Marin school drops meditation club

Foundation withdraws grant after religious connection emerges

Marin Independent Journal/October 19, 2006
By Tad Whitaker

San Rafael -- A controversial proposal to start a transcendental meditation program at a Marin County high school was dropped Wednesday after the David Lynch Foundation withdrew a $175,000 grant.

Terra Linda High School Principal Carole Ramsey said a few people created such a stir over the issue that it became a distraction. Nonetheless, she is encouraging students to pursue their interests in meditation because it remains an effective way to reduce stress.

"I don't regret bringing it (to students) at all," she said. Ramsey recently announced the school would start a transcendental meditation club as part of a new wellness program that also encouraged students to eat better and exercise more. But she abruptly ended an informational meeting for about 75 parents last week when opponents raised a ruckus over claims the program is linked to a religious movement.

Transcendental meditation was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi to improve mental and physical health. Maharishi is perhaps most famous as a spiritual adviser to the Beatles in the 1960s.

It is not, supporters claim, a religion or philosophy, and practitioners do not change their lifestyles or experience any type of mind control even though the founder, Maharishi, is referred to as "His Holiness." Ramsey attended a lecture by Lynch, an Oscar-nominated filmmaker who established a nonprofit organization to spread transcendental meditation in schools, after more than 60 students expressed interest in a meditation program.

Shortly thereafter, she applied for and received the $175,000 grant, which would have been the organization's first program in California. Participants would have taken several workshops, including 90-minute periods for four consecutive days.

The goal is to sit silently for 15 to 20 minutes twice a day with eyes closed.

A consultant with the state Department of Education did not see a problem with the program in a public school.Bob Roth, a 1968 graduate of Redwood High School who is a spokesman for the Lynch Foundation, said pulling back was the best thing for his organization and the school following the outcry. He said the grant will go to another school."There's a long waiting list," he said.Ramsey said that, aside from a few opponents, most parents either supported the program or were open-minded. But the deep-seated beliefs held by critics threatened to overshadow what she set out to accomplish."This is a program that was supposed to reduce stress," she noted.

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