There is something not quite right with the Home section of the papers today. Two articles form the bookends of the section. At one end, the article reads "Kids find inner calm through mindful breathing."
Go ahead, and see the inset picture above. Can you not see the calming effect on those kids in uniform with eyes closed, deep breathing and unhurried thoughts?
At the other bookend is this article entitled "More children and teens are stressed out." (14 March) This is a serious article - that is, no more pictures of completely immersed meditative kids spending a few minutes at their tuckshop doing mass mindful breathing.
This article talks about a Primary 5 pupil who fell to his death from his bedroom window on the day he was to take his exam papers home. He was expected to score above an average of 70 marks. And for each mark he falls short, his mother would cane him once.
Sadly, on that day, he scored just averages with 50 for English, 53.8 for Chinese and 57.5 for science. Alas, he would rather face his own mortality than to face his mother.
The article reports that "there has been an increase in the numbers of teens who present at KK Women's and Children's Hospital with stress and emotional problems...Most of them are between 13 and 16 years old." Another 16-year-old was seeing a cardiologist for "heart palpitations that surfaced whenever he had a panic attack." And another was diagnosed with social anxiety disorder."
Lesson? Just one. Between mindful breathing and mindless pressure, I think we are holistically self-delusional. If good intention is king, then the pauper here is the big picture. And if the road to hell is paved with good intention, then the road to confusion is littered with good vibration.
This is the vexing paradox I see - and it gets no better as the days go by. We treat a wife with bruises in the hospital and leave the abuser roaming free at home. We confront a child's academic failure at home and leave love, understanding and relationships out in the cold corridors. We say "I do" at the altar and say "why not?" to casual flirting and one-night stands in the office.
And we do meditative breathing in schools (to relieve stress) and then expect our kid to excel at all cost regardless of temperament, silent tears and the longing for understanding, patience and a simple word of "I am proud of you son (or daughter) for just being you."
If only we can look at ourselves in the mirror, we will realise that the image we see tells an ugly truth, an inconvenient one. We often turn expectation of our kids into uncompromising goals, compel performance out of them above unconditional love from us, and convert them into personal trophies for show to others instead of accepting them for who they are and how hard they have tried to compete for a moment of our attention.
One professor from NUH's psychological medicine department said, "As parents, we may miss opportunities to validate them and recognise their efforts." (John Wong). And these missed opportunities add up over the growing years to make them feel that parental love is more a transactional relationship than a transcendent one.
So, while I applaud the school's sincere effort to fill 5-mins of the student's recess time with mindful meditation involving sitting quietly, closing eyes and maintaining slow breathing, I hope that the ministry, the schools and the parents would be mindful at the same time (and not just for 5 minutes) to sit quietly, open their eyes and maintain eye-level vision with the mirror, and hopefully realise that the problem may just lie with them and the neurotic way in which success is defined by them - starting from the top down. Cheerz.