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 In meditative mindfulness, Rep. Tim Ryan sees a cure for many American ills

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PostSubject: In meditative mindfulness, Rep. Tim Ryan sees a cure for many American ills   Wed Apr 11, 2012 5:48 pm

In meditative mindfulness, Rep. Tim Ryan sees a cure for many American ills
By Neely Tucker, Published: April 4

Washington Post

Rep. Tim Ryan (D) is a five-term incumbent from the heartland. His Ohio district includes Youngstown and Warren and part of Akron and smaller places. He’s 38, Catholic, single. He was a star quarterback in high school. He lives a few houses down from his childhood home in Niles. He’s won three of his five elections with about 75 percent of the vote.

So when he starts talking about his life-changing moment after the 2008 race, you’re not expecting him to lean forward at the lunch table and tell you, with great sincerity, that this little story of American politics is about (a) a raisin and (b) nothing else.

“You hold this one raisin right up to your mouth, but you don’t put it in, and after a moment your mouth starts to water,” he says, describing an exercise during a five-day retreat into the meditative technique of mindfulness, developed from centuries of Buddhist practice. “The teaching point is that your body responds to things outside of it, that there’s a mind-body connection. It links to how we take on situations and how this results in a great deal of stress.”

For Ryan, the raisin was the beginning of a transformation. The retreat, conducted by Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, led Ryan on a search into how the practice of mindfulness — sitting in silence, losing oneself in the present moment — could be a tonic for what ails the body politic.

In “A Mindful Nation,” published last week, Ryan details his travels across the country, to schools and companies and research facilities, documenting how mindfulness is relieving stress, improving performance and showing potential to reduce health-care costs. It is a prescription, he says, that can help the nation better deal with the constant barrage of information that the Internet age delivers.

“I think when you realize that U.S. Marines are using this that it’s already in the mainstream of our culture,” he says. “It’s a real technique that has real usefulness that has been scientifically documented. . . . Why wouldn’t we have this as part of our health-care program to prevent high levels of stress that cause heart disease and ulcers and Type 2 diabetes and everything else?”

In the book, Ryan meets with the parents of a young soldier who committed suicide. He talks with Richard Davidson, director of the Lab for Affective Neuroscience at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, who has studied the effects of mindfulness on brain development. And he meets with Goldie Hawn, who established a foundation that teaches meditative practices to schoolchildren.

Ryan meditates in a half-lotus position for about 40 minutes each day, he says, sitting on his couch at home or on a cushion. He is optimistic about things. People are “fundamentally good,” he writes in the book. “Our basic nature is not unadulterated self-indulgence and consumption. Our spirit is not violent. Our soul does not desire that we get rich by any means necessary.”

Among other committee assignments, he serves with Rep. John Sullivan (R-Okla.) as a co-chairman of the House Addiction, Treatment and Recovery Caucus. Sullivan says Ryan’s work on meditation has aided the caucus’s mission.

“Tim brings a lot to our work on mental health, with addiction and recovery, with his focus on mindfulness,” Sullivan says. “It adds to the cutting-edge brain research that’s now developing on how to treat addiction.”

At the moment, Ryan is stumping for book sales and the message, not for votes. In Washington, he’ll speak Wednesday at the River Road Unitarian Universalist Congregation in Bethesda.

Back home, he’s got a gig scheduled for early summer at the Congregation Ohev Tzedek in a suburb of Youngstown. Rabbi Josh Jacobs-Velde says the four-hour event will feature Ryan and others teaching, talking and practicing mindfulness. (A potluck dinner follows, of course.)

“Youngstown, Ohio, is not the center of mindfulness training in the country,” Jacobs-Velde says, laughing. “But we’re hoping to raise some awareness of the benefits of just stopping and allowing your mind to settle. It’s really transformative. . . . That a congressman from Youngstown is doing this is wonderful.”
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PostSubject: Re: In meditative mindfulness, Rep. Tim Ryan sees a cure for many American ills   Wed Jul 25, 2012 5:03 pm


From the PBS program - Religion and Ethics Newsweekly

Mindfulness Goes Mainstream

CONGRESSMAN TIM RYAN (D-Ohio): You hear athletes talk a lot about being in the zone. What does that mean? Does anyone know what that means?

LUCKY SEVERSON: Ohio Democrat Congressman Tim Ryan, talking with kids on Capitol Hill about his favorite subject: Mindfulness, what he sees as the result from meditation. Not a typical Washington fixation. Ryan believes everyone would benefit from the practice—individually, in Congress and as a country. He says it’s what he needed.

CONGRESSMAN RYAN: The pace was getting so demanding, between the fundraising and the campaigning and it was just… I was to the point where I thought, “I’m 35. If I keep on this trajectory, I’m going to be burned out by the time I’m 40.”

