When Mindfulness Meditation was introduced at my child’s public elementary school (10.2015), there was no public consultation, no announcements, and no waivers were sent home for parents to sign. And, various public schools across Canada are doing the same. It’s happening quietly and discreetly, and one school at a time – something that qualifies as Buddhist Meditation is making its way into public schools. This implementation is both unlawful and unethical, which I explain in more detail below. Here are 10 reasons why Canadian public schools are not the right place for Mindfulness Meditation or Mindfulness-oriented programs:
1. Legislated Meditation is not lawful in Canada
1. I believe Mindfulness sessions qualify as Meditation; Guided Meditation; Buddhist Meditation; and Spiritual Meditation sessions. If I’m correct, then legislated Mindfulness sessions are legislated meditation sessions. And, here’s the problem with that: according to Section Two of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, every citizen has the “Freedom of Conscience” and the “Freedom of Religion.” Since things like prayer and meditation are spiritual activities, neither of those things can be legislated in Canada.
Note: 1) Applicable Canadian public schools that offer Mindfulness programs have largely enrolled students into participation without any public consultation or waivers. Doing this constitutes as legislated meditation; 2) I have compiled 25+ articles of evidence that proves Mindfulness sessions are: Meditation; Guided Meditation; Buddhist Meditation; and Spiritual Meditation sessions; 3) Proof this is not just my interpretation is a Parliament of Canada document (30), which says (when referring to religious freedom in Canada): “Freedom in a broad sense embraces both the absence of coercion and constraint, and the right to manifest beliefs and practices. Freedom means that, subject to such limitations as are necessary to protect public safety, order, health, or morals or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others, no one is to be forced to act in a way contrary to his beliefs or his conscience” (Section 2.2.1:8-9); 4) Legislated prayer formerly existed in most Canadian public schools, and beginning in 1985 public schools began abandoning that practice because of Section Two of the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms; 5) To put this into perspective: your employer can offer Mindfulness sessions at your workplace — but your employer cannot automatically enrol you into Mindfulness Meditations sessions.
2. Canadian public schools are supposed to be secular schools
All the Provinces and Territories in Canada have laws that designate public schools as “secular schools.” One example of proof is Section 76 of the BC School Act, which says: “All schools and Provincial schools must be conducted on strictly secular and non-sectarian principles. The highest morality must be inculcated, but no religious dogma or creed is to be taught in a school or Provincial school.” This means Canadian public schools can briefly teach students about what Buddhist Meditation is, but they violate the rights of the students if they solicit them into practicing it.
Note: 1) If any official requires (or solicits) students to participate in something that qualifies as Buddhist Meditation, then those public schools are no longer operating as secular schools. And, I think that action is a violation of Provincial and Territorial laws, in Canada; 2) The recent introduction of Buddhist meditative concepts and principles, meditation chimes, Guided Mindfulness Meditation, unofficial Mindfulness Guides, Tibetan singing bowls, etc. is out of place for public schools; 3) Some people have referred to Mindfulness sessions as “Secular Meditation,” and I sometimes hear people using the term “Secular Buddhism.” But, I personally don’t believe either of those things exist. It’s my humble belief that Spiritual things can be watered-down, but they don’t cease to possess their function or their origin. For something to be truly 100% secular, it cannot possess any identifiable spiritual or religious characteristics; 4) According to the Parliament of Canada Freedom of Religion and Religious Symbols in the Public Sphere, section 2.2.1(12): “Public schools [in Canada] are the only place in which it has been clearly determined by the courts and through legislation that religion cannot be present in any institutionalized sense.
3. Soliciting students to practice Mindfulness, the way that is happening now – is unethical
Applicable school representatives are telling parents that Mindfulness programs (including MindUP, etc.) “does not involve meditation.” They are also claiming that Mindfulness sessions have no religious or spiritual affiliation, and they claim that Mindfulness sessions are “secular” and “entirely secular.” School officials refer to Mindfulness sessions as “breathing sessions,” “breathing exercises” and “mindful breathing.” Because of this, most students do not realize they are meditating within the context of Mindfulness sessions. I am respectfully saying that is unethical and should not continue.
Note: 1) Advertising Buddhist Meditation sessions – as secular breathing sessions – is comparable to someone advertising and selling bacon marketed as vegetarian bacon. It is completely unethical; 2) Numerous lawsuits have been won with regards to the false advertising and mislabeling of other comparable things. One example is this fast-food restaurant that falsely advertised their french fries as vegetarian (but in fact, the fries were blanched in beef fat).
4. Some students desire to refrain from practicing things like Buddhist Meditation
There are many Canadians who practice a Faith, Religion, value system, or belief system, that requires them to refrain from practicing things like Meditation; Buddhist Meditation; Guided Meditation; and Spiritual Meditation (for religious or personal reasons). I personally fall into that category. I’m a born-again Christian, and my son shares the same Faith I do. If either of us were to participate in Mindfulness Meditation, it would cause us to violate our conscience. So in that regard, it’s not fair for anyone to automatically enrol students, like my son, into Mindfulness Meditation sessions.
