Mindfulness: Is it making its way into the mainstream?

At first glance, we might tend to see mindfulness and politics as an unlikely pairing . . .

. . . but after my conversation with US Representative Tim Ryan (D-OH) the other night, I was reminded that there is at least one politician in office who makes it seem natural.

Not only does he personally practice meditation, he was telling me about how he’s been working to introduce mindfulness to more people.

In fact, he’s even launched a “Quiet Caucus” for people to re-center with a bit of silence in a city (DC) that’s anything but.

Tim believes that by showing people – kids included – how their brain works, and then introducing them to mindfulness, they can learn to regulate their emotions and reduce stress.

Last fall he joined us during our Mindfulness series to share how the practice has been steadily making its way into healthcare, education, the military, and even the business world.

Mindfulness can benefit people in many ways – and if Tim has his way it may make its way into a range of the country’s institutions.

And even though Tim is just one of more than 400 US Representatives, it makes me wonder . . . is mindfulness managing to elbow its way into the mainstream?

There are programs now that teach mindfulness to kids at school. The people who run the program go from school to school training the teachers on how to introduce their students to mindfulness.

Mindfulness is also being applied in the military. The marines brought in a mind-fitness trainer from Georgetown University to teach mindfulness as part of their basic training. The hope is that it will give the marines a way to deal with stressful combat situations and prevent PTSD.

The possibilities that can come from integrating mindfulness principles into a national agenda are tantalizing to think about – though they might have been nothing more than a dream even ten years ago.

It’s interesting to imagine what society might look like if mindfulness was more common among world leaders – and the population in general. As Tim Ryan has pointed out, mindfulness can be beneficial for all of us, so why not share it with as many people as possible?

If people are exposed to mindfulness earlier and more often, it’ll give them a natural resource for lowering stress levels, increasing focus, and regulating emotion.

What are some of the ways you’ve noticed mindfulness moving more into the mainstream? Please leave a comment below.


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28 Comments

  1. Tim’s book A Mindful Nation is fantastic! I recommend EVERYONE get a copy. Tim’s writing style is so easy and comfortable. The book is thorough and combines and illustrates science with personal anecdotes. The reports on the programs and research being done applying mindfulness across sectors of society is fascinating – and provides great hope for the future.

  2. Mary Scott says:

    I very much appreciate this posting as it is useful for the education I do to as many of my clients as possible thus very re enforcing for me ……………… Thanx…….. Mary

  3. We can live a mindful life by being (focusing) in the present moment. This comes naturally to us in many daily practices–washing dishes by hand, painting/drawing, dance, sculpture, pottery on the wheel, chopping wood, planting flowers; activities that draw you into the present moment, so that you see what IS happening, and not what WAS or MIGHT BE in the future; in other words, any activity that requires your full attention. In a hustle bustle workplace or political arena, take a break periodically throughout your day to stop, inhale/exhale, and look around you at the energy and life moving about. Listen to the silence within your observation and know that in the midst of what appears to be total chaos, is a sort of melodic repetitious rhythm that says “all is as it should be.”

  4. gia collins says:

    Hi,
    I just graduated from The Chaplaincy Institute of Maine. My internship this year was facilitating meditation groups at the local county jail, three a day, one day a week. I love doing this work! Can you please advise me on funding possibilities or how to go about finding a paid position as a meditation facilitator?
    Thank you.

  5. Karen Zwart says:

    I’ve read Tim Ryan’s book and am very excited about the possibilities formindfulness in politics. He gets it. I only hope he can spread the word.
    Thanks to all of you. We are raising the consciousnes of the planet ,one at a time.

  6. Barbara Belton says:

    Mindfulness Moving into the Mainstream…Signs and Ways! Have posted this on my bathroom mirror to remind me to mindfully notice and take note! Seems to me that this spirited dialogue is an excellent example as all of us are part of that mainstream that wasn’t talking about this only a few short years ago. I live now away from the big city in a small town in rural, agricultural America and would note that folks here are pretty familiar with the word and the concept, tho’ active practice may be a bit further ahead. I so enjoyed Rep Ryan’s presentation last year and again as you shared this update. Thanks so much!

