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

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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.

 

 

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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

Articles on the Dangers of Meditation: Round Up

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Image: Wikimedia

 

Here are some recently published articles on the dangers of meditation:

The dark side of meditation and mindfulness: Treatment can trigger mania, depression and psychosis, new book claims by Harriet Crawford, “The Daily Mail”

Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you? by Dr. Miguel Farias, “The Independent”

Seven common myths about meditation,  by Catherine Wikholm, “The Guardian”

News and Views

newsHere are some recently collected articles on the subject of “Mindfulness Meditation” (click on the blue titles to read the original articles):

“Mindfulness, or the Mind of Christ?” Mindfulness meditation is in our schools, business seminars, and health centres. But where does it come from, what does it teach, and how does it stack up to biblical doctrine? By Dr. Joseph Boot from the Ezra Institute for Contemporary Christianity.

Mindfulness Meditation in Public Schools: Side-Stepping Supreme Court Religion Rulings“: Since the 1960s, the United States Supreme Court has found it unconstitutional for public schools to teach religious practices such as prayer. But today, mindfulness meditation–a Buddhist religious practice similar to prayer–is promoted by schools nationwide. Why aren’t the courts intervening? See also “Mindfulness: Stealth Buddhist Strategy for Mainstreaming Meditation?” Both articles are from the Huffington Post, by Candy Gunther Brown, Ph. D., Professor of Religious Studies at Indiana University.

Mindfulness is Religion in Schools

By Tina OlesenReligious_syms

There is a double standard when it comes to religion in public education. Christianity? No way. Secularists argued that they did not want anyone’s religion imposed upon their children, while ironically fighting to impose secular humanism on all public school children. So why aren’t they up in arms about mindfulness?

The myth about mindfulness is that it is a non-religious practice. This is simply false advertising. The religiosity of mindfulness is self-evident. It is a meditation practice that comes directly out of eastern religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. In much the same way as the Lord’s Prayer is tied to Christianity (and was banned from public schools on that basis), mindfulness meditation is unquestionably religious.

John Lennon crooned that we should all imagine what the world would be like if there were “no religion” and many people believe that some sort of place of neutrality really exists when it comes to religion. In the narrowest sense of the definition of the word religion, people might be able to escape labelling themselves as belonging to one of the world’s recognised religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam or Christianity. However, if we look at religion in the broadest sense, one’s religion is simply the outward manifestation of one’s beliefs about the origin, nature, purpose and meaning of life. One of Webster’s definitions for religion is simply “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”

Since public schools teach about the origin, nature, purpose and meaning of life, they teach a religion. It is no good to say that they teach no one religion exclusively, because even teaching that all religions are equal is in itself “a cause, principle, or system of beliefs held to with ardor and faith.”

So far, it seems as if the religion that is being taught in schools is whatever one looks to be the most non-offensive to secular humanists. If a religion like Buddhism can somehow be dressed down to look as secular humanistic as possible, then it gets a pass in our public schools. Public funding from taxpayers’ pockets goes to support the indoctrination of all children into a Buddhist or Hindu worldview: how is that acceptable in a public school system that was built on Christian foundations, but now claims to be secular?

A recent article in Maclean’s magazine stated that mindfulness is “a non-religious meditation practice with roots in Buddhism…” This is the kind of doublespeak that the proponents of mindfulness use to try to market their meditation technique as secular. The article goes on to describe how the marketers try to stay away from religious sounding terms and religious paraphernalia like Buddhist chimes in some markets, because some parents may find them objectionable. However, no matter how much they try to strip away any religious connotations, it is obvious that mindfulness meditation fits the definition of a religious practice, in both the narrowest and broadest senses of the term.

“No religion” in our schools is something imagined but never practiced, because education is religious. When public schools left their Christian foundations for a supposedly secular curriculum, the moral foundation began to crumble beneath the school houses. With Christianity banned from our schools, teachers continued to try to provide moral training, but they no longer had the moral absolutes of Christianity to stand on. When students are given license to determine right and wrong for themselves, chaos and confusion results. This lack of moral training resulting in undisciplined students is now being addressed in schools with mindfulness meditation (turning to a different religion) in an attempt to bring order. It won’t work, and here’s why.

We need only to look at what history teaches us to see the results of religious training in a culture. Carefully examine the cultures that result from the various world religions, and compare them with Christianity. The Christian moral consensus that our society was built upon provided a stable foundation. The law of God (which stands over and above humankind) was the measuring stick or moral absolute that judged society and gave us our concept of right and wrong, providing a foundation for law and education. Truly following the teachings of Jesus Christ results in the cherishing of children, the education of both boys and girls, the care of the sick and the poor, and unselfishly seeking the good of one’s neighbour – all of which work towards the flourishing of a culture. Can this honestly be said of any other religion, philosophy, or teaching?

As Francis Schaeffer, a Christian apologist, correctly pointed out, secular humanism does not provide a strong enough base for human society. If as a society we no longer submit to the truth that the God of the Bible is the authority on what is right and wrong, how then will our laws be decided? By taking a vote? If so, then the majority (51% of the people) seize the power to decide and judge what is right or wrong for everyone else, and get to impose their “law” on the rest of society. If God’s authority is ignored, who then judges the “laws” of the 51%? As Schaeffer rightly stated, “If there is no absolute by which to judge society, society is absolute.”

A 51% majority which has absolute power to impose their own preferences which they call “laws” on society is nothing but a tyranny. Consider how students today in our public schools are being primed to be ruled by this 51%. Mindfulness meditation teaches students not to judge between right and wrong. It encourages children to develop “non-judgmental awareness” of their thoughts and feelings. This erodes their ability to distinguish good from evil, and does not train them to make moral choices based upon biblical moral teachings. In order to mature and develop moral character, children have to be equipped to make moral choices.

Our children need sound biblical moral training so that they will be able to distinguish good from evil, and so that they will not be tossed about by every wind of popular culture. As a society, it is time that we recognised we cannot bulldoze our Christian foundations and expect the house to remain standing. Jesus Christ and His teaching provide the only foundation that will allow for our children and our culture to flourish.

Jesus is not merely a moral teacher who requires His followers to obey His teaching in their own strength. With the sacrifice of His life, He provided the only answer to our moral failure. He did what only God in human flesh could do. Jesus led a perfect life, died to pay the penalty for our sins, rose again from the dead and now gives His followers His Holy Spirit to live in them as the power to keep His moral law. This cannot be said of any leader of any other religion. Our hope for our children and ourselves is in Jesus Christ alone.

“Great and amazing are your deeds, O Lord God the Almighty!
Just and true are your ways, O King of the nations!
Who will not fear, O Lord, and glorify your name?
For you alone are holy.
All nations will come and worship you,
for your righteous acts have been revealed.”

The Self-Regulation Trojan Horse

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by Tina Olesen

The latest all-purpose solution being celebrated by the experts in educational circles these days is self-regulation. Self-regulation doesn’t mean that a child learns to control his impulses; it means he learns to control his stress. The Canadian Self-Regulation Initiative [i] proposes the theory that children misbehave because they are stressed out, and recommends teaching children how to self-regulate their stress levels so they will be calm and alert. Self-regulation is presented to teachers as something that will help students, but hidden within the belly of this Trojan horse are occult spiritual techniques. Friends, don’t trust this horse… beware of experts, even those bearing gifts

The self-regulation Trojan horse rolls up to the gate of the school, looking impressive. It speaks its first instructions: “Reduce the clutter in classrooms!” (This sounds alright, but you question it. We all know that a messy classroom is uncomfortable, but would that give a student an excuse to smack his classmate?)

The self-regulation horse then opens its mouth with its next demand: “Allow the children to use self-soothers in class, like stretchy bands or squishy toys.” (Hmmm, you wonder as you inspect one of the attractive toys, wouldn’t those be a distraction?)

Finally the horse booms its last directive: “Use mindfulness meditation and yoga to help kids reduce their stress.” Jumping suddenly out of the belly of this self-regulation Trojan horse are the occult invaders of mindfulness and yoga!

That word occult might conjure up images of wizards or Ouija boards, but it also has a broader meaning. Occult knowledge refers to that which is secret or hidden, revealed only to the specially initiated. Those involved in occult practices manipulate and bypass their minds to enter an altered state of consciousness, in order to perceive the one-ness of everything, or universal divinity. The joining of the opposites is the essence of occult philosophy. Eventually all distinctions are erased – the lines between good and evil, right and wrong, male and female, creature and Creator. Practices such as meditation and yoga fit into this description of occult, but they are now being re-packaged as secular self-regulation techniques.

Famous psychologist Carl Jung pioneered the re-branding of occult spirituality as “scientific” psychology. Jung himself was heavily involved with occult practices such as alchemy, astrology, Tarot card reading, Ouija boards and séances, and even acquired a spirit guide.[ii] Jung saw Hindu yoga as a means by which people could release themselves from the bondage of opposites. In the same vein as Jung, some psychologists have started experimenting with occult religious practices. Although they market them to children as a way to reduce stress, these occult practices pose a threat to the child’s innate moral conscience and carry the risk of spiritual dangers.[iii]

“But,” the self-regulation Trojan horse objects, “What will you do about the child’s stress?” Children do have a lot to be stressed about these days. When a society turns its back on God and His law, you’d better believe there is going to be moral decay and family breakdown, and that has a harmful impact on children. For example, if a child’s father has a drug habit, you bet that’s going to be stressful for her. Her stress makes a lot of sense in response to her dad’s sin (rebellion against God). But it’s not the child’s stress that’s the problem; it’s the sin that is causing the stress. The child ought to be heard in the truth of her sad and scary situation, and affirmed in the validity of her morally sane response to it. The last thing she should be taught is to go take care of her stress by meditating it away.

What should we do about children’s misbehaviour, then? We ought to teach them self-control, not self-regulation. Self-control means the child learns to restrain her impulses in obedience to God and out of consideration for others. You can acknowledge the wrong that has been done to a child while still holding her morally accountable for controlling herself. You can teach her the truth that someone else’s sin, however wrong and however hurtful, is not an excuse for her to sin.

Self-regulation is seductive because it does not involve the hard work of teaching the child self-control. What’s faster and easier, giving a child a squeeze toy, or training him to be able to sit still without it? A child who is permitted to squeeze away to his heart’s content is being trained in the art of self-gratification. He is being taught that he always has to feel good in order to be able to behave himself. While he might look as if he’s behaving himself, he’s not learning to delay gratification; he’s learning that he must be gratified at all times. This will have a devastating impact on his moral character development.

Children need a safe place to express their fears about their heartbreaking situations, and a trustworthy adult ought to affirm the right moral response of their conscience to sin. They need to be safeguarded from being seduced into the lie of occult practices like mindfulness and yoga. They need to be told the truth: that sin causes suffering, and that Jesus Christ saves sinners. Friends, leave that self-regulation Trojan horse outside the gate.

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[ii] For information about Carl Jung and the occult, click here

[iii] For more on mindfulness, read my guest blog post at Scientific American Mind – click here

To read about the spirituality behind yoga, read this post here or this article here