71 – Heartfulness: A New Perspective on Mindfulness with Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu – Part 2

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.

Negative emotions are part of the human experience

“There's one that's not in the book that I became more aware of recently, which is that I really wanted and believed that my grandmother would achieve complete enlightenment, satori. And then suddenly she would say something like, ‘Your grandfather was such a bad person. He never should have done that to me.’ And she would start talking about how she had wanted to be a doctor. 

Her father said to her, ‘You should have been my eldest son, because you're the one with the ability, I've got all these other kids, I've got these boys, but you're the one who has the ability, you should have been my eldest son. But you were born a girl. You'll never be anything but a housewife. I’ll marry you off, you will not be a doctor. You're not going to go to medical school because you're a girl.’ 

And she would bring that up. My feeling was oh, no, she didn't become a complete saint. She still has some anger, she still has resentments and these negative human qualities. She's not completely enlightened. And then I started to realise that, no, she's a human being. And she's saying that was not right, 90 years ago, and it's still not right.” - 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.



Difference between mindfulness and heartfulness

“Mindfulness is still becoming equated with the individual pursuit of happiness, with people seeking pleasure and more joy, with less stress and less involvement. Yet the popular culture’s adoption of mindfulness alone risks losing its original meaning. Heartfulness emphasizes purpose through connecting to something larger than the individual self. A heartful life finds meaning in making a difference in the lives of others.” - Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu


Mindfulness is more of a focus on one’s self, whereas heartfulness is an awareness of oneself being part of something greater. It involves acknowledging the presence of others around us and thinking not only for ourselves but also for those around us.

Stephen shares a story about his grandmother that exemplifies heartfulness: even though it was lonely for her to be away from her loved ones, she chose to reside in an elderly care facility in Japan, prioritising her family's well-being and not wanting to burden anyone—finding her path in life by doing what was best for everyone she loved.

Westernisation of Japanese concepts

Many Japanese concepts have been gaining attention outside of Japan. However, due to differences in culture, these concepts often get mixed up and receive new interpretations. That's why Stephen believes in the importance of the ability to view the world from a different perspective. He emphasises the need to continuously remind oneself that there are alternative ways of living and perceiving the world.

Heartfulness in the workplace and community

Bringing heartfulness into the community starts with having a sense of humility and vulnerability. It is similar to how samurais would enter a tea house: they couldn't enter the tea house without lowering themselves to the ground and removing their armour and swords, which symbolise acts of vulnerability and humility.

Stephen envisions his classroom as a tea house where everybody can enter with a sense of vulnerability, humility, and equality – a place where you can be your authentic self.

“It's so freeing when you can enter a group being vulnerable. And then it usually creates trust and then sort of these intimate connections with other people.” - Nicholas Kemp

Being vulnerable

Knowledge gained from his grandmother

In his grandmother’s teachings, Stephen identifies eight principles for cultivating heartful living, which he discussed in his book From Mindfulness to Heartfulness: Transforming Self and Society with Compassion. These principles are:

  • Beginner’s mind

  • Vulnerability

  • Authenticity

  • Connectedness

  • Listening

  • Acceptance

  • Gratitude

  • Service

Despite these learnings, Stephen came to understand that his grandmother was just a regular person with her own faults. Despite her often being caring and thinking about others, she still felt upset about the unfair treatment she endured, particularly not being able to chase her dreams. This just proves that, no matter how much we've learned in life, we'll sometimes have negative thoughts and feelings, and that's normal because it's part of being human.

We must remember that it's okay to be human. As we all eventually face death, it becomes even more crucial to trust in life and not take it for granted.

Stephen’s ikigai

Instead of talking about and defining ikigai, Stephen prefers to live it as much as possible. He believes that living in a way that feels right not only benefits himself but also for others. The impact he can have on others simply by making them feel seen and supported is significant.

“I’m looking for ikigai in the ordinary and being content with what a day offers me and the opportunities it offers me to do something.” - Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu

Ikigai in the ordinary


Heartfulness takes a lot of courage. It involves doing things not only for your well-being but also for the benefit of others. We'll never know the impact we can have on people, and by approaching things with an open heart, we might even inspire and touch the lives of others.