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It’s Time to Prevent School Violence with Meditation—and Here’s How.

27 Heart it! Linda Egenes 1.8k
May 10, 2018
Linda Egenes
27 Heart it! 1.8k

My husband and I were living in Florida during the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting, so it hit close to home, with everyone stunned by the tragedy that happened just down the road.

Yet for the first time in years, I felt a budding of hope, a feeling that things may actually change, as I watched the brave survivors taking a stand against gun violence. I was moved to tears as I watched a CNN video of these high school students teaching us adults how to prevent this kind of tragedy from ever happening again.

“The first step in situations like these is coming together and loving and supporting each other,” said Jack Haimowitz, an 18-year-old student who survived the attack. “The second step is finding a solution.”

I truly hope, as these young people articulated in such a moving way, that a solution is coming, when the American people will vote for common-sense gun control and for better mental health services for kids. A time when young people won’t have to fear for their lives while attending public school. A time when children won’t have to stage yet another National School Walkout just to get the attention of the adults to make their schools safe.

But at the same time, I don’t feel that legislation is the entire answer, because it doesn’t address the root of the problem—the tremendous stress load that is at the source of school violence in our nation.

I’d like to propose an additional solution: incorporating the peaceful approach of meditation into the public school curriculum to calm school stress and prevent violent outbursts from bubbling up in the first place.

I know from my own experience of practicing the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique every day that it’s possible to experience an inner core of calm inside even in the most trying of circumstances. I know that it allows me to think of creative solutions to problems, rather than to dwell on anger or fear. I also know that it helped my former students find their own core of peace at Maharishi University of Management, where the entire staff, faculty, and student body practice TM as part of the curriculum.

When you’re enjoying something so precious as a calm environment to teach in, you want others to have it too. So it’s been heartening that urban schools in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Detroit, and Washington, D.C., are also adding the Transcendental Meditation technique to the school curriculum—resulting in reduced bullying, suspensions, and fighting among students.

The idea is that if enough children in a school are feeling less stressed and anxious, it will have a calming effect on the entire school—and even the tense neighborhoods surrounding the school.

In the 19 years since Columbine, our nation’s children have endured 212 additional school shootings. It’s time to try a fresh approach—it’s time to use the peaceful approach of meditation to prevent violent outbursts long before they break out.

We Can Make Schools Safe Again.

Let’s look at a real-life example. James S. Dierke, a former principal of Visitacion Valley Middle School in San Francisco, made meditation available as part of his school’s curriculum precisely because he wanted to protect his students from gun violence.

According to an article by Jennie Rothenberg in the Atlantic, a gunman burst into the main office at Dierke’s school in 2004, threatening to shoot everyone in sight. He was stopped, but afterward Dierke vowed to make his school “an island of safety in a sea of trouble.” As he saw it, that meant not only improving the students’ physical security, but improving their ability to cope with their own PTSD and the violence and tensions around them.

That’s when he decided to give his students the opportunity to learn Transcendental Meditation in a program called Quiet Time, which was funded by a grant from the non-profit David Lynch Foundation. The TM technique has been shown to be an effective and healthy way to reduce stress in research funded by the NIH and published in American Medical Association and American Heart Association journals.

In the first year that Visitacion Valley implemented two 15-minute periods of Quiet Time each day, the number of suspensions fell by 45 percent. Within four years, the suspension rate was among the lowest in the city. Daily attendance rates climbed to 98 percent, well above the citywide average. Grade point averages improved markedly. In one survey, 88 percent of the students at Visitacion Valley agreed that “since learning to meditate, I argue and fight less with others.”

“The Transcendental Meditation technique is the most powerful, effective program that I have come across in my 39 years as a public school educator for addressing this problem of stress,” Dierke said. “It is working. It is nourishing these children and providing them an immensely valuable tool for life. It is saving lives.”

Since then, dozens of schools nationwide have adopted the program with similar results. Recently the University of Chicago Crime Lab selected the Quiet Time program to help address toxic stress and youth violence in Chicago schools, and is closely studying the results.

 What to Do when the Average Kid is Stressed.

 It turns out that mass school shootings are only one part of the violence occurring in many American schools today. According to CDC’s Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) of 2016, six percent of children surveyed said they’d been threatened or injured with a weapon during the past year while at school. More than 20 percent of the kids who participated in the survey said they were bullied at school and 15.5 percent said they’d been bullied online during the past year.

Interestingly, there is a direct link between school violence and bullying—the bullying victims were twice as likely to carry a weapon to school as students who weren’t bullied, according to the study’s authors.

 So how can such a simple thing such as meditating twice a day stop bullying and other violence? To answer that question, we need to look at the role stress is playing in the lives of American youth today.

Stress is now understood as the major cause of most mental health disorders, including severe teen depression, which is highly correlated with teen violence, according to research conducted by the U.S. Department of Education.

