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Lions Roar : July 2012
Q&A Politically Aware CONGRESSMAN TIM RYAN Tim Ryan, who is serving his fifth term representing Ohio’s 17th Congressional District, was first elected to the House of Represen- tatives when he was twenty-nine. He says he dabbled in meditation and mindfulness for a long time. He watched his Catholic mother and grandparents pray the rosary, learned centering prayer from a priest, and experimented with yoga. It wasn’t until 2008, however, that he got serious about practice. “After several years of really heavy campaigning and governing here in Washington,” he says, “I was getting to the point where I didn’t want to turn into a jerk just because I was so fried.” Thinking it might help, he attended a Jon Kabat-Zinn mindfulness retreat for leaders and innovators, and over the course of that week he felt his mind become quieter and his awareness become clearer. It reminded Ryan of when he was a star quarterback in high school: mindfulness was like being in the zone. I talked to Tim Ryan about his practice and the vision laid out in his new book, A Mindful Nation (review on page 77). —A NDREA MILLER What would American society look like if the practice of mindful- ness were widely adopted? We’d all slow down and reprioritize our values. Today, consum- erism seems to be front and center and caring about one another is on the back burner. In a mindful nation, we’d begin to see and appreciate that we are all connected—we are all part of the 100 percent. It would lead to an education system that’s more mindful in teaching social and emotional skills. It would lead to a health care system that focuses on prevention. Our neighbor- hoods would start to look different. There would be more urban farms and parks and bike trails—things that connect us. In a mindful nation, the pressure would go down. There’d be more time off with your family, like it was for my grandparents. On my mom’s side, there were family dinners every night and picnics every Saturday in the summer. The whole family would play bocce and cook out and just hang together. It was family time. In America today, we’ve lost so much of that—no one has time for it anymore. The family values that I’m talking about aren’t family values that can get politicized. I’m talking about valuing time with our family. That would come out of everyone slowing down and paying attention a little more. A mindful nation would not be utopia. But my hope is that in it we would regain basic American values—that belief we used to have about being our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. For my grandparents’ generation, two world wars and a depression seared into them the fact that we all need to hang together. We’ve got to have that appreciation again for being in this together— we can’t divide ourselves. We’ve been living divided in America now for what seems like forever if you’re my age. Other than for a few days after September 11, I can’t remember when we were really united. Are you confident that mindfulness will take root in America? I am. There’s a real openness to something like mindfulness. Take mindfulness in education. What teacher or parent is going to argue with a politician or superintendent who says: “I want your children to be able to concentrate. I want them to be compas- sionate to the other kids in the class. I want them to care about their community and feel connected to their school, their family, their community.” What parent is not going to be for all that! I think there’s going to be a huge interest in mindfulness in general, but particularly in education. It’s a question in all our states: what are we going to do with the education system? Well, I say let’s get back to the fundamentals. Let’s get back to the build- ing blocks of paying attention and connecting to each other so kids don’t get so isolated that they end up in tragic situations. The rates of teen suicide are unacceptable. If I find something like mindfulness that’s going to be helpful, I have a responsibil- ity to push it. SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2012 21