Mindfulness in Politics Day - Westminster - October 2017
Something quite extraordinary happened in the UK House of Commons on October 17th, 2017. 40 politicians from 14 countries sat together in silence, practicing mindfulness with the guidance of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who called it:
“the embodiment of wisdom: simply to drop in together and see what commonalities are possible.”
As far as we know, this was the first time anything like this had happened - delegates from a diversity of countries and cultures, sitting together with the aim of experiencing and exploring how mindfulness can be used to bring positive change.
The event was marked by refreshing openness, with delegates sharing stories of their own journey to mindfulness practice through depression and anxiety. Sports Minister Tracey Crouch said mindfulness had helped her cope when therapy and medication weren’t appropriate. Another passionate advocate of mindfulness practice, Mark, an ex-inmate, said:
"after 30 years in and out of prison mindfulness gave me my life back”
The first-hand testimony was balanced by presentations on research and a day of enquiry into implications of mindfulness for public policy and political process.
The political landscape, built on an adversarial model can be marked by frightening high levels of division. So how did this event come to take place in Westminster?
Politicians in the UK have been practising mindfulness since 2015 through the mindfulness for politicians programme. Over 185 MPS and Peers have benefitted so far and the effects of this radical cross-party collaboration are far-reaching, breaking down barriers between colleagues from across the house. Tim Loughton MP said:
“There is an affinity amongst those who have been on this mindfulness course and a more considered approach to exchanges of differing views.”
Tim is Conservative Co-Chair of the Mindfulness All Party Parliamentary Group (MAPPG), which is leading the way in making mindfulness a serious matter of public policy.
Joining the Congress remotely from the US, was dedicated mindfulness practitioner, Congressman Tim Ryan. An Ohio Democrat and tipped as a presidential candidate for 2020, Tim advocates mindfulness as a strategy for sanity amid the chaos of politics. Speaking to the delegates from Congress, Tim said:
“I think we are holding the ground here, holding the line to say look, there’s a better way to do this, it doesn’t have to be this way… We need to slow down. We need to pay attention. We need to live more in the present moment, and there will be benefits not just for ourselves, but throughout society…. We need to be awake, and aware, and present to how we solve problems. We must do it together, and that starts by listening to each other.”
Tim conceived the idea for an ‘International Mindful Congress’ back in 2016, in conversation with Chris Ruane MP and Mindfulness Initiative Director Jamie Bristow on their visit to Washington DC. Given the unprecedented interest in mindfulness from MPs in the UK, they hoped to develop an international network of politicians practising mindfulness. The resulting Mindfulness in Politics Day with politicians from diverse nations, sitting and practicing mindfulness together, was a first step towards developing an international network of legislators who practice mindfulness.
Director of the Mindfulness Initiative, Jamie Bristow:
“Our hope in cultivating these friendships was not only to aid the proliferation of mindfulness training in political contexts, but to do so in a way that transcends the black-and-white sectarian political tone that the world is so ready to grow out of, and models deep, courageous cooperation.”