William Stixrud, Ph.D., a clinical neuropsychologist at the Children’s National Medical Center in Washington, D.C., explains, “Depression is described as a disorder of stress dysregulation, which means that the amygdala, the part of the brain that signals threat, becomes hyperactive, and the fight-or-flight response is overly responsive. So for a long time before children get depressed, they feel stressed, they feel anxious, and they feel that that world is more threatening than it really is.”

In other words, with constant exposure to stress, the stress response goes into hyperdrive, and the child experiences the fight-or-flight reaction even when there is no real threat. This chronic stress syndrome, if left untreated, can escalate to PTSD and depression—or suicide and other violent behaviors.

“This vicious cycle can be prevented by normalizing the stress response through Transcendental Meditation,” said Stixrud, who recently co-authored the bestselling book The Self-Driven Child.

In other words, by calming the mind, mitigating stress, and preventing anxiety and depression, meditation can keep the pot from boiling over.

The children who participated in the March 14th and April 20th national walkouts told us “Never Again.” I hope we can take the advice of these courageous students and those who survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting to stop the stress from boiling over into another school tragedy.

“We’re the survivors,” said student Ashley Palsetiner, her voice gathering strength as she delivered her message on the CNN video. “We’re lucky to be here. And we’re still here for a reason. We’re here because we need to make a change.”

I think we all can imagine a world in which schools become safe harbors for all children. As parents and teachers, we can make that change happen by practicing meditation ourselves, by encouraging our children and students to meditate, and by supporting the David Lynch Foundation in bringing calm to public schools.

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Suggested videos: 


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Relephant:

After the latest Florida Shooting—a 1969 message from Mr. Rogers that still Applies Today.

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Author: Linda Egenes
Image: Courtesy of the David Lynch Foundation 
Editor: Yoli Ramazzina

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**About the author: Linda Egenes writes about green and healthy living, is a featured blogger at TM-Women.organd co-authored Super Healthy Kids: A Parent’s Guide to Maharishi Ayurveda. She is a former adjunct faculty at Maharishi University of Management and a teacher of the Transcendental Meditation technique. Reach her here. Author photo courtesy of Juliet Jarmosco.

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27 Heart it! Linda Egenes 1.8k
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David Shapiro May 10, 2018 6:00am

Here is a beautiful angle: reduce the tendency for students to be violent and there will be less violence. Brilliant.

    Linda Egenes May 10, 2018 8:14am

    Thank you, David. Yes, if each of us were more peaceful, our world would reflect that.

harbourfh May 10, 2018 7:55am

Great article! Linda brilliantly brings it all together and shows how the TM technique is making an enormous difference in schools and students’ lives by reducing toxic stress — the precursor to violence — from the inside out. Thank you for sharing this hopeful approach and research!

    Linda Egenes May 10, 2018 8:17am

    Thank you, Harbour! I really appreciate your comments:-)

marciamphd May 10, 2018 8:05am

This is a proven approach, safe, cost effective, non-violent, and easy. Let’s make every school a haven of peace and a source of coherence for the area. It might be the last solution that one would think of, but it is real and it works!

    Linda Egenes May 10, 2018 8:15am

    Right–it might seem far-fetched, but the evidence is quite compelling. This non-violent approach works!

jkreves May 10, 2018 8:10am

Thanks, Linda, for presenting the strong case for incorporating TM into school curriculums. We would be foolish not to use this tool that can help schools be more peaceful and safe places.

    Linda Egenes May 10, 2018 8:21am

    Thanks, Joy. I agree–it does seem like it’s a no-brainer, to at least try to reduce the stress and protect our schools from violence.

jennine.fellmer May 10, 2018 8:18am

If only every child had access to this, it would be a different story!

    Linda Egenes May 10, 2018 8:22am

    Yes, it’s a world we can all envision–and we can make it happen too!

amyruff108 May 10, 2018 9:04am

SO well written with strong evidence, shown over and over, that teaching children the simple technique of Transcendental Meditation lowers stress, tension, and has a calming effect on the environment. Thank you!

    Linda Egenes May 10, 2018 9:07am

    Thanks, Amy! Yes, that is so important if schools are to take this seriously–the fact that it’s not just a subjectively peaceful experience, but there is strong, peer-reviewed scientific research on TM and its effect on stress—and specifically in schools too.

john4burns May 10, 2018 9:13am

W.B. Yeats, from “Earth, Fire and Water,” 1893
“We can make our minds so like still water that beings gather about us that they may see, it may be, their own images, and so live for a moment with a clearer, perhaps even with a fiercer life because of our quiet.”

    Linda Egenes May 10, 2018 9:55am

    Wow, I LOVE that. Yeats really got it, didn’t he?

