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A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit Hardcover – 27 Mar 2012

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Hay House UK (27 Mar 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1401939295
  • ISBN-13: 978-1401939298
  • Product Dimensions: 2.5 x 15.2 x 22.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,060,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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""Tim Ryan's A Mindful Nation reminds us that the concept of 'mindfulness' is central to each of us becoming more whole, and becoming more whole increases the possibility that our nation can become a more whole and perfect Union."" --Congressman Jesse L. Jackson, Jr.

About the Author

Tim Ryan was first elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002, at the age of 29, and is currently serving in his fifth term representing Ohio's 17th Congressional District. He maintains a strong commitment to the economic and social well-being of his constituents in northeast Ohio. He serves as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, as well as its Subcommittees on Readiness and on Emerging Threats and Capabilities. He also serves as a member of the House Budget Committee and co-chairman of the Congressional Manufacturing Caucus.

Congressman Ryan has a daily mindfulness meditation practice. He has been an outspoken advocate for promoting mindfulness practice as an aid to dealing with the variety of complex problems facing the nation. During his tenure in the House, he has helped to get mindfulness and social and emotional learning programs established in several schools in his district. He also spearheaded a conference at a medical school in his district on Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction.

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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Niki Collins-queen, Author TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 19 Aug 2012
Format: Hardcover
When Congressman Tim Ryan's daily mindfulness practice helped him quiet his mind, harness more energy, increase his focus, allow him to relax and pay better attention he immediately recognized how a mindfulness practice had the potential to help transform America's core institutions - the military, schools, hospitals and social service.
Ryan wrote "A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit" to help Americans face economic insecurity, the pain of war, the frustrations of being sick in a broken health-care system and the challenges of teaching children to pay attention and be kind to themselves and others. Mindfulness also helps sick people work with their pain, school children improve their learning, veterans heal from trauma, and CEOs become more inclusive and effective leaders. These benefits are supported by scientific research and reported by the mainstream media.
In addition to promoting the values of slowing down, taking care of ourselves, being kind and helping each other Ryan believes embracing these values individually will benefit us collectively and result in a stronger America. When citizens reduce stress and increase performance though mindfulness they become healthier, more resilient, better equipped to face challenges and arrive at creative solutions.
Ryan says mindfulness is about paying attention to the present moment, what's right in front of us instead of remaining a prisoner of the past or worrying about the future. Mindfulness is about paying attention in a new more deliberate way. It's not just how we pay attention, but also what we pay attention to that can lead to significant changes in the quality of our lives.
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Amazon.com: 122 reviews
56 of 58 people found the following review helpful
Moving forward into the best our nation (and our world) can be 28 Mar 2012
By Marsha Lucas - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Congressman Tim Ryan has written a well-reasoned, scientifically-grounded book that I hope will get attention beyond those who are already interested in mindfulness.

If you want to create change (and I think most of us would agree that the current polarization and gridlock isn't working for any of us), start with the first step of Ryan's plan: Practice mindfulness to improve your own physical and mental health (tons of solid evidence supports this). A few minutes a day reduces stress (and all of the downstream ill health that comes from that), improves immunity, and reduces the number of medications (with all of their costs and potential side effects).

Ryan moves on from there to address the various ways that a more mindful nation can bring about better education (even if only because kids aren't wired and torqued by counterproductive levels of stress), allowing attention and memory - learning - to improve dramatically, as shown by several large-scale applications of mindfulness training for students.

Lest you think Ryan's book is too "soft," enhancing the performance of the military is another benefit of mindfulness that Ryan describes and encourages.

And creativity and innovation - two of America's greatest strengths - are greatly enhanced when the brain is better integrated, allowing all of our abilities to be more online and active. Ryan visited the neuroimaging labs of leading universities to see for himself the excellent evidence for mindfulness meditations positive effects on areas and pathways that support better brain function (creativity, curiosity, collaboration, and more), including healthy, balanced empathy, which is necessary if we're not going to remain in stubborn, fear-and-anger-based gridlock.

Mindfulness practice requires no change of religion, doesn't turn you into a wuss, won't make you complacent, doesn't promote rabid self-involvement, or any of the other fear-based (not evidence-based) "worries" about mindfulness practice.

