School needs to rethink use
Article Launched:10/16/2006 04:39:20 AM PDT
MEDITATION HAS gained growing acceptance in the West as a
way to reduce stress and clear the mind.
Terra Linda High School's decision to offer Transcendental
Meditation, with the help of a $175,000 grant from filmmaker David
Lynch's foundation, as part of a new wellness program is having
the opposite effect.
Some parents are upset, concerned that Transcendental Meditation
has religious overtones that are inappropriate in a public school.
Those concerns are legitimate.
The high school and the San Rafael High School District should
reconsider the decision to accept the $175,000 grant and the use
of Transcendental Meditation as part of this new program. TM is
the stress management component of a School Wellness Program approved
by the district board in June.
The other aspects of the wellness program have great merit:
Encouraging students to eat more fruits and vegetables instead
of refined and processed foods and increasing physical education.
The issue boiled over at an informational meeting for parents
at Terra Linda High on Thursday night that was hosted by Principal
Carole Ramsey. Ramsey, who became interested after hearing Lynch
speak at the University of California at Berkeley, said the program
would not have any religious or spiritual elements. She said it
is known for reducing anxiety, depression, behavior problems and
insomnia. "It's a technique, not a belief system," Ramsey
Transcendental Meditation was founded in 1958 by Maharishi
Mahesh Yogi, best known for his involvement with the Beatles some
40 years ago when the group became interested in Eastern religion.
The goal of the Lynch foundation is to teach Transcendental
Meditation to any child who wants to learn.
Participants at Terra Linda High would take several workshops,
including 90-minute periods for four consecutive days, to learn
the TM program.
The program is not part of the curriculum and would be offered
either before or after school or during breaks.
Transcendental Meditation supporters say it is not a religion
or philosophy, even though the founder, Maharishi, is referred
to in most instances as "His Holiness." He is about
90 years old and lives on a 65-acre retreat in Holland. His plans
include establishing 3,000 marble peace palaces around the world,
including one in Marin. The palaces would encourage "yogic
flying," an advanced form of Transcendental Meditation in
which meditators sit cross-legged and physically lift themselves
off the floor. Plans for a 12,000-square-foot Marin peace palace
were unveiled in 2003 in Sausalito, but the proposal has failed
to get off the ground. The status of the proposal is uncertain.
Six TM experts and advocates, including the headmaster from
the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment for grade school
children in Iowa, were part of the program in the Terra Linda
After an hourlong presentation on the benefits of TM, Ramsey
started taking questions. The meeting quickly dissolved into chaos.
Ford Greene, a San Anselmo lawyer who specializes in suing organizations
such as the Church of Scientology, started asking pointed questions
that dominated the session. A visibly angry parent, whose son
is a senior, took the stage and wouldn't leave. She denounced
TM, calling it a "destructive cult" and that she had
taught TM for 35 years before breaking away.
Ramsey ended the meeting after things got out of hand.
This debate needs to stay focused on what is appropriate for
a public school to be offering.
The first thing the high school administration needs to do
is ask itself if it made the proper choice in choosing Transcendental
Terra Linda High and the San Rafael High School District need
to address the issues raised and make it clear that this program
is about teaching meditation techniques, not about teaching religion.
There are many forms of meditation. If the school is committed
to offering meditation, which has many benefits and millions of
fans, the school should explore other approaches that are more
generic in nature.
Terra Linda High administrators deserve credit for coming up
with a program that is designed to encourage high school students
to lead healthier lives. Today's kids are under a great deal of
stress. Giving them useful relaxation tools is a positive step
- especially something that doesn't involve computers, a television
or text messaging.
It is obvious that a big reason the high school selected Transcendental
Meditation is because the David Lynch Foundation offered the school
a $175,000 grant.
It also is obvious that making Transcendental Meditation part
of this high school program was not the most appropriate choice.