SEVERSON: Congressman Ryan has written a book called A Mindful Nation and now with the conviction of a missionary, he’s peddling its message to anyone who will listen.

CONGRESSMAN RYAN: By being in the present moment, by taking that deep breath like you’re shooting a foul shot, then you can approach your life in a way that you actually have control of what you’re doing.

SEVERSON: Ryan meditates daily before he comes to work. He says it’s a matter of sitting quietly and focusing on that very moment.

CONGRESSMAN RYAN: I find that starting the day with a little bit of quiet time changes the whole complexion of the rest of the day. It’s almost like warming up before you go into an athletic event. But the key is that you can do it anywhere.

SEVERSON: He thinks it’s a practice needed now more than ever. Look around, he says, at the hectic and chaotic world we live in.

CONGRESSMAN RYAN: I think everyone’s right there on the edge looking for something to help them deal with 24-hour news, information overload, texts, emails, always on the job. People are looking for something to help them deal with that.

SEVERSON: Congressman Ryan says contrary to what some believe, it’s not necessary to be a Buddhist to meditate. He’s a lifelong Catholic.

CONGRESSMAN RYAN: I think mindfulness, by grounding you in the present moment can actually enrich whatever religion you participate in. You don’t have to believe anything. You don’t have to accept certain precepts or principles. You just basically need to practice being in the present moment and then you can take that to whatever religion you practice.

JON KABAT-ZINN (Speaking at Omega Institute, Rhinebeck, NY): There’s not separation between life and meditation practice and when the meditation and life become the same thing in a sense, we light up and become more alive.

SEVERSON: Congressman Ryan says it was a retreat like this that “rocked his world.” Those are his words. A retreat at the Omega Institute in upstate New York, where people from all over the world come to hear Jon Kabat-Zinn, teach on mindfulness. He’s an MIT-trained Molecular Biologist, who founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center 33 years ago. He says there’s nothing complicated about the practice of meditation or mindfulness.

JON KABAT-ZINN: The way I define it is the awareness that arises from paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally. So in a sense the cultivation of mindfulness is observing how mindless you are almost all the time. Certainly true for me. I mean the mind goes off and then with awareness you bring it back.

SEVERSON: This is Darrius Douglas. He started meditating about 10 years ago when he was in 5th grade. Now he can slide into it almost instantly even with a camera staring at him.

DARRIUS DOUGLAS: It gives you a quiet place inside of yourself whereas though you don’t have to feed and react off of the things that’s going around in the environment, around you.

SEVERSON: Darrius learned how to meditate in a program started in some public schools in Baltimore by the Holistic Life Foundation 10 years ago. The program was created by brothers Atman and Ali Smith, and Andy Gonzalez.

ALI SMITH (Holistic Life Foundation): Darrius in the fifth grade, he’s probably one of the toughest kids I ever met in my life. He settled everything with his fists and then at some point, it just clicked with him where he just decided that he was going to try something else.

SEVERSON: Ali and his brother Atman learned meditation from their parents. They thought it along with yoga might do some good in some of West Baltimore’s toughest neighborhoods.

ALI SMITH: We were kind of skeptical ourselves when we first started. I mean, because we know how the yoga and the meditation and stuff were affecting us and we thought it might work with kids…

JON KABAT-ZINN: The levels of stress down into the, you know, elementary school is colossal. That fact that the digital age is upon us and the children that are being born now have never experienced analog life and, you know, are almost being born with these electronic devices that are very seductive and very addictive and distracting.

ATMAN SMITH (Holistic Life Foundation): They first started off fighting and, you know, doing the wrestle mania things, rolling up the mats, beating each other with the mats instead of sitting down and practicing the yoga and, you know, within time…the fights in the, in the yoga room went down a lot um, the amount of times that they were getting in trouble during the course of a day went down.

The teachers would come and talk to us and tell us, like “man, whatever you are doing keep doing it.”

SEVERSON: The principal sends some of the best and some of the most troublesome students to the meditation classes. Taaliyah and Keon, each ten years old, seem to think the classes at Coleman Middle School have helped them become better students.

TAALIYAH EL-AMIN: Because I usually be yelling and stuff but now I take the yoga class and I don’t yell.

SEVERSON: Are you doing better in school?



KEON BURNETT: Paying attention, doing my work, not talking, not fussing, not fighting.

ANDY GONZALEZ (Holistic Life Foundation): I’ll pull two kids apart from fighting and I’ll tell them, put your hand on your heart. And they can feel it beating out of their chest, you know, and I say, start taking some deep breaths. You know how to do it. Sometimes it may not work immediately, you know, but they do know the cues as long as keep telling them, take your breath, don’t forget to take your breath.

SEVERSON: With Congressman Ryan’s encouragement, some public schools in his home state of Ohio have started meditation classes.