Bravo to Congressman Ryan for a solid, substantive, highly practical book with an evidence-based plan for getting out of some of the bigger quagmires challenging this incredible nation of ours. May he be joined by millions.
22 of 23 people found the following review helpful
By Dr. Anthony Pantaleno - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Any day that a western political figure of the stature of Congreeman Tim Ryan endorses and sings the praises of the single most relevant FREE health practice of our time is a very good day! I never thought I would live to see it, but see it and read it I have in A Mindful Nation! For so many of us who have lost our faith in the two-party political rhetoric of our time, Tim Ryan has restored the faith that there are politicians who "get it" and who will lead the way for our nation back to the simple life, peace and common sense, a belief in ourselves to take care of our earth and each other, and to reclaim our place in making for a better world for all.

Anthony Pantaleno, Ph.D.
New York State Licensed Psychologist
12 of 12 people found the following review helpful
I highly recommend this book... 24 April 2012
By Tara Healey - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
A Mindful Nation is a great read, and I can recommend it to anyone who is already familiar with mindfulness but interested in how it is being brought to a local level, as well as anyone who is interested in finding out more about mindfulness from a layman's perspective. Congressman Ryan speaks convincingly about the impact mindfulness practice has had on him and others, using a prose style that is refreshingly plainspoken but that never over-simplifies the complex ideas he's dealing with. As such, he's a great tour-guide through this world. He describes in detail his encounters with the many dedicated professionals across the country who are introducing mindfulness in hospitals, schools, corporations and the military. Citing the work of neuroscientists like Richard Davidson and Sara Lazar he illustrates the way the brain changes in response to mindfulness training, using accessible language so the non-scientist can easily glean the significance of the research. Ryan is able to keep the book brisk and engaging by relying on his talent as a storyteller, and by relating the stories of individuals who are using mindfulness in different ways across society he inspires the reader to want to live a more awake, aware and connected life, and really appreciate each moment. A politician doesn't seem like the typical advocate for a practice as ancient and simple as mindfulness, but for this reason the work Congressman Ryan performs in this book comes across as that much more powerful. His credibility as a leader makes me hopeful that mindfulness can become more than just a niche practice, and instead something that everyone can have access to and benefit from.
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
A fine book (but not a how to book) 6 July 2012
By Jim - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I read A Mindful Nation over the course of two evenings, and I found it to be a great, inspiring read and I highly recommend it. Prospective buyers of A Mindful Nation should know that although A Mindful Nation includes an afterword by Dr. Susan Bauer-Wu that consists of basic, easy to follow guided instructions for actual mindfulness practices, A Mindful Nation is not a "how to practice mindfulness meditation" type of book. If you are in the market for such a book my first recommendation is Mindfulness in Plain English.

Congressman Tim Ryan's A Mindful Nation is partly autobiographical and inspirational, it is informational, and it is in a sense a manifesto about how "integrating mindfulness into health care, education, and society at large" might benefit society and the entire nation. An example of the informational aspect of Mindful Nation is that it includes a 20 page chapter titled "What Scientists Say Mindfulness Can Do For You" wherein Ryan touches on the question of neuroplasticity (essentially that the brain is incredibly adaptive) and the idea that mindfulness practice "can change the way our brain functions."

Though I'd heard of Ryan before reading A Mindful Nation, I barely knew anything about him other than that he was a young Democratic congressman, and after reading A Mindful nation I know nothing about his positions on controversial social and political issues, and I consider that a good thing given that the subject of the book is non-partisan in nature. So while I can imagine someone who dislikes Democrats expressing disinterest in the book for that reason ("Written by a Democrat? No way!"), I think it would make a good gift for any reasonably open-minded person regardless of their political affiliations or leanings.

Ryan's primary mindfulness teacher is Jon Kabat-Zinn, who authored the foreword of A Mindful Nation. One could get the impression from A Mindful Nation as well as from Kabat-Zinn's books that it in order for one to be mindful in everyday life, one must take up formal sitting mindfulness meditation practice. At the end of the last century Jon Kabat-Zinn and his wife Myla Kabat-Zinn wrote a book titled Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting. Back then I read an interview wherein the interviewer asked Myla how her mindfulness practice helped her with parenting. This question was followed by what I inferred was a moment of awkward silence, broken when Jon said that Myla doesn't actually have a sitting mindfulness practice, "but she is very mindful."

I first started meditating a couple of years before Tim Ryan was born in 1971. By the end of the seventies my sitting meditation practice had gravitated toward mindfulness meditation (which is also referred to as insight meditation or "vipassana," which depending on how you spell it is a Pali or Sanskrit word), and has stayed there ever since. I was an instructor for mindfulness meditation courses at two hospitals through much of the nineties. I mention this to provide a bit of context for some of my comments.

