Meditate and cut crime (Trinidad and Tobago Express)

Trinidad and Tobago Express: Will the citizens of the country ever enjoy a crime-free environment? Will this world ever find peace?

These are some of the questions that drove the Brahma Kumaris Raja Yoga Centre to publicly launch World Peace Hour recently at its Chaguanas branch.

The centre hopes to spread, through prayer and meditation, a peaceful attitude that will help reduce crime.

Attendees included co-ordinator of the Divali Nagar, Deokinanan Sharma, and feature speaker, Assistant Commissioner of Police for South and Central, Dennis Graham.

Most people do not take seriously thoughts on meditation, much less as a way to bring more order to society.

But can meditation have a tangible effect on crime? At the Raja Yoga Centre, people of all races and religion are taught the art of meditation – free of charge.

Such is the commitment of those at the centre to share mental peace.

With centres all around the world and many members who are part of the scientific community, the Raja Yogas have conducted several experiments over the years to test the effects of meditation.

In June 1999, the Social Indicators Research journal reported one of the most dramatic sociological experiments ever undertaken.

Intense group meditation was done over an eight-week period in Washington, DC, during the summer of 1993.

Researchers, before the experiment, had predicted a reduction in crime of at least 20 per cent.

Findings later showed that violent crime-including rapes, murders and assaults-had decreased by 23 per cent during the June 7 to July 30 experimental period.

The odds of this result are two in one billion.

The study was led by John Hagelin, Director of the Institute of Science, Technology and Public Policy at Maharishi University of Management in Fairfield, Iowa.

The demonstration had involved nearly 4,000 practitioners of Transcendental Meditation from 81 countries.

Hagelin stated: “Previous research had shown that these meditation techniques create a state of deep relaxation and coherence in the individual and simultaneously appear to produce an effect that spreads into the environment, influencing people who are not practising the techniques and who have no knowledge of the experiments themselves”.

Hagelin, an eminent physicist, drew terminology from quantum field theories to refer to the results of meditation as “a field effect of consciousness”.

“It’s analogous to the way that a magnet creates an invisible field that causes iron filings to organise themselves into an orderly pattern,” Hagelin said.

He also said that meditation has been shown to create high levels of coherence and orderliness in individual practitioners.

This “orderliness” appears to spill over into society and can be measured directly through the positive changes that occur.

Dr Ann Hughes, a professor of Sociology and Government at the University of the District of Columbia, later said of the experiment: “What we are looking at here is a new paradigm of viewing crime and violence. Hughes was part of a 27-member project review board composed of independent scientists and civic leaders who approved the research protocol and monitored and the process.

Sr Jasmine, co-ordinator of the centre, said that the most powerful instrument known to man is the power of thought.

“Crime begins as a thought,” Sr Jasmine said.

Changing these thought forms before they begin a definite way, she said, begins curbing crime.

“Our world is crying out for peace and thirsting for love.

“The call of time is here for each of us to make a meaningful contribution,” Sr Jasmine urged.

“Our once-sweet and loving T&T is fast becoming unconscious and filled with fear, hopelessness and sorrow.”

Assistant Commissioner of Police in South, Dennis Graham, said that the institutions of family, religion and education also hold a great responsibility in the prevention of crime in this country.

He referred to the biblical saying: “Train up a child when he is young that he may not depart from it when he is old.”

“There is an increasing dependency on the Government to provide services that should be provided by the family,” Graham said.

“If the family fails, other institutions will fail,” Graham said.

“The police cannot do our jobs successfully without the intervention of these institutions. We must join hands and hearts.”

He said that most officers are trained to simply deal with a crime on hand without taking a deeper look into the criminal mind.

He is a firm believer in prevention, and cited the disparities in the social and economic classes as being one of the root causes of crime.

“The disparity between the upper of the upper class and the lower of the class are wide.

Those of the lower of the lower class sometimes seek to attain the things of the upper of the upper class by illegal means.”

He said that one of the main purposes of education is to socialise children through the use of a country’s culture and values.

Graham also felt that spirituality needs to be taught to younger people.

“We must pray daily,” the policeman said.

“Children need to be taught that people are more important than material things. Some have virtually abdicated these values.”

He said, though, that there has been a noticeable drop in criminal activity from where he sits, since the provision of more patrol vehicles to the police force.

He pointed out that the once pandemic kidnapping trend has abated.

The centre will continue to hold World Peace Hour on every third Sunday of the month and all are invited to attend.

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Education Ministry denies plan for TM in schools (Newsday Trinidad, Trinidad and Tobago)

Newsday, Trinidad: The [Trinidad and Tobago] Education Ministry yesterday denied any plan to introduce Transcendental Meditation (TM) into schools, as was being reported in some media claiming TM would soon be introduced into the school’s curriculum. Responding to queries by various persons, the Ministry yesterday issued a release advising of its policy when introducing new elements into the school curriculum. “The process is one of consultation, research and investigation. No one and no organisation has approached the Ministry of Education with respect to the introduction of Transcendental Meditation techniques in schools,” the release stated.

