Peace Talks Radio host Suzanne Kryder talks with Jeff Rice, Director of Operations at the Center for Wellness and Achievement in Education, San Francisco, CA
Rice: Quiet Time is a program for schools where the schools create two periods during the day, two extra classes - usually at the beginning of the school and then again at the end of the school day. They’re shorter classes, usually 10 or 15 and sometimes 20 minutes.
During that time, everyone in the school is quiet. What they do during that time is theoretically up to them, but we of course encourage them to do meditation because we have found that to be the most productive use of that quiet time.
Kryder: What do you mean by “meditation”? What are they actually doing?
Rice: The meditation that we use is a particular form of meditation known as transcendental meditation or TM. Now the students are free to practice some other form of meditation or just be quiet or sometimes they can engage in quiet reading if they choose, but we of course encourage them to practice the TM.
Kryder: When I think of TM, I think of a mantra. Do you use a mantra with the students? How does TM compare to mindfulness?
Rice: Well, TM does use a mantra. A lot of people are unsure what that term really means. In our context, it’s simply a sound, a word without meaning, but with a specific sound that has the effect of helping the body to relax.
Kryder: Does everybody use the same sound?
Rice: No, there are different sounds for different people. It’s not a different one for everyone on Earth, but sort of like blood types, maybe a couple of dozen different sounds that are used that are appropriate for certain ages and so on.
Kryder: I’ve heard sometimes that transcendental meditation likes to keep sounds secret and I’m curious; are you able to give examples of some of the sounds?
Rice: No, I can’t give examples, but they’re very simple. They are sounds that are included in every language. Every language is made up of a finite range of sounds and it’s how you put those sounds together than make a word and we ascribe some meaning to that word, but we know that the sound itself has an effect on the body and the mind and the emotions.
That’s what poetry is all about where it’s not just the meaning of the words, but it’s the sound of the words that give a certain meaning.
Of course that’s what music is all about.
The science of meditation is all about the science of how different sounds affect the body. It’s been around for thousands of years and it’s a highly refined science.
We understand how different sounds affect different types of people. Some people might relax to country and western music, but to someone else, maybe that’s not that relaxing to them. Maybe they have to listen to jazz or classical.
We know there are differences between people and understanding more specifically and at a deeper level how different sounds affect a person and affect different people is a lot of what the science of meditation is all about. That’s why there are different sounds or different mantras for different people.
Kryder: You mentioned that this quiet time reduces violence and fighting. What evidence do you have that shows it’s being reduced?
Rice: Well, at the first school, Visitacion Valley Middle in San Francisco. In the first 90 days, we taught just the sixth and seventh grade and we didn’t teach the eighth grade so we could use them as a control.
This school had been known for having a lot of fighting, a lot of violence, a lot of suspensions. And actually they had to have a San Francisco sheriff’s car and two private security guards on campus at all times just to try to manage the situation.
Most of the fighting would go on during the physical education periods and somewhat to our surprise, the head of the physical education department came to us after about a month and a half and said that he had noticed a distinct reduction in fighting in his classes. At the end of the first 90 days, it was about a 45% reduction.
Because fighting and violence are one of the biggest reasons that they have to suspend a student, suspensions were also reduced a similar amount.
This trend continued over the next several years. Eventually the principal said we got up to almost an 80% reduction in suspensions compared to where they were before we came.
A lot of people thought that that might have been a fluke until we started our second school which was the high school around the corner, Burton High School. At that school they had similar results. In the first year of quiet time, they reduced their suspensions by 50%, much to the principal’s surprise. In the second year, they reduced it another 50%, so a total of 75% over two years.
Kryder: I’m curious how the students react. Do they like it? Do they like being quiet or did they hate that?
Rice: Well, that’s a very interesting question too. When we first got there, I think everyone was quite surprised at what we were suggesting and maybe they couldn’t even believe what we were suggesting, both the teachers and the students. In fact, we explained the whole theory to the teachers and they would say, “This sounds really great. Who wouldn’t want their students to be more calm and more focused, but we don’t think it’s possible that you will ever get them to sit there for even one minute quietly much less 10 or 15 minutes twice a day.”
In fact, some of the teachers didn’t even think that they would be capable of doing it and most of them were surprised that they could, but even after the teachers learned to do it, they were still very skeptical whether the students could do it and frankly, when we walked into the first school, it was so chaotic, we were not sure ourselves if that was really going to be possible on a mass scale.
The students themselves, their reactions vary. Some of them are willing to try it. Others are not willing to try it. Some of them would be very vocal in their resistance. They would say it was crazy, that they shouldn’t have to try to do this, but we just go with the flow in that regard. Those students that are willing to try it, we teach them and of course we have to send a note home to their parents and tell them what we’re doing and they have to get signed permission back.
