When Congressman Tim Ryan (D-Ohio) first discovered the benefits of mindfulness meditation in 2008, he probably didn’t think he would end up being a spokesman for the practice.
But with his new book, A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit, he has become just that—an eloquent and enthusiastic proponent for the widespread teaching of mindfulness practices to everyone. He sees it as not only a tool for personal well-being, but as a practice that might help Americans become calmer, more reflective, and less reactive as a people, and move our nation from crisis to prosperity.
Ryan’s book takes readers on a journey from the personal to the political. He describes how he became connected to mindfulness through practitioners and researchers—like Jon Kabat-Zinn and Richie Davison—who taught him the ways mindfulness effects the brain and provides many health and psychological benefits. He suggests that if we all could learn this relatively simple technique for quieting the mind, we would be healthier and happier people for it.
His book is a tour of many of the areas in which mindfulness has been applied with positive results. We see how the work of MindUP and other programs that teach mindfulness to kids, the Garrison Institute’s work with teachers, and CASEL’s social emotional learning programs have all helped to improve student’s emotional experiences, decrease bullying, and improve academic performance. We learn of the applications of mindfulness in health, both in treating disease and in disease prevention. We see how mindfulness can foster creativity and greater productivity in the workplace, or help prepare soldiers for combat as well as prevent them from succumbing to PTSD upon their return from battle.
It’s clear that mindfulness is not a panacea; but it does have practical benefits, and not just for the individual. Ryan provides ample examples of how teaching mindfulness can affect our social institutions and make a difference in our nation’s healing. He seems bent on promoting this idea to a wider audience, getting everyone involved in bettering our nation from the inside out. It’s surprisingly refreshing to see a congressional leader stick his neck out for something like mindfulness, which, after all, is probably not familiar to a large part of America and might even be considered suspect.
And Ryan is in an interesting position: He sits on the House Armed Services Committee and the House Budget Committee, committees that make decisions about funding for education and other social services and provide for the military. Perhaps, with his clout, Ryan can catapult interest in mindfulness and mindfulness research into the public consciousness in a new way. Heaven knows, it’s about time someone in government came up with some practical solutions to our society’s social ills, while still practicing what he preaches.