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Lions Roar : July 2012
Was it a challenge getting into the habit of having a mindfulness practice in your own life? Not really. Since that retreat with Jon Kabat-Zinn there have been days I haven’t practiced, but for the most part I do it every day because I’ve realized that this practice of mindfulness helps me focus and quiet the mind. It’s something I’ve wanted to con- tinue. I can tell how much the quality of my day changes if I don’t do it—I become more overwhelmed with stressful situa- tions. Also, after practicing for a while, I’m starting to appreciate the fact that mindfulness is not just something you do during practice periods. It’s something to continue when you’re out and about. Throughout the course of your day, you try to slow down, quiet your mind, and establish yourself in the present moment no matter where you are. How does mindfulness benefit you on the job? I’m able to spend more time actually listening to my constituents. Because of mindfulness practice, I can be fully in a meeting, as opposed to sitting there thinking about the next meeting or the last meeting. There’s so much information that comes at us in government, and I’ve noticed that I now have a greater ability to retain information and to decide what it is I need to remember. How did you transition from seeing mindfulness as a good tool for you, personally, into thinking it could have wide use as government policy? It was almost instantaneous. As soon as I felt how mindfulness relaxed my body and improved my focus, I thought that mindfulness should be taught in our schools. It would be so helpful to kids under stress—who’ve maybe been abused or who can’t concentrate because of the huge influx of technology and informa- tion. I also instantly thought it could be helpful in the healthcare system, as stress leads to disease. Then I thought of our veterans, and how mindfulness could help them deal with the trauma they’ve experienced. Mindfulness is low cost, it’s easy to teach, and it’s a basic human trait. Right away, I thought that with a little time and teaching, mindfulness could get infused throughout society. It’s what our country seems to need right now. How have you helped introduce mindfulness in the education system? About three years ago I got a million dollars to put social and emotional learning and mindfulness in two school districts in Ohio, and the teachers have responded in a wonderful way. In the Warren City School District they just added another fifty teachers—the teachers who were in the program spoke so highly about it that other teachers wanted to do it too. The programs we’re running also have a parental component. Parents are learn- ing how teachers are talking to the kids about being aware of their emotions. This makes a connection with the families. Mindfulness is not a silver bullet. But there’s nothing else right now cutting against the huge influx of information and technol- ogy coming at our kids. We want to give kids the ability to choose what they put their attention on. I’ve seen it in my own district— parents and teachers love it. I understand you spearheaded a mindfulness conference. We did a conference last year at the local medical school. It was held on a snowy Monday in January, and we had 175 people come out for it. That really made me aware that there’s a latent community interested in mindfulness. They may not know everything about it, but it makes sense to them. Mindfulness just resonates with people, even in places like Youngstown or Niles, Ohio. It’s so fundamental and intuitive. People are like, “Yes, I need to slow down. I need to pay attention. I need to spend a little time quieting my mind.” Peo- ple start looking for a way to do these things and—when presented with the practice of mindfulness—they gravitate to it. How do you talk about mindfulness with constituents and other politicians? VIDEOSTILLCOURTESYOFHAYHOUSE Congressman Tim Ryan joins students at the Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore for mindfulness practice in a yoga class led by the Holistic Life Foundation. With a little time and teaching, mindfulness could get infused throughout society. It’s what our country seems to need right now. SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2012 22