Discovering Meaning in Our Existence

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

The belief that we are all created for something special

Nick: You mentioned in the talk, that we could connect source to either being a religious or spiritual experience, and many people do say, I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual. Can you touch on the word spiritual, and it's Latin root, as you did in your presentation?

Stephen: The inability to talk about God, the inability to talk about what is really most important in life, the language doesn't seem to be there. Or the language is there but people don't use the language.

As you mentioned, the original word for spirit in Latin means breath. Then it's also if you look at the kanji, the top part is like the ‘ji’ self, and the bottom part is kokoro. So I think the two are very similar in a sense that they show the very deep connection of the heart and the spirit with the breath.

So what is mindfulness? Mindfulness to me is really simply bringing attention to our breath. We become mindful if we can somehow bring our attention inward and just to the reality of that, the breathing and how the breath is life itself, giving us life.

And I think that sense of spirit is lost when it becomes associated, particularly in Japanese, it's hard when you translate it into Katakana, it becomes kind of associated more with strange psychic type of powers and energies and kind of a world that for many people is beyond the realm of acceptable reality and scientific reality.

That's very different from what it means in English today. And I think I mentioned in the talk that at Stanford, the Office for Religious Life has had to change their name to the Office of Religious and Spiritual Life.

It's an acknowledgment that the expression you use, so many students are saying, ‘I'm not religious, but I'm spiritual.’ The spiritual part, I think, means the search for meaning—the search for purpose, the belief that that's the best way to live—if we truly believe that there is some kind of reason, meaning, and purpose for our existence, and that there's a unique purpose for our existence that we are all created for something special. And that no one lives the life that we live, and no one is quite like us. So I think the word spiritual portrays that for many people today.