  7. Brett Hudson says:

    It’s the only way to live

  8. Chuck says:

    I really like Representative Ryan’s ideas and wish we had many more congressmen like him in office.

    I would like to address the sentiment, expressed earlier on this thread, that he should be concentrating on broader issues like avoiding getting us into wars on foreign soil and passing gun control laws. I think these kinds of issues are way too big for one individual, even a US congressman, to have much of a chance to succeed. I believe Representative Ryan’s more grass roots approach will ultimately have a much greater impact.

    I say this because of my belief that waging international wars and passing important controversial legislation can never happen without a whole lot of people supporting the effort. No matter what the intent of the political effort, it will not succeed if the messages supporting them do not find fertile ground to take root and grow. I think this is our real point of power in making fundamental changes to the direction our country is headed. Before we can substantially improve both our foreign and domestic policies, we need to raise the awareness of our population as a whole.

    I consider mindfulness techniques to be both healing and supportive of positive change. We should promote these kinds of practices wherever and whenever possible. Each success in relieving unnecessary fear and encouraging cooperative attitudes toward our world’s problems is a step in the right direction. Many small changes will have a snow-ball effect that will foster important new initiatives to move us toward a more peaceful world and the greater security we would all like to see.

  9. This is a great idea. Mindfulness training could change our world. I recently participated in Jack Kornfield’s online program that you sponsored. It was very helpful. I have a holistic, alternative medicine clinic in Denver and often suggest to our patients how useful mindfulness practice is for relieving stress. We have several of Kornfield’s CD’s and DVD’s in our bookstore.
    Thanks for the great work you continue to do.

  10. Tim Ryan’s book A Mindful Nation is EXCELLENT! A wonderful and thorough look at the application and research results for mindfulness across all areas of our society. Well organized and very readable and inspiring. I am recommending the book to all my students and clients.

  11. Sara says:

    To Kimberly: to clarify my response when I wrote “slow down” – I agree with everything you wrote however the negative repetitive thoughts, feelings and actions associated with emotional problems seem to happen so quickly – therefore part of being mindful of our thoughts, feelings and actions involves a deliberate conscious recognition which requires a slowing/relaxed mode, at least initially.

    I notice this especially with people who have a lot of caffeine, are on their computers a lot and in very stressful jobs that require being constantly on the move or producing a lot of paperwork in a short amount of time under adverse conditions (teachers, case managers, nurses and the military).

    Marai Elena: I think it might be a mistake to compare another culture with our own- such as comparing American soldiers to monks. We have an entirely different culture that does not support mindfulness- esp. not in the work place, in the consumer world, and exacerbated by the computer and social networking.

    So yes, it would be a very positive move to have our culture move towards mindfulness but it flies in the face of a consumer, non thinking, coffee drinking, youth oriented culture.

    (I’m also reminded of Native American culture and the originally meaning (before it became a very lucrative money making business) of Kashruth (kosher). Both cultures had elements tied into their religious practices to honor each slaughter of animals with a prayer and to be done as painlessly as possible. This is a form of mindfulness. However, once large sums of money became involved with kosher slaughtering- in walked exploitation and neglect of both workers and animals.)

  12. With all the talk about Vagus and it’s role in stress, there seems to be a missing piece few if any are talking about.
    My research and 4 decades of experience indicate that the Trigeminal system is playing a huge and largely unspoken role in the equation of pain & stress.
    Not addressing a sympathetically upregulated trigeminal influence makes all others approaches less effective and lasting

  13. Another benefit for students with “mindfulness” practice is managing attention. The quality and quantity of a student to manage his/her attention is one of the best predictors of learning. Exercising the Prefrontal Cortex to manage attention has benefits to impulse control and focus.
    The ability to engage the brain waves, activation of brain structures and initiate neurotransmitters by choice is one of the greatest gifts of “mindfulness”.
    The Prefrontal Cortex is the last part of the brain to develop in a human. By exercising the Prefrontal Cortex with “mindfulness”, I believe it gives young people a “head start” (no pun intended) and better potential for and intentional life and not a reactive one.

