Zen and the Art of U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan: Meditation in Congress


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Last year, U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan (D-Youngstown) penned a little book called A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit. You probably already have a copy of it, all dog-eared and worn with time. In this mighty tome, Ryan reflects on how mindfulness — meditation, in practice — could transform our country and its tattered political structure.

Today, The Atlantic published a fine little feature on the congressman, elaborating on his mindful approach to legislation. It's a great read, because Ryan is actually committed to this practice down in Washington — unlike, you know, that guy down the hall at your dorm who just read some Alan Watts for the first time. Ryan hosts weekly zazen sessions for congressional staffers, and he infuses his Budget Committee hearings with “quiet-time sessions.”

The theory he's been kicking around is that all this mindfulness stuff might actually help Washington remove its collective head from its collective ass with enough clarity to do something productive. 

Here's an excerpt:

By the time he was 35, the Democrat was already in his third term in Congress, and he was exhausted. Campaigning, fund-raising, legislating, barnstorming through his swing state for presidential candidates, governors, and senators—it had all taken a toll. So just after the 2008 election, he signed up for a retreat led by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the author of Wherever You Go, There You Are and perhaps America’s foremost popularizer of “mindfulness.” Expecting to de-stress, Ryan ended up having a profound experience that would dramatically affect the course of his career. A pivotal moment came during an exercise involving a raisin. Gazing at it, his mouth began to water—proof, he realized, that the mind and body are inextricably connected. “I decided,” he later wrote, “I would advocate in Congress and on the Appropriations Committee for integrating mindfulness into key aspects of our society.”


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