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May 2013


A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit


by Congressman Tim Ryan (Hay House, 2012)


What are the big take-aways?


After experiencing his own epiphanies by using mindfulness practices on a retreat with Jon Kabat-Zinn in 2008, Congressman Tim Ryan (a Democrat from Ohio) committed himself to learning more about mindfulness and spreading the word about its benefits.  Ryan inquires on pages 19-20:


Wouldn’t you give this practice a try if you knew it could help quiet your mind or increase your ability to focus, whether at work or on the golf course, tennis court, or yoga mat?  You may notice your body being a little more relaxed and less tense, which helps you to navigate the day with more ease.  You may notice that you have a little more energy because you have less mental chatter and physical anxiety.  You may find that you can fall asleep quicker and get a better night’s rest…Mindfulness is not a magic bullet or cure-all, but it can lead to small but significant changes that can improve your performance and make life more enjoyable.


Why do I like it?


I like the way the book starts with Tim Ryan’s personally vulnerable and candid story about what he’s learned from developing his own mindfulness.  Then he moves on to a very well-written and compelling chapter entitled, “What Scientists Say Mindfulness Can Do for You,” which uses plain language and everyday analogies to back up his experience and justify his enthusiasm.


While the book gets somewhat repetitious as Ryan recounts the mental and physical benefits of mindfulness in various American cultural and industrial contexts (e.g., raising children, health and health-care systems, military and first-responder performance, and national – including economic – values), each chapter is a tidy and persuasive essay.  Each contains examples of successful programs that are currently changing the way business is being conducted in that sector.  Also, to support a sufficiently inspired reader, the chapters are punctuated with brief “What You Can Do” suggestions for taking action on a personal level and/or as a citizen.


In what situations would this be useful?


If you’re curious about the whole “mindfulness” phenomenon, and looking for an introduction to mindfulness practice and/or its policy implications, this is a good choice.  There is an afterword containing a few very simple “starter” mindfulness and kindness practices by Dr. Susan Bauer-Wu if you like to try some, and an appendix containing a few dozen resources for further reading (both in general, and organized by chapter topic) if you’re interested in going deeper.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


If you’re interested in simply understanding what “mindfulness” is, or exploring whether mindfulness practices are for you, I highly recommend the classic guide to beginning meditation by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever You Go, There You Are (Hyperion, 1994).


If you’re into the neurobiology of mindfulness, as well as its practice, I really like Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love & Wisdom by Rick Hanson (previously reviewed in the Leadership Library).  As I wrote in my review of it back in 2010, there is enough hard-core neurobiology in Buddha’s Brain for readers who already have some knowledge in this area, and there is also enough material on managing emotion to satisfy readers seeking support for making specific thought-pattern changes.  While Buddhism is the foundation – or perhaps more accurately the inspiration – for the book, as a spiritual orientation it is actually not central to Hanson’s argument.  The Buddhist practices he examines primarily provide only the scaffolding around which Hanson constructs his thorough explanations.


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