The eleventh district of Ohio has a remarkable representative to congress–Tim Ryan. In 2005, of all the members of House of Representatives who received a copy of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s magnum opus–Coming to Our Senses–apparently Congressman Ryan is the only one who read the hundred pages on mindfulness and politics–or at least he appears to be the only one who has taken action.
While in college, Ryan had discovered mindfulness. After reading Coming to Our Senses, he went on a meditation retreat with Jon, practices daily, advocates for mindfulness programs in schools and the military and has now written this book–A Mindful Nation: How a Simple: How a Simple Practice Can Help to Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit.
Ryan presents a utopian vision for American based on awareness and gentleness. It is idealistic for certain and a refreshing alternative to the empty rhetoric of most political speak. Because mindfulness is at the core of his message there is an actual mechanism for change and not just a string of hopeful rhetoric.
I find it difficult to listen to most politicians because I have a strong aversion to being lied to. They may not prevaricate but the levels of self-deception and emptiness in political discourse are hard to stomach. Politicians aim for places of emotional vulnerability and people clap and cheer when these hopes are exploited. Yet, its inauthentic. The current challenger is saying the same thing the current incumbent said when he was the challenger. Recycled words going nowhere. When I hear this kind of speech, I turn the radio off and roll my eyes.
A Mindful Nation is an accessible account of the what mindfulness is and where mindfulness interventions are taking place. Ryan has interviewed the leaders of practitioners out in the world making change. This makes for fun and informative reading. He covers education, military, environment, business, health care with engaged enthusiasm.
For instance, in the chapter on education he says:
We don’t need more gadgets or fly-by-night programs in our school systems. If we teach children to follow their breath—and return to it when they get distracted—we are teaching them how to concentrate. … For an incredibly small investment, we can prevent incredible future costs and heartaches in our communities.
I read so many books on mindfulness that its hard to capture my attention. A Mindful Nation was, however, a very engaging book. I really wanted to read every word. I learned things and it is a great overview resource of the mindfulness world. The congressman’s voice is clear, candid, and compassionate. He presents mindfulness in a unique way. He is “selling” mindfulness at a different level and if we the people “buy” it, the world can be a better place.
Ryan’s account is honest and authentic. He is critical of the status quo in a refreshing way. He is not afraid to be candid. He reveals himself as a flawed human being (is there any other kind?). His vision for America has less violence (e.g., wars) and less greed (e.g., environmental degradation). He knows that individual life and the body politic can become more aware.
Years ago in Burma, Sayagi U Bha Khin was a renown vipassana teacher and the Accountant General of Burma. He brought mindfulness into the workplace and politics. Ryan is following in this tradition. We need politicians who are willing to lead from this more awakened perspective and we are fortunate to have Congressman Tim Ryan and his book, A Mindful Nation.
This video of the congressman starts with one my favorite lines on how we were all expected to pay attention in school but never shown how.