70 – Heartfulness: A New Perspective on Mindfulness with Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu – Part 1

Do you feel heartfulness as you go about your day?

Often, people discuss the significance of mindfulness, emphasising the importance of self-awareness. However, in our pursuit of self-improvement and personal growth, we often overlook the impact we can have on those around us. This is where the concept of heartfulness can prove beneficial—a compassionate and open-hearted approach to life.

In this two-part episode of the Ikigai Podcast, Nick and Stephen explore the concept of heartfulness and embracing an open-hearted approach to life.

Bravery and courage to keep going

“We have lots of fears, and the ultimate fear is that we may die. And that's why I am so drawn to this Bushido way of living–to acknowledge that we're already dying. In a sense, we have nothing to lose by going down that path. Of course, we have to have judgement, and we have to know ourselves enough to know if we can survive, if we go down that path. Do we really have what it takes to go down that path? 

And maybe we don't, and we realise that and say well, maybe I better take this path instead. Because I believe I can do this, still challenging, but I believe I can do that. I think that's what we're all trying to find–the right path for us. We don't all have to take the most severe, difficult, dangerous, potentially tragic fatal path, but we can find the one that will challenge us but we can do it. That faith and trust in something, and I think that's where the importance of trust comes in.” - Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu

Podcast Highlights

Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu

Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu

Dr. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu is an American-Japanese psychologist at Stanford University. He teaches and researches human development through mindfulness, Asian wisdom, science, compassion, and responsibility. He is a speaker, workshop leader, and author. He received a doctorate in clinical and community psychology from Harvard University and was a professor at The University of Tokyo.



Stephen’s backstory

Stephen was born in Tokyo after the war to an American father and a Japanese mother. Thankfully, his grandparents accepted his father, despite the conservative Japanese culture, especially during the time after the war. Eventually, his parents were able to legally marry. After spending eight years in Japan, his family moved to Massachusetts, where his father was from.

A source of life energy

Ki is used in many Japanese expressions. It represents the idea of a universal source of energy and life, which exists both in the universe and within us. It flows through our bodies. With this thought, Stephen contemplates what can give us vitality.

One aspect is the awareness of death, which is deeply rooted in Bushido. Knowing that we will eventually face death makes us appreciate the life that we have more and use it to live better and be more present. Hence, it is essential to have a source of life energy that gives us purpose in life. Stephen provides questions we can ask ourselves to connect to a source of life energy:

  • Who am I?

  • Why am I here?

  • What is my purpose?

“If we can connect to the real sense of what keeps us alive, and what makes us want to live or what we're willing to live for in the face of all the other things that may be happening in our lives that make life so difficult; whatever that is, we need to connect to that and we need to find our own way to connect to that.” - Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu

What keeps us alive

Spiritual experience

The original word for spirit in Latin means breath. Stephen relates spiritual experience to mindfulness; he believes that mindfulness is simply bringing our attention to our breath.

“We become mindful if we can somehow bring our attention inward and just the reality of that–the breathing and how the breath is life itself.” - Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu


For Stephen, connecting to a spiritual experience is the search for meaning and purpose— the belief that the best way to live is to believe that there is some kind of reason for our existence, that there's a unique purpose for our existence, and that we are all created for something special.

From mindfulness to heartfulness

Mindfulness is related to meditation; you attain mindfulness by practising meditation. In Japanese, the character that best expresses mindfulness, 念(nen), consists of two parts—the top part, 今 (ima), meaning “now,” and the bottom part, 心(kokoro), meaning “heart.” It involves directing your attention to the present moment—your entire self, including your mind, heart, and indeed to everything and everyone.

However, Stephen thinks that the term mindfulness is being used in the West as a tool for success and achieving greater goals. To move away from that, he prefers to call it 'heartfulness' to emphasise that it is a way of experiencing life in an open-hearted way.

Stay tuned for the second part of this podcast, as Nick and Stephen delve deeper into heartfulness.