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Mindful : June 2013
leadership Ryan, naturally, agrees. “ Republicans will see a lot of people in the suburban districts who do yoga and meditate, and not all of these a re Democrats,” he says. “ Republican pa rents a re likely to be just as pleased if their kids lea rn to have better attention spans. If it’s only a bunch of liberals talking about meditation in schools, it’s not going to work. It’s got to be mainstream and bipartisan.” As he steps up his national profile, Ryan has been wrestling with a career choice based in part on how he can make the most difference putting mindful- ness into practice. Does he run statewide in Ohio or stay in Cong ress and exert influence through spend- ing bills as an Appropriations Committee member? “The ability to transform the way we run our gov- ernment and implement progra ms at the state level is appealing,” Ryan tells me in January, just after former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland announced he would not seek a rematch with the Republican who unseated him in 2014. Ryan has made no secret of the fact that he’s interested in a gubernatorial bid, but is the timing right? As governor, you’re “basically the superintendent of all the schools,” Ryan says. Not to mention over- seeing the prison system, state Medicaid programs, and the colleges a nd universities. It’s a chance to make big changes quickly. He doesn’t say this, but state executives also tend to run for president. Another option is to inch slowly ahead in the House, where power lies in seniority. That could mean moving up on Defense Appropriations and getting the Pentagon to do the research that will “build a body of evidence” for how mindfulness training progra ms ca n increase health, well-being, and resiliency. As he faces these decisions, Ryan says he wants to make the best choice for advancing mindfulness. “Mindfulness training ma kes a valuable investment in the most important asset we have—well-functioning human beings. My goal is to be the person who gets it implemented in current programming,” he tells me. But, he admits, “the cong ressional track is a lot more long-term.” Either strategy carries risks: he could lose at home running for governor and find himself in the political wilderness or his party could remain in the minority in the House and he could find him- self bordering on irreleva nce. On March 15, Rya n announced that he had decided to forgo a run for governor. For now. All of the people I talked to describe Ryan as someone who doesn’t appear to have extremes. “He’s the one guy who never gets stressed in our office. He absorbs it all and tells us what he wants to do,” says Wiley Runnestrand, his campaig n manager. When I began this profile, Rya n was spending his weekends back home campaigning for his pals in Cong ress who needed more help than he did for re-election. He helped boost turnout in northern Ohio for President Obama and was sent back to Washington for a sixth term by a nearly 150,000 -vote margin. The day after the Italian festival in Niles, we picked Ryan up at his girlfriend’s house so he could headline the opening of the president ’s local campaign office. As Ryan stepped in front of a few hundred Oba ma supporters, he apologized for his flip-flops a nd shorts: “I’m a little underdressed, but I’m going to my niece’s birthday party, which we all know is a little more important.” Suddenly it was as if he had flipped a switch. He spoke the first overtly political words I’d heard since we met in the car 24 hours prior, and he knew what he was doing. He urged the volunteers to get out and “draw this distinction between what Romney sta nds for and what President Oba ma has already done.” That included the auto industry bail- out, a central issue in Ohio, and the fact that “Osama bin Laden is no longer around.” Ryan told the group: “This guy has done a lot of what he’s promised.” When we parted ways outside the Obama cam- paign office, Ryan recommended I try hot yoga. He started it to strengthen his back and goes a few times a week. He said he’d be there on Monday night, and when I show up for the 7:45 class, there’s Ryan in the front corner. Merv is there, too. I take the opportunity afterward to ask the class instructor, Derek Waddy, some questions about the congressman. His alignment? “Perfect, he’s doing a g reat job.” Does Ryan do headsta nds? “Jury’s still out.” Does anyone in the class know they are trying to hold eagle pose next to someone who belongs to a club so exclusive it has just 535 members? “ You know,” Waddy says, “when you’re in there all sweaty, you’re all the same.” ● Ryan talks with Congressman Tony Cárdenas (D-CA) before the half-hour session of “quiet time” prior to the week’s first vote. Christina Bellantoni is politics editor at PBS NewsHour. 52 mindful June 2013