The ministry admitted to responding to an invitation last week from the TT Peace Government to attend a seminar with the theme — “The Brain Campaign — Substance Abuse and the Brain” in which TM was discussed. However, at no time during the seminar did the ministry’s representatives indicate an acceptance of this approach, claimed the ministry. The use of TM has been offered as an alternative to reducing crime, substance abuse, illiteracy and violence which is currently plaguing society. The suggestion was proffered by leader of the TT Peace Government, David Lee Sheng Tin, and leading neuroscientist, educator and researcher into the neurobiology of the human brain development and potential, Dr Alarik Arenander. The TT Peace Government is a non-religious, non-political organisation.

TM, which has been practiced in the Western world for over 50 years, is an ancient Asian form of meditation which has been scientifically proven to increase a person’s mental, emotional and physical health. TM is being used in 108 countries around the world, and at all levels of society, both governmental and non-governmental. Speaking with Newsday, Communications Specialist at the Ministry of Education, Mervyn Crichlow said while the invitation extended by the TT Peace Government had been accepted, at no time did ministry representatives indicate that TM would be introduced into schools.

When contacted for a comment on the issue of TM, President of the National Parent Teachers Association (NPTA), Zena Ramatali said she was unable to comment, as their General Council had not yet met to obtain a consensus from its entire membership. First Vice President of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers’ Association, Sally Siriram told Newsday she fully endorsed remarks by TTUTA President Trevor Oliver to support any initiative which helped to curb the violence and indiscipline in schools. She said TTUTA would support any intervention or strategy which can be used to impact on students in a positive manner.

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Ministry considers ‘TM’ in schools (Trinidad and Tobago Express)

The use of transcendental meditation in schools is being considered by the Ministry of Education as a tool to deal with the problem of troubled and under-performing students.

Steve Williams, supervisor, Guidance Officer Unit, Ministry of Education, speaking yesterday at the “Improve the Brain Campaign” held by the Trinidad and Tobago Peace Government at the Hilton Trinidad, said that a presentation on the subject would be made on Monday to teachers and principals in a move “to open up their eyes” to the benefits of meditation.

The seminar, which was held in collaboration with the Ministry of Education, was geared towards developing the total brain function and using this as the key to consciousness-based education.

Dr Richard Thompson, Minister of Education of the Trinidad and Tobago Peace Government, said he has seen the effect this technology (transcendental meditation) has had “on improving self-confidence, social interaction and academic performance”.

Dr Alarik Arenander, director, Brain Research Institute, Iowa, United States of America, in delivering the feature presentation, said it would not matter if students were given the best facilities “if they are not awake”.

Arenander, who has 35 years of brain research experience, said if 300 students were exposed to transcendental meditation for three to six months, he believed they would change their entire school and that this change would eventually have an impact on the nation as a whole.

Trevor Oliver, president of the Trinidad and Tobago Unified Teachers Association, said that while he was not aware of the consideration being given to the use of transcendental meditation, “anything dealing with prayer and meditation” being implemented in the schools would be a positive thing.

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Improved discipline, grades as SWAHA pupils Meditate (Trinidad Express)

Wayne Bowman, Trinidad Express: School employs non-religious meditation and yoga to assist students in controlling their tempers and dealing with stressful situations.

Driving recklessly, the man behind the wheel of the pick-up seemed he could care less about the lives of the school children making their way home on Friday along the narrow Coalmine Road in Sangre Grande.

In fact, his reckless behaviour forced at least six of the students to jump into the ditch running along the road, which has no pavement.

Now, one would have expected this driver to fall under the wrath of the children and to be on the receiving end of insults and obscenities. Heck, that’s how many kids and most adults would react.

That was not the case here though. The six children simply climbed back onto the road, checked each other to ensure that no one was hurt, and continued their trek to Sangre Grande.

This was when I realised that there must be some validity to the story I was in pursuit of: I was making my way to the SWAHA (Society Working for the Advancement of Human Aspirations) High School to speak to the principal about how the school helps its students deal with anger management and other issues.

The school employs non-religious meditation and yoga to assist the students in controlling their tempers and dealing with stressful situations.

Since starting in January 2003, students, parents and teachers alike have seen marked improvement in behaviour, interaction and grades among the students.

The school’s principal, Pundit Balram Persad, said before they started to teach meditation and yoga there were problems with discipline at the school.

“We had some problems, nothing extreme like heavy violence with knives and such, but a lot of pushing and shoving, name-calling, expressions of anger, restlessness and the use of obscene language,” Persad said.

Persad further explained that there were many valid reasons for the students to be stressed and, at times,
angry. The principal said he and his teachers began to take a deeper look into the daily experiences of the students in an effort to get to the root of the problem.

