In this excerpt from his book, “A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice can Help us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit,” Congressman Tim Ryanreflects on a recent retreat.
“Throughout the retreat, we were reminded to come back to our breath and surf on it without working too hard to pay attention to it. It was gently suggested that we might begin to notice how tiring it is to keep up our big-deal story. As the week moved on, we spent an entire 36 hours in silence. (Imagine that on Capitol Hill!) As we reached the heart of the retreat, it became clear how much time and energy we all waste in our inner World War over nothing. We fight and defend and argue—all in an imaginary world in our heads. And then we wonder why we can’t sleep at night or have high blood pressure or anxiety or are cranked up on stress hormones. The deeper the silence became, the deeper I realized the inanity, even the insanity, of putting so much effort into fictional story lines rather than listening to and noticing what’s happening in and around me at any given moment.
Many times we turn on ourselves for having “bad thoughts.” Mindfulness teaches that this is just how our mind works. It is the nature of the mind to generate thoughts. No need to beat ourselves up over it. Be kind to yourself. Don’t judge. Let it go. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t use our brains to evaluate and analyze thoughts and issues. There is a time and place to use the analyzing brain. But the brain works for us; we do not work for our brain. Our brain is here to serve our hearts, not the other way around.
Our society suffers, I think, from an overemphasis on the intellect and an aversion to matters of the heart—as if they were somehow un-American. Our retreat leader used poems and stories to illustrate the potency of the heart. The less chit-chat that was in my brain, the more the poems touched me. Having my heart opened up like that reminded me of my oldest nephew, Nicolas. He’s five and attends a Catholic preschool with the Oblate Sisters in Youngstown. After school one day, Nicky’s teacher told his mother that at the end of every school day, she plays classical music as they all clean the classroom. And every day, Nicolas cries when he hears it. Sister says that it “just touches him so much.”
How beautiful! How do we as a society teach our kids, our parents, everyone, to maintain that connection to the miracles all around us? Perfectly composed music or art, the wonders of nature, even our own ability to breathe, are all miracles. To feel that, we have to stop living only in our heads and also live in our hearts.
It seems to me it would do us all good to act from our heart more often. We’ll be surprised how small acts of attention and kindness can release the energy, enthusiasm and imagination bottled up in our overstressed minds and bodies. We have tried a million times to think our way to a better society. But our thinking doesn’t work so well if it’s not aligned with what we feel deep in our hearts, our inspirations and aspirations, our innermost desire. We need to realign ourselves the way a GPS in a car recalibrates the route. When our wandering mind takes us away from our heart, we need to pause and realign ourselves with the values we have stored there. We can then remember what motivates and inspires us to get up and take on the challenges of each day. I learned that for myself up on the mountain.”
Courtesy of Hay HouseTags: meditation, stillness