Transforming Self and Society with Compassion
Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu (Author)
Publication date: 02/09/2018
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.
I strode confidently into my fifth-grade classroom, though only a few kids seemed to notice or care. I faced them, told them to sit down and be quiet — in Japanese. They all turned and stared at me. I repeated my directions. Their incredulous looks turned to smiles. They peppered me with questions:
“What did you say?”
“You okay, mister?”
“What language you speaking?”
I looked at them, feigning disbelief.
“I’m speaking Japanese. Don’t you understand?”
They shouted back, “No, man; teach us Japanese!”
And so I did, and the day flew by. I taught them how to say “hello” and how to write their names. I had their interest and attention. They were curious and eager learners. And they were fresh, all beginners with many possibilities.
I turned and faced a smiling young teenager.
“You’re the guy who taught us Japanese!”
I suddenly realized that it was Ricardo, now an adolescent, the student who had been most excited and enthusiastic about learning Japanese from me years earlier. I recalled the note the teacher had left for me warning that Ricardo was one of the kids who would be “oppositional” and “hostile” to learning. But with me he had had a fresh start and was simply being there — attentive, aware, awake, and appreciative. He could leave the past behind and not worry about the future. For me, it was an indelible and unforgettable experience in understanding how we learn and how we teach.
I understood Ricardo’s experience through Zen. He had “beginner’s mind”; he was on fire. The sky was the limit. He was not held back by others’ perceptions of who he was and what he could or could not do. There were infinite possibilities. He was mindful.
My experience in schools was different. I was rewarded by teachers and felt great pressure always to score high on tests and maintain top grades — that was more important than learning. School was oppressive, heavy, memorizing facts for tests, and listening to lessons that were not taught in a way that was fun and exciting. I rarely experienced the joy of learning that Ricardo must have felt when learning basic Japanese.
I had learned about beginner’s mind at home. My mother was always reminding me to wake up, focus, stop dreaming, pay attention, not be forgetful, and do what needed to be done, now. My storyteller father’s way of teaching was different, calling on me to pay attention to the wonder and mystery of life, to joy and sorrow, demanding full engagement with human encounters. He was forever childlike, always asking his kids to look at something with a beginner’s mind, with feelings of curiosity, levity, and fascination. He embodied joie de vivre, proclaiming Albert Einstein’s view that one could live as if nothing was a miracle, or as if everything was a miracle.
But out in the world, when I acted mindfully by being patient, silent, listening, and being nonjudgmental, I was regarded as strange. I was often teased for being mindful, for example, reflecting on another’s view rather than asserting a strong opinion of my own, and even for being a slow, conscientious eater. It seemed that other kids were already moving on to the next thing while I was still sniffing the flowers, rolling around with the dogs, or wanting to play baseball even when it became too dark to see. A high school teacher who noticed the joy with which I experienced being one with the natural world had nicknamed me “Nature Boy.”
I realized that American society regards being mindful as weird and even laughable, while rushing around busily with a mind full of thoughts is considered normal. People found it strange that I reveled in the beauty of whatever was transpiring in the moment.
As I grew up I saw that public displays of beginner’s mind and mindful living could draw unwanted attention from the wrong people. One warm, sunny spring day when I was a college student and the cherry trees were in full bloom, I was rushing through Harvard Yard on my way to class. I suddenly paused to appreciate a beautiful pink cloud, reminding myself to be mindful. I stopped by a tree, closed my eyes, and took a deep breath. The delicate fragrance of the blossoms was intoxicating. I focused my attention on my breath and being in the moment. I took another breath. I must have taken a few more because I was suddenly startled by a voice.
“What are you doing?”
I opened my eyes and turned around to find a policeman eyeing me suspiciously.
“What are you doing?” he repeated.
I was completely caught off guard and felt unsure how to explain what I was doing.
“Nothing,” was all I could say.
“Are you on drugs?” he asked.
I wanted to say, “No sir, I don’t need drugs, I am high on just being mindful — fully present, aware, awake, appreciative” — but I didn’t. I just mumbled, “No,” and walked away.
