Karen von Hahn, Globe and Mail, Canada: David Lynch’s latest production may not involve talking logs or dancing dwarves, but it is, nonetheless, bizarre. The Twin Peaks auteur, who has been meditating for 90 minutes twice a day for the past 30 years, recently became the spokesman for an initiative called the Committee for Stress-Free Schools, which aims to introduce transcendental meditation into classrooms across the United States as a way to combat the stress of high school and improve grades.
“Meditation is the key that opens the door to a vast ocean of pure consciousness, pure bliss,” Lynch said at an April 2 press conference in L.A. “When the light of peace comes up, negativity just goes away.”
One would think that the premise of schools teaching young children to empty their minds rather than fill them would raise a few red flags. Not to mention, in this day and age, when we are freaking about the obesity epidemic among children who are ferried to school from home by car, and spend their precious free time on their widening rear ends in front of computer and TV screens, the notion of introducing a program that forces them to sit still for a few minutes every day as a “health” initiative.
Now, I’m such a New Age-sympathizer that I’ve never met a healing practice I didn’t like, but, sorry, meditating for better marks and a quieter classroom seems to me like a low-rent version of the teachings of the Dalai Lama.
And yet the plan has struck a chord in the United States and Canada, even with Bishop Strachan, this country’s oldest private school for the education of young women. Presumably, for educators in the public system, strapped for both cash and a popular way out of the current education crisis, regular tuning out looks increasingly like a good idea. Hey — it’s not only hip, it’s so cheap they can even afford to do it in India!
On March 10, a group of educators, physicians and parents, members of the New York Committee for Stress-Free Schools, packed a meeting room at the Helmsley Palace Hotel for a conference entitled Improving Academic Achievement and Reversing the Alarming Rise of Classroom Stress through Transcendental Meditation. According to The New Yorker, which covered the event in its Talk of the Town section, high-level scientists and educational theoreticians hyped the physical and psychological benefits of meditation on the younger set.
Dr. Gary Kaplan, the director of clinical neurophysiology at North Shore University Hospital on Long Island, spoke of the “coherence of activity between the hemispheres and the front and the back of the brain.” Rita Benn, a director of education at the Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine at the University of Michigan, presented data from a recent study of Detroit middle-schoolers who have been practising meditation for the past six years, which found that meditating students had more positive feelings and were more adaptable than their non-meditating peers. And Jane Roman Pitt, a senior fellow at the Institute of Science, Technology and Public policy in Fairfield, Iowa, (the home of the widely respected Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment, where the 300 students practise group meditation and yogic flying daily) described the cultural benefits of meditative silence.
“To walk into a room and see a hundred middle-school students in a state of silence — deep, pure silence that you can feel as well as hear — is wonderful,” Roman Pitt said.
Ben Pollack, a Grade 11 student at the Maharishi School who came and meditated for the TV cameras, told The New Yorker that “transcendental meditation makes my thinking clearer, so now I can get through any amount of homework. I can do five hours if I need to.” Similarly positive was fellow student Riva Winningham, who claimed that meditating had increased her grade point average.
According to a recent Time magazine cover story, 10 million Americans say they practise some form of meditation on a regular basis, twice as many as a decade ago. There are meditation rooms in airports and offices, while Hollywood stars such as Goldie Hawn have fully tricked out ones at home, with all the gongs and whistles. Along with such coping tools as spas and wellness retreats, and yoga and bio-energetic foods, meditation is emerging as a hot button in the extremely healthy stress-management industry. Time called it the “smart person’s bubble bath.”
This bath has become such a tidal wave, that even here in good, auld Upper Canada, Bishop Strachan School, long associated with the Anglican Church, saw fit to follow its guiding principle of educating the whole child, body, mind and spirit, with the introduction of a New Age fair called Women’s Wellness Day, at which they launched weekly guided meditation classes for students. My daughter, who attends the school, is an enthusiastic participant.
Cathy Gibbs, the chaplaincy intern who runs the sessions, came up with the idea when she observed the way the girls at the school “hit the ground running.” In her view, the non-denominational practice of meditation has become necessary because “the girls work so hard and are involved in so many things that they barely have time to breathe.”
What I recall of being an adolescent (the good part) was that it really didn’t take much more than an afternoon of giggling over nothing with a girlfriend, or lying on the floor listening over and over to the same record, to reach nirvana.
Everyone needs a time out. But I say throwing an adult panacea like meditation at young people is basically an admission that we as a culture have failed them. That their lives, crammed as they are with obligations, are just as hopelessly stressful as our own. And that at the end of the day all we can offer them is the spiritual equivalent of a hot bath — with or without aromatic oils.