Evan Finkelstein May 10, 2018 9:36am

Thank you for this well-researched article that provides a practical solution to help end violence in our schools and society. Much appreciated!

    Linda Egenes May 10, 2018 9:55am

    You are SO welcome. And thank you for your kind words.

ellen May 10, 2018 9:45am

I think this is a great idea and certainly won’t hurt. I just wanted to mention that when you say that TM calms the mind, it’s also been shown to increase creativity. So people shouldn’t think it dulls children’s minds.

Craig Berg May 10, 2018 10:27am

The extraordinary results of Visitacion Valley’s Quiet Time program are shown in the mindblowing video on Youtube titled: “Transcendental Meditation at Visitacion Valley School, San Fransisco”. It is shameful that this video has so few views. It needs to be seen by anyone truly interested in solving the problems of bullying and violence in our schools.

    Linda Egenes May 10, 2018 11:05am

    Thank you for that video recommendation, Craig. Can you post the link below?

jb4sos May 10, 2018 2:18pm

Thank you, Linda. For our children’s sake, we must give them this simple, natural technique to reduce stress and increase resilience. The Parkland students have shown us the vitality of the new generation. They are thinking fresh and not following the tired memes of a morally impoverished if not bankrupt generation that only sees guns as our defense. When you see the faces of young people practicing the Transcendental Meditation technique, you see the future–calm, peaceful, Self-referral, and pure. When you see the faces at the NRA, you see anger, fear and hopelessness. You see the past. We can and we must imagine the wolf lying down with the lamb, and our children happy and fulfilled growing up to be kind, creative, responsible adults. Jane Bialosky

    Linda Egenes May 12, 2018 5:18am

    Thank you so much, Jane, for summing it up so perfectly. I agree–the young people of our nation will lead us to a peaceful future, and this beautiful meditation technique will give them the inner strength to do that.

suselfagan May 10, 2018 3:24pm

This is a wise, well researched and clear article, with good logic and support for all the points about how the systematic and effective TM technique, when introduced into schools, literally lowers violence, discord and fear in the school environment, while the students grades and enjoyment of education improves.

    Linda Egenes May 12, 2018 5:19am

    Thank you, Susel. I really appreciate your thoughtful and succinct comment–you summed it up perfectly!!!

Heidi McArdle May 11, 2018 8:08am

Thank you Linda. I hope some of your readers are inspired to study and become meditation teachers.

    Linda Egenes May 12, 2018 5:21am

    Yes, good thought, Heidi–the more teachers there are, the more kids can learn. A most rewarding career. The David Lynch Foundation is always looking for certified TM teachers to teach in schools, and the demand is growing exponentially.

aryeh May 11, 2018 4:28pm

There is so much disinformation in this article; it’s hard to know where to start. First, as much as TM denies it, TM is a Hindu religious practice. I’ll give two example of this, and I apologize for how long this post will be. Bob Roth is the Exec. Director of the David Lynch Foundation. He has a best selling book on TM. The puja is the very heart of TM instruction. Every TM student participates in the puja; it is inviolable. Roth doesn’t mention the word “puja” in his book. This is how he describes the ceremony,
Prior to the instruction, your teacher will perform a simple thank-you ceremony – an ancient way of expressing gratitude to the teacher. It’s a lovely cultural tradition, and not religious in any way. …You won’t, of course, be asked to participate in it. The thank-you includes a few fresh flowers, some fresh fruit, a stick of incense, and, to represent the tradition of meditation teachers, a picture of Maharishi’s teacher, Guru Dev.
But in actuality, the puja has nothing to do with giving thanks; there is no mention or expression of “thank you” in the entire ceremony. It is a purely a Hindu worship service.
For over fifty years, every TM teacher has had to memorize the puja word for word in Sanskrit along with its English translation. In his description, Roth mentions that there is a picture of Guru Dev. He doesn’t mention that the image sits at the focal point of an altar, replete with little brass cups filled with camphor, rice, and other items the TM teacher uses to make eighteen offerings to Guru Dev. He doesn’t say that TM will not provide a translation of the puja to a prospective TM student.
The student is required to bring some of the items used in the offerings. Therefore, contrary to being a passive observer or witness, bringing items used in the puja and paying the course fee, make the student an active participant in the ceremony. The involvement of the student in bringing items used in the ceremony is known as “Dakshina” in the Hindu religion. The concept of Dakshina makes the student an active participant, even if the student thinks he or she is passive, only because they aren’t told the truth. TM never reveals this to the public. At the end of the puja, the student is invited to join the teacher in bowing down to Guru Dev. Early TM teachers knew the purpose of the puja was to bind the soul of the student to Maharishi and Guru Dev.
In 1978, TM was tossed out of the New Jersey public schools primarily because of the puja. The puja and TM’s underlying Hindu philosophical doctrine known as The Science of Creative Intelligence (SCI) were both declared religious practices in conflict with the establishment clause of the First Amendment of the US Constitution.