Back in the early seventies I too thought it would be great if meditation were taught to school children. I thought it would be great if "everybody" practiced meditation. And I was hardly alone in thinking this, as the Transcendental Meditation organization (which I've never had any involvement with) has sought since the sixties to introduce TM into schools, health care, the military, boardrooms, and society at large, exactly as Ryan proposes for mindfulness meditation. In his foreword to A Mindful Nation, Kabat-Zinn says, "This book is not based on wishful thinking or on pie-in-the-sky romanticism and idealism." But I think there is something idealistic, though I would not characterize it as "pie-in-the-sky," about the "hopeful vision" (as Ryan's vision is described in the book) that everyone can and should take up any meditation practice, and that this will lead toward a vastly improved world.

As I say, I too once had such a hopeful vision, but I quickly shifted toward what I consider a more sobering and realistic attitude toward meditation, which is that while it should be available to everyone, it isn't necessarily right for everyone, and not everyone who tries some form of meditation is necessarily going to find benefit in it and/or is going to be able for whatever reason to stick with it. And not everyone needs to practice formal sitting mindfulness meditation, for some folks, such as Myla Kabat-Zinn, can be mindful without having a formal sitting practice.

There is no mention in A Mindful Nation of the fact that mindfulness meditation is a Buddhist practice and the "B" word does not appear in the book (which, BTW, is not indexed). Now of course what Kabat-Zinn teaches and thus what Ryan was taught is a secularized version of Buddhist mindfulness meditation (which has led a number of Buddhists to accuse Kabat-Zinn et al of presenting a "watered-down" version of mindfulness to the public), but the fact that mindfulness has Buddhist origins may make it difficult if not impossible to introduce it into some public institutions.

One of the reasons some mindfulness teachers try to secularize mindfulness is because they see this as a way of mainstreaming "the dharma" (a Sanskrit term which in this context refers to the teachings of the Buddha). In the article "Mindfulness: The Heart of Buddhist Meditation? A Conversation with Jan Chozen-Bays, Joseph Goldstein, Jon Kabat-Zinn and Alan Wallace" in the Spring 2006 issue of Inquiring Mind: A Semiannual Journal of the Vipassana Community, Kabat-Zinn says: ""Sometimes I use mindfulness as a kind of umbrella term for the dharma." "We're trying to bring mindfulness meditation into the mainstream of society." "If what we taught didn't have behind it the true transformative and liberative power of the dharma from the get-go, there wouldn't be much point in offering it as a challenge to people who are suffering in the first place."

In a nation where people fight over whether "intelligent design" should be taught in public school science classes, I think any widespread attempt to introduce mindfulness into public schools is bound to meet with resistance from those who would argue, rightly or wrongly, that it is a religious practice. And I think that no matter what one might say in support of the idea that mindfulness can be practiced independently of any religious affiliation, in the same way that one can practice hatha yoga exercises without doing so in some kind of Hindu context, and even if one argues (as some do) that Buddhism is not a religion, the bottom line is that in our polarized nation efforts to get mindfulness into public schools are bound to only get so far. (I introduced my granddaughter to mindfulness practice when she was 3, and I would be thrilled if she were to learn it in school, but I don't have high hopes that will ever happen.)

Another problem has to do with that aspect of Buddhist ethics called "right speech." Let's say that someone who practices and teaches mindfulness meditation shares Ryan's "hopeful vision" that mindfulness can and should be integrated into health care, education, boardrooms, the military and society at large. And they realize that one obstacle to realizing this vision is the fact that mindfulness can easily be perceived (rightly or wrongly) as a Buddhist practice and thus a religious practice. One approach would be to try to change the perception of those who think of mindfulness this way, and another approach, and one that is often taken, is to simply not mention the "B" word. If someone's goal is to mainstream "the dharma," failure to mention the "B" word would, IMO, constitute a lie of omission. One could argue that such a lie is a "noble lie," but that brings in other problems, such as the fact that the concept of noble lies (from Plato) is that they are lies that enlightened elites must sometimes tell members of the unenlightened "mob" (who dwell in Plato's cave). I would question the ethics of such a "Trojan Horse" approach to bringing "the dharma" to the masses in a supposedly democratic society. And if someone honestly believes that mindfulness can be a wholly secular or secularized practice and that therefore there is no reason to mention the "B" word, the problem is that someone in the public or private sector might disagree and/or might consider it suspicious that the "B" word hasn't been mentioned. (When I was an instructor for mindfulness courses my co-instructors and I always started out by telling students that what we were teaching derives from Buddhist practices and teachings. No one ever expressed having a problem with this. I'm not a Buddhist, BTW.)

