An Open Letter to Teachers, Re: Mindfulness, Yoga and Meditation (Part 2)

Praying_Hands_-_Albrecht_Durer

Wikimedia Commons

By Tina Olesen

In my last post, I proposed that rather than fleeing from reality into meditation, mindfulness or yoga, we ought to help our students learn to deal with life as it is. How do we do that?

Children hear about the things that are going on in the world, no doubt. For many of them, it does cause anxiety.

I was on yard duty in the back field of a North Delta school the morning of the 9-11 attacks. Overhead the massive outlines of planes filled the sky, eerily flying in low as they headed for an untimely landing at YVR.

I instinctively sent up a prayer and turned my attention to the children, who didn’t even seem to notice what was taking place. Over the next few days, I answered their questions as honestly as I could. We carried on with routines, lessons, activities… and though at first it seemed as if life as we knew it would never be the same, things pretty much returned to normal.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Vancouver would soon be the birthplace of a mindfulness program for kids: MindUP, the brainchild of actress Goldie Hawn, who says she wanted to help children cope with the stress of life post 9-11. She worked with psychologists at UBC and piloted her program in Vancouver schools.

Had we been allowed to pray with our students in the aftermath of 9-11, would there even have been a market for such a program?

Here’s where the double standard lies. Christian prayer is banned from public schools, while Buddhist meditative practice and Hindu yoga is welcomed in.

People often instinctively gather to pray in the face of overwhelming grief or anxiety. It is a knee jerk response for many of us. Deep inside, we know that there’s nowhere else to turn but to God.

In the Buddhist worldview, however, there is no God to turn to. Reality is merely an illusion.

In the Christian worldview, reality is created by God. God is sovereign over it and in control of it. Even when everything seems to be out of control, the truth is that God is still in charge. Not only is He in charge, but He is a loving, personal Being who answers our prayers. That’s why prayer makes sense.

People tend to give up on prayer when God doesn’t seem to hear us, or He doesn’t answer the way we want Him to. If God doesn’t behave the way we think He should behave, we despair or rebel.

This shows a lack of humility – we think we know better than God.

True prayer requires an attitude of humility before God. At this time of year especially, I am reminded of the humble attitude of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who responded to the angel Gabriel’s announcement of her pregnancy with, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”

How can our thinking about reality line up with the truth? The Bible tells us in Romans:

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

As we humble ourselves and, like Mary, give ourselves wholly to God for His purposes, we are given an understanding of who God is and what He is doing: we begin to see reality as created by God.

We have to be continually adjusted to this reality, because as sinful creatures, we have a tendency to think we can be like God, knowing good from evil.

This is the cause of our anxiety. When we forget who God is and think it is all up to us, we worry. That’s why Jesus continually warned His followers not to be anxious. Philippians 4:4-8 says:

“Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

There are a couple of bad habits of thought that cause anxiety:

  • Speculating about the future. We are limited creatures. Jesus said, “…Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.”
  • Worrying about what other people think about us. The Bible exhorts us not to fear man, but rather to fear (awe and reverence) God.

If we find ourselves speculating or worrying, we can turn in repentance to God and ask His forgiveness, and ask Him to help us think rightly.

Children can learn to pray to the Father through Jesus Christ from a very young age. This will save them a lot of unnecessary anxiety.

 

 

An Open Letter to Teachers, Re: Mindfulness, Yoga and Meditation (Part 1)

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Image: Christina Bhattacharya, Creative Commons

By Tina Olesen

I understand what it’s like to want a calm, quiet classroom. It seems that more teachers than ever are struggling to bring peace to their classroom environment. There seem to be more and more unfocussed, hyper, stressed, reactive, anxious, emotionally disturbed children in our schools.

Counsellors and psychologists tell us that it’s the state of the world we’re in that is making kids stressed. Bombings, shootings, climate change… any number of daily news headlines are pointed to as a cause for anxiety.

A recent article proposed that meditation is a solution for “how to feel safe in a scary world.” Increasingly people are turning to eastern religious practices such as yoga, mindfulness, and meditation for anxiety relief. These practices are being brought into our schools, supposedly being stripped of their religious trappings, but in actuality it’s only re-branding that is happening.

