‘When we are doing Transcendental Meditation, there’s a beautiful, beautiful atmosphere in the classroom. It’s completely silent, and it feels—gorgeous.’ —Anne O’Neill, teacher in a school in Belfast, Northern Ireland, whose class has been practising Transcendental Meditation for a year.
Students in schools in Belfast practise the Transcendental Meditation Technique together at the beginning and end of the school day. Meditation helps the children feel calmer and happier inside; teachers find students are more relaxed and show marked improvement in their ability to settle and focus on their work.
Hundreds of children on both sides of the Peace Line in Belfast are benefiting from the Stress Free Schools Programme and creating peace and harmony in their communities, says Andrea Gribben, Director. The programme was launched with generous support from the David Lynch Foundation.
Students are dealing with great amounts of stress in their environment before they even come to school, says class tutor Cárágh ní Cholmaín. ‘When they do the Transcendental Meditation it’s an extra bonus—and that starts them off right for the rest of the day.’
Stress Free Schools: Children creating peace in Belfast
by Global Good News staff writer
16 February 2011
Some of the children have names like Sean, Meghan, Shannon, Conor. Their voices lilt with the charm and music of their ancient Celtic heritage.
Underlying the charming accent, however, are currents of deep stress, the legacy of generations-long sectarian conflict and violence in Northern Ireland—most recently during ‘the troubles’ that began in the late 1960s and came to an uneasy peace in the late 1990s.
The ‘Peace Lines’ in Belfast are a series of separation barriers that went up in the 1970s—separating Catholic and Protestant neighbourhoods—to minimize inter-communal sectarian violence. The barriers have outlived the Berlin Wall—dividing the communities and preventing the children from playing and going to school together.
Many of the children near the Peace Line have been badly affected by the violence and conflict. Reminders are all around them, in their families and communities, and tensions persist even today. Children suffer from low self-esteem, lack of confidence, and low expectations, and there is a high incidence of suicide, particularly among teenage boys.
Children creating peace and harmony in Belfast
Into this charged environment, the Global Country of World Peace in Northern Ireland has brought a beacon of hope—an approach that creates peace from within and harmony in the social environment. With generous support from the David Lynch Foundation, Global Country leaders have successfully introduced the Stress Free Schools Programme—‘Quiet Time – TM in the classroom’—to hundreds of children in schools on both sides of the Peace Line. Children and their teachers practiseTranscendental Meditation (TM), a simple non-religious meditation technique, for a few minutes together twice a day, at the beginning and end of the school day.
In a series of recent videos, students and teachers describe their experiences with the programme. The students are 12 to 14 years old; they’ve been practising Transcendental Meditation from 7 to 18 months.
‘When we are doing the meditation, there’s a beautiful, beautiful atmosphere in the classroom,’ says Anne-Marie O’Neill, a teacher in one school, whose class has been practising Transcendental Meditation for a year. ‘It’s completely silent, and it feels—gorgeous.’
Since the Quiet Time programme began, teachers are finding improved behaviour in the classroom, and the pupils are experiencing calmer, clearer minds, more happiness and self-worth. ‘Many of these young people have issues regarding concentration, attendance, motivation, and so on,’ comments Dr Simon Croal, a teacher in another school where the children also practise the technique. ‘I have found since they have started doing Transcendental Meditation, a marked improvement in their ability to settle and focus on their work.’
‘When I was in school I always had an awful hard time, paying attention to the teachers and all,’ one boy says. ‘But after learning how you do Transcendental Meditation, it helped me focus in my work and what the teacher was saying, and it’s helped me a lot in my life and in my science classes.’
‘When I do Transcendental Meditation I feel more relaxed and focused,’ says another boy, smiling after meditation. ‘I really like it.’ And another says, ‘It helps me concentrate on what I’m working on, makes me have a clearer head.’
The programme has also helped teachers, by promoting a harmonious, coherent atmosphere in class, and growing receptivity and learning ability in students. ‘It allows teachers and children to both relax and just [become] calm before starting any lessons,’ says Laverne Knox, another teacher.
The teachers express compassionate concern for their students and are encouraged by the positive effects of Transcendental Meditation on their emotional health. Cárágh ní Cholmaín, a class tutor, says meditating with her class has helped her bond with students and gain insight into their lives. ‘They certainly are coming from backgrounds where a lot of the feelings are still raw,’ she says. Sometimes things can erupt at home before they leave for school, ‘and if they’ve made it to school it’s a bonus. When they do the TM it’s an extra bonus—and that starts them off right for the rest of the day.’
Transcendental Meditation is ‘a time of enjoyment’ for the students, Cárágh says, and they realize it’s ‘a very positive part of their lives’. When they meditate, they can take themselves away from less happy situations, and feel happy and calm inside. On the video, a boy of 13 narrates how being able to meditate at home helped him deal with his grief over the sudden loss of a friend. ‘It has allowed them to cope more easily,’ says Anne-Marie O’Neill. ‘Some of them have described it as they’re in their own little world.’
Some children are also finding that the peace and calm they experience during meditation extends outside of the practice and helps them deal with potentially rough situations.
One boy describes a recent time when he was challenged by other boys on the street. In the past, he would have responded—‘I would have started throwing stones’—and the provocation would have rapidly escalated into retaliation and fighting. But now, he says simply, ‘I walk away. And they go—“Well, if he’s not doing it, I’m not doing it,” and they all go away.’ Another boy in a similar encounter was able to ‘calm right down, instead of shouting’, and a tense situation was defused.
Some of the parents, seeing their children’s growing calm and stability amid the challenges of growing up in an especially difficult urban landscape, have asked if they also can learn Transcendental Meditation so they can meditate together at home.
Expanding on the success of the Stress Free Schools project, the Global Country of World Peace in Northern Ireland, under the leadership of Andrea and Gerry Gribben, is planning to build the Belfast Peace Line Project. With support from community leaders on both sides of the Peace Line, the project will include the David Lynch Community College for Performing Arts—where children and adults from both sides of the Peace Line can learn together. The students will practise Transcendental Meditation together twice a day, naturally promoting peace and reconciliation in the surrounding area. Global Good News – Excellence in Action will feature another article about this project.
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