Mindfulness brings tension, as it is out of tune with the dominant current of busyness, putting you out of sync with all those people rushing madly through life or tuning out. Throughout my youth, people found my patience annoying; my silence made them anxious. They wanted me to talk more, and often asked: “Why don’t you raise your hand?” “Why are you so quiet, so shy, so reserved, so slow, so accepting?” “Why aren’t you more brash, outspoken, argumentative, quicker, more demanding?” These societal and cultural pressures confused me at a time and in a place where mindfulness was unappreciated. I may have been naturally mindful, but I came to disrespect it in a world in which it’s considered better to be constantly busy.
Remembering Ricardo’s story renews my appreciation for the richness and freshness of living with beginner’s mind. I recall the many ways I have found of exploring mindfulness — including yoga, meditation, aikido, macrobiotics, qigong. I even took up the study of East Asian medicine with a feeling of wonder and awe.
My grandmother’s teaching about Ichi-go, Ichi-e — cherishing each moment — held special meaning. I sought to bring full awareness to the life-and-death struggle of every human encounter, treasuring meetings with people as one chance in my lifetime that will never happen again. Though at first I had a hard time appreciating the tea ceremony, it was where I experienced Ichi-go, Ichi-e most strongly. Seeing the host conducting the ritual with true sincerity, taking care and devoting herself entirely to every detail, instilled awareness and presence in me. When offered a cup of tea, to truly appreciate it, I needed to be mindful, concentrating on it, so that it could reveal its fragrance and taste to me.
Applying this to daily life, Ichi-go, Ichi-e told me that all we have is the present moment. We should not miss the opportunity that is given to us now. If we can consider the reality that every encounter is one of a kind, and therefore something to be treasured as if it is the one time in our life, we will value the time. Approaching life in this way, we will have an abundance of enriched moments.
Immersion in Japanese culture renewed my respect for mindfulness as a way in which I could be truly alive by continually touching life deeply in every moment, even in the most mundane of activities. I sensed that life is in the here-and-now, that we can discover peace within ourselves simply by being aware of our breath, by realizing the miracle of being alive. While mindfulness is rooted in meditation, it can be practiced in our ordinary daily activities: making a little time in our life for being still, not doing anything, and tuning in to our breathing. Every moment is an opportunity for practice and development. In this way we cultivate appreciation for the richness of each moment we are alive.
The experience with Ricardo awakened me, at the time, to the possibilities in education if we could be fully present and attentive, though this transformative event was forgotten and lay dormant for years. It was years later that I remembered, when I was first asked to lecture at the Stanford University School of Medicine. As I pondered how to instill the most important lessons of culture and medicine in my listeners, I recalled that amazing experience. It had worked then with fourth graders, so I decided to give it a try.
To my delight, I found that it was as effective with medical students as it had been with children. This time I followed the mini-performance by explaining that I was disrupting their expectations as a way of bringing their attention to the present moment. I assured them that I was “mindful” and hoped that they, too, would be as fully present in the moment as they could be. This experience was a way of reminding them to be mindful in their work as future health professionals — attentive, listening, seeing the uniqueness in each patient.
I was presenting them with a “disorienting dilemma,” an experience that does not fit their expectations and forces them to consider new possibilities as they attempt to make sense of what is happening. This creates openness to learning by challenging assumptions of what is supposed to happen.
My brief performance of speaking Japanese, in other settings, has become a useful way of inducing mindfulness, drawing students and listeners into the moment by experiencing rather than being told. By presenting myself in a performative, playful way, I invite students to bring themselves fully into the classroom, with attention to what is happening in the moment, with awareness, acceptance, and appreciation. And the attention they give to me will then be extended to themselves and to their classmates.
Speaking to students in a language foreign to them is a way of inducing vulnerability — a key to education — as a lifelong commitment to self-reflection rather than as a detached mastery of a finite body of knowledge. Vulnerability means appreciating mystery as much as mastery; being comfortable with not-knowing, ambiguity, uncertainty, and complexity; cultivating awe and wonder that deepens our knowledge.
This is the lightness of beginner’s mind, rather than the heaviness of needing to be competent. Feelings of vulnerability may be unsettling, but they are a way of understanding the importance of balancing a sense of competence with humility, remaining open to complexity despite our desire for simplicity.
