You are a Little Angel
Contributed by Heidi Thompson
When I was ten, I met Swami Sastrananda. He was a guest in our home for a day. What left a lasting impression on me was the Swami’s peaceful, loving smile, his thoughtful, intelligent eyes, and his reassuring words, “Heidi, you are a little angel.”
After he returned to the Ramakrishna Ashram in Bangalore, I wrote him letters. I asked him questions about God, life, and how to become a wise person – like he was. I never thought that writing to a Swami was unusual. All I remember is that when I was ten, I felt alone, insecure, guilty, and not worthy of being loved. His kind letters reassured me that I was a good person.
Throughout my adult years, the Swami continued to write – even when I was too busy to write back. I was studying art in Europe and changed addresses frequently. Somehow his supportive letters always found me. After my European adventure, I returned to Canada and pursued a career in photography and painting. I married a guitar builder, Ted Thompson, and had one daughter and stepson. For the next 20 years I enjoyed a creative life of painting, teaching, and family.
When I was fifty, I received a phone call. It was the Swami, now in his 80’s. He had kept all my letters from my childhood and wanted me to have them. He asked if I was happy. I said, extremely so. I told him that I had discovered a meditation technique called Vipassana, which was giving me the answers to my life-long questions. He said, “I knew you would find your way. Vipassana is a good path.”
Using Breathe Awareness to Develop the Brain and Improve Concentration
I attended my first 10-day Vipassana meditation course taught by S.N. Goenka in 1983. It was an intensive, silent retreat that required us to meditate for about 11 hours a day. On day seven, during one of the breaks, I was standing in the woods looking at sunlight radiating through the trees. I was struck by the beauty. An intense peacefulness filled me. I felt at one with myself and the nature around me. It was in this moment; I realized that everything I had been looking for – worthiness, joy, peace, freedom, and love – were within myself. The only thing that had separated me from this experience was a thin veil of ignorance.
Vipassana is a meditation technique that was taught by Buddha. Its tradition has been passed down from teacher to student for over 2500 hundred years. It provides a method to sharpen one’s awareness, establish a base of morality, and cultivate insight and wisdom. The technique is three-fold. First, one practices Anapana-sati, or breath awareness, to sharpen the attention. This involves focusing on the sensations of breath at the entrance of the nose. The second technique is Vipassana, which requires one to direct the attention throughout the body, feeling every sensation and remaining objective with the experience. Vipassana’s aim is to awaken wisdom of our transient nature and develop less attachment to pleasure and pain. The third technique is loving kindness, a meditation which cultivates goodwill and selflessness.
Being a mother, I felt compelled to teach children breath awareness. In 1996, I created an attention development program called Mindmastery and taught young people from Kindergarten to high school. The students came from all walks of life. Some were high potential learners, some were high-risk, and some were diagnosed with severe ADHD. The transformation that I saw in the children always brought me joy. From my own childhood experiences, I could empathize. Many of these children were feeling stressed, incapable, angry, confused, and unworthy of love. I could see that while they were doing breath awareness, they were happier and more serene – they truly looked like “little angels.”
I now understand why Mindmastery was welcomed in the schools. The 1990’s was the beginning of ADD and ADHD becoming a popularized mental and behavioral disorder. At the time, no one realized that this condition was being propagated by pharmaceutical companies. They coined it ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. Their marketing campaign was so successful, that millions of children ended up being diagnosed with this disorder. Subsequently, they were prescribed the controversial methylphenidate, psychostimulants – the new wonder drug. Today, things haven’t improved. Over 10 million children in North America are taking this brain altering psycho-stimulant.
Intuitively, I never accepted the notion that a lack of attention could be a “disorder”. Otherwise, I would admit to having ADD or ADHD myself. But, judging from my ability to focus when I want to, this wouldn’t make any sense. Experience tells me – all humans are born with relatively underdeveloped attentions. It is through our upbringing, experiences, and efforts that we can develop this unique human brain faculty – if we choose to. No pill can build our brains. No pill can cultivate our faculty of attention. No pill can awaken our wisdom and love.
Humans possess amazing potential to develop their minds. Science confirms this. They say that the brain develops and grows through our experiences, diet, stimulation, relationships, rewards and punishments, and thinking and feeling. All these factors contribute to cultivating the brain and developing the brain. Because of science, many people now accept that we are indeed, makers of our own minds. Only through effort, attention, focus, determination, work, and love will we manifest our potential and become our “higher” selves. There is no deficit in our nature, just untapped potential.
Fortunately, there is a worldwide movement driven by conscious, concerned, and compassionate parents, teachers, doctors, policy-makers, and scientists. They are educating the public about the brain and the dangers of drugs. Parents are ensuring their children get a wholesome diet and are exposed to meaningful stimulation. Teachers are incorporating yoga and meditation in the classroom. Doctors are suggesting natural methods that heal rather than chemicals that mask the problems. Policy-makers are ensuring corruption doesn’t infiltrate our government. Scientists are researching meditation. Their findings are reassuring the population that meditation is an effective way to develop the brain and improve health.“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart: I am, I am, I am.” Sylvia Plath
My humble contribution is to inform people about breath awareness – a simple, safe, and effective exercise that can develop the brain and improve concentration. To learn how to do breath awareness and teach your children, you may enjoy my book, Calm Focus Joy: The Power of Breath Awareness – A Practical Guide for Adults and Children.
After practicing breath awareness, nine-year-old Braden wrote, “If I could change the world I would tell everyone how to do breath awareness so the world would be more peaceful.” Now, I must say, Braden sounds like a little angel.
I was born in Vernon, B.C. and I moved to Europe when I was seventeen. I discovered my passion for art and studied photography at the University of Art & Design in Zűrich. After graduating, I worked as an apprentice with German artist, Oskar Kollar, followed by a year at the Art Academy of Nűrnberg. In 1981, I studied a final year at the Hungarian Academy of Art in Budapest. In 1982, I returned to Canada and worked as a freelance artist. Later, I earned a B.F.A. through BC Open University and a teaching degree certificate through the University of Victoria. I have published three books and currently exhibit my paintings in the USA and Canada. (www.heidithompson.ca)
My book, Calm Focus Joy: The Power of Breath Awareness is available on my website, www.calmfocusjoy.com or on Amazon, Kindle E-Books, or Barnes and Noble.
Heidi Thompson: firstname.lastname@example.org