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Mindful : June 2013
leadership place,” he says, referring to his ea rlier days as an athlete. “My mind was very active and it was hard for me to focus. I would stay out and shoot baskets in the driveway. I’d shoot a million times, just me and a ball and a hoop.” Sometimes it was a football through a tire in the front yard. In spite of his commitment to discipline and repu- tation for leadership, “I still felt a nagg ing inability to really be present,” says Ryan. It wasn’t until a five- day silent retreat after the 2008 presidential election, with Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of Mindfulness- Based Stress Reduction, that he found a way to decrease stress and stay in the moment more often. “After that intense election campaig n, I was burned out, so I signed up for this retreat, turned in my two BlackBerrys at the door, and sat quietly and walked attentively. It’s when I discovered how effective this method could be. If it worked for me, I thought, it ought to work for others. I also began to realize that it’s another version of the same old thing I had always been drawn to: discipline. But now it was discipline not just of the body but also of the mind.” Ryan mentions running the Cleveland ma rathon, where he raised $5,000 to help returning troops learn mindfulness to aid their transition to everyday life. Under sunny skies, the temperature hit the mid- 80s in 80% humidity. “Talk about mindfulness,” he says, laughing. “The bombardment of negative thoughts toward the end was almost over whelm- ing: ‘I’m stupid, I hurt, look at that big hill, why did I do this?’ But you have to keep going back to your breath. You can think about how hot it is or you can hydrate a nd keep going.” Ryan staffers say he’s encouraged them to be more mindful, too. One says the congressman convinced him to stop using his iPhone as an alarm. And three or four often come to the weekly mindfulness sessions in Rayburn. Former Representative John Sullivan of Oklahoma, a Republica n, isn’t shy about how Ryan has influenced him for the better. They were co- chairmen of the Addiction Caucus (Rya n took over the helm at former Rep. Patrick Kennedy’s request, with the ag reement he could push mindfulness) and frequently met in the House gym to meditate. “Tim convinced me to try it and it was nothing like I thought it would be. I really liked it,” says Sullivan. It even helped him cope with the surprise of losing his seat to a Tea Party activist in a 2012 primary. Sullivan predicts Rya n will use A Mindful Nation to demonstrate the benefits across government. “He’s the person who can bring new light to this,” he says. “A guy like him who is charismatic, he’s going to be able to take this book to a level that can show so many benefits.” → Children from the kindergarten class gather round. Ryan’s Appropria- tions Subcommittee on Education has directed nearly $1 million to schools in his district to eval- uate the effectiveness of a program that combines mindful- ness and social and emotional learning. June 2013 mindful 51