TOPSHAM – He’s captain of his hockey team. Soccer too. He sings in two school choruses, plays the fiddle and the piano and consistently makes the Mt. Ararat Middle School’s honor roll.
Can we say “stress?”
Not with Francis Meisenbach, we can’t.
“When I meditate, it’s totally relaxing,” Francis, 13, said Friday morning as kids ricocheted around his school’s main entrance. “It clears my head. It’s a stress reliever.”
Francis and his mother, Jane Meisenbach, drove down to Portland last week to participate in a conference that might leave some Mainers wondering if it’s time to barricade the borders. Organized by the fledgling Maine Committee for Stress Free Schools, the conference focused on introducing transcendental meditation into the daily grind of any school willing to give it a try.
That’s right, TM. As in the Beatles and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and the early 1970s. As in closed eyes and silent mantras. As in, proponents say, a healthy alternative to a culture that force-feeds millions of kids medications like Ritalin each day in a frantic attempt to calm them down.
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– Is TM a religion?
“They say Americans are drowning in an ocean of stress,” said “TM” author Bob Roth, one of the organizers. “Well if that’s true, our children are drowning in that ocean.”
Truth be told, the three-hour seminar (free lunch included) was a sales pitch. Behind the Maine Committee for Stress Free Schools is the Consciousness-Based Education Program, a nonprofit business brought to Maine by Katie and Roger Grose of Biddeford.
Their goal: To persuade school systems in Maine that by teaching kids to meditate for 10 minutes twice a day, test scores will go up, behavioral problems will go down and the need for attention-getting medications will all but disappear.
School-sanctioned TM . . . in Maine?
“Even though Mainers are notoriously conservative,” said Katie Grose, “they are also supremely intelligent.”
Not to mention curious. Last week’s audience, which included dozens of teachers, school administrators and guidance counselors, listened in rapt attention as speaker after speaker extolled the virtues of school-based meditation.
One was Dr. Ashley Deans, director of the Maharishi School of the Age of Enlightenment in Iowa. He explained how TM has helped his students score repeatedly in the top 1 percent on national standardized tests – and how they’ve won more than 100 championships in sports and academics over the past decade.
“People often say to me, ‘You’re sitting on one of the best-kept secrets in the world,’ ” Deans said.
Mike Laverriere, a guidance counselor at Kennebunk High School, came away intrigued.
“It all made sense to me,” Laverriere said. “I was fascinated by the whole idea of (using meditation) to quiet kids down.”
Kids like Francis, whose parents taught him how to meditate when he was 10. He does it for exactly 13 minutes twice each day, using the beeper on his watch to tell him when time’s up. And he loves every minute of it.
“You can do it just about anywhere,” Francis said. “Sometimes I do it in the car . . . sometimes on the bus. Your body is completely relaxed. There is absolutely no stress in you. It’s just a quiet awareness.”
Meditating . . . on a school bus.