What happens is that the first students who try it, what you might call the early adopters, they are often surprised that it’s easier than they thought it would be and that it is calming. It does give them a positive effect, something that they’re looking for, a little bit of peace and quiet in their life. Then they began to tell the other students that maybe it isn’t as bad as they thought.
Little by little we work our way up until hopefully we get most of the students trained.
Kryder: You mentioned peace and quiet, but sometimes it’s hard to reach students in this age of social media and telephones and they have their technology. I’m curious; how do you make quiet time attractive when they’re not used to this peace and quiet?
Rice: Well, that’s a very good point and I would say that the social media, cell phones and iPods and television and radio, all of the other sources of noise in our environment are sometimes one of the biggest sources of distraction and even stress in a child’s life.
I think that every person, that includes every child, does have a certain level of quietness and peacefulness within them that is enjoyable that they miss. Maybe sometimes they’re overindulging in social media and these things in a search for that inner quietness and perhaps contentment that they can’t find even though they try more and more and more stimulating things and they still don’t find what they’re looking for.
There’s always a few students that are willing to give it a try. When they come back and say, “Wow, that actually was really good! I’m starting to feel calmer. I feel better,” they start to discover that there is something that they want out of that experience and that’s what they begin to convey to the other students.
Kryder: Yes, it sounds almost like being peaceful is a goal. Are they trying to get peace?
Rice: That is a goal although that’s not a method. I’ll see if I can explain the difference.
We all want to find some peace. Even children think that just frenetic stimulation is the best form of enjoyment are surprised at how much they enjoy finding some real inner peace. A lot of them are very surprised.
You can’t really find that inner peace by trying to manipulate the mind, by trying to force yourself to be peaceful. If you try to manipulate and control the mind, you usually have just the opposite effect.
That’s where the technique of meditation comes in. It’s a way of achieving peacefulness and even more importantly, beginning to remove the obstacles within the nervous system that prevent us from experiencing peacefulness on a daily basis.
That’s what meditation and the effects of meditation are all about. There’s no question that anyone, once they experience a deep enough level of that peacefulness within themselves, finds it to be, if not enjoyable, at least something that they can look forward to.
Peace Talks Radio host Suzanne Kryder talks with Scott Cameron, co-founder of Families4Peace and Mindfulness Meditation guest instructor at some Albuquerque, New Mexico schools.
Kryder: What’s mindfulness?
Cameron: The classic definition of it is non-judgmental present time awareness. That’s the MBSR, the mindfulness-based stress reduction definition of it which is the adult version of mindfulness.
When I teach it to kids, I explain it to them as paying attention or being focused or being aware of your emotions or what’s happening in your mind and that’s something I think that resonates with them a lot better than that wordy definition of present time judgmental awareness.
Kryder: Why teach it? Why not be with adults?
Cameron: I think that teaching it to kids is a means of reducing violence. I think that children are much closer to their own innate mindfulness so it’s easier to teach it to them and get them to connect to it and I think that children a lot of times are raised with a lack of awareness of their own emotions and of how to deal with their own emotions and that leads to, at times, as they get older, violence.
Kryder: Is there research that shows that it really reduces violence?
Cameron: There is a lot of research that’s starting to come out about mindfulness and working with kids and also with adults. I’m not sure if it specifically goes to whether a child that learns mindfulness is either more or less capable of committing acts of violence later in life but I think it goes more to whether children or adults who learn mindfulness techniques are better in control of their emotions and better able to handle their emotions. To me, being able to better recognize and deal with your emotions naturally leads to more peace and less violence.
The shooting instances in school is actually a lot of what brought me to this work. After Sandy Hook, after the shooting in New Town Connecticut in 2012, late 2012, I had just learned how to teach mindfulness to kids, frankly did selfishly teach it to my own kids, but at that time, I was very touched by that incident. I grew up near there. It turns out I had a cousin I hadn’t seen in years whose children go to that school, so it really struck home for me.
I started looking into the issue of school shootings and mass shootings and I came across a report in US Today sometime in 2013 and they had looked at mass shootings over the years and they defined it as four or more people killed in one incident.
What really struck me was that a common theme running through those shootings was typically a male, typically in their 20s or late teens, not very old, but something really bad had happened to them or they had some bad experience, some bad emotional experience that they were unable to deal with. It really struck me. It was almost that simple. They had strong emotions like we all have, but they were incapable of dealing with those emotions at all.
Again, it seems to me that mindfulness is a means of being able to recognized those emotions and being able to do something with those emotions other than just react to them. I really believe that if more children especially were to learn mindfulness, learn to recognize and work with their emotions that it would result in less violence and less shootings.
Kryder: When you say they do something else with their feelings, what could they do with them if they’re having these strong feelings?
Cameron: First of all, recognize those strong feelings. I think a lot of times people have feelings of anger or sadness and they never take the time to see it. They just either ignore it or try to gloss over it and say I’m not that angry or I’m not that sad about something.