Note: 1) Automatic enrolment into Mindfulness Meditation is comparable to a Vegan child being forced to eat bacon at their public school, 3x per day, without their informed consent; 2) If you’re curious, click here to read why I personally abstain from meditation.
5. Short-term safety concerns
Many people have experienced negative side effects from meditation. Here is an excerpt from one person’s testimony (on a Vipassana Meditation forum) (35): “Whenever I meditate my body starts to tremble and shake. It occurs whenever I get into a relaxed and concentrated state. The more relaxed and concentrated I am, the more violent the shaking becomes. Periodically my body starts shivering, like I am cold. The frequency is approximately every 30 seconds to two minutes, depending on how relaxed I am. I can’t do anything about it. If I tense my muscles really hard, it is a bit better, but that’s not good for meditation of course.”
In addition to those concerns, the Media also has reported how some people have experienced negative side effects from practicing meditation. Here are four examples:
“A UBC psychiatrist told me on the weekend he has had six patients who had their first psychotic episodes while meditating. To say the least, it was stunning to hear such a high number. All in just a few years. However, it is not exactly new in the world of psychology and psychiatry.” vancouversun.com. Article: “Can meditation be dangerous to your mental health?” Publish Date: 01.23.2012
“There is very little research on why meditation doesn’t work in the same way for everyone and how it might cause emotional difficulties. One hypothesis is that meditation amplifies emotional problems that are lying hidden under the surface. Think of an individual who went through a traumatic experience in early life but forgot about it, only to find themselves reliving it as an adult trying out mindfulness meditation. Since the book came out we have listened to this and other stories, often via email or our book’s Facebook page, at other times from callers during live radio interviews. One of the most poignant accounts came from a journalist who interviewed us. She had been on a weekend meditation retreat with a friend who had a history of suffering from depression. Coming out of the retreat, they walked together to the railway station and, unexpectedly, this friend jumped on to the rail tracks as a train was speeding by.” spectator.co.uk. Article: “What mindfulness gurus won’t tell you: meditation has a dark side.” Publish Date: 03.11.2016
“Although sitting and thinking may seem like an innocuous process, the fact remains that meditation is an altered state that we use as a tool to transform our bodies and minds. And like any tool, although intended for good things — like introspectively confronting our thoughts and feelings and coming to terms with troubling realities — it can wind up causing harm when set towards tasks that it just isn’t meant for (like acting as a quick-fix concentration booster or anesthesia for emotional strife). In the case of meditation, as the practice proliferates in the West, we’ve become increasingly aware that for some people, especially those with mental or personality conditions, mindfulness can trigger anxiety, depressive episodes, or flashbacks to past traumas.” good.is Article: “When Mindfulness Goes Wrong.” Publish Date: 04.15.2015
“Psychiatrists have now sounded a warning that as well as bringing benefits, mindfulness meditation can have troubling side-effects…The concern comes not from critics of mindfulness but from supporters, such as Dr Florian Ruths, consultant psychiatrist at the Maudsley hospital in south London. He has launched an investigation into adverse reactions to MBCT [Mindfulness based Cognitive Therapy], which have included rare cases of “depersonalisation”, where people feel like they are watching themselves in a film…His inquiry follows the “dark night project” at Brown University in the US, which has catalogued how some Buddhist meditators have been assailed by traumatic memories. Problems recorded by Professor Willoughby Britton, the lead psychiatrist, include “cognitive, perceptual and sensory aberrations”, changes in their sense of self and impairment in social relationships. One Buddhist monk, Shinzen Young, has described the “dark night” phenomenon as an “irreversible insight into emptiness” and “enlightenment’ s evil twin.” theguardian.com. Article: “Mindfulness therapy comes at a high price for some, say experts.”Publish Date: 08.25.2014.
Note: 1) The Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), mentioned above, is not the same program offered in public schools, like Elsie Roy Elementary. This is merely here to show that some people have experienced problems with meditation; 2) At this point, parents have not been made aware of any potential risks associated with meditation. As mentioned, they haven’t even been informed that Mindfulness sessions involve meditation; 3) Public schools are not equipped to deal with any negative side effects, like the ones outlined above. I know this to be true because most applicable educators do not realize that students are even practicing meditation (within the context of Mindfulness programs); 4) See also this Case Study (2009) which outlines several risks associated with meditation.
6. Long-term safety concerns
If Mindfulness Meditation is going to be implemented in public schools — then applicable officials should provide proof that these Meditation sessions are safe for children to practice over the course of multiple years. As of this writing, I have not seen any long-range Case Studies that verify the safety of children who practice Mindfulness Meditation.
Note: At my child’s public elementary school, students as young as five years old have been enrolled into Mindfulness Meditation – yet there is zero verifiable proof that thirteen years of practice (K-12) is completely safe. Since no one has produced any sort of verifiable proof, I’m respectfully suggesting that officials should not be able to implement these programs (at the very least, parents should be informed about these risks, and they should be required to sign waivers).
