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From Mindfulness to Heartfulness

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Open Mind, Open Heart

Millions have found mindfulness to be a powerful practice for reducing stress, enhancing attention, and instilling tranquility. But it can offer so much more—it can transform you, make you more fully awake, alive, and aware of your connection to all beings. In Japanese, the character that best expresses mindfulness, 念, consists of two parts—the top part, 今, meaning “now,” and the bottom part, 心, meaning “heart.” Using stories from his own life as the son of an Irish father and a Japanese mother, a professor in Japan and America, a psychotherapist, a father, and a husband, Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu describes eight “heartfulness” principles that help us realize that the deepest expression of an enlightened mind is found in our relation to others.

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8 Chapters

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1: Beginner’s Mind

ePub

If your mind is empty, it is always ready for anything; it is open to everything. In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few. . . . When we have no thought of achievement, no thought of self, we are true beginners. Then we can really learn something. The beginner’s mind is the mind of compassion. When our mind is compassionate, it is boundless. . . . Then we are always true to ourselves, in sympathy with all beings, and can actually practice.1

SHUNRYU SUZUKI

Fresh out of college, without a job, and needing some money to pay the rent, I reluctantly became a substitute teacher in the Cambridge, Massachusetts, public schools. Substitute teaching in inner city public schools in the United States was a taxing job, with the goal of simply surviving to the end of the day. The tough city kids were too much for me. They ate me up from the ring of the opening bell and spit me out when it mercifully rang after last period, signaling that the punishment was over. I was desperate for anything that would help me to do more than just make it through the day, and one morning while walking to a new school I got a brilliant idea.

 

2: Vulnerability

ePub

Life is like a long journey with a heavy burden. Let thy step be slow and steady, that thou stumble not. Persuade thyself that imperfection and troubles are the natural lot of mortals, and there will be no room for discontent, neither for despair. . . . Forbearance is the root of quietness and assurance forever. Look upon the wrath of the enemy. If thou knowest only what it is to conquer, and knowest not what it is like to be defeated, woe unto thee; it will fare ill with thee. Find fault with thyself rather than with others.1

IEYASU TOKUGAWA

I can’t remember exactly when, but at some time in my childhood, Saturdays became boxing day in our house. Dad would wait until Mom went out shopping with the girls and, as soon as they were gone, he would jump up, push the table and chairs against the wall, and the lesson would begin.

“Okay, Harry.” (He always called me Harry, though my name is Steve. I asked him why once and he said, “I don’t know; my name’s Fred, but my dad called me Steve.”)

 

3: Authenticity

ePub

If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.1

AUDRE LORDE

When I was 10 years old we moved from a small city to a neighboring town in Massachusetts. The kids were really fascinated by me, because they’d never encountered an Asian before in real life. It didn’t bother them at all that I was only “half”; they thought I was the real deal.

One Saturday, some of the boys went to see Blue Hawaii, Elvis Presley’s latest film. I wasn’t invited. On Monday when I went to school they had a surprise for me — a new nickname.

I knew it wasn’t going to be Elvis but was dumbstruck when they gleefully announced they had found the perfect name for me — Ping Pong! Johnny explained that I reminded them of Elvis’s Chinese servant who, naturally, was named Ping Pong. Billy said it was just the best possible name for me. I wanted to tell them it was no good because I was Japanese, not Chinese, but knew it wouldn’t make any difference. I was saddled with Ping Pong for years, though they did mercifully shorten it to Ping.

 

4: Connectedness

ePub

For the white person who wants to know how to be my friend

The first thing you do is to forget that i’m Black.

Second, you must never forget that i’m Black.1

PAT PARKER

The boy in my high school yearbook photo is dressed in a summer kimono, a matching headband tied around his forehead, eyes closed, arms folded, sitting serenely with his back to a blazing fireplace. It was my choice of how I wanted to be photographed and seen by others. The white boys in my school saw me as “almost black,” because they had some idea of what it meant to be black, and no idea of what it might mean to be Japanese. Neither did I, but I imagined myself as a cool, tough, calm samurai, as that was the only good image I had, thanks to glorious stories from childhood about my great-grandfather.

