In the good old days, we  started the school day by having the kids settle down and then saying a prayer and then a bible reading.

Such acts of piety allow one to settle their mind into context, which is why books on organizing one’s life starts with taking a half hour of reading a great book or listening to music before you decide what is important and what is not important in making your daily schedule. From Buddha under the tree to Elijah in the cave to Marcus Aurelius to Mother Teresa’s sisters spending an hour meditation each day, thoughtful people knew that quiet time was needed if you were to stay balanced in life.
Yet in our secular world, where even a “moment of silence” is forbidden, why are we lauding the teaching of Buddhist meditation techniques to students under the guise of medicine/therapy?

If I were a strict Christian, I’d sue them in court.

But as a more secularized Catholic, I have fewer theological problems with the technique (which resembles thancient Jesus prayer or the five minutes of silence and calming we learned in parochial school prior to the prayer that started class) than with the philosophical underpinnings that go along with it.

“Meditation” is similar to mild hypnosis. Ninety percent of people can be hypnotized or be taught relaxation technique, but there are different levels for different people. And ten percent of people are prone to go into a very deep hypnotic state when they practice that technique.
The technique is to get the mind into the deep concentration that most of us have when absorbed in work or when we make art or music. This deep concentration allows us to think or process our feelings at a deeper level, and produce good things. It is also(alas) similar to the deep concentration of a video game or movie…which is why some experts worry about kids learning the wrong lessons from video games.

So although the “gift” of creativity often goes along with the ability to go deeply into a trance state, the flip side is that this ability also correlates with the ability to be influenced by others to the extent that you start believing in all sorts of eccentric and sometime dangerous ideas…

And, as you practice self hypnosis, you can sometimes go into these deeper hypnotic states without realizing it.
When we doctors use the trance state, we don’t try to get them to believe in flying saucers or angels or that if they think correctly, they will become rich. Our use is more limited: To stop smoking, or to learn to relax, or more commonly to control pain without drugs.

But even then, we have to worry about the small percentaqe of the population that has a strict ego that keeps the bad inside…by “opening” it up, you can lead to a psychotic break. Psychologists, doctors, and even trainers in Transcendental meditation are taught to watch out for this rare but dangerous state. But what if it happens at a school, with a semi trained teacher?

Summary: It’s good and bad. Like all of life.
But my final question about it’s use in schools can be found in this statement:

“If we can help children slow down and think,” Dr. Haick said, “they have the answers within themselves.”

Ummm…doctor, I thought that school was about having children find answers in books…and about learning about facts and logic, not about “finding the answers within themselves”.

You see, this is magical thinking: I don’t have to learn, I just meditate and the answers just magically come to me. Poof.
But where do the answers come from? If you never learn facts, and you never learn logic, the problem might be that your subconscious id is making up the answers. And the subconscious, although the source of creativity and beauty, is also the source of delusions and lies.
So encouraging children to “find their answers within” might sound good for postmoderns who believe reality is a “contruct” , but a small percentage of these children might end up with the delusion of magical thinking: The idea that if I think this way it will happen”

Think I am going overboard with this worry?

Well, the popularity of such magical thinking, from “The Secret” to prosperity theology is becoming more popular. Wish and you get it, think and it is so. Reality is what you make it.

As a result, I see patients who don’t “believe” they need vaccines because they “know” something from a book (but never saw a child die of polio or tetanus, or blind from measles), or when they refuse antibiotics for their child with an acute kidney infection and 105 fever (and never saw a woman , at age twenty from untreated pyelonephritis).

And, of course, this magical thinking won’t really do them much good if a local volcano blows up, a typhoon hits, or terrorists nuke their city.

Reality tends to put an end to such fairy tales.


Nancy Reyes is a retired physician living in the Philippines. Her website is Finest Kind Clinic and Fishmarket

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