  14. I agree with Shelley’s comment and add that without teaching our client how to be mindful of their thoughts, emotions and current circumstances, they can not feel connected to their self and make the appropriate changes for their self. This is why, I believe, focusing on the present, as mindfulness demands, makes therapy work much better and faster than focusing on and discussing the past over and over.

    Mindfulness has no bad side effects. I don’t describe it as slowing down, I describe it as clarity, being at choice and not on automatic mindless living. Taking more in, not less, with a clear focused mind seems to me would be a very good thing for soldiers to be able to do.

  15. Trika says:

    I think the increased number of mind-based stress reduction classes that are now offered through hospitals (thanks to Jon Kabat-Zinn who developed the concept a long time ago) has made meditation a more acceptable concept to a public that wants something that isn’t necessarily tied to a spiritual base.

    This reminds me of The Authentic Leadership in Action (ALIA) which used to be the Shambhala Institute for Authentic Leadership went through a renaming process after doing research about the original name. This group (I was introduced to it by Meg Wheatley) is an impressive group of global leaders striving for a new kind of leadership that uses mediation as one of its core practices to center and calm everyone as they come together to work in venues such business, social institutions and NGOs around the world.

    M. Trika Smith-Burke, Ed.D.

  16. Elaine Dolan says:

    This mindfulness and meditation thing….I did it for a solid year or more in my youth. It relaxes. However, for me it was more like *spacing out*. It was NOT watchful…it was GONE. This may be because my brain has permanently defaulted to the primitive vagal branch, even when I’m not stressed…I know it defaults when I am stressed. I wonder what Stephen Porges would have to say about this.

  17. Marlene Eisen, Ph.D. says:

    With increased stress in our daily lives brought on by our present politics as well as Mother Nature, we need tools to quiet our off balance minds and spirits. Mindful Meditation is a powerful tool, and I find more people I speak to who are “mindful” of the power of mindful meditation. A big benefit, as compared to medication, is lack of negative side effects!

  18. Mary says:

    This is the best news I’ve seen in awhile. But! This is POLITICS!
    Even if somehow the idea of “mindfulness” gets politicized, can it still be a good, true and beautiful thing?

  19. Maria Elena says:

    Ha, Ha… of course, I spouted off my opinions and assumptions before reading about Elizabeth Stanley. She seems very interesting and I will find out more about her. In just browsing her website, what stands out is that she offers this training not just for military, but also fire fighters and other disaster first responders…. What can I say? It’s a complicated world.

  20. Helena Davis says:

    For years, I’ve called myself “the Mindfulness Mole” as I went into private sector companies and taught executive management and supervisors mindfulness and breathing. It also works very well with children and youth. In my private practice, I insist on it as a basis of recovery for all my clients with trauma or anxiety-related issues.

  21. Maria Elena says:

    Mindfulness, Military – have to call it a “mind-fit trainer”…Hmmmm how is this any different from Shaolin Monks training in disciplining their minds and being completely present and focused in combat?
    I see mindfulness in the military this way< they might still consciously choose to to their "job" "duty" or whatever they choose to call it – but it might help them not get all caught up in the brainwashing hoopla about it. Maybe when they kill, they will do it knowing that they are killing in order to support an economic structure and concept called nation – and not because those "guys over there" are evil and bad. Who knows.
    They are not training to be mindful to be more compassionate, they are doing it to be more focused fighters. Bringing full attention to their job. Do I disagree with the whole premise and structure of having a war economy. Yes , I do. Do I see how mindfulness training will make better soldiers – and the irony of that- yes I do.

