Sleep better

I used to lie awake, toss and turn and grind my teeth in bed. I worried about what would lie ahead or what happened in the past. I used to over think a lot. There would be moments of respite, broken sleep, then I’d get up for the day, exhausted.

I sleep soundly now.

Meditation had a lot to do with it. Meditation, twice a day – first thing in the morning and right before dinner. My mind puts worries into context, I’m humbled by past similar experiences, look to solutions and get on with it.

Self-Love

Self love – a topic that’s quite “fru-fru” – my made up word for mushy, sensitive –  yet a necessary topic because it’s a vital part of living.

Self love is thinking and feeling for yourself. You’re in charge of your well being and happiness.

It’s understanding your constitution before someone dictates it for you. It’s filling yourself up with the things that are right for you rather than looking to others to fill that space.

It’s getting back to the very ideas of what makes you excited about living. It’s knowing your likes and dislikes, your interests, what you’re curious about. It’s having confidence in yourself and self worth. Coincidently this is likely where you become more compassionate and empathetic to new ideas and to others.

How is it done in practice? Its going inwards and knowing yourself. You cut out the noise of daily life. Practices like meditation or mindful time alone are superb ways to achieve this.

Then it’s being vocal about it. Your inner dialogue shapes your behaviour. You’re then aware that you have choices every moment rather than feeling you’re largely shaped by the day’s events – good or bad.

Why I don’t tell my friends to meditate

I was in group meditation some time ago when a teacher advised us not to tell our friends to meditate. His contention, people won’t be responsive.

There’s truth in that. People generally aren’t. I’ve tried it before with friends and family that have suffered a great deal. Their internal dialogue is helpless, angry, desperate or bitter. They see no way out. I’ve even offered to pay for sessions in hope that it would help and it’s generally not welcome.

Seeing people in their predicament is like watching a tense game show where the answer is so obvious to the audience (therefore, all of planet Earth) but not to the person under the pump for the cash prize. I want to yell from the bleachers, “Meditation! It’s Meditation dammit!!!”  Then go back to my zen state.

I’ve not taken their reluctance personally. Rather, empathetically I realised that (of course) suggesting something that is so out of the ordinary would be naturally rejected.

Imagine someone’s life being extremely busy with periods of stress, worries and at times, suffering. For a meditator reading this, that was likely your life before you meditated. That was mine.

What we usually hear from those who are distressed is a yearning of “what used to be” or “better days” that are well behind them. Sometimes they’re convinced their situation is permanent. Or they’re waiting on something out there in the future that will make them happy, like a new relationship, a better job. Which helps by the way, but its not everything.

To then suggest time to sit quietly is a too much of a contrast. Too frightening. Too foreign. Passive, even.

It’s usually the big things like trauma, depression, anxiety, huge life or career transitions that make them seek change. Meditation is illuminated to them when they see no other solution to escape their stressed-out minds.

What’s most important is to realise that the option to meditate has to be theirs. An autonomous one. 

It’s only then, that I’ve found that the idea of mindfulness or meditation is a welcome conversation. Yet even so, our teacher suggested to discuss very little, to allow it to be a person’s own exploration, their discovery.

Just being the result of meditation is example enough. Being improved-from-your-old-self and perhaps a distinctively different person to many others in your loved one’s orbit may make them curious to meditate.

I wrestled with this idea for a good year or so and now I’m convinced it’s the best thing to do. Yet the goodwill to help and elevate people closest to me seems a responsibility I can’t shake. Perhaps just compassionately listening, patiently being in one’s company and not echoing their fears and doubts is enough.

I may still guide them to a helpful and autonomous decision. Hopefully meditation is one of them.

The motivation to meditate

I liken starting meditation to working out.

You know, we hit that boot camp a few months out of the Wedding Day. Get fit for Sydney to Surf, Pier to Pub, Tough Mudder. The first month of training is brutal, then we push past our personal best, hit turbo, collect all the praise from our peers on our changing appearance like a coin collecting Super Mario, smash the event and social media the crap out of it.

Then what happens is we hit regular Joe again. More pizzas on the couch, less time pounding the pavement, cause… meh…

I think I’ve worked out the reason why we do this. It’s because we anchor our purpose on events rather than just doing it for ourselves.

The same can be said of meditation. A lot of people are drawn to meditation to manage stress, get more energy, be more productive at work, to silence those not so helpful thoughts. And there’s also the lure to raise one’s IQ. All this is great but they are all natural by-products of meditation. Pretty awesome ones at that.

The real reason why we should be motivated to meditate is because we deserve time for calm, mindful rest at least once a day. All that other stuff will just happen because of it. A win/win.

Why is this important? Because if we’re just goal orientated or attracted to novelty then in time, we can easily run out of steam. We should just be enough.

So imagine a type of living where there weren’t things to chase. Where those events still happen in our lives but they’re just all part of a longer timeline where we aren’t driven to arrive anywhere in particular.

When I first thought about this it made sense and at the same time it didn’t. I was worried. A woman who thrived on goals, I thought all of a sudden I wouldn’t be committed. Put into practice, however, I’ve never been so committed to my health and wellbeing in my entire life. Because of it, this has been my best year yet.

We may not get to pro athlete level or enlightened Buddha, nor should we expect to work to such extremes. (If you’re a pro athlete reading this, keep doing what you do…) Heck, if we get there, great. But what we really should be doing is hitting our personal best at all times with a healthy dose of keeping it real.

Take that time out, away from the busy day to day and be still. Yes, it takes discipline. I’d rather discipline over Regular Joe. Cause Regular Joe is boring. More and more that good voice in your head gets louder and we start treating ourselves in the best possible way in all areas of life because of it.

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
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.

 

 

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