GOOD

Should Society Fund Mindfulness?

Putting taxpayer money toward meditation programs? It’s not as crazy as you might think.

Illustration by Tyler Hoehne

One can imagine that the relentless, backbiting pressure cooker that is Washington, D.C. takes its toll. (Just watching Congress do all that backbiting certainly does.) By his third term in office, Washington was making Ohio congressman Tim Ryan sick. But Ryan, a Democrat who penned the book A Mindful Nation, found a balm for his frenetic mind after his 2008 campaign: a Jon Kabat-Zinn retreat that taught him the link between mind and body. Ryan began practicing mindfulness (45 minutes each morning in his office), and also decided that he “would advocate in Congress and on the Appropriations Committee for integrating mindfulness into key aspects of our society.”


I’m originally from Ryan’s district, a spot along the Rust Belt full of rough-and-tumble, blue-collar folks (many of whom struggled for decades to secure decent jobs). It’s a deeply Italian-American area where, in season, you can always find a good Lenten fish fry, and pizza is sold from church basements year-round. It’s a population that one might not immediately associate with a practice derived from Eastern philosophy. But somehow Ryan has become the poster boy for mindfulness back home and in Congress—so much so that a conservative blogger dubbed him “Congressman Moonbeam.”

Ryan isn’t all granola and hemp, however. He’s a bulky former high school football player and altar boy. Today, he sports nice suits and attends policy briefings. But as Molly Ball recently described him in The Atlantic, Ryan “is that guy you know who’s just started meditating and can’t stop talking about it, only with the ability to propose legislation.”

We laugh at friends who swallow self-help books, who adopt gurus and stumble blithely behind them. A congressman who has appeared with Deepak Chopra can be easily lumped in with those who’ve spent too much time discovering their aura’s color. (It’s a trope that’s too easy—the Beatles in India or Eat, Pray, Love— and it perhaps denotes some latent bigotry toward a religious and cultural tradition unfamiliar to most Westerners). Forget that these mindfulness-adopters are truly attempting to improve their lives. Forget that Ryan, like good legislators are supposed to, has found something that could help his constituents.

In a Washington so apparently devoid of quiet reflection, according to The Washington Times, Ryan has had other members of Congress privately approach him hoping to learn more about mindfulness. He has sponsored a bill to increase holistic medical offerings through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and secured earmarks for relaxation training in his district's schools.

He’s managed to turn mindfulness into a public good. While corporations like Google, Target, and Proctor & Gamble have found enough worth in the practice to establish corporate contemplation and mindfulness trainings, Ryan’s earmarks make these coveted skills available to public schoolchildren early in their education thanks to secular programming based on Social and Emotional Learning principles. In elementary schools in the towns surrounding my childhood neighborhood, to neutralize emotional outbursts and behavioral issues, kids learn take deep breaths and still themselves. They lay down their burdens in a “Peace Corner.” They discover how to create time and space to alleviate stress in order to facilitate the day’s lessons.

According to a recent article in the area’s Warren Tribune Chronicle, school faculty members view the program as having positive effects in the classroom, though those results have not yet been quantified.

We live frenzied, plugged-in lives these days, with reams of information begging for our attention every waking second. Just as the societal transition from hard labor to desk jobs meant that we had to carve out time for physical fitness, we are now adjusting to an era in which the majority of us have an increasing need for mental fitness. Investing in that, and all the long-term positive health impacts of meditation—decreased anxiety and depression, lower blood pressure, relief of chronic pain—certainly offers the potential to create a happier, healthier citizenry.

With added evidence that meditation makes people more patient and empathetic, less hostile, angry, and fearful, there appears to be merit in Ryan’s quest to bring mindfulness to this particular Congress. So before you dismiss the Congressmen Moonbeams of the world, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and reflect on exactly what he's advocating for—a low-cost proposition that could improve public health and teach our children to live more balanced lives.

Articles
Photo by Josh Couch on Unsplash

Christopher Columbus, Alexander Hamilton, William Shakespeare, and Sir Walter Scott are getting company. Statues of the famous men are scattered across Central Park in New York City, along with 19 others. But they'll finally be joined by a few women.

Susan B. Anthony, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Sojourner Truth are the subjects of a new statue that will be on display along The Mall, a walkway that runs through the park from 66th to 72nd street. It will be dedicated in August of next year, which is fittingly the 100-year anniversary of the 19th Amendment that granted women the right to vote.

Currently, just 3% of statues in New York City are dedicated to women. Out of 150 statues of historical figures across the city, only five statues are of historical women, including Joan of Arc, Golda Meir, Gertrude Stein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Harriet Tubman.

Keep Reading Show less
promo-homepage

It's easy to become calloused to everyday headlines with messages like, "the world is ending" and "everything is going extinct." They're so prevalent, in fact, that the severity of these statements has completely diminished to the point that no one pays them any attention. This environmental negativity (coined "eco-phobia") has led us to believe that all hope is lost for wildlife. But luckily, that isn't the case.

Historically, we have waited until something is near the complete point of collapse, then fought and clawed to bring the species numbers back up. But oftentimes we wait so long that it's too late. Creatures vanish from the Earth altogether. They go extinct. And even though I don't think for a single second that we should downplay the severity of extinction, if we can flip this on its head and show that every once in a while a species we have given up on is actually still out there, hanging on by a thread against all odds, that is a story that deserves to be told. A tragic story of loss becomes one about an animal that deserves a shot at preservation and a message of hope the world deserves to hear.

As a wildlife biologist and tracker who has dedicated his life to the pursuit of animals I believe have been wrongfully deemed extinct, I spend most of my time in super remote corners of the Earth, hoping to find some shred of evidence that these incredible creatures are still out there. And to be frank, I'm pretty damn good at it!

Keep Reading Show less
The Planet

For more than 20 years. Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) has served the citizens of Maine in the U.S. Senate. For most of that time, she has enjoyed a hard-fought reputation as a moderate Republican who methodically builds bridges and consensus in an era of political polarization. To millions of political observers, she exemplified the best of post-partisan leadership, finding a "third way" through the static of ideological tribalism.

However, all of that has changed since the election of Donald Trump in 2016. Voters in Maine, particularly those who lean left, have run out of patience with Collins and her seeming refusal to stand up to Trump. That frustration peaked with the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics
NHM Vienna/Hans Reschreiter

Wealth inequality has been a hot topic of discussion as of late, but it's something that's occurred all throughout history. Class structure is a complicated issue, especially when you consider that haves and have nots have been in existence for over 4,000 years.

A study published in Science took a look at over 100 late Neolithic and early Bronze Age skeletons found in a burial site in southern Germany. The study "shed light on the complexity of social status, inheritance rules, and mobility during the Bronze Age." Partly by looking at their teeth and the artifacts they were buried with, researchers were able to discover that wealth inequality existed almost 4,000 years ago. "Our results reveal that individual households lasting several generations consisted of a high-status core family and unrelated low-status individuals, a social organization accompanied by patrilocality and female exogamy, and the stability of this system over 700 years," the study said.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture
via Truthout.org / Flickr and Dimitri Rodriguez / Flickr

Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign looks to be getting a huge big shot in the arm after it's faced some difficulties over the past few weeks.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a leading voice in the Democratic parties progressive, Democratic Socialist wing, is expected to endorse Sanders' campaign at the "Bernie's Back" rally in Queens, New York this Saturday.

Fellow member of "the Squad," Ilhan Omar, endorsed him on Wednesday.

Keep Reading Show less
Politics