Rep. Tim Ryan believes meditating not only helps him navigate through tumultuous political waters but that it can be useful for the country in these uncertain times.
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“There's no better place to ... practice embracing uncertainty than in the United States Congress,” Ryan told ABC’s Dan Harris during an interview for his “10% Happier” podcast. “Especially now … nobody has a clue of what direction we’ll go in.”
Ryan, D-Ohio, sat down with Harris and meditation teacher Jeff Warren during Harris' and Warren’s cross-country meditation road trip shortly after President Trump’s inauguration. The interview is the featured “10% Happier” podcast episode posted today.
Ryan has been in the spotlight recently for being among the Democrats who have made a push to oust Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., as House minority leader. Ryan himself launched a failed challenge to unseat Pelosi for the position last November.
When asked in January if he thought his meditation practice could help him work better with Republicans and then newly-elected President Trump, Ryan said absolutely.
“I don’t have to like him, I don’t have to go drink beer with him, I don’t have to play golf with him,” Ryan said at the time. “But if he has something that’s going to help my constituents, I hope I can ratchet me own stuff down to be able to do that. I mean, it’s my obligation to be able to do that.”
Ryan has been hosting meditation sessions for members of Congress and their staffs for years, bringing in a variety of different teachers, from practitioners who work with veterans to Deepak Chopra. The sessions are bipartisan, and the congressman said people from both sides of the aisle have joined.
“I had a bunch of people grab me just this year saying, ‘I think we need to start coming to your thing,’” Ryan said. “People don’t even know what to call it but they know it’s stress reduction stuff and more and more people are looking to be a part of it.”
Ryan said he has heard from others on Capitol Hill that finding the time to meditate is a challenge.
“It’s hard with the demands – you fly in right before votes and you stack your schedule with meetings and then you fly out as soon as you can, so carving out the time and really make it a priority is tough for people,” Ryan said. “That’s what I think the staff [participation] is really important because you can still work your way into an office where someone is starting to want to change the dynamics of the office.”
The congressman knows the exhaustion of the job all too well. By 2008, he was in his third term and after spending the election cycle campaigning and fundraising for candidates through his swing state, Ryan said, “I was almost out.”
“It wasn’t burnout … I was just like, ‘I’ve got to do something,’” he said.
He went on a five-day retreat with Jon Kabat-Zinn, a renowned meditation teacher who focuses on secular mindfulness meditation without religious overtones. Sitting for hours in silence on retreat, Ryan said he started to feel the benefits from meditation.
“It was just like, ‘this is unbelievable,' you can start really seeing your thoughts,” he said. “And then you become aware of why you have high blood pressure. I keep thinking these negative thoughts over and over and over again and you wonder why you’re stressed out [over] stuff that’s years gone by or hasn’t even happened.”
Ryan is now an eighth-term congressman representing Ohio’s 13th District, and his experiences with meditation led him to write “A Mindful Nation,” in which he talked about areas of government in which mindfulness could be helpful.
In May, Ryan co-sponsored a bill aimed at providing funding for reducing teacher stress, and previously he sponsored a bill to increase holistic-medicine assistance for the Department of Veterans Affairs.
Ryan said he tries to explain to others that even though meditation gets a reputation for being a liberal, new-age practice, there are conservative values embodied in it.
“It’s about taking care of yourself,” he said. “It’s about understanding yourself. It’s about making you healthier.”