KIDS AND COMMUNITY: A moment of silence for reflection

KIDS AND COMMUNITY by Judy Shepps Battle: In times of great stress, people often turn to a power greater than themselves for help.

   In times of great stress, people often turn to a power greater than themselves for help.
   In the shadow of potential mass destruction on Sept. 11, 2001, we briefly became a supplicant nation, asking for divine protection and guidance. Communities came together and held interdenominational services. Individuals reorganized busy schedules to take time to connect with the God of their understanding in private ways.
   Less than a year later, however, the groundswell of public expression of religion and spirituality has subsided.
   Perhaps it is because the visible signs of the tragedy have changed. Much of the rubble that was the Twin Towers has been removed, and the damage to the Pentagon has been repaired.
   Perhaps it is because terrorist acts have not been repeated on our shore, and we feel that secular protection — political leadership, bombs and military intelligence — is sufficient.
   But perhaps it is also because the subject of religion traditionally has been highly charged, as well as that spirituality has been misunderstood in our country. Nowhere is this ambivalence seen more than in the public school system with its debate over the nature of a moment of silence.
   The positive functions of the spirituality of silence, for children and adults alike, seem to have been forgotten.
Is Silence Prayer?û
   Although the U.S. Supreme Court has outlawed mandatory school prayer, at least a dozen states are considering legislation that will allow their public schools to offer students a moment of silence each day.
   One state, Ohio, has enacted a bill allowing one minute daily for students to reflect, meditate or pray, and gives school districts the freedom to choose whether teachers will be required to set aside silent time for students. This bill will become law in July.
   The conditional wording of this measure was in response to concern by such organizations as the Ohio branch of the American Civil Liberties Union, which stated that "setting aside time for reflection" encourages prayer and that this threatens the Constitution’s separation of religion and government.
Misunderstanding Silenceû
   It is unfortunate that the ACLU and others support this narrow perspective. Silent reflection offers a unique opportunity for all ages to create inner calm and enhance emotional and physical health.
   For the inner-city child, silent reflection is an "on-demand" passport out of the noisy urban world. For those with attention deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD), it is an invaluable tool to help oneself slow down and learn to focus. For children from dysfunctional families in which members yell and scream at each other, it is respite.
   Silent reflection has been shown to decrease blood pressure, relieve headaches, and produce serotonin (the feel-good drug within our brain). There is no telling what effect it might have on adolescent hormones or teen depression. Perhaps it could even become a substitute for alcohol and other drug products.
Misunderstanding Spiritualityû
   In the process of jealously guarding the boundaries between secular and religious education, spirituality has mistakenly been deemed synonymous with organized religion and kept out of the public school curriculum.
   This is a mistake, and a misunderstanding of both the concept and its place in education.
   Spirituality involves the relationship of an individual to a place of inner calm that offers divine guidance. In may involve prayer (asking for help and direction) and/or meditation (listening to feedback from this source).
   Being able to calm oneself when faced with ordinary anxieties or extraordinary traumas reduces physical stress and increases emotional health. Being able to find "safe space" increases a child’s sense of self-control and self-esteem.
   If I were a classroom teacher I would want nothing more than to have my students begin their learning day in such a calm state. I would encourage them to take time out to re-center themselves whenever they felt anxious.
The Teachable Momentû
   School systems can easily integrate calm-producing activities that explore spirituality into all aspects of curriculum. This would give all students tools to use in every area of their lives.
   T’ai Chi is a wonderful experience that children love. The set of slow and fluid movements teaches a focus on breathing and relaxing. Yoga is also a fun exercise and a very effective anxiety reducer. There are many different kinds of meditation that can be practiced and all can be part of the health and physical education curriculum.
   Social science classes can spend time studying the anthropology of spirituality — how other cultures make spirituality a part of the fabric of society. Examples of spiritual people, such as Mahatma Gandhi, can be studied. English classes can focus on spiritual journals.
   There are many ways to help students explore and develop a healthy spirituality, both during and after school hours. Creative teachers can integrate these principles into their individual classrooms.
   Adults can take time out to discover their own spiritual identity and places of inner calm. As we each learn to practice these principles in all our affairs, families and communities will begin to change in a positive — and softer — way.
   We all deserve so much more than just a moment of silence in our lives.
Judy Shepps Battle is a South Brunswick resident, addictions specialist, consultant and freelance writer. She can be reached by e-mail at Judy@writeaction.com.