Commenting on efforts to deal with school violence and indiscipline by introducing more guards, a police presence and conducting searches, Persad said: “These are all good, but are really only band-aids. What happens when the adhesive power of a band-aid wears off? It falls away. We realised that we needed to get to the root of the problems and dig away at these, treat with these and then we could begin to build by laying down the foundation of proper values within the children.”

Among the stress factors identified were dysfunctional families, daily problems with transportation to and from school and limited extra-curricular activities.

For the non-Hindu students there were additional factors such as the adjustments they were required to make because they were attending a school housed in a temple, Persad explained. One of the major adjustments was that they had to have their meals in the courtyard and not in the school once they contained meat.

Persad decided that it would be best to find a way to assist the students in learning to cope with the challenges, while working on dealing with the various issues.

He explained that meditation and yoga exercises were chosen because they helped the body combat stress in a positive way by oxygenating the tissues better and removing carbon dioxide, thus making the body stronger. It also rejuvenated the brain and spinal centres, thus sharpening the thinking centres, he added.

Meditation also relaxes the lungs and heart rate. The breathing exercises of yoga help to calm the nervous system, relaxing the body and mind. It also helps to improve blood circulation.

“The practice of meditation and yoga is a powerful tool in the management of stress. We teach non-religious out of respect for the non-Hindu students. We get the children to focus on values and affirmation. They chant statements such as ‘I am a peaceful being. I am a loving being’. They learn deep breathing and how to control their breathing,” Persad said.

Persad also uses pop culture to underscore the effectiveness of meditation to his students. He shows them films and interviews of Hollywood, Bollywood and other actors and artistes who practise meditation and yoga. Instructors from the Raja Yoga Centre come in and teach the students.

Since the 2003 start of the programme, Persad said there has been a marked improvement: students are no longer having conflicts amongst themselves and their grades have improved tremendously.

The meditation, however, was not all that was done to ease the stress being experienced by the children. Persad and his teachers also put several things in place to make life easier for the children.

PTSC now provides transportation for the students, some of whom come from as far as Mayaro, Navet, Biche, Manzanilla and Arima.

Along with the Hindu religious observances and celebrations, the school also encourages the non-Hindu students to express their own religious identities. There are functions to observe: Eid, Christmas, Spiritual Baptist Liberation Day and other religiously significant events.

Persad has also established a Culture Day on which students of all races and religions are encouraged to share aspects of their culture with the other students through displays and performances.

There are also now several extra-curricular activities for students, including a debate club, drama group, dance troupe, tassa group, choir, boys’ cricket and girls’ cricket teams.

In fact, a student of the school, Mark Moffet, was last week selected for the National Under-15 cricket team.

In an effort to get parents more involved in the school life of their children, Persad introduced a system under which students get extra credit whenever their parents attend PTA meetings and other school activities.

“The students make sure that their parents attend everything because of the extra marks they get. What this really achieves though is [to] build a stronger relationship between parent and child and get the parents actively involved in the children’s education. There is also a Sound-Off session in which the students are allowed to air their frustrations and speak out about whatever they have problems with at school. This gives them the assurance that they have a say in how the school they attend is being run,” Persad said.

The SWAHA High School opened its doors on August 29, 2001 with an intake of 105 students. It is a denominational, government-assisted school.

Currently, there are 315 students between Forms One to Three. The school will have its first Form Four batch this coming September. Although run by the Hindu organisation, the Society Working for the Advancement of Human Aspirations (SWAHA), the school is open to students of all religions.

The school is currently housed at the Tulsi Manas Hindu Centre, but a new building is at present being constructed a few metres away and should be ready to house the students come September 2004.

Speaking to the students, one gets the sense that they are, for the most part, well-adjusted and well looked after by their teachers. They are respectful and quite articulate when asked questions about their school and the meditation classes.

Persad said there were still many challenges being faced by the school and its students. Among them are the dangers they face daily on the Coalmine Road. As noted earlier, the road is narrow and without a pavement. Persad has made several requests to the authorities for the road to be widened and for a pavement to be constructed. These have proved futile to this point. There is land on either side to allow for the widening.

For now, however, the students of SWAHA High School have to make the risky trek along the road, diving into ditches whenever an uncaring, reckless driver whizzes by. This gives them a daily opportunity to put to test the meditation and yoga exercises that they are being taught to help them cope better with the challenges of life.

What some students say:

Roxanne Skeete, 15: “Before the meditation classes, I was very aggressive and got vex easily. Now I am more calm, relaxed and can control my temper. It has also helped me in my studies. I used to drop asleep over my books while doing homework, but now I just take a few deep breaths and I’m awake and able to do my work.”

Rasheeda Ali, 13: “Meditation works for me. My grades used to be down, but now I’m doing better. I do it at nights when I’m studying.”

Avinish Pattoo, 13: “When I get vex, I breathe deeply and I calm down. I also used to have a pain in my foot sometimes and now I don’t get it anymore.”

Jagdees Gosine, 12: “I am more flexible and I’ve realised how great my inner self is. It helps my lungs exercise and wears pain away.”

[Original article no longer available]
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