Sunday, June 28, 2009

Exploring an existing school of thought - by Judge Jim Gray

Since I wrote the column about the transcendental meditation program (“To a mind that is still,” Dec. 13), I have learned so many exciting things about how the technique is now being used both in schools and the criminal justice system.

For example, there is a K-12 school in Fairfield, Iowa, that has incorporated meditation into the regular schedule every day for students, teachers and staff. Everyone swears by the program, and the results support their enthusiasm. The Maharishi School Pioneers, which has only 300 students, requires its students, teachers and staff each morning and afternoon to meditate for 15 to 20 minutes. Basically that is the only difference that sets this open-enrollment and racially integrated school apart from any other (of course it also wisely requires the students to wear uniforms).

But using meditation works. The school has won state championships in drama, golf, history, math, a program called “Odyssey of the Mind,” photography and art, poetry and writing, science, spelling bees, tennis, and track, among other things. Why does meditation work? Because, as the staff says, the simple act of meditating on a regular basis settles and calms the mind and reduces stress, and when stress is reduced, children are happier and more productive.

So, as one student told me in an interview, meditation lets anger and stress simply “fly out of your body.”

Many of the older graduates continue to live in Fairfield expressly so that their children can profit from the same experience they had, and other parents who have heard about the school have moved their families to Fairfield for the same reason. In fact, some of these parents actually came from Laguna Beach.

The school is not religious based and does not pursue any particular beliefs or dogma. But the administrators of the school believe that meditation helps the electrical activity of the human brain to slow down. This makes thinking itself more clear and focused, and also allows the brain to develop more fully. And this, in turn, naturally promotes a higher state of interest and wellness in the students.

Once the technique is learned, meditation puts the students’ minds into a position of complete silence where thoughts do not happen. Soon the students are more aware of their mind settling down, and, eventually, of consciousness itself. This, in turn, increasingly allows the mind to become more clear and to experience more subtle thoughts, so everything around them more readily falls into place and becomes understandable.

The more scientific explanation is that when under stress, the pre-frontal cortex of the brain shuts down, and the primitive part of the brain with the protective “fight or flight” reaction is engaged. This also causes the brain to become flooded with adrenaline, so it is consequently not able to do such things as “analyze a five-year plan,” or even be rational. So stress is one reason why teenagers are more combative and resistant to learning. Then later, when the pre-frontal cortex kicks back in, the brain again gets back into the “I’m sorry” mode and other more calm states of analysis.

But transcendental meditation is successful by increasing the pathways of the brain, which, in turn, improves focus, attention, anger management and positive social behavior. This also makes transcendental meditation extremely effective for people who have ADHD, high-functioning autism, and adults who are bi-polar, and have post-traumatic stress disorders from military service.

The students from Fairfield that I spoke to in telephone interviews confirm these positive results.

For example, Essa said she watches the news and sees people in fights.

“But not here,” she said. “In our school we intermingle and are all supportive.”

In addition, she said that meditation not only helped her to be more athletic, it also gave her both the confidence and initiative to try something new. So she went into theater, and was successful.

Mickey’s family came from Knoxville. He is in the school’s Destination Imagination Club that has won national honors, and is now competing in a worldwide competition. In addition, the school also recently won the statewide science fair, three of its students won state honors in engineering, and one student is a finalist in an international creative arts competition (not bad results for a school of 300).

The school was partially founded with the assistance of the David Lynch Foundation. Lynch is probably known to many of you as the Academy Award-nominated director of “Elephant Man” and “Twin Peaks.” It is the mission of this foundation to eliminate violence and life-threatening stress in schools across the planet, and it already is responsible for the establishment of schools in the United States, Israel and Europe.

One of those schools is the Ideal Academy Public Charter School in northwest Washington, D.C. I spoke to its principal, Dr. George H. Rutherford, who told me that the David Lynch Foundation had sponsored three trainers about three years ago to come to his school and teach transcendental meditation to some of his students, teachers and staff.

And soon things really started changing — for the better! Now they have involved the entire school, and everyone’s attitudes have changed. The students are calmer, more disciplined, more interested in learning and their grades have improved.

Transcendental meditation programs have also been offered in San Quentin and Folsom State prisons in California. Like everywhere else, those programs are taught in seven classes, with the first two being lectures that focus upon the benefits, research and techniques of the method. The third is a personal interview, and the fourth provides one-on-one training. Then the last three are consecutive days of group follow-up. Pretty simple and straightforward, and the programs are not expensive.