“So what?” you may ask. “As long as the kids are calmer and happier, that’s all that matters.” Really?

The long term repercussions of practicing yoga, mindfulness and meditation are rarely discussed, because the immediate benefits seem so attractive. Besides, these practices are endorsed by celebrities who also fundraise for grants to have universities study their effectiveness and get them into schools. Some educators try these techniques out themselves and they feel great, so they jump on the bandwagon.

Here’s what’s being overlooked in all the hoopla:

  • Introducing children to yoga, mindfulness, and meditation can change their worldview and value system over time, to a Hindu or Buddhist worldview. The practices in and of themselves, whether the religious language is used or not, can subtly over time change a person’s way of looking at the world and responding to life.[i]
  • While these practices might be introduced in schools on a superficial level, they are initiating children into a lifestyle.[ii] Many adults have experienced negative consequences with these practices, such as long term mental and emotional problems.[iii]
  • When transcendental meditation was experimented with in the sixties and seventies, children were mentally and emotionally harmed, and the alarm was sounded.[iv] We seem to have forgotten all about that.
  • These practices injure the children’s consciences, training them not to judge their thoughts as right or wrong (“non-judgmental awareness”) interfering with moral development.

Swiss philosopher Amiel said, “The test of every religious, political, or educational system is the man which it forms. If a system injures the intelligence it is bad. If it injures the character it is vicious. If it injures the conscience it is criminal.”

We as teachers are up against a lot of limitations. We do not have control over our students’ home environments – what they watch on TV, what video games they play, what (or if) they eat, what time they go to bed, how they are disciplined (or not), what they look at on the internet, etc. and yet these things impact the classroom everyday.

We do not dictate the school budget, the curriculum, our class size, whether or not we have an aide, school discipline policies, etc. We may have input, but we do not have the final say; yet we have to live with the consequences of others’ decisions. All that can lead in some situations to feelings of powerlessness and hopelessness.

I think that’s why yoga and meditation can be so attractive to teachers, because it promises to give them control over the classroom environment; the illusion that they can make it the peaceful place that they want it to be.

It’s a lot easier to implement mindfulness than to try to address the brokenness of our society. Broken homes, broken families, broken school system… insurmountable difficulties that many think are better meditated away. But the thing is, they really don’t go away. It’s just an illusion.

A psychologist and the author of “The Buddha Pill” stated about his own experience with meditation:

“…it had been taking up quite a chunk of my time, often between two and three hours a day. More than releasing or peaceful, it was deeply pleasurable… Coming out of the meditation, I often felt I was hovering above reality and everyday concerns. Despite being able to control or even feel unattached from negative feelings – anger, sadness or frustration – I was shocked to find that, sometimes, this lack of attachment made me less sensitive and empathetic to other people’s feelings. It was only when a friend joked that I was becoming a ‘meditation junkie’ that the penny dropped. He was right; meditation was turning into a way of bypassing real life, or of at least avoiding the parts of it that were difficult or bitter. I had decided then to drastically reduce my practice.” (emphasis mine)

“The Buddha pill” is merely an escape from reality.

So, how do we really help children feel safe in a scary world? How do we help them to cope with reality, rather than escape from it?

Stay tuned for my next post…

 

 

 

[i] See Dr. Candy Gunther Brown’s article: “…sociological research suggests that people who begin practicing yoga for its physical benefits gradually come to adopt yoga philosophy, causing them to change their religious worldviews.”

[ii] See http://www.huffingtonpost.com/candy-gunther-brown-phd/mindfulness-stealth-buddh_b_6243036.html

[iii] Meditation: Adverse Effects. Brown University Medical School, Dr. Willoughby Britton. Video presentation with power point at http://vimeo.com/18819660   and also at http://vimeo.com/28170617

[iv]  “In 76% of cases psychological disorders and illnesses occurred…” from The Various Implications Arising from the Practice of Transcendental Meditation: An empirical analysis of pathogenic structures as an aid in counseling. Bensheim, Germany: Institute for Youth and Society. Retrieved from http://www.minet.org/Documents/German-Study