggle the demands of motherhood with burgeoning careers. I’ve watched many of my friends have babies and can see how it throws your life completely upside down. I’m just grateful I’ll be equipped with some mindfulness skills to bring to that challenge!

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

When you create space for your mind, there is more room for creativity and innovation to sprout. That’s probably why Google has started bringing mindfulness meditation into their workplace.

When you are trying to work out what it is you are passionate about sometimes inspiration arrives through the back door. I’ve found meditation to be a wonderful creative support.  When you create space for your mind, there is more room for creativity and innovation to sprout. That’s probably why Google has started bringing mindfulness meditation into their workplace.

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia, at the moment?

The School of Life Melbourne: I love the way it creates a place for people to go to explore life’s important questions through engaging with the Arts.

What about internationally?

Soren Gordhamer:  He founded the Wisdom 2.0 conference which I recently attended in San Francisco. It explored the question of how do we live with more awareness and compassion in a technological age. It was mind-blowing.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

Businesses are made up of people. If the people within the organisations are conscious and mindful, then they can direct the business in ways that take into account the triple bottom line and affect significant social change.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter?

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

Yes! Firstly I would invite people to check out the Facebook page and like it if they like the project and tell there friends about it. Then if they want to be involved we’d love to hear from them about what skill they could bring to the campaign. It would be great to find some community ambassadors in the other states (apart from Victoria and NSW). An additional tech genius never goes astray either! Also, we love being able to offer the MIM community incentives for their fundraising and meditating efforts, so we’d be interested in hearing from anyone who has products or services that they would be willing to give as gifts in kind to the campaign. In exchange we do very affectionate shout outs on our social media channels.

Our readers are smart, creative, talented and good looking. Here’s your chance to ask them anything.

What makes you feel most alive in your life? Are you doing enough of it?

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

I could go on forever: I adore the Tofu shop in Richmond, Yongs green food on Brunswick st, Huxtable on Smith st, South Paw on gertrude st, The Night Cat on a Sunday night (I love to dance there).

What is your favourite song by an Australian artist at the moment?

I’m a bit of a world music addict so that’s tough. I do love Tin Pan Orange though. Emily lubitz the lead singer is a Mindful in May ambassador this year. Also, I adore the entire album by Gurrumul Yunupingu.

We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?

An invitation to one of my private Art of Conversation dinner parties with an eclectic, creative guest list.

A coaching session to support someone in moving their idea into reality.

A private Mindfulness meditation session (for someone who hasn’t practiced it before).


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