As we all know, and I talk to the kids about this, it’s not like the anger or sadness or deep emotion just goes away on its own for the most part. It’s still there and it’s going to come out somewhere. What I’m talking about is really instead of trying to ignore or wish away your emotions, really turning towards them.
I think this is a great misconception that people have about mindfulness is that it’s all about checking out. You’re able to disengage and just not have to deal with anything, but it’s actually the opposite; it’s a turning towards and a direct engagement with whatever those emotions or feelings or experiences are and working with the kids on how to turn towards those things and really spend some time with them and then, by doing so, being able to recognize what a proper response is to those emotions instead of what a gut reaction or quick reaction is to them.
I talk to the kids about; “Raise your hand if you’ve ever gotten angry.” All the kids raise their hands and we all would in this room. Then I talk about; “Raise your hand if you have a sibling.” Almost every hand went up. A lot of kids have sisters and brothers. If they don’t raise their hands then, “Do you have a cousin or a good friend who is around your age?”
Then I talk about what happens when you get angry at your good friend, your cousin, your brother, your sister. “What’s that thing you did that you wished you hadn’t done?” Then we go around the room; “I scratched him,” “I screamed at him,” “I broke their doll.”
Kryder: I ignore them.
Cameron: Or ignore them, right. Any number of reactions that are possibly not very skillful and then we actually practice a little bit of mindfulness. We’ll sit and follow our breath. At this point, we’re about one-third or halfway through the class that I’m teaching the kids. We start small and build on them. So at this point, we’ve learned how to sit quietly and follow our breath. We talk about following our breath for a moment, recognizing anger and how we’re feeling towards that person.
Imagine yourself angry. We all make an angry face and we grunt a little bit or whatever. The kids really get into it. It’s very demonstrative. They really experience it.
As we have that angry face, then we breathe in; “Let’s all breathe in and let’s all breathe out.” Then we do that, if I’m starting small, for three breaths or we’ll do it for half a minute or a minute or depending on where we are in the class. We’ll do it for a certain amount of time and then we’ll talk about as they breathed in, what happened with their anger.
For the most part, you can see it on their faces. They’re sitting there making their angry face and as they’re breathing in, they’re angry face is kind of going away. Of course we’re only pretending at that point, but it’s analogous to being angry.
Kryder: It goes away. The angry face goes away.
Cameron: Right. Then I follow that. It’s not just that we sat and breathed and the anger went away, but what are we going to do with that anger because, like I said before, it doesn’t necessarily go away. You’ve got to figure out what you’re going to do with it.
Then we talk about responding versus reacting and how, if you can sit and take a few breaths or sit for a minute and sit with that emotion, with that anger, it will help you come to a response.
What is a better response? What is better than hitting your little brother who just took your toy. What is a better response? “I could ask him to give it back to me.” That’s a better response. “I could tell my mom and dad.” We go through the list and go around the classroom and all the kids jump in and at some points it’s total chaos because they’re all yelling out answers, but that’s okay because they’re seeing that there are so many other responses.
Kryder: Are there other responses our listening adults could use?
Cameron: Well, I think it’s very similar for adults in terms of anger and I’ll use myself as an example. When I get angry, I raise my hand when I’m in that class with the kids. A better response than yelling is talking and telling somebody how you feel; “I feel angry.”
Not to get too psychoanalytical, (let’s all make an “I feel” statement) but I think that this translates to adults in terms of talking about how you feel. “How did it make you feel when that person did that?” “What was your reaction?” “What did you want to do?” “I wanted to scream.” “What’s a better way to respond?” I know you’re laughing, but this really translates.
Kryder: No, it’s true!
Cameron: I see this in my daily life.
Kryder: It’s so true. I said an “I” statement to a guy I was once dating and he looked at me and said, “Is this that Peace Talks stuff?” I was like, “Yes, it is.”
Cameron: Right. In terms of peace and non-violence, I am, for the most part, pretty optimistic and occasionally very foolishly optimistic, but as we’re speaking about this, I’m imagining in my mind; what if as adults we were able to do this instead of screaming and yelling at each other, hitting each other, shooting each other. What if we were able to talk about how we’re feeling and what’s going on and try to get into a dialogue and conversation and come up with responses instead of reactions? What kind of a different world would we live in?
If we can learn that as children, then we’re going to grow up doing that and we’re going to teach that to our children.
Many times I use my own experience as a child who went through many traumatic experiences and I did not have the language, did not have mindfulness, there was nothing back then. I did not have this skill, did not have this ability and I really wish I did. So I really want to share that with kids because I think it’s so valuable.
It’s done a lot for me in my adult life. I wish I had learned it earlier because it really could have helped me in my younger life.
