by Heidi Thompson Coldstream Books Canada, 2012 Review by Paola Teresa Grassi, Ph.D. on Jun 18th 2013
With 25 years' experience in breath awareness, Heidi Thompson has designed an attention development program for children named Mindmastery. In 1983 she attended her first 10-day Vipassana Meditation retreat. For the first three days, students practiced Anapana, the Pali name of a technique meant to become calm and alert, while acutely focused -- anapanasati meaning "breathing in and breathing out the awareness". In 1996, Thompson decided to share this simple, yet effective method with young people and she presented her first Advanced Attention Development (AAD) program to several schools in British Columbia.
The volume Calm Focus Joy aims to introduce the latter knowledge and experience to parents, teachers, homeschoolers, psychologists, and child-care professionals who are keen in learning The Power of Breath Awareness first for themselves, and then teach it to children. As a matter of fact the book is A Practical Guide for Adults and Children, and it is based on the assumption of interiorizing first, and only afterwards handing over the acquired skills.
The main principle Thompson builds her proposal is that "mind is a flexible, living organism with an amazing ability to reshape itself with every experience it encounters [...] A conscious and developed mind is like a powerful jet that can take you to virtually any desired destination. However, if you are unable to focus, the mind remains as ineffective as an aircraft without a pilot [...] The very act of focusing attention harnesses the mind's incredible power".
The main results of increasing focus in terms of qualities are mental calm cultivation, happiness, and intelligent insight.
Essential to the latter nurturing practice are: repetition and intensity; heal the root cause of restlessness and dissatisfaction; facilitate awakening consciousness, self-knowledge and wisdom experiences. A radical transformation of everyday life from the choice of food to applied ethics. "To achieve long term, positive benefits, breath awareness incorporates three essential components -- wholesome conduct, awakening insight, and sharing goodwill [...]".
For Thompson a set of unwholesome actions -- basically agitating the mind -- include taking intoxicants as well as lying. Focus training should also foster love and kindness. And to share goodwill has the meaning of sending out a compassionate wish for all beings to share happiness and peace. Perseverance, discipline and patience are the key issues. And the quality to cultivate is equanimity, that is the ability to observe calmly experience from the inside.
The effective structure of the book include a pleasantly -- and intentionally -- recurring theoretical introduction and a set of 10-steps lessons the reader can avail both for managing her practice, and the work with children -- aged 5 to 18. Teaching strategies, read-aloud instructions, tips for organizing programs, check in questions, student journal and a selection of very powerful stories -- proving a substantial sensitivity to a narrative approach -- give a very clever support to the stated goal.