If you think that sitting still for 10 minutes a day won’t improve your life and the lives of millions, think again
Dr Elise Bialylew has faced up to some scary realities about the state of the world. Almost 10 years ago, the young doctor found herself questioning the frequency with which medication was being prescribed for depression and anxiety with a lack of other psychological strategies. She began training in mindfulness meditation, and describes the results on her patients – and on herself – as nothing less than “life changing. Meditation gave me this inner resource, this skill that hadn’t been taught anywhere else in my long history of studying medicine and psychiatry.”
In her article ‘The power of mindfulness to change your world', Dr Bialylew writes passionately about the often invisible impact of our hectic, technology-driven lives on our wellbeing. “Invisible umbilical cords connect us to our devices,” she explains, which make us “increasingly distracted, irritable, impulsive, restless and, over the long term, underachieving”.
If this is a hard truth to swallow, then widespread suffering in the developing world due to a lack of clean water seems impossibly abstract. While working as a medical volunteer in West Africa, Dr Bialylew saw first-hand what four million people dying from contaminated water looks like every day.
“I have always been very sensitive to other people’s suffering – it’s been both a strength and an occupational hazard in my profession,” she admits. But while many people would have found both issues too overwhelming to address even separately, Dr Bialylew realised that she had one incredibly powerful tool at her fingertips.
“We’re living in a really exciting time,” she says. “I wanted to see if could harness the power of social media to make a positive impact in the world by offering people tools to learn how to practice mindfulness meditation.”
The experiment worked. In 2012, Dr Bialylew launched the Mindful in May campaign. Through teams and individuals tracking their month-long experience online, over $100,000 was raised in two years. A total of six permanent wells now stand in Rwanda and Ethiopia, providing large communities with clean water for a lifetime.
Some say that the best way to face problems is by breaking them down into small parts. Mindful in May shaves them into slivers. When participants sign up online, they’re asked to gain sponsors through social media and follow the e-program that guides them through 10-minute meditation sessions. They also receive motivational emails and interviews with mindfulness experts. It’s so simple that people might not expect to notice the difference immediately. But – as Dr Bialylew and thousands of others have found – with regular practice, meditation brings calm, clarity and contentment.
“The biggest reaction I get is how surprised people are that 10 minutes of meditation can have such a big impact on them. They notice their emotions more and they feel pleasure more easily. It makes them feel more connected to themselves.”