7. Mindfulness Meditation is comparable to hypnosis
Clinical psychologist Michael D. Yapko Ph.D., authored a book in 2011, called “Mindfulness and Hypnosis: The Power Of Suggestion To Transform Experience.” Dr. Yapko is pro-hypnosis and has been studying hypnosis for approximately 35 years. He believes the power of suggestion in Guided Mindfulness Meditation is similar to the power of suggestion found in hypnosis. Here is a quote from Dr. Yapko: “If you take the time to read the book, what you’ll learn, is how powerful an overlap, and how broad an overlap there is, between the practice of Mindfulness and the practice of hypnosis. Both of them involve the use of attention. Both of them use suggestions to facilitate powerful subjective experiences.” I have not looked to see if there are any specific laws concerning hypnosis in public schools, but judging from News stories like this one (this Washington Post link describes how one School Board was required to pay a $600k court settlement — because of unsanctioned hypnosis in one public school), it appears that hypnosis is not permitted in public schools. Since Dr. Yapko makes the comparison between hypnosis and Mindfulness, I think it strengthens my campaign against legislated meditation in public schools.
8. Some of the Science behind Mindfulness – is distorted
Many people say the Science behind Mindfulness Meditation (including case studies) is the proof-positive reason why all students should practice Mindfulness Meditation, whether they like it or not. The problem with that rationale is the Science behind Mindfulness has been largely over-amplified and in some cases, distorted. Here are two examples of professionals calling for a more reasonable analysis of the facts:
Timothy Caulfield, a health law and policy researcher at the University of Alberta is quoted as saying this: “A rigorous 2014 systematic review of available evidence on the impact of meditation on stress and well-being, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, reviewed over 18,000 citations and found 47 randomized clinical trials worthy of consideration. Using only these high-quality studies, it concluded there is moderate evidence to support the benefits associated with anxiety and depression and either insufficient evidence or evidence of no effect “on positive mood, attention, substance use, eating habits, sleep, and weight.”…More importantly, the study also found no evidence “that meditation programs were better than any active treatment.” Mindfulness was not better than, for example, exercise. In part, this may be because many of the studies on mindfulness and meditation are, from a methodological perspective, less than ideal…A 2007 review done for the US Department of Health and Human Services by the University of Alberta Evidence-based Practice Center came to a similar conclusion, finding that most studies on meditation were “of a poor methodological quality” and that no “firm conclusions on the effects of meditation practices” can be made. MinnPost, Article: “Mindfulness research: separating the hype from the science” Publish date: 05.13.2015.
Dr. Catherine Kerr, a Neuroscientist, meditation researcher, meditation practitioner, and an Assistant Professor of Medicine and Family Medicine at Brown University is quoted as saying this: “Scientists are, for the most part, circumspect about making claims for cures attributed to mindfulness. The science doesn’t support that. Scientists know from looking at meditation trials that not every person benefits from mindfulness therapies, but this is something non-scientists seem to have difficulty with. Individuals should not make clinically based decisions based only on neuroscientific studies because the sample sizes are too small; if you are making an evidence-based decision, it should be from a full picture of the evidence that includes clinical trial data. The clinical trial data [from mindfulness case studies] on mindfulness for depression relapse, for example, is not a slam-dunk. The results are really not better than those for antidepressants…mindfulness doesn’t work for everything and is not suitable for everyone.” Tricycle, Article: “Don’t Believe the Hype” Publish date: 10.01.2014.
9. Impaired critical analysis and right/wrong thinking
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn (the man accredited with popularizing Mindfulness), the goal of mindfulness is to maintain awareness moment by moment, disengaging oneself from strong attachment to beliefs, thoughts, and emotions, which allows people to be free from self-criticism, ruminating about the past or worrying about the future. And live in a non-judgmental way. The problem with doing this is it encourages children to ignore emotion, ignore conviction, and it has the ability to impede on their ability to decipher right from wrong. One example is the Dalai Lama who refuses to denounce the practice of self-immolation. Also highlighted in the Harvard Business Review, meditation has the ability to impair critical analysis.
Note: I firmly believe in living in a non-judgmental way, but I believe in living this way from a perspective that is rooted in love — not the denial of right from wrong and the abolishment of moral absolutes.
10. Ambiguous Proselytization
The implementation of Mindfulness programs in Canadian public schools – has the appearance of ambiguous proselytization. It promotes the values and teachings of Buddha, without proper disclosure to students or parents.
Those ten points (above) outline the legal and ethical issues that result from legislated meditation in secular public schools. It also summarizes the moral and religious violation these programs pose to a minority of people (from different backgrounds). These points also highlight the need for proper disclosure and the need for informed consent. This list also highlights how “Mindfulness” promotes certain religious and spiritual worldview concepts – yet demotes others. Please read and sign the petition. Thank you.
tags: critical of mindfulness, problems with mindfulness