Plans for meditation at Terra Linda High don't soothe everyone

Marin-Independent Journal/October 11, 2006
By Ted Whitaker

Terra Linda High School plans to launch a Transcendental Meditation program with the help of a $175,000 grant from noted filmmaker David Lynch.

Lynch established a foundation in his name to spread Transcendental Meditation to schools as a method of stress management. The Terra Linda program would be the David Lynch Foundation's first in California, although others operate in Washington, D.C., and Detroit.

Principal Carole Ramsey became an enthusiastic supporter after hearing Lynch speak, but some say Transcendental Meditation is rooted in a religious movement that is inappropriate for public school.

"There's no doubt in my mind that it's religious," said opponent Paul Powell, whose daughter is a senior at the school.

Lynda Nichols, a history-social science consultant with the state Department of Education, does not see a problem with the program. She said it is voluntary, not part of the curriculum required for graduation, and another way to engage students.

"The parents that are concerned should just not let their children attend," she said. "The district is certainly within their right to offer it."

Ramsey will host an informational meeting at 7 p.m. Thursday in the school library for parents who want to know more about it.

Transcendental Meditation is one part of a new three-part Terra Linda High School wellness program; the other parts involve encouraging students to eat more fruits and vegetables instead of refined and processed foods, and increasing physical education.

Practitioners of Transcendental Meditation, founded by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, use it as a way to improve mental and physical health. Maharishi Mahesh Yogi is perhaps most famous for being associated with The Beatles when the group experimented with Eastern religion.

According to Lynch's Web site, students sit silently for 15-20 minutes twice a day with their eyes closed to settle their minds and experience different levels of thought until arriving at the source of their thoughts. It is not, according to the foundation, a religion or philosophy and practitioners do not change their lifestyles or experience any types of mind control.

"In today's world of fear and uncertainty," Lynch wrote on the foundation's Web site, "every child should have one class period a day to dive within himself and experience the field of silence - bliss - the enormous reservoir of energy and intelligence that is deep within all of us. This is the way to save the coming generation."

According to the school, informational meetings for faculty will begin this month and students will begin meetings in November. The program has space for 250 students and 25 teachers.

Anyone who enrolls would take 90-minute classes for four days in a row, followed by about 25, 30-minute sessions during the next couple years.

Participants would be tested before and after the program to assess how it affects their grades, blood pressure, discipline and several other issues. It is not part of the curriculum and would be offered either before or after school or during breaks.

Ramsey said the proposed program is in response to students who requested a meditation club at school. Along with physical education teacher David Garcia, she attended a speech by Lynch at the University of California at Berkeley in which he explained how Transcendental Meditation helps students reduce stress and improve their health.

Ramsey said the proposed program would not have any religious or spiritual elements and is widely respected for reducing anxiety, depression, behavior problems, insomnia and other problems.

"It's a technique, not a belief system," Ramsey said.

Suzanne Rush, a parent whose daughter plans to enroll, said she supports Ramsey and the program because children of all ages need to know how to deal with stress. She is familiar with the program and thinks the religious issue is unfounded.

"I look at it as another tool to help our children," she said.

Powell, who in addition to being a parent is a certified sport yoga instructor and stress management specialist, said he applauds the diet and exercise aspects of the school's wellness program. But, he added, there are better stress management methods that are not associated with any religion.

He said Transcendental Meditation is rooted in Hinduism. He said he supports students who participate in Transcendental Meditation or any other religion on their own, but not when school administrators get behind it.

"I don't see how that's appropriate," he said.

Bob Ross, a 1968 Redwood High School graduate who is vice president of the Lynch foundation, said the program is voluntary and completely non-religious. He said it is nonsense for anyone to believe the program has a religious component.

"Some people think we still haven't landed on the moon," he said.

He said the American Medical Association published a study that concluded the program reduces risk factors for hypertension, diabetes and obesity.

"There's an enormous amount of research that documents the effect," he said.

Dr. Edward Oklan, a San Anselmo child and adult psychiatrist whose children attended Terra Linda High School, said he wasn't too familiar with Transcendental Meditation.

"Options for relaxation training are good, in general," said Oklan, who has recommended children deal with stress by participating in youth groups at Spirit Rock Meditation Center.

He said the proposed program is probably fine as long as it is limited to education and doesn't involve any church-like elements.

"There are a lot of kids under stress and it's good for them to deal with it," he said.

Filmmaker's devotion

Filmmaker David Lynch is famous for writing and directing feature films with unusual, surreal plots such the 2001 psychological thriller "Mulholland Drive," which earned him an Oscar nomination.

Others include films "Eraserhead," "Blue Velvet," "Lost Highway" and "Wild at Heart," and the television hit "Twin Peaks."

Lynch has practiced Transcendental Meditation for more than 30 years. He established his foundation to teach Transcendental Meditation to any child who wants to learn.

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