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Mindfulness Meditation in Public Schools

Todd Fahrner, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

Todd Fahrner, Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0

What does it mean to “secularize” mindfulness? It boils down to a simple change of vocabulary. Promoters drop the terms “Buddhism” and “meditation” and add the terms “neuroscience” and “scientific research.” Meanwhile, the same practice is taught in both public schools and Buddhist basics classes.

This article originally appeared in Huffington Post

Trudy Goodman, founder of Insight LA, California, confesses in an interview with Vincent and Emily Horn of BuddhistGeeks.com that what she advertises as “secular” mindfulness for public schools is really, in her words, “stealth Buddhism.” Although the “secular” classes use a “different vocabulary,” getting children to engage in the same practice of mindfulness that is taught in Buddhist classes transforms students “whether they want it or not,” and many go on to enroll in explicitly Buddhist classes. The podcast interview records Goodman and the Horns laughing while discussing this intentional deception.

“We worked the most on language,” admits Marilyn Neagley, director of the Talk About Wellness initiative in Vermont public schools: “When we say ‘mindfulness,’ we feel it’s safer than saying ‘meditation.'”

Actress Goldie Hawn actually refers to her internationally disseminated MindUP curriculum as a “script.” She explains her tactic to a group of Buddhist insiders at the 2013 Heart-Mind conference at The Dalai Lama Center for Peace-Education: “We have to be able to bring contemplative practice into the classroom under a different name because obviously people that say ‘oh meditation’ they think oh this is ‘Buddhist.'” So she instead uses the terms “Core Practice” and “brain breaks” as euphemisms for Buddhist meditation.

As I explain in more detail in my previous post, meditating on one’s breath and present-moment bodily sensations and cultivating non-judgmental awareness of passing thoughts and emotions trains the mind to perceive experiences and the notion of a “self” as transitory. Right mindfulness–the seventh aspect of the eightfold path of Buddhism–alleviates the human predicament of suffering by detaching the mind from pursuing desires, avoiding dislikes, or worrying about past or future. Compassion toward others stems from realizing that everyone is really part of the same universal process, or Buddha nature. The ultimate goal is freedom from karma and reincarnation, and attainment of enlightenment or nirvana.

Of course, the MindUP curriculum never uses any of these religious-sounding terms. It just keeps returning to the mantra of “neuroplasticity”–that mindfulness changes the brain. Research shows that lots of other things–such as math, aerobic exercise, music, and a healthy lunch–all change the brain too. MindUP doesn’t mention these more conventional components of the school day because this might make the Core Practice seem less essential.

Public-school mindfulness programs often pair the term mindfulness with “heartfulness.” Mindful Schools is one such program, founded in 2010 in Northern California, and now providing on-site or on-line training to teachers and children in 48 states and 43 countries. The Mindful Schools website embeds a promotional video, Healthy Habits of Mind, which depicts what heartfulness looks like in the classroom–in short, it looks a lot like prayer [with Tibetan singing bowl or ringing gong].

Instead of asking children to pray for God to bless sick classmates, the teacher “secularizes” prayer by substituting the language of sending good thoughts, while leading children to perform symbolic gestures such as folding their hands in a traditional prayer gesture and closing their eyes, while reciting companion phrases that connote prayer.

Teachers and administrators welcome offers by Buddhist meditators to teach “secularized” versions of practices that instill the same moral and ethical virtues as religion. Ironically, it is primarily European-Americans who seek to extract meditation “techniques” from the “cultural baggage” of Asian religious traditions and impose them on “low-income, at-risk” African-American and Hispanic student populations.

Read the full article Mindfulness Meditation in Public Schools: Side-Stepping Supreme Court Religion Rulings | Candy Gunther Brown, Ph.D. at Huffington Post

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