CONGRESSMAN RYAN: And I see these kids, my God, they have hope. They all of a sudden, boom, have hope because you’ve taught them the most essential skill they need to live and that’s to be aware of their own emotional state and to being to cultivate in some way their own ability to pay attention.

SEVERSON: If the congressman had written a book on mindfulness 10 years ago, he says there likely wouldn’t have been much interest, but these days everyone is doing it.

CONGRESSMAN RYAN: The United States Marine Corps is doing it. Google, Proctor and Gamble, General Mills, Target, Phil Jackson the great basketball coach used this technique with the Chicago Bulls.

SEVERSON: One reason meditation is becoming more mainstream is because of reliable and consistent research by people like Jon Kabat-Zinn that show that it works.

JON KABAT-ZINN: Even short periods of training and mindfulness can actually change the thickness and the size of certain aspects of the brain that are important for dealing with stress, for uh, working memory, for keeping things in mind that you need to know in order to solve problems.

SEVERSON: Congressman Ryan thinks mindful meditation would improve the low level of civility on Capitol Hill.

CONGRESSMAN RYAN: You’ll be more aware of what you say and what you don’t say. And that’s the whole thing with the practice is that you begin to respond to things as opposed to react to things. If we responded to problems as opposed to reacting to problems, it would shift the direction of the country.

JON KABAT-ZINN: In all Asian languages it’s said that the word for mind and the word for heart is the same word. So if you’re hearing the word mindfulness and you’re not in some way having a kind of simultaneous hearing of it as heartfulness, you’re not actually, really understanding it. So compassion and mindfulness are like two wings of the same bird.

ATMAN SMITH: Once you kind of like tap into that inner peace, that inner beauty inside of yourselves, you will be more empathetic. You will want to help everybody out. You will want to, you know, just, just give and not look for anything in return just give because you know it’s the right thing to do and you know, that is what’s missing in this world.

SEVERSON: Congressman Ryan says he has been stunned by how many members of Congress, from both sides of the aisle, have told him they need stress-relief, which should come at no surprise to the millions of stressed-out Americans.

For Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, I’m Lucky Severson in Washington.
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PostSubject: Re: In meditative mindfulness, Rep. Tim Ryan sees a cure for many American ills   Wed Jul 25, 2012 11:29 pm

The idea of Congress meditating is a shocker. They might actually accomplish something for the people wh elected them.
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PostSubject: Re: In meditative mindfulness, Rep. Tim Ryan sees a cure for many American ills   Thu Jul 26, 2012 12:51 pm

No kidding.

It's fun to imagine them being required to sit for even ten minutes, eyes closed, no talking or tweeting. Would they even submit to the idea, and how many would finish?
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PostSubject: Re: In meditative mindfulness, Rep. Tim Ryan sees a cure for many American ills   Thu Jul 26, 2012 9:40 pm

Russians before they go somewhere often say 'Сядем на дорожку! ' (Let’s sit down before hitting the road!) And have a quiet minute recolection before they go. Think what a diffrence it would make if politicians did this every time before they opened their mouths; mind you it might make quite a difference if I did it too!
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PostSubject: Re: In meditative mindfulness, Rep. Tim Ryan sees a cure for many American ills   Fri Jul 27, 2012 12:37 pm

Carol said: The idea of Congress meditating is a shocker.

I agree. I think the idea of Congress doing anything is a shocker!
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PostSubject: Re: In meditative mindfulness, Rep. Tim Ryan sees a cure for many American ills   Fri Jul 27, 2012 3:51 pm

The other day someone was complaining that voter participation was low and that voting should be made to be a legal requirement. The person answering asked if they really wanted to make those who didn't care enough to want to inform themselves of the issues, to be in control of them.

Is it a common US view of Congress, that the only thing scarier than the Congress not doing anything, is them doing something?

Here is Canada, our version of congress usually functions more as a moderator to societies often mercurial wishes for change. If I had more respect for society at large, I'd probably think that was a bad idea.
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PostSubject: Re: In meditative mindfulness, Rep. Tim Ryan sees a cure for many American ills   Sat Jul 28, 2012 11:52 pm

The US Congress can make substantial change in society if it has the will to do so. We can look to the Civil Rights Act of 1964 or the Social Security Act or Medicare to see how Congress can work for the benefit of people. Currently, they can't even act as Howard says as "moderator" to society's wishes for change. They can't agree on anything, but less act as moderators.
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PostSubject: Re: In meditative mindfulness, Rep. Tim Ryan sees a cure for many American ills   Sat Jul 28, 2012 11:56 pm

Wow -- when I logged out, the banner ad showed a picture of Billy Graham looking pious with the words "Will you pray with us in 2012?" or something like that. Maybe they want us to pray for the Democrats to take control of the US House of Representatives and get the crazies out of there. Somehow, I don't think that's what they want me to pray about.
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