From Mindfulness to Heartfulness

Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu 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.

The heartfulness way of experiencing life

Nick: On the subject of mindfulness, there's a book, I think that could help our audience. And that's your book: From Mindfulness to Heartfulness: Transforming Self and Society with Compassion.

I was trying to get a figure on mindfulness has become this multi-million, or maybe even multi-billion dollar industry of medic books, courses, celebrity endorsements, and so on. But I'd like to go back to what you were touching on earlier on how we should understand mindfulness.

And yeah, eventually how you've tied that to heartfulness. How do you describe mindfulness when you're asked?

Stephen: It's always changing, I'm finding. I think one of the things that I am most grateful for is that I remain curious and alive about life. I want to be open to being affected by what's out there, what's comes to me and learning from my experiences, learning from other people.

I've been teaching this for a number of years now, and my understanding of it evolves along with that teaching, because I always want to teach in a way that I'm learning as well. That really live the, what I often say is that teaching and learning go best together, and that everybody who comes to me because they want to learn from me are also teachers, if I'm open.

I find that many of the so-called students and learners actually become my teachers, when I am open to that, and I'm not always open to it, because I'm often in the position of being the one who is designated as the teacher and the leader, the wise and more and more of the wise elder and so I'm supposed to have the knowledge and I sometimes give in to that ego tripping, and I feel like I need to give something to other people that they will then see as Oh, he's a great leader. And he's a great teacher.

Then I realized I'm just really an old fool. I love the expression O baka-sa. You know, baka is fool, before, and san sounds like a wonderful fool. So I feel like I'm just constantly being a fool. But a fool can also have the role of helping other people to be aware of how they are not really living with an openness and embracing life.

I feel like that my awareness of mindfulness has been really helped by a lot of students who have told me that my idea that mindfulness is almost the same as meditation, right? You get to mindfulness by going through meditation, and I've had many people assume that I'm Buddhist, and that even Buddhist monks have asked me where did I study Zen.

But I actually not studied Buddhism much. And I have practiced it to a certain degree, but I really don't know that much about it. And I've moved because so many students have told me that they find meditation difficult, or they try it and they find it's not for them.

And I have persisted in saying, well, you've got to practice more. You can't just you try it and say it doesn't work. And they said, but I've tried it for a long time. For many reasons like that I have moved to a much more flexible open position. Mindfulness is really just bringing your attention to the present moment, and it's bringing your whole self as much as possible to that moment.

That's why I like the kanji, which shows the, and I just happened to have my book with me. The Kanji shows on top, this is nen. The top shows that sense of ima (right now), and the bottom shows the kokoro.

And I feel like this is what mindfulness is in the sense that it's bringing yourself to the present moment, yourself as much as possible, not just the ego self, not just the mind self. But the self that is represented by the kokoro—a sense of the heartful part of you, the whole part of you.

However you do that, that's what mindfulness is. It could be through meditation, and it could be, that could be the greatest path to a deeper sense of mindfulness. But I also find that many practitioners of meditation don't seem to get at what I think of as more of the heartfulness way of experiencing life with an open hearted way.

That's something that I felt my grandmother embodied throughout her very long life of up to 111. And I thought that the term heartfulness captured that more than mindfulness, which I think has become, as you pointed out, something that has become very commercialized, very materialistic. And also, it's embedded in a kind of American. For me anyway, because I live here.

And I seen how it's evolved here. It seems very individualistic, in space in individualism, philosophy of individualism, and the places that I lived and worked in Silicon Valley, and Stanford University, I see it being used more as a tool, another tool to become successful.

So we use mindfulness so that you can be even more successful, achieve more. And so I wanted to also move us away from that. Also, that obsession with neuroscience and brain science and seeing everything through has to be taught and understood through what's going on in the brain, in order for us to believe it.

And I wanted us to move more away from that kind of mechanical way of seeing the human body and mind and spirit. And so I thought heartfulness might be a way of doing that. And it hasn't really caught on that much. But I still like it, and I still use it a lot.