  22. ms forest says:

    The ” mind-fitness trainer from Georgetown University ” that you refer to is Dr. Elizabeth Stanley- professor, author, speaker, former military officer, and former Buddhist nun. Someone you should as a speaker.

  23. sara says:

    I also agree with Carol, Mary & Diana.

    If I understand correctly, slowing down, is a major component of mindfulness practice as repetitive thoughts and feelings become automatic and we can’t begin to observe our behavior if we are on that quick repetitive automatic mode.

    This is where using mindfulness seems to be an oxymoron of sorts with the military. In order to kill -when you’re on a mission- in a war zone- or even standing at a check point – the psyche needs to be vigilant and in that flight or fight mode.

    As a soldier you are heavily indoctrinated to break off from the feeling and analytical world. You are not taught to respect the enemy (accept for a few words provided in a training manual). When a soldier see’s his comrades shot or maimed by the so-called enemy, the soldier can become even more violent.

    This seems to fly in the face of mindfulness. You might be living in the moment but you’re certainly not relaxed, nor do you have much time to think. Think of all the photos that came out of Abu Graab prison.

    It is one of the reasons we have so many atrocities (rape, pillage, harassment), during one countries occupation of another people.

    I can understand mindfulness after the fact but it seems almost like an oxymoron to apply to soldiers in the field.

    I also don’t think mindfulness will make “better ” soldiers. If that were the case- then Martin Seligman’s “positive thinking” and his involvement with the SEARE program (torture) would have yielded more peace and less war.
    We got just the opposite.

    Many therapists get involved with the military because it offers a decent salary in a time of cut backs and low wages. As well as providing money for research. So let’s be clear about that!

  24. Carol Siederer says:

    “Deal with stressful combat situations”!!!!!!!!!!!!! with Mindfulness. Talk about a band-aid to deal with a wound. Perhaps it’s my vantage point from outside the U.S., but it seems to me that a Congress representative would be better off putting energy into looking at U.S. foreign policy which led it into Iraq, Afghanistan, and that the mental health of the U.S. would be in better shape with some gun control. And I don’t mean that to take away the usefulness of Mindfulness for PTSD. But there is a place for Mindfulness and there is a place for political action. They are both needed.

    • Mary Walworth says:

      I agree with you completely. But imagine mindfulness leading to low-ranking soldiers deciding that they cannot and will not commit a war crime. Imagine leaders being too mindful of the consequences of war to initiate or vote for wars of agression.

      I realize it sounds far-fetched; but perhaps it is our only hope.

      • Sidonie G. Foadey says:

        Right on Mary! Let us focus on the positive move and intend that mindfulness is spreading and reaching people from all walks of life for the Greatest Good of all. So be it and so it is!

      • Diana Bowen says:

        I agree with you both, Mary and Carol. It’s interesting (on many levels) that the topic of mindfulness should arise in a conversation about war and treating PTSD, so thank you Ruth for bringing this up. Similar polarities are rampant in the world, and lack of resolution is creating tremendous damage–so-called gun rights as opposed to public safety; political corruption, and intolerance for differences found in the very policymakers who must have focus and clarity to do their jobs well; war crimes, domestic violence, and personal struggles of depression and anxiety all could benefit from learning to notice, observe, and practice non-judgment. It seems that for now, we we are called to examine the dark side of human behavior in order to make the choices needed for healing to occur. Bravo Representative Ryan for taking a step in that direction!

  25. Shelley Malka says:

    I think it was Bessel van der Kolk (I think) who made the point in your trauma series that mindfulness is the basis for any and all therapy; that without it we are not really present and connected with our clients. So of course it makes sense to teach this very basic notion of attunement (Alan Shore)to as many sectors of the population as we can. Thanks for your great (recurring) series.

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