Beginning encounters with this type of exercise enhances the sense of Ichi-go, Ichi-e, as students at every level come to regard each class as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Research shows that students become more focused, more self-aware, and more aware of and less judgmental of self and others.2 This creates greater opportunities for learning from the teacher as well as from fellow students.
Focusing our attention connects us to our inner knowledge — what we already know — and brings it forth so that we can engage in new learning. This knowledge of seeing and thinking with the heart might be called presencing3 or emotional intelligence.4 Being mindfully in tune with this knowledge leads to positive, affirming acts, saying “yes” to the present moment, saying “yes” to life.
The Heart of Education
While I find great wisdom in kanji, I also discover deep meaning in the Latin origin of words. The Latin origin of “education,” educere, means to lead forth. This spoke to me as a high school student disillusioned by education as practiced in American schools. As a young man, I hungered to move beyond traditional learning that values rational knowledge, scientific methods, and information about that which is outside us. Now I seek to respond to the desire to integrate learning with our lives, by enhancing wisdom that comes from self-reflection and expressing it in actions for self-care and compassion for others.
A heartful approach calls on students to actively situate themselves within the content of what they study, deepening their understanding of the material by discovering it in themselves, and then applying the concepts learned to their own lives. Our focus on compassion and connection to others satisfies the desire for inquiry into the nature of their minds through personal meaning, creativity, and insight, providing guidance in living a more spiritual life.
Heartfulness is guided by feminist scholar bell hooks’ view of education as “an act of love . . . as something that promotes our spiritual and mental growth.”5 Studying things in this way brings refreshing forms of knowing that go beyond the knowledge that values rationality, detached objectivity, and facts that we can’t actually apply to our lives. Students continually remind me that mindful inquiry and the development of awareness is not a purely intellectual or cognitive process but part of a person’s total way of living their life.6
Similarly for the physicist Arthur Zajonc, the true heart of education consists of loving what we study, as we come to know best that which we love the most. “We pause to reflect before speaking, quietly engage the issue inwardly before acting, open ourselves to not-knowing before certainty arises, and so we live for a time in the question before the answer emerges. . . . Only under such conditions can imagination work. . . . Poetry, indeed all art as well as science, flows from such restraint.”7
This kind of education can be practiced at every level of school. More and more educators are integrating various mindfulness practices into their classrooms to help students focus and calm themselves, cultivate greater emotional intelligence, and develop their creativity. These practices enable deep introspection into meaning, ethics, purpose, and values, encouraging students’ reflection on their internal experience as well as their connectedness with others.8
A number of studies of programs that directly train students in mindfulness have collectively demonstrated a range of cognitive, social, and psychological benefits to elementary, middle, and high school students. This research shows positive effects in many areas related to learning, including attention and focus, as well as creativity, memory, and cognitive capacities like retention and autonomous learning.9
School programs that focus on achieving benefits of behavioral control and cognitive focus often stop there; a heartful approach, by contrast, extends mindfulness to include benefits of increased compassion and responsibility. Research shows that mindfulness is correlated not only with focus on self and subject matter, but also with focus on others.10 It seems to enhance flexible thinking, openness to novelty, alertness to distinction, sensitivity to different contexts, and implicit awareness of multiple perspectives — all qualities essential for developing diversity and inclusion. Mindfulness also enhances social skills by improving our ability to realize our deep connectedness with others through empathy and kindness. Useful in maintaining classroom control, it has far greater benefits for the learning and well-being of students.
Beginner’s Mind in Health Care
My experience in education ranges from caring for 18-month-olds in day care to adult learning. I teach in medical schools because I have also had a career as a clinical psychologist, training and working in hospitals, clinics, and schools. These experiences have nurtured my appreciation for the role of mindfulness in health care. One formative experience I had was with East Asian medicine. Having given up on Western medicine, I underwent acupuncture treatment for nagging headaches and failing vision that had occurred from a traumatic injury. A few months later, the pain was reduced and I threw away my eyeglasses. I also received treatments for a gastrointestinal disorder and vowed to become a practitioner of East Asian medicine, abandoning the mainstream path to becoming a doctor.
Returning to Japan, I apprenticed to a master named Tsutomu Tokuda, exchanging English lessons for his teaching of acupuncture, moxibustion, and shiatsu massage. Dr. Tokuda was blind and yet possessed great sensitivity to the body in ways that I did not. He often berated me for not being mindful, pointing out how my mind lacked focused attention and therefore could not detect the subtleties in pulse diagnosis or other ways of sensing disturbance in organs. He also strongly encouraged me to study mainstream medicine to complement what I was learning from him, pointing out bitterly how he was limited by his blindness, while I was not.
Another mentor, Hidehiko Mitsufuji, director of the largest East Asian medical center in Japan, was an M.D. who helped me to see the power in gaining mainstream medical training. So I went back to my original path, returning to the United States for medical school. However, once the path was opened I had the striking realization that it was not my way, as I did not naturally think in a reductionist, scientific way. I see things more holistically, what the writer and scientist Goethe described as “gentle empiricism,” a way of scientific inquiry in which we approach the object of our attention without distorting it, by being gentle, listening, feeling — becoming one with the object of study.11
Now without a clear path, I wandered the streets of Cambridge, where I was living at the time, and came across a sign for the Harvard University School of Education. I walked in without thinking and was told that they had the right program for me and even the teachers I needed. In the next few weeks I met three — Richard Katz, Chester Pierce, and Kiyo
The program was based in clinical psychology but at heart was an innovative, interdisciplinary program that encompassed a wider vision of public practice and organizational consulting. Katz brought his unique background in cultural anthropology and studies of illness and healing that fit well with my experience in East Asian medicine. Pierce was a psychiatrist who taught cross-racial counseling, what I imagined would be my area of specialization. Their work had a tremendous influence on me, as you will see.
Morimoto offered a blend of humanistic psychology with Japanese culture that seemed natural to me and with which I deeply resonated. He taught the importance of heartfulness in counseling, the healing power of presence. Morimoto continually urged us students to not distance ourselves emotionally because of the difficulty of sitting with someone else’s pain. He implored us to not abandon our clients, trusting that even when we think we have nothing more to offer we can always provide human company.
With Morimoto’s guidance, I learned to trust my intuition that I could offer something valuable simply by being there. I realized that mindfulness was as important in counseling as it was in acupuncture, and it became the foundation of my therapy practice. This truth was most apparent in my training as a hospice counselor; at the bedside of a dying person, when I despaired that I had nothing to offer, we simply breathed together.
Mindfulness became integrated into my work in counseling in diverse cultural contexts as the enabler of deeper self-understanding and better understanding of others. When I am as fully present as possible, this allows the other person to bring himself or herself as completely as possible to the encounter. Listening, seeing, witnessing the wound, pain, or trauma, become the source of healing.
I remembered that I have always valued being there for someone; listening was something I offered others. In deep listening, I became one with the talker. For me, setting limits was the problem: knowing where, when, and how to stop. Learning self-care, understanding responsibility, and comprehending my unique purpose were important, developmentally. Gaining training and much practice as a counselor provided the concept of professional distance that I (somewhat reluctantly) learned to apply pragmatically to human relations in general.
Reflecting on my experiences in health care, I see using beginner’s mind as bringing one into a state of mindfulness that is crucial in healing. This is true for both doctor and patient. Different modalities of healing provide various ways of relieving disturbing symptoms and each may claim to treat only a limited range of symptoms. But relieving those places of distress may open the person to the possibilities of greater changes. But whatever modality is used, there is always something about efficacy that cannot be explained by science, forcing us to acknowledge the elusive healing element of the heart.
My teachers in East Asian medicine acknowledged that the psychological and spiritual elements were important to consider, but were not directly addressed by their treatments. Still, Dr. Tokuda described his art as healing energy, or Ki, coming through him into the needle inserted into the patient’s body at an acupuncture point. His awareness that his physiological intervention was also treating the person’s spirit demonstrates heartfulness.
The counseling and hospice care that I learned in my training consciously called for beginner’s mind and mindfulness. We students were asked to come to each encounter with fresh eyes and with the clear goal of simply being present. The possibility of our being open and vulnerable then appeared, calling forth our deepest human response to the other person. Heartfulness occurs when we enter into this space.
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction has popularized this form