The path to peace
Feeling anxious, worried about finances, family, the future? You are not alone.
According to a recent survey by the American Psychological Association, the average adult stress level rose from 4.9 in 2014 to 5.1 on a 10-point stress scale. The number of U.S. adults reporting they were experiencing extreme stress grew from 18 percent to 24 percent in 2015.
"I was on a vacation with my family up on the north shore of Lake Superior. I realized that the entire time I was up there, rather than experiencing the trip, I was thinking about how much I dreaded the idea of going back to work. I just happened to go into one of those touristy book shops and stumbled across a book loosely related to mindfulness and meditation called, "Who Will Cry When You Die?" I picked up that book and I kind of thought to myself, 'Maybe nobody.' I read the book and it got me thinking, entertaining the idea that another reality might be possible."
That was New Richmond author Ken Britzius talking about the turning point is his life when he realized things needed to change.
"It was a big change and in many ways, it was frightening. I had worked for so many years to get to this position, to feel like I had a job that I could take pride in, a title. I was making real good money. I was reading a cell phone book at the time, something to the effect of, "How to Get Everything You Want Out of Life." I had written down what my goals were — short term, long term, financial, personal — it was one of those kinds of books. I had gotten to the point where I had checked off a large number of things on my list. The unspoken promise was, once you'd gotten to the end of your list, you would find happiness. When I realized that wasn't true, I was feeling a little bit lost. I had played by the rules and gotten what we're supposed to get and it just felt hollow," recalled Britzius.
Britzius ended up stepping away from the corporate world and began searching for a new direction. Turns out, timing is everything.
Beside reading a number of books pertaining to various practices of meditation, Britzius began to learn how to practice meditation from his mother-in-law.
"My father remarried a woman from Thailand, a born Buddhist. She began to teach me some of her meditation practices when we'd visit," said Britzius.
Britzius admits, being self-taught, he made some mistakes early on. Carrying over his goal-driven mindset from his corporate life, he initially ended up frustrated until he discovered mindfulness-based meditation.
Britzius explained how this form of meditation is different from more commonly recognized meditation practices that employ repetition of a mantra to relax and focus the mind.
"Mindfulness meditation is different in that we turn the senses inward and we focus only on the reality of what's going on within the framework of the body and the mind in the present moment. We bring a degree of objectivity to this awareness of what is taking place. Pretty soon we become aware that all of our thoughts are producing sensations on the body and all of these sensations are causing reactions in turn. This habitual reaction is going on all the time on an unconscious level, leading to a feeling of being uptight, worried, a perpetual state of stress," explained Britzius.
Britzius discovered that our bodies physically reflect the negative effects of that perpetual cycle of searching and frustration.
Britzius appreciates that folks can be sceptical when it comes to the benefits of meditation. They may see it as a gimmick, hocus pocus, and dismiss claims about what it can do for emotional as well as physical ailments. He points out mindfulness-based meditation is recommended by an increasing number of health professionals and organizations including the prestigious Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.
"Researchers have found that people who meditate for just 20 minutes a day, after just 30 days, start to experience measureable changes occurring with blood pressure and with cortisol levels. EEG scans of the brain show that the parts of the brain that would typically be activated with thoughts of negativity or hostility are quieted down while those parts of the brain associated with positive emotions were starting to light up," said Britzius.
Mindfulness based meditation trains practitioners to become aware of the physical and emotional indicators so that at the moment when we start to react, become angry, upset, depressed, or anxious, we intentionally move to a state of equanimity. Meditation is a tool. It helps rebuild the negative habitual reactions of the mind into positive ones.
Friends and family members began to see a transformation in Britzius and they encouraged him to share what he had learned with others.
Since 1996, Britzius has been doing just that, teaching the practice of mindfulness based meditation to individuals through one-on-one tutoring and to small groups as a part of wellness programs. He currently teaches a class at Starr Elementary on Tuesday evenings starting at 7 p.m. and plans to offer more classes through community education in Amery and Hudson in the coming months.
Britzius has found that his story rings true with many people, so much so that he is scheduled to open the Still Knowing Meditation Center this spring at 527 S. Knowles Ave. in New Richmond.
Britzius has also put pen to paper and published his first book compiling his experience in the form of a guide to the practice of mindfulness-based meditation. The book entitled, "The Path to Peace: A Guide to the Practice of Meditation and Mindfulness," lays out in simple terms everything a person needs to know in order to begin and maintain a transformative and life-changing meditation practice.
"If you have ever thought to yourself, "I wonder if I could be happier than I am," or I wondered if it is possible to suffer less than you have been or wondered if it's possible to overcome anxiety and depression, read this book. If you have ever come to that realization that it could be better, but don't know how to make it better, read this book. It's a simple, easy- to-follow practice that anybody can do. You can make it mesh with whatever your personal persuasions are and you'll find that the results come. The vast majority of people that I have worked with have found it remarkably helpful."
Britzius will be at the Friday Memorial Library at 1 p.m., Friday, Jan. 27, for a book signing and to conduct a discussion and answer questions. For more information, contact Ken Britzius by phone at 715-781-8937 or by email at: firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also visit the library website at newrichmondlibrary.org.
Librarian Sally Cheslock is coordinating a book signing event with author Ken Britzius for his book, "The Path to Peace: A Guide to the Practice of Meditation and Mindfulness," at 1 p.m., Friday, Jan. 27, at the New Richmond Public Library. (Photo by Tom Lindfors)