But the results show that 90% of the graduates have not returned to prison. There even is a program of criminal sentencing in Missouri in which young adults have the option of using transcendental meditation which has seen similar excellent results with increased schooling, employment and lower recidivism rates.

So that is a further part of the story. Recently, former Beatles Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, along with several other pop stars, raised more than $1 million in a benefit concert at the New York’s Radio City Music Hall to help establish more transcendental meditation programs around the world. They believe that meditation works for our children and for all of the rest of us. And if you learn more about it, I think you will too.

For more information about the sentencing program visit, and for the David Lynch Foundation and the transcendental meditation movement in general, visit or Then tell me what you think.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at or via his website at .

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Join me in celebrating our country’s flag - by Judge Jim Gray

Our country’s flag is the symbol of our country and our freedoms, and in many ways it is a large part of our daily lives. On June 14, 1777, Congress passed an act adopting a flag with 13 horizontal stripes, alternating red and white, with red on the top and bottom, and 13 white stars on a field of blue, to be our country’s standard. And so every year on June 14, which happens to be today, we celebrate Flag Day.

Our “Stars and Stripes” is one of the oldest national flags in the world, even older than the Union Jack of Great Britain or the Tricolor of France. It was designed by a committee chaired by Ben Franklin, after consultations with George Washington as the head of the Army, and first unfurled publicly by Washington himself Jan. 2, 1776.

The colors of the flag are frequently seen as representing the very character of our nation. The white in the flag is said to be a living symbol of our country being the “land of liberty.” The red signifies the courage and sacrifices of the nation’s defenders, and the blue represents the loyalty and unity of our citizens.

As new states were added to the union, the number of both the stars and the stripes was increased accordingly. But in April 1818, Congress passed an act providing that the flag should revert to the original 13 stripes, but that a star should be added the next July 4 after the admittance of any new state into the Union.

The guidelines about how to display and use the flag were haphazard all the way until July 7, 1976, when Congress passed the Federal Flag Code. This contains eight sections and multiple subsections describing how, when, and where the flag should be displayed, honored, handled and eventually disposed.

Some of the most interesting regulations for the flag are that it can only be displayed between sunrise and sunset, unless it is properly illuminated during all of hours of darkness, and not displayed at all during inclement weather unless it is an all-weather flag. It should also be raised briskly, but lowered ceremoniously, and should be displayed on the main administration building of every public institution, and on every schoolhouse.

With the extremely limited exception of when church pennants are flown during religious services conducted aboard our naval vessels while at sea, no other flag or pennant may be placed above our flag at any time. If any flags are flown on the same level, our flag must be to the right side of all the others. And our flag may not be dipped to any person or thing under any circumstances, with the limited exception of when a vessel from a foreign country that is recognized by our government dips its flag to a vessel of the U.S. Navy, our naval ship may return the compliment.

The flag is never to be flown with the stars at the bottom, unless there is a circumstance of dire emergency, such as a ship sinking, and it is not supposed to be left on a grave for more than one day. It is also never to be allowed to touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, floor, water or merchandise.

Our national banner is also not to be used for advertising for any purposes, or as a table cover, wearing apparel or articles such as cushions, handkerchiefs or napkins, or as a receptacle for receiving, holding, carrying or delivering anything. But it is permissible for the flag to be worn as a button or pin.

Even though we have those recommendations, no federal statutes exist that set forth any penalties for any misuse or mistreatment of our flag, which leaves the enforcement of these provisions, if at all, up to the individual states.

Ironically enough, because our nation’s flag is a symbol for liberty and freedom, it actually stands as a principle to allow its own desecration or destruction.

This was the ruling of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Texas v. Johnson, which involved the burning of the flag by some protesters. The court held that our liberties actually allow a person to burn, mutilate or even spit upon our flag as a matter of free speech.

This legitimately upsets lots of people. But upon reflection, people usually understand that we can’t have freedom only for speech and symbolic acts that we agree with. That would soon result in protections only for speech that the government allows, and that would take us in a direction that we do not want to go.

F.A. (Baldy) Harper, the founder of the Institute for Humane Studies, once said “The man who knows what freedom means will find a way to be free.”

Join me in honoring the Stars and Stripes, especially today on its special day. Among other things, that means that we stand, if we are able, when the flag goes by, put our hands over our hearts both when the flag is presented and when we sing our national anthem, and fly it often but appropriately, with the full understanding that this flag is our chief symbol of the freedoms that are the very soul of our country.

JAMES P. GRAY is a retired judge of the Orange County Superior Court, the author of Wearing the Robe – the Art and Responsibilities of Judging in Today’s Courts (Square One Press, 2008), and can be contacted at or via his website at .