Exploring an existing school of thought

Since I wrote the column about the transcendental meditation program (“To a mind that is still,” Dec. 13), I have learned so many exciting things about how the technique is now being used both in schools and the criminal justice system.

For example, there is a K-12 school in Fairfield, Iowa, that has incorporated meditation into the regular schedule every day for students, teachers and staff. Everyone swears by the program, and the results support their enthusiasm. The Maharishi School Pioneers, which has only 300 students, requires its students, teachers and staff each morning and afternoon to meditate for 15 to 20 minutes. Basically that is the only difference that sets this open-enrollment and racially integrated school apart from any other (of course it also wisely requires the students to wear uniforms).

But using meditation works. The school has won state championships in drama, golf, history, math, a program called “Odyssey of the Mind,” photography and art, poetry and writing, science, spelling bees, tennis, and track, among other things. Why does meditation work? Because, as the staff says, the simple act of meditating on a regular basis settles and calms the mind and reduces stress, and when stress is reduced, children are happier and more productive.

So, as one student told me in an interview, meditation lets anger and stress simply “fly out of your body.”

Many of the older graduates continue to live in Fairfield expressly so that their children can profit from the same experience they had, and other parents who have heard about the school have moved their families to Fairfield for the same reason. In fact, some of these parents actually came from Laguna Beach.

The school is not religious based and does not pursue any particular beliefs or dogma. But the administrators of the school believe that meditation helps the electrical activity of the human brain to slow down. This makes thinking itself more clear and focused, and also allows the brain to develop more fully. And this, in turn, naturally promotes a higher state of interest and wellness in the students.

Once the technique is learned, meditation puts the students’ minds into a position of complete silence where thoughts do not happen. Soon the students are more aware of their mind settling down, and, eventually, of consciousness itself. This, in turn, increasingly allows the mind to become more clear and to experience more subtle thoughts, so everything around them more readily falls into place and becomes understandable.

The more scientific explanation is that when under stress, the pre-frontal cortex of the brain shuts down, and the primitive part of the brain with the protective “fight or flight” reaction is engaged. This also causes the brain to become flooded with adrenaline, so it is consequently not able to do such things as “analyze a five-year plan,” or even be rational. So stress is one reason why teenagers are more combative and resistant to learning. Then later, when the pre-frontal cortex kicks back in, the brain again gets back into the “I’m sorry” mode and other more calm states of analysis.

But transcendental meditation is successful by increasing the pathways of the brain, which, in turn, improves focus, attention, anger management and positive social behavior. This also makes transcendental meditation extremely effective for people who have ADHD, high-functioning autism, and adults who are bi-polar, and have post-traumatic stress disorders from military service.

The students from Fairfield that I spoke to in telephone interviews confirm these positive results.

For example, Essa said she watches the news and sees people in fights.

“But not here,” she said. “In our school we intermingle and are all supportive.”

In addition, she said that meditation not only helped her to be more athletic, it also gave her both the confidence and initiative to try something new. So she went into theater, and was successful.

Mickey’s family came from Knoxville. He is in the school’s Destination Imagination Club that has won national honors, and is now competing in a worldwide competition. In addition, the school also recently won the statewide science fair, three of its students won state honors in engineering, and one student is a finalist in an international creative arts competition (not bad results for a school of 300).

The school was partially founded with the assistance of the David Lynch Foundation. Lynch is probably known to many of you as the Academy Award-nominated director of “Elephant Man” and “Twin Peaks.” It is the mission of this foundation to eliminate violence and life-threatening stress in schools across the planet, and it already is responsible for the establishment of schools in the United States, Israel and Europe.

One of those schools is the Ideal Academy Public Charter School in northwest Washington, D.C. I spoke to its principal, Dr. George H. Rutherford, who told me that the David Lynch Foundation had sponsored three trainers about three years ago to come to his school and teach transcendental meditation to some of his students, teachers and staff.

And soon things really started changing — for the better! Now they have involved the entire school, and everyone’s attitudes have changed. The students are calmer, more disciplined, more interested in learning and their grades have improved.

Transcendental meditation programs have also been offered in San Quentin and Folsom State prisons in California. Like everywhere else, those programs are taught in seven classes, with the first two being lectures that focus upon the benefits, research and techniques of the method. The third is a personal interview, and the fourth provides one-on-one training. Then the last three are consecutive days of group follow-up. Pretty simple and straightforward, and the programs are not expensive.

But the results show that 90% of the graduates have not returned to prison. There even is a program of criminal sentencing in Missouri in which young adults have the option of using transcendental meditation which has seen similar excellent results with increased schooling, employment and lower recidivism rates.

So that is a further part of the story. Recently, former Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, along with several other pop stars, raised more than $1 million in a benefit concert at the New York’s Radio City Music Hall to help establish more transcendental meditation programs around the world. They believe that meditation works for our children and for all of the rest of us. And if you learn more about it, I think you will too.

For more information about the sentencing program visit www.EnlightenedSentencing.org, and for the David Lynch Foundation and the transcendental meditation movement in general, visit www.TM.org or www.DavidLynchFoundation.org. Then tell me what you think.

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)