The court transcript documents that during the puja, the teacher makes eighteen offerings and bows to Guru Dev seventeen times. Every monotheistic religion considers this to be idolatry. The court further documents that,

The puja ends with a string of divine epithets that are applied to Guru Dev. Guru Dev is called “ the Unbounded,” “the omnipresent in all creation,” “bliss of the Absolute,” “transcendental joy,” “the Self- Sufficient,” “the embodiment of pure knowledge which is beyond and above the universe like the sky,” “the One,” “the Eternal,” “the Pure,” “the Immovable,” “the Witness of all intellects, whose status transcends thought.”

The Court stated that no one would apply all these epithets to a human being.
Finally, the court ruled,
Although defendants have submitted well over 1500 pages of briefs, affidavits, and deposition testimony in opposing plaintiff s’ motion for summary judgment, defendants have failed to raise the slightest doubt as to the facts or as to the religious nature of the teachings of the Science of Creative Intelligence [TM’s Hindu underpinnings] and the puja. The teaching of the SCI/TM course in New Jersey public high schools violates the establishment clause of the first amendment, and its teaching must be enjoined.”

By his own account, Roth has taught TM to many hundreds of devoutly religious people of all faiths. He writes that when he described the “ceremony,” some initially thought it could be religious. But when he explained its purpose, they appreciated it. Of course, as documented above, by distorting the truth he deceived people whom he knew cared deeply about their religious traditions and who were merely looking for a way to relax.
What could motivate such disregard for another’s beliefs as to willfully guide them into what can only be described as idol worship?
Although I sometimes think of Roth as the “bad guy,” I believe he is a victim too. He was brainwashed, just like all TM teachers. Just like I was. He is a missionary. TM is his religion and Maharishi is his high priest. As evidence, consider the oath TM teacher’s sign. Likely Roth signed the version below or one similar,
It is my fortune, Guru Dev, that I have been accepted to serve the Holy Tradition and spread the Light of God to all those who need it. It is my joy to undertake the responsibility of representing the Holy Tradition in all its purity as it has been given to me by Maharishi and I promise on your altar, Guru Dev, that with all my heart and mind I will always work within the framework of the Organizations founded by Maharishi. And to you, Maharishi, I promise that as a Meditation Guide I will be faithful in all ways to the trust that you have placed in me.
Roth has spent much of his adult life cultivating celebrities who sincerely believe they are doing good, while he expertly manipulates them into shilling for TM. TM teachers state, “You don’t have to believe in anything to do TM,” as proof that TM is not a religion. If that’s true, why doesn’t TM disclose the truth about the puja and let people decide for themselves?
Roth appears to be a congenial person who likes people and whom people like and trust. I assume he believes he’s bringing salvation to the world – just like I believed when I was a TM teacher. I don’t know to what extent he knows he’s lying or if he is sincere. But the bottom line is he is doing a tremendous amount of damage misleading people who are looking to relax, not to try out a new religion.

TM mantras are the names of Hindu gods. In Maharishi’s own words as quoted in Beacon Light of the Himalayas,
But we do not select the sound at random. We do not select any sound like ‘mike,’ flower, table, pen, wail, etc., because such ordinary sounds can do nothing more than merely sharpening the mind…For our practice, we select only the suitable mantras of personal gods. Such mantras fetch to us the grace of personal gods…
The mantras used in TM are the names of Hindu gods.

The author doesn’t mention that TM was in six San Francisco public schools and was thrown out of five of them.
She also fails to mention that the vast majority of TM research studies are biased, preliminary and hyped only to sell TM. There is no discernable interest in science on the part of the organization.

About the peace, love, and brotherhood at Maharishi School of Mangement, A former professor, and legal counsel wrote that he had witnessed,

A system of denial and avoidance, as well as outright lies and deception, to cover up or sanitize serious problems on campus. These included nervous breakdowns, episodes of dangerous and bizarre behavior, threats of and actual attempted suicide and homicidal ideation, psychotic episodes, crime, depression, and manic behavior.

I was so upset by the endless hype and denials of TM that I wrote a book on the subject, Transcendental Deception: Behind the TM Curtain – bogus science, hidden agendas, and David Lynch’s campaign to push a million public school kids into Transcendental Meditation while falsely claiming it is not a religion.

Mark LaPorta May 22, 2018 1:25pm

A lot of truth here.
Investigate the David Lynch Foundation for this: multiple big cities are doing it well!
And while telling others what to do, acquire practice first.
And https://www.amazon.com/dp/0345816021/ref=rdr_ext_tmb has some ideas that WILL work, but most will not even make the effort.
RSVP.

NOTE: If we don’t EACH put the effort in, don’t bother complaining that others don’t do what is needed.

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