Peace Talks Radio host Suzanne Kryder talks with a 10-year-old named Evan who has twice taken the
visiting meditation course offered to his Albuquerque classroom.
Suzanne: Tell me about the class. What do you do in the class?
Evan: At the beginning, people will tell us what we will do. Like if we’re doing mindful breathing or mindful listening. And then he would tell us what you need to focus on like your breath going in and out. So we would think of our breath going in and out.
Suzanne: Evan, let’s say someone is listening to our program right now and they want to try mindfulness, what would you tell them to do?
Evan: I would tell them to focus on their breath and don’t get distracted by the outside noises.
Suzanne: What should we do if we do get distracted?
Evan: Try moving somewhere else where it’s not as loud.
Suzanne: Okay and focus on the breath. Should I take deep breaths or what should I do?
Evan: You should take deep breaths and like when you breathe in, in your mind you should say, “breathe in” and when you breathe out, say “breathe out” in your mind.
Suzanne: Oh, so I’m saying something in my head. That’s cool. You said “mindful listening.” When do you use that?
Evan: If you’re on a hike or something, you could sit down like on a rock and you could hear the birds from far away. You could hear the buzzing. You can hear rabbits running.
Suzanne: Do you ever use mindful listening with people? Is that possible?
Evan: Yes. I do it in my class when it’s loud and when I’m a little tired.
Suzanne: How about at home with your family, ever there?
Evan: I would sometimes do it before I go to sleep.
Suzanne: That’s cool. So it helps you relax, like you said, and calm.
Evan: Uh huh.
Suzanne: Some people think that mindfulness is kind of a weird thing. Do you think that?
Evan: No, I think it’s to calm your body.
Suzanne: What does that mean; “calm your body”?
Evan: It will make you relax and not make you stressed, clear your thoughts.
Suzanne: Stress; is there stress at school?
Evan: It depends if it’s loud or not.
Suzanne: What makes it loud?
Evan: Well, student like to talk. The announcements are pretty loud sometimes. Bells are ringing.
Suzanne: How does mindfulness help that?
Evan: Well, it helps me clear my thoughts and it would make me calm like changing what I would think about.
Suzanne: Like what?
Evan: Like if I think about something like schoolwork, I could come to think about food.
Suzanne: So your brain is thinking one thing and maybe it’s stressful, you do mindfulness and then you can think of something else, is that right?
Evan: Yes, that’s correct.
Suzanne: What do your classmates think about it?
Evan: Well, some of them aren’t as interested, but some of them try to use it to focus on schoolwork and not get distracted.
Suzanne: Evan, how come some people aren’t interested?
Evan: They’re not that calm, so they can’t really get calm.
Suzanne: Yes, it’s hard. It’s harder because they’re more excitable. They’re revved up. What word would you use there?
Suzanne: Our show is about peace building and peacemaking and getting along. Do you think mindfulness impacts getting along or peace?
Evan: It does. Like if you’re angry and you want to throw something, if you do mindfulness, it will calm you down so you just would walk away.
Suzanne: You’d walk away, yes. So I get mad and walk away. I should have done that this weekend. I was with my sister. She’s really different than me. So when you’re around people who are different from you, sometimes if you get upset, you walk away?
Suzanne: How about when you’re with other people? How does mindfulness impact how you are?
Evan: Well, sometimes when I with friends or with my brother, I would get into a fight so I would just probably go into a different room and probably do mindful breathing so it would calm me down and calm my breath down.
Suzanne: What if someone came up and punched you in the stomach because they were really mad?
Evan: I would probably say, “Don’t do that again.” Then I would probably walk away and do mindfulness.
Suzanne: How come you wouldn’t punch him back?
Evan: Well, if you do mindfulness, it will calm you down. It won’t make you want to hit them back.
Suzanne: What does it do to make you calm. Because I get mad about stuff.
Evan: Well, like I said earlier, it would change your mind to focus on another thing.
Suzanne: So when you’re punched, you think of something else. Would there ever be a case, a time when you get punched and you tell the other person; “Hey, do the breathing”? Would you do that; teach them or not?
Evan: Well, if I see them a lot, like if I see my brother a lot, I would teach them, but if it was someone like in a class, I wouldn’t.
Suzanne: What do you think of yourself in the future like in high school; do you think you’ll be doing mindfulness?
Evan: Occasionally and usually yes.
Suzanne: How come?
Evan: Well, it’s fun to calm yourself down. It kind of gives you a rest so you’re not always stressed out.
Suzanne: Okay, it’s a rest.
Suzanne: How long do you have to do it to get to the point of rest?
Evan: Well, it doesn’t take that long if you’re not distracted. It could take like two minutes if you’re not distracted.
Suzanne: Evan, when you’re older, do you think this will help you?
Evan: Yes, it would help me focus like if I get a job, it will help me focus on my job. It will help me calm down. It will help me focus on a few specific thigns.