If there were to be a second edition of A Mindful Nation, I would like to see it include an explanation of why, despite the Buddhist origins of mindfulness practice, it is indeed possible to engage mindfulness in a wholly secularized way that is completely independent of any "ism." A Mindful Nation presents an argument, albeit indirectly and informally, in support of the proposition that mindfulness should be integrated into many public and private institutions and "society at large." This argument would, I think, be strengthened were Congressman Ryan to address the Buddhist roots of mindfulness and get it out of the way. I would also like to see an index.
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
A Congressman Discusses Mindfulness 12 May 2012
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
For many years, I have been studying Buddhism and attempting, with varied degrees of success, to practice meditation. In studying mindfulness meditation, I am in the company of many Americans from a variety of backgrounds, religious persuasions, and walks of life. There is a large and expanding literature on meditation, including this new book "Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit" by Tim Ryan. This book is interesting both in what it says and in who says it. The author, Tim Ryan, is a Democratic member of the House of Representatives from industrial communities in Ohio. First elected to Congress in 2002, Ryan holds important assignments as a a member of the House Armed Services Committee and the House Budget Committee. It is valuable to read a thoughtful American legislator's perspective on meditation.

Ryan's book is a mixture of the personal and the political. In the opening parts of the book, including the unusually extended Foreword by meditation teacher Jon Kabat-Zinn, and in Ryan's own introduction and first two chapters, Ryan offers a broad perspective on the American experience and on American values, which relates in an important way to basic meditation principles of kindness, compassion, and the seemingly conflicted principles of self-reliance and interconnectedness. These early sections of the book speak in the voice of immediacy, sincerety, and personal experience. They are highly effective.

Ryan briefly describes his own life experience and his practice of mindfulness meditation, beginning with the large role his traditionally Catholic grandparents and his mother played in his early life. As an energetic, extroverted high school quarterback, Ryan apparently discovered yoga and its benefits for training and helping with injuries. In 2005, Ryan read a book by Kabat-Zinn and, following his reelection to Congress in 2008, attended a Kabat-Zinn retreat in upstate New York which made a deep impression. Ryan movingly describes the retreat. He also shows how meditation practice, understanding the moment, controling the voices and distractions in one's head and without, and learning compassion and reflection and concentration have been integral to much of the best in the United States and are reflected in the works of iconic and distinctly American writers including Emerson and Thoreau. These sections of Ryan's book are personal and reflect insights that could be uniquely drawn by a thoughtful member of Congress.

In subsequent chapters of the book, Ryan's focus shifts from his own experience and from broad conditions of the American experience to various objects and studies. These sections of the book are, on the whole, substantially less effective that the material that proceeds them. They tend to be argumentative and, perhaps, agenda driven. The book introduces many people and organizations involved in using meditation and mindfulness in their various endeavors. The work of many of the people Ryan discusses is undoubtedly valuable and worth knowing. But Ryan's discussion presses, frequently wanders away from his subject, seeks particular political commitment, and tends, despite Ryan's efforts to the contrary, to make his subject into a panacea.

Thus, in the third chapter of this book, Ryan discusses the findings of some scientists on the benefits of meditation, including their views on the structure and function of various portions of the brain. While these discussions are interesting, I am not sure if they are persuasive to all scientists. I find these psychologistic studies tend to distract from, rather than reinforce, a meditative practice. In subsequent chapters, Ryan discusses efforts to introduce mindfulness practices into areas such as education, health and health-care, military training, economics and industrialization, and environmentalism. In commendable fashion, Ryan has used his position as a Congressman to get to know many people involved in work related to mindfulness and to try to understand how their work may be of interest and use. Of the various materials, the most effective by far were those on military preparedness. But Ryan takes matters off course, in my view, and in a manner that distracts from an individual and from practice. Meditation may or may not have some of the benefits and uses Ryan claims. Most of his claims seem to be tangential at best to a practice. Their practitioners pursue their courses well. But Ryan has left me skeptical about the value of drawing in, not to speak of mandating, these practices in the specifics of politics.

Ryan's book reminded me of a book by the scholar Jacob Needleman, "The American Soul",The American Soul: Rediscovering the Wisdom of the Founders that I read some time ago. Needleman's book impressed me in its attempt to show how spiritual teachings are integral to (rather than opposed to) the fabric of the American experience in a way that Ryan also tries to do. Ryan's book is valuable to the extent that it focuses on his experiences and on broad American values. It is far less impressive when it tries to turn mindfulness into a science and when it engages in politics.

Robin Friedman
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