10 reasons why Mindfulness Meditation initiatives should be removed from Canadian public schools

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Mindfulness in Education


1. Legislated Meditation is not lawful in Canada

As shown on this page Mindfulness Meditation sessions qualify as Buddhist Meditation, Guided Meditation, and Spiritual Meditation sessions. In that regard, legislated mindfulness sessions equate to 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 Religion” and the “Freedom of Conscience.” That means things like prayer and meditation cannot be legislated in Canada. To put this into perspective — your employer can offer Mindfulness Meditation sessions at your workplace — but your employer cannot automatically enroll you in Mindfulness Meditations sessions. Note: 1) Additional proof of this point is this Parliament of Canada document 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); 2) Applicable Canadian public schools that have implemented Mindfulness-oriented programs have largely enrolled students into participation without any public consultation or waivers (that action constitutes as legislated meditation); 3) Legislated prayer used to take place in most Canadian public schools but, beginning in 1985, public schools began abandoning that practice because of Section Two of the Canadian Charter.




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 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 automatically enroll them, or even solicit them, into practicing it. Note: 1) If public school administrators require (or solicit) students to participate in something that qualifies as Buddhist Meditation, then those public schools are no longer operating as secular schools – they are operating as Buddhist Mindfulness schools. And, 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 secular schools; 3) According to this document, “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” (see 2.2.1-12). So, in that regard, it seems unfair that Bibles cannot be distributed in Canadian public schools, and yet, applicable students are being solicited to participate in something that qualifies as Buddhist Meditation.




3. Soliciting students to participate in Mindfulness Meditation, the way that is happening now, is unethical

Most applicable school representatives are telling parents that Mindfulness programs (including MindUP, etc.) “do not involve meditation.” They are also claiming that Mindfulness sessions are “secular” and “entirely secular” (no affiliation to spirituality or Buddhism). And applicable public school officials refer to Mindfulness sessions as “breathing sessions,” “breathing exercises” and “mindful breathing.” To put it plainly: Applicable Canadian public school students generally do not realize they are meditating within the context of Mindfulness Meditation sessions, and that is unethical. Note: The action of misleading students to participate in something that qualifies as Buddhist Meditation, is comparable to someone advertising and selling bacon marketed as vegetarian bacon. Numerous lawsuits have been won with regards to this type of false advertising (whether the conduct was intentional or not). One example is this fast-food restaurant which falsely advertised their french fries as Vegetarian.




4. Some people 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. And, Automatically enrolling 100% of students into Mindfulness Meditation, does not take into account students who may wish to abstain from meditation (for religious or personal reasons). The current practice of automatically enrolling 100% of students into these programs is not only unfair, unlawful, and discriminatory — it is unkind.




5. Short-term safety 

Many people have experienced negative side effects from meditation. Here is one person’s testimony extracted from an online meditation forum: “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.”


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.” 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.” 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.” 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.” Article: “Mindfulness therapy comes at a high price for some, say experts.” Publish Date: 08.25.2014.

Note: 1) Meditation is not 100% safe, and at this point, parents have not been made aware of any potential risks associated with meditation. As mentioned, they generally have not been informed that Mindfulness Meditation 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 even realize students are 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.

Long-term safety: While ample case studies exist, there are no known long-term case studies related to young children participating in Mindfulness Meditation for the length of their 13-year public education. Note: Some Canadian public schools (such as Elsie Roy Elementary, in Vancouver, Canada) have enrolled students as young as five-years-old into Mindfulness Meditation without any verifiable third party proof that thirteen years of practice (K-12) is completely safe. 




7. Mindfulness Meditation has been compared to hypnosis

Clinical psychologist and author, 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. And, 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.” It’s our understanding that legislated (automatic enrollment) hypnosis is just as unlawful as legislated meditation. And, 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), shows that hypnosis is not sanctioned in North American public schools. Since Dr. Yapko (above) makes the comparison between hypnosis and Mindfulness, we think it strengthens the merit of the Mindfulness Petition.




8. Some of the Science behind Mindfulness is questionable

Many people believe the science (i.e. case studies) behind Mindfulness Meditation is the proof-positive reason why all public school students should be forced to practice Mindfulness Meditation. In response, I would like to kindly point out the fact that case studies do not include things like law, ethics, or morality, which means Mindfulness Meditation should never be legislated just on case study data alone. Also worth noting is the fact that most (perhaps, all) of the Mindfulness case studies that have come out of Canada’s UBC were funded by Mindfulness-oriented organizations. And closer investigation shows some of the “Mindfulness Science” circulating in the Media has been way overhyped.

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 Huffington Post is the worst offender. The message they deliver becomes a ubiquitous, circulating meme that people put up on their Facebook pages and that becomes “true” through repetition alone. The Huffington Post features mindfulness a lot and tends to represent only the positive findings (and in the most positive light imaginable) rather than offering a balanced reading of the science.” Tricycle, Article: “Don’t Believe the Hype.” Publish date: 10.01.2014




9. Legislated Mindfulness Meditation discourages 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 then 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 and ignore conviction. It also encourages children to stop the practice of critical analysis and right/wrong thinking. Note: 1) 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; 2) In 2015, the Huffington Post published an article titled “Here’s Why You Need to Question Mindfulness in Classrooms.” In that article, they bring up the concern of public schools essentially sedating children with Mindfulness Meditation.  This point is especially validated by the fact that students, in most cases, are not even aware of the fact that Mindfulness Meditation involves Buddhist Meditation.




10. Ambiguous Proselytization 

The implementation of Mindfulness-oriented programs, within Canadian public schools, could be considered covert evangelism or covert proselytization.

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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. Thank you.





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