Should Congress Pass A Meditation Bill?

04/04/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

I watched the State of the Union address, and couldn't help wondering if Barack Obama had been meditating in the days that led up to his address.

To me, he seemed focused and relaxed, two qualities that I've always aimed for in my yoga practice. Qualities I'm hoping to cultivate through daily meditation.

After his speech, I tried listening to the TV pundits who dissected his every word. To the Democrats shoring up his positions, to the Republicans tearing them apart. To a few people who seemed committed to some sort of bipartisan cooperation.

Then I saw an interview Katie Couric did with Dick Durbin, the Democratic leader from Illinois, and Eric Cantor, the Republican leader from Virginia. She asked the two men if they could work together with President Obama.

The American people are "frustrated with the direction of this president's agenda," Cantor said.

Katie tried to find common ground, bringing up President Obama's proposal to give $30 billion to struggling small businesses through community banks.

"We don't need to create a Washington program to show a small business how to hire people," Cantor said.

"My colleague from Virginia voted twice to give a bailout to the biggest banks," Dick Durbin said. "Now when we take the money and want to give it to community banks to help small businesses, he says 'No it's not an emergency; we're not going to do it.'"

My head started to feel fuzzy. And not in a good way.

"I'm so encouraged by the progress we seem to be making," Katie Couric said.

And I turned off my TV.

This morning, I woke up early and meditated in my bed as darkness turned to light and the familiar landscape of my bedroom came into view.

"I think Congress needs to pass a meditation bill," I thought when I was done.


We give our children timeouts when they fight. I don't see any of the television pundits sending their guests off to separate corners when they misbehave on national television - snarling at each other, denigrating each other's ideas, smirking and shaking their heads, rolling their eyes and laughing derisively. When teenagers do this, we make them leave the dinner table. Or apologize to their family members.

But nobody seems to have found an effective way to actually get people to sit down across from each other and make things better for Americans too busy to oversee the details of their elected representatives' workdays.

So we need Congress to pass a bill, to help them sit.

Sitting is hard.

And not very glamorous, especially when television cameras aren't watching you.

But it clears the head. It puts a little distance between ourselves and our speech. Our emotions and our actions.

Things are getting out of control in Washington. So I propose some radical new legislation. What if everyone on Capital Hill started their day with 20 minutes of meditation?

They could meditate wherever they like - on the floor of the Senate or in the corner of a cloakroom. In the West Wing, or on the steps of the Capital. In springtime, they could sit on the mall and meditate to cherry blossoms.

I don't really care where they meditate. Or when, actually.

But I want people passing our laws, or voting against them, to breathe.

If they sat quietly for a few minutes each day, they might learn how to listen better. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "It is possible to invite all of the cells in our body to join us in listening."

If they learned how to push away thoughts of past conflicts and future photo-ops, they might learn to live in the moment, and care about stuff that really matters. The Buddha said, 'The past is already gone and the future is not yet here. There is only one place for us to live and that is here and now."

So let's give meditation before mediation a try.

I'm optimistic.

I've seen what meditating has done to my own thought patterns. How it's helped me slow down my instant reactions to things and take a slightly enlightened breath.

But can we change things in Washington?

"Don't be afraid of the garbage," Thich Nhat Hanh said when I heard him speak in New York last fall. "We can transform it into compost or mud to nourish the lotus flower...We can use the garbage in ourselves and our society to nourish the flowers of peace and compassion."

It's worth a try.