Burke! I'm not sure where to begin to be honest. I've written and re-written this introduction numerous times and what it all boils down to is that Ryan Burke is simply a good human being. I've known Ryan for over 18 years now (wow, seriously?!) and in this time he has been nothing but kind, giving, courageous, eager, determined, encouraging, loving, and genuine. When I was 16-years-old I didn't stop to think that I had meant someone who would truly inspire me for the rest of my life, however, I had.
Ryan is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor in Jackson, Wyoming who works with clients to overcome addiction. His therapeutic background includes trauma, addiction treatment, and family and couples counseling. He has worked with at-risk youth at C-V Camp and for the past 12 years has run trips and activities for people with disabilities through Teton Adaptive Sports. Ryan truly cares about the world around him, from the people to the planet, and lives each day helping both towards a better future. In his spare time Ryan is an endurance triathlete and long-distance runner, writes for numerous publications, and has been featured in Men's Journal. No big deal.
Ryan's most recent endeavor is the Mindstrength Project, which taps into his expertise in addiction counseling, with a twist...
WanderFreely: You started the Mindstrength Project as a, “lifestyle redesign program.” Can you tell us more about this project?
Ryan Burke: The Mindstrength Project started last year as a way help survivors of addiction get “hands on” experience with overcoming fear. The project works to combine anxiety producing workouts with meditation to help people learn how to stay calm under pressure. Clients learn specific skills, like tying knots under water, in order to gain confidence in their coping skills so that when their life is on the line in the real world they know what to do.
WF: When did you first realize that a program like Mindstrength was needed?
RB: Working in an addiction treatment setting, I realized that skills were being taught but not practiced. Clients were nodding their heads when information was presented but then going out and relapsing that night. The Mindstrength Project works to combine exercise and meditation practices so that self-regulation in harsh environments becomes a more engrained skill set.
WF: Can you describe the combined importance of silence, science, and sweat in reclaiming your mind?
RB: In modern culture, it seems we have become very “gas pedal” oriented, always “doing” and very little “being.” When you combine sweat and silence you give people a framework in which to balance the brake and gas pedal in their own lives. People learn when to go and when to stop, realizing the necessity for both in their daily lives. Science gives people the information necessary to understand why we need to be both motivated and reflective.
WF: How have these three elements enhanced your own life?
RB: Without exercise I go crazy, but without time to regroup my life becomes equally unmanageable. As humans, I think we want black and white answers of what to do. Unfortunately, the “gray” area of moderation in all aspects of one’s life seems to be the only way that is sustainable. However, being self-aware of what you need and when you need it is a long and arduous process. As Americans, we like short-cuts and instant gratification, but when you choose the harder route I believe the payouts are larger. The Mindstrength Projects tries to engrain those “root solutions”, such as yoga, meditation, and exercise into people’s lives so they can develop more healthy long term habits.
WF: At what point in your life did you know you wanted to study mental health?
RB: I remember a time when my mother, who was a counselor, was stopped coming out of a restaurant by a past client she had helped. I saw how comfortable and safe the client felt around my mother. The person seemed to have such genuine respect and gratitude for what my mother had helped them through. From that moment on, I just knew I wanted someone to look at me in the same way.
WF: In addition to being a Licensed Mental Health Counselor you are also an Endurance Triathlete. What have you learned mentally through pushing yourself to the limits physically?
RB: Overall, I have learned how I live my seconds is how I live my life. Once I got better at living in the present moment I immediately got better athletically and that crossed over to my everyday living. It takes a ton of practice and patience, but being ok with whatever was happening in my life has had a pervasive positive effect on all facets of my experience.
WF: Have you ever wanted to give up? If so, how did you keep going?
RB: I have done thirty six hours of straight movement before and I had the thought that stopping would be pleasant, but I always knew I would end up finishing. I think realizing that my pain was temporary but the confidence I would gain would be long lasting has always keep me putting one foot in front of the other.
WF: What does commitment mean to you?
RB: To me, commitment means giving yourself permission to stop but continuing on anyways. I believe commitment to yourself is about being honest about your abilities. Sometimes people think they are capable of more than they are and some of the time people don’t reach high enough. To me, having a healthy curiosity of your limits is what makes life worth living.
WF: If you could say one thing to the entire world what would it be?
RB: I think I would tell people to stop taking their personal life so seriously and start taking their global responsibility more seriously
WF: What are you most excited about right now.
RB: Right now I’m most excited about taking a walk later with a good friend and hearing about her day. Connections and relationships are always what make me smile the most.