Meditation Woman Elise Bialylew answers Ten Questions.
I’ve known Elise since high school but she was three years younger than me and aside from sharing the stage in The Wizard of Oz, we didn’t really cross paths all that much. So when she emailed me a couple years ago in regard to a Holocaust project I was working on, I was definitely intrigued to know who she was as an adult. Little did I know how impressed I would be. From documentary filmmaking in New York (mostly at my favourite restaurant Arturos in Manhattan) to drumming in Africa, to founding Mindful in May, Dr Elise Bialylew is definitely deserving of being this April’s WonderWoman. As her title states, she is a doctor, with a background in psychiatry, and a coach and mindfulness meditation teacher who loves to salsa.
Last night, Elise launched the third year of Mindful in May (MIM) – a one month global mindfulness meditation campaign that 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. What if you could find more focus, clarity and effectiveness in daily life by learning a 10 minute mindfulness technique and at the same time have a positive impact in the world? That is the clever question Elise poses to potential participants and the campaign’s incredible success in past years is testimony that she is definitely on to something.
I’m very excited to have Elise answer this month’s Ten Questions.
What is the essence of being a woman?
I feel … deeply.
What do you feel unites women?
The theme of motherhood. Whether a woman decides to have a child or not I think it is something that most women spend some time exploring. Particularly at a time when women have so many choices yet the one thing we can’t control is our fertility. It is that connection to the body in such a profound way that has this deep underlying influence on our lives which I think unifies us.
How do you stay strong, assertive and feminine?
I have read a lot of David Deida who has some interesting perspectives on the idea of the feminine and the masculine. In one of his books he says if masculine was a place it would be New York, bustling, driven, determined, energetic, always ‘on’ and if feminine was a place it would be Hawaii, calm, flowing, relaxed, slower paced. By nature, I think I’m more New York which is why I was drawn to meditation. It helped me step more into my Hawaii.
Working in mental health for a long time gave me good training in assertiveness as maintaining your boundaries is very important to ensure you don’t get burned out or overwhelmed. However, you also need to maintain an open, compassionate and empathic way. It’s a really delicate balancing act and I think for me mindfulness has been a key skill that has helped me to be aware of how I am relating to a situation or person from moment to moment and more consciously respond with whatever is needed, sometimes more gentleness, sometimes more assertiveness.
What and who inspires you?
I’m inspired by so much. Aung San Suu Kyi, Krishnamurti’s teachings, Byron Bay walks up to the lighthouse, nature, Womad, Nelson Mandela, Jon Kabat Zinn, New York City, world music festivals, brain pickings website, Dumbo feather magazine … I could go on but that’s what comes to mind in this moment.
How do you live your life so it has meaning?
I have spent many a silent meditation retreat deeply contemplating this question. For me it’s simple: it’s about having authentic relationships, adventure and being part of something that is bigger than myself.
What contribution would you like to make to benefit humankind?
Making a significant contribution in the world is what really gives my life meaning. Having travelled a lot in my twenties through the developing world, including six months spent in West Africa, I was profoundly impacted by the reality of global poverty. I remember when there was a Malaria breakout whist I was there, seeing posters on street corners advertising funerals for young children who had died. Meanwhile, I unfortunately contracted Malaria myself but fortunately had the tablets required to treat it in my backpack. The fact that millions of people around the world are dying from treatable illnesses just seems so unfair to me. That is really what inspired my drive to create a campaign to make a difference on a larger scale. Mindful in May is my way of trying to help make a difference in the world around issues of global poverty. So far the campaign has catalysed thousands of people to learn how to meditate and find more clarity and calm and it has also funded the development of water wells in Ethiopia and Rwanda, transforming the lives of thousands of people who now have access to clean, safe drinking water.
How do you stay calm under pressure?
Meditation is the key. Of course it doesn’t necessarily push the fear or stress away but it certainly gives me a much more effective way to manage the pressure.
How do you move from dream into action into completion?
There are a few things that have helped me:
Perseverance: this would probably be the number one ingredient as there are going to be many times along the way where you seriously questions why you are doing what you are doing. When you’re creating something from scratch there are inevitably going to be so many challenges and you are going to want to give up over and over again.
Having people around who believe in you and support you (whether that’s being a shoulder to cry on or making sure you are managing the daily tasks that kind of fall by the wayside when you are taken over by a passion project, i.e. bills, shopping, cooking.
Having chutzpah (translate: being willing to put yourself out there and take risks and face the possibility of rejection)
Developing meaningful, mutually supportive relationships with people who are in your area but complement what you are doing. Relationships are so important in turning your vision into form.
Harnessing the power of technology and the internet to amplify your message and create your community.
Three words to describe how you maintain a life balance.
Waxes and Wanes
If you could ask any woman one question, what would you ask?
What is the most important lesson for living a happy, meaningful life that you’d like to transmit to your child if you had one?
Register before April 30th at www.mindfulinmay.org to receive a one month online meditation course and get sponsored to take the 10 minute a day challenge to raise money to bring clean water to the one in nine people in the developing world.
Read an article about mindfulness and MIM outcomes.