CAPTION: Soren [Gordhamer], Congressman Tim Ryan, and Jon Kabat-Zinn discuss Mindfulness, Politics and Society: Extending into the World
[at the Wisdom 2.0 Conference 2011]
Among the fifty states, Ohio could hardly be considered the most liberal, or the most anti-Christian, or the most New Age state. Yet, for whatever reason, a young Congressional Representative from Ohio – Tim Ryan – has become a darling of New Agers. Why? Because he has become a strong advocate of New Age/Buddhist “mindfulness” (also called “mindfulness meditation”). I am especially concerned that he is pushing this practice for public schools – including preschools and grade schools.
A number of New Agers are endorsing Ryan’s new book A Mindful Nation. Ryan is also pushing legislation that will increase the practice of mindfulness in public schools. Other New Agers championing mindfulness in public schools are Jon Kabat-Zinn and Goldie Hawn.
CAPTION: Rep. Tim Ryan, D-OH, practices meditation with kids at Robert Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore.
So when and how did Ryan get involved in mindfulness (also called “mindfulness meditation”)? Check out excerpts from this interview (I have emphasized certain points by bolding in orange, and inserted comments [in brackets in bolded orange].
Q: Why did you write this book?
A: The book came out of my going around the county to meet scientists studying mindfulness; teachers using it in schools; health care practitioners implementing it in our health care system; our military using it to treat veterans and build mental resilience. And I thought the world needed to see what they are doing. They are pioneers in what will be the next great movement in the United States: the movement of mindfulness.
Q: When did your interest in mindfulness start?
A: It started a long time ago. My grandparents and my mom prayed the rosary a lot, and later in life I had a priest friend of mine teach me centering prayer, based on Father Thomas Keating’s work. That led to practicing different kinds of meditation off and on as I got older.
Q: And when did you begin to consistently practice meditation?
A: I had been running extremely hard with my job and traveling across Ohio and the country to help Democrats take back the House in 2006, and then there was the presidential election. I was 35 and I thought, “I’m going to be burned out by the time I’m 40. I really need to jump-start my meditation practice.” Two days after the presidential election, I spent five days at a retreat [led by mindfulness “guru” Jon Kabat-Zinn] in increasing levels of silence. It reminded me of how I felt when I played sports: being in “the zone” with mind and body grounded in the present moment.
Q: And you continue to meditate every day?
A: Yes, 40 to 45 minutes every morning before I leave the house and go out into the world…
After some discussion of “Washington politics”, the interview continues as follows:
Q: Because of mindfulness’ Buddhist roots, a lot of people think it’s a religious practice. How does your meditation relate to your Catholic faith?
A: If you love your neighbor and are compassionate, are you automatically a Christian? Practicing present-moment awareness does not entail joining any religion or accepting any belief system. [Yes it does – the core of mindfulness is a New Age/Buddhist worldview.] As a Catholic, I find mindfulness helps me participate in my religion more wholeheartedly. If you are praying the rosary, participating in the rituals at Mass or listening to the priest preach, you will actually be paying attention! Whatever your religion is, it can enhance the experience of participating in that religion. What’s more beautiful than that?
Q: There do seem to be some Buddhist concepts in your book, such as the interconnectedness of all beings. Has meditation made you more interested in Buddhist philosophy?
A: I love studying different religions. For me, learning and drawing from the different religious traditions is essential to being a good public servant. And the connections between our various religious traditions become our public ethic; they tie us together.
And in a 2012 article originally posted here, a Buddhist website asks Youngstown, Ohio Congressional Representative (D) Tim Ryan:
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 learning 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 technology 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.
FOR FURTHER READING
List of Google hits on [“Tim Ryan” “centering prayer” “mindfulness”]
Christian discernment articles critiquing Ryan
Stand Up for the Truth!, U.S. Congressman Advocates Mindful Meditation as Solution to Global Conflict – followed by links to a number of additional Christian discernment articles
Lighthouse Trails Research, Ohio Congressman Tim Ryan’s Meditation Crusade – Hopes to Influence Other Congress Members (and All Americans)
Religious (but not necessarily Christian) articles mentioning Ryan’s motives and Catholic background
Lisa Joan Reardon, Mindfulness and Centering Prayer (08/06/12)
Ohio congressman Tim Ryan on a mission to bring meditation to the masses
Buddhist articles favoring Ryan
Secular articles favoring Ryan
CASEL, Congressman Tim Ryan, U.S. Representative, 17th District, Ohio
Mary Utne O’Brien Award for Excellence in Expanding the Evidence-Based Practice of Social and Emotional Learning in the Area of Policy
Tim Ryan, Ohio Congressman, Shares His Mindfulness Vision For The Country – Arianna Huffington, editor of the Huffington Post, graduated from the New Age University of Santa Monica mentioned in this article