The photo caption read: “He represents an easy balance between East and West.” Those were not my choice of words. I felt nothing like an easy balance. I was off center, romantically searching for understanding who I was and where I belonged. The two seemed inseparable, yet vital to finding my place in the human family. In what would prove to be a tortuous, twisting path, a never-ending journey, I was on my way home.

 

5: Listening

ePub

The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deep in the present moment and feeling fully alive.1

THICH NHAT HANH

When I was told that I had been assigned a person named Yoshiko Meyers to visit, the questions began. What do you talk about with someone who is dying? Would they be interested in small talk about the weather outside their room? Does the news hold any importance for them? Would they like to talk about their religious beliefs? But what if they have none? Would they want to talk about their feelings?

And if they wanted to talk about death, what could I possibly say?

I was a hospice volunteer in Boston, a young man on my way to graduate school with the goal of becoming a psychologist. I thought that I was supposed to talk with Yoshiko about dying, and while I reassured myself that I was ready, I knew that I was not. I had been assigned to her because of our shared cultural backgrounds. I tried to understand what it meant to be Japanese and facing death. My grandmother talked openly about dying, mostly about acceptance, saying shikata ga nai, it can’t be helped, we all have to die. She also spoke of her desire to avoid meiwaku, burdening the family. I thought that I should ask Yoshiko how she felt about dying, but never found the right moment.

 

6: Acceptance

ePub

This being human is a guest house. Every morning a new arrival. A joy, a depression, a meanness, some momentary awareness comes as an unexpected visitor. Welcome and attend them all! Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house empty of all its furniture, still, treat each guest honorably. He may be clearing you out for some new delight.1

RUMI

Shizuko was 43 years old, in the mid-stages of ALS and losing voluntary control of her body. The first time I sat by her bedside and talked to her, I became aware of an intense feeling of fear inside myself. I wondered what it was like for her, living inside that crippled body. I struggled to be mindful, but kept imagining how beautiful she must have been and how tragic it was that her body was now being ravaged by such a debilitating disease.

Despite her deterioration, Shizuko always smiled when we were together. I was confused and doubted her sincerity at first. Why wasn’t she crying? Why wasn’t she raging against her cruel fate? Instead, she expressed gratitude and appreciation for the doctors, the nurses, her family, me, and the good life with which she was blessed.

 

7: Gratitu de

ePub

We learned about gratitude and humility — that so many people had a hand in our success, from the teachers who inspired us to the janitors who kept our school clean . . . and we were taught to value everyone’s contribution and treat everyone with respect.1

MICHELLE OBAMA

Once a great talker, my Grandmother Mitsu spoke less and less as she neared the end of her 111 years on Earth. I knew that I would see her again, but as we were leaving her for what they thought would be their last visit, my wife and sister became emotional and apologized for not visiting more often. But Grandmother just waved her hand as if to say, “no worries, it’s okay,” putting her hands prayerfully together in gassho, saying arigatou, an expression of thanks, and bowing her head.

When she fell into a coma and was “nearing the mountaintop,” I rushed back to Japan to see her. When I called her name, she opened her eyes to see me and soon after refused food and water, and within hours there was silence. “She waited for you,” the priest told me.

 

8: Service

ePub

As a human being I acknowledge that my well-being depends on others, and caring for others’ well-being is a moral responsibility I take seriously. It’s unrealistic to think that the future of humanity can be achieved on the basis of prayer or good wishes alone; what we need is to take action. Therefore, my first commitment is to contribute to human happiness as best I can.1

THE DALAI LAMA

When we realized that she could no longer live alone in Japan, we brought Grandmother to the United States to spend her last years. After all, she was 99, and how long could she possibly live? Better to die among those she loved the most, we reasoned. She could pass her remaining time in peace and would be able to die surrounded by her only child and her grandchildren.

Since she had never lived in America, we decided it would be best to have a trial and tell her that she could return to Japan if she decided that it was the best thing to do. But since she could no longer live alone, should she decide to go back, she would have to enter a nursing home. I escorted her from her home in Matsuyama and she moved in with my mother and older sister in Massachusetts. I returned to Tokyo.

 

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