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I saw a fascinating program recently about Fairfield, Iowa, where residents are devoted to meditation.  When I heard about Congressman Tim Ryan’s new book, it seemed like a natural companion to this story.  I was intrigued by the title, so I requested a complimentary copy from Hay House as part of their blogger program.

A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit” is a well written book covering a broad range of topics.  Congressman Ryan discusses everything from introducing meditation in schools to the outdated medical practice model. His interviews with veterans and their families are especially poignant.  Although heartbreaking at times, they only reiterate how useful mindfulness can be in training the whole person – both in preparation for war and civilian life after service.

No matter how familiar you are with this topic, Mr. Ryan gives you quick “What You Can Do” lists at the end of each chapter and plenty of practical “how’s”:

  • How to spark mindfulness (pg. 17)
  • How to get started (page 42)
  • How to disengage from negative situations (page 69)

One caution: don’t overlook this book by thinking, “Well, I’m not a political person” or “Sitting still is so boring – I could never do that.”  You will have insights into your actions and the environment around you even if you only select certain chapters.

I was especially interested in his observations about ways stress affects the body, and the transformative effect of using intention.  Listen to his description of his old morning routine.  Sound familiar? “Mindfulness helped me become aware of how my body and mind reacted to the stress of daily life, to get in touch with how my built-in survival mechanism could go into high gear when it had no valid reason to.  I could feel myself tense up if someone told me something I didn’t want to hear.  I would lose focus during a conversation because I was fretting about something that happened hours before.  I looked at my BlackBerry messages first thing in the morning and got thrown into a tailspin before I even got out of bed.”

Imagine growing up with awareness of your actions and their effect on others. In this book, Fred Rogers (a/k/a “Mr. Rogers”) inspired me to envision a world where these ideas are commonplace. “If we can teach children that feelings are mentionable and manageable, we will have done a great service for mental health.”