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.

 

 

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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

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

What happened to school prayer?

public domain national archives2

by Tina Olesen

“Now everyone close your eyes, relax, and concentrate on your breathing,” are the instructions that many children in state schools in BC will hear today. What happened to “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name”? Mindfulness meditation has been welcomed in, whereas prayer was deemed to be discriminatory against those without faith, and shown to the door about 25 years ago.

Our first schools on Vancouver Island were established at Fort Victoria, and many of these were run by the clergy while funded by both private and public sources. The state or “public” system was formed in 1872 in an attempt to solidify government rule, in response to fear of American domination. The schools were now to be non-sectarian, and clergymen were no longer allowed to act as teachers or administrators. Up until 1944, BC was the only province in Canada where Bible reading was not permitted in the public schools. Only one “nod to God” remained: the Lord’s Prayer was permitted in opening or closing school.

The World Wars stirred up the moral conscience of parents, and they protested against the exclusion of Bible reading in the schools. In 1944, the BC government responded to parental concerns and amended the Public Schools Act to include compulsory Bible reading and reciting of the Lord’s Prayer at the opening of the school day.

In 1969, the BC Civil Liberties Association argued that these religious exercises had no instructional or moral value, and were an invasion of civil liberties. It was not until after the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms was enacted in 1982 that the BC School Act was effectively challenged. Joan Russow and Kathryn Lambert, backed by the BC Civil Liberties Association, successfully petitioned the BC Supreme Court to remove both Bible Reading and the Lord’s Prayer from BC public schools in 1989.

Section 76 of the BC School Act now reads: “All schools… must be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles. The highest morality must be inculcated, but no religious dogma or creed is to be taught…” What exactly does this mean? How is “the highest morality” defined? Who gets to decide what “the highest morality” is?

When God, the Giver of the moral law, is no longer our reference point for morality, then we have no ultimate reference point. As Francis Schaeffer stated, “If there is no absolute by which to judge society, society is absolute.” We have lost the biblical moral consensus; and now “the majority”, or the loudest most persuasive voices, assert control over the value system being imposed upon our children.

When we discipline children based on the biblical moral law, we have an authority which we can appeal to which is over and above ourselves. God, our law-giver, is the authority on what is right and what is wrong. Our God-given innate moral conscience bears witness to His law. How do we know that stealing is wrong? Both our conscience and God’s biblical moral law agree that this is so. Working with the child’s conscience and upholding God’s law as the standard, we have a solid basis for discipline and moral training.

Disciplining children is troublesome when the God-given moral law is not our basis for discipline. If we are not teaching that we are accountable to God and His moral law, then we are effectively teaching that everyone has the right to decide for themselves what is “right” for them. What happens, then, when Johnny does something objectionable? If you cannot appeal to God’s moral law, then you really cannot say to him, “What you did was wrong,” because, who are you to say what is right or wrong for him? All you can honestly say then is “I don’t want you to do that.” It then becomes a matter of convincing him to do things your way – often through bribery or threat of punishment. Eventually if Johnny keeps on doing things his way, perhaps he will be sent to the pediatrician to get some pills.

What happens, then, if half of your class keeps doing things you do not want them to do? If they are running wild and out of control and the bribes are not working any more? Punishment can only go so far; of course, you cannot spank them. They can’t all take pills… but the psychologists claim to have the cure. In eduspeak, the answer is self-regulation. Self-regulation is a fancy way of saying that we ought to teach kids to get control over themselves and calm themselves down. How do they recommend that you calm your class down? Get out the yoga mats and teach them some poses (never mind that these asanas are actually poses of worship to Hindu gods); or sit them on the floor cross-legged, palms up, eyes closed, and have them listen to the sound of your Buddhist chime while they concentrate on their breathing. Sounds religious, you say? Of course not, they say, it is neuroscience.

So, we are back to school prayer in BC public schools – only this time, it is “prayer” to pagan gods.

Canon in 2Dsm

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