Most New Year’s resolutions come and go before the snow melts in Milwaukee, and it’s easy to understand why. Overly ambitious changes fall by the wayside because they were conceived on a whim, or without the support needed to really make a life change.
But what if you could actually improve your mental well being, starting on Jan. 1 – and maybe even make Milwaukee a better place at the same time? And what if you could do it for free?
That’s the resolution Kaita Bliffert and Traci Schwartz are banking on in a very big way, expanding the Meditate Milwaukee program they started in 2019. The two are bringing a free guided meditation event to the Riverside Theater on New Year’s Day, and whether you think you can mediate or not, Bliffert says she believes simply attending the program will have make a mark on our community.
“The impact of large group meditation has been shown to actually have a positive effect on the environment around where it's happening,” says Bliffert, who will perform alongside her father, Fred, during one of the event’s several musical acts and presentation from Jennifer Bartolotta.
Bliffert points to studies that show violent crimes decrease around the area where groups come together to meditate, and the Riverside holds almost 2,500 people. With registrations picking up steam in the days leading up to Jan. 1, this event may be the largest meditation in the history of Milwaukee.
Even if you don’t buy into the positive mass effect of this program, Bliffert says the individual effects of meditation are incredible, too.
According to Schwartz, “Meditation is considered a type of mind body complimentary medicine and can produce a deep state of relaxation. It can reduce anxiety, and move you from chaos to calm. This is an opportunity to spend time choosing what you want to focus on.”
Schwartz says she’s aware that many people say they just can’t meditate, but Meditate Milwaukee isn’t an experiment for 2,450 people to sit in silence and empty their minds. Rather, by using four different local, diverse meditation guides, “We'll be taking you through this exploration, and the music will help you set the tone for your body. You don't have to have any experience meditating, and there won't be any ‘being good or bad at it.’.”
So what will the afternoon be like?
Says Schwartz, “We start with some music from Hans Christian and Ragani that will set the tone as you enter the space. That will lead us into a very inspirational talk from Jennifer, helping people create a sense of community around them while opening up their hearts. We've put together a great group of people with our four guides that will keep the meditation continuously flowing from one to the next.”
And the organizers have plenty of experience making this work. Schwartz says the she and Bliffert conceived this idea four years ago as they looked at the divisiveness and segregation in Milwaukee and realized they had an opportunity to bring people together from different walks of life.
Just not this many all at once.
“Meditation has been practiced for thousands of years and by almost every religion,” says Schwartz. But, she points out that this event doesn’t espouse any spiritual practices. “Meditation isn't stopping all thought — it's choosing.”
Both Schwartz and Bliffert say they have been amazed and humbled by the community’s support for this event. In addition to critically acclaimed musicians participating, it’s significant that the Pabst Theater Group, The Sojourner Family Peace Center and The Blue Lotus Center have all come together for this one-of-a-kind gathering (OnMilwaukee is a media sponsor of Meditate Milwaukee). “Gary Witt from the Riverside was very aligned with this idea and immediately had all kinds of ideas to help make this come to fruition,” says Schwartz.
And if – and when – Sunday goes as well as the organizers hope, Meditate Milwaukee will continue to grow at even larger venues, in addition to their smaller meditations the first Sunday of the month at Sojourner Family Peace Center, 619 W. Walnut St.
But first, Bliffert is getting ready to make a big splash into 2023.
“It would be really amazing if Milwaukee became known to the world as the city that meditates together,” says Bliffert. With Meditate Milwaukee approaching full capacity at the Riverside, Bliffert may be able to manifest that dream into reality.
Meditate Milwaukee takes place on Sunday, Jan. 1 from 1-2:30 p.m. (doors open at noon). Registration is free but required at pabsttheatergroup.com.
Andy is the president, publisher and founder of OnMilwaukee. He returned to Milwaukee in 1996 after living on the East Coast for nine years, where he wrote for The Dallas Morning News Washington Bureau and worked in the White House Office of Communications. He was also Associate Editor of The GW Hatchet, his college newspaper at The George Washington University.
Before launching OnMilwaukee.com in 1998 at age 23, he worked in public relations for two Milwaukee firms, most of the time daydreaming about starting his own publication.
Hobbies include running when he finds the time, fixing the rust on his '75 MGB, mowing the lawn at his cottage in the Northwoods, and making an annual pilgrimage to Phoenix for Brewers Spring Training.