In the west, the concept and practice of learning how to be more present in our lives has enjoyed an exponentially growing audience in the last 10 years. There have been a number of people and books raising awareness of the importance of cultivating greater mindfulness for the purpose of healing great stress, anxiety, depression, addiction, chronic pain and even creating great joy.
However, it wasn’t until now that someone within our own government began working to help transform our society from the inside out, in a recently published book A Mindful Nation.
If you haven’t be introduced to him yet, it is my pleasure to bring to you an exclusive interview with Congressman Tim Ryan as he shares with us why there’s a need for change, who inspires him as mindful change makers, some wisdom from Bobby Kennedy, and the quiet revolution happening in America right now.
Elisha: You open up the first chapter of A Mindful Nation with a quote by John F. Kennedy, “In a crisis, be aware of the danger, but recognize the opportunity.” What do you see as the danger we face right now and what’s the opportunity?
Tim: I guess that can be different for each individual, but we all share some collective dangers – constant states of stress and anxiety for various reasons, high levels of information overload and a growing disconnection from each other as human beings. These dangers are leading to an ever growing inability to take the time needed to solve the challenges of growing income inequality, affordable and accessible health care and child care and how we make time available to spend with our children, family and friends, basically all the things that make life worth living. I feel that those are our collective dangers.
The opportunities actually come from us as a people being exhausted and burned out. Collectively we are looking for a new way of doing things that is not going to come about by us simply balancing our national budget or spending more money on a certain program. The opportunity that presents itself now is for deep, structural and systemic change in how we run our society. The openness for this kind of change can only come when there is some kind of crisis.
Elisha: Who else it out there doing the work that inspires you to build a mindful nation?
Tim: All of the people in A Mindful Nation and it is growing by the day. The people in the trenches doing the hard-nosed research, implementing the programs and making the change. They are on the front lines in some of the most difficult of neighborhoods and schools, some of the busiest health care facilities and some of the most dangerous prisons. They inspire me with their tenacity in their belief that if people touch what is deepest and most profound inside them that they can experience their lives in a much more sane and enjoyable way.
Elisha: You close your final chapter with the quote from JFK’s brother Robert Kennedy that is timely, “What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred…but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another.” Give us a glimpse into your thoughts on this.
Tim: I just find Bobby Kennedy’s short campaign for President so inspiring because his rhetoric identified what America can be like if we care about each other. It is that simple. I’ve been on enough sports teams in my life to have experienced the magic of what can happen when a group of people care for and love each other.
Everyone on the team becomes better, even the water boys. And I believe that if we can care about whether or not our neighbor has a good job or access to affordable health care for their children, and we move to implement the policies that can improve these situations, we will unleash vast amounts of human potential and recapture the American Spirit. You can feel that when you read or listen to Kennedy’s speeches.
Elisha: If you were sitting across the table from a constituent right now who was struggling in our current national climate, what words of wisdom might you have for this person?
Tim: Obviously, I have certain policy positions that I push and advocate for that would benefit people dealing in a system the breeds inequality and makes life more difficult for people. I would want them to know that who they votes for does make a difference as to how, and if, these problems get fixed.
But, I would also let them know that America is strong and resilient because our citizens are. And I have been witnessing a quiet revolution happening in America that can fundamentally change the way we look at our political, economic and social systems. That as we all stop and slow down a bit, we can see how connected we are and realize that we can change the systems that breed poverty, violence and extreme inequality. And that change can help us enjoy the benefits of true family values, like more time with our families and less at work, like a better and more well-rounded education system and a new respect for workers.
Everyone has to do their part too. No one is disconnected. And everyone has to improve their skills, take care of their own health to the extent they can and contribute their time and talents to the community and country. So, if we all agree that we will improve ourselves and then share those improvements with society, we can allow this revolution to quietly and gently transform our citizens and our country.
Elisha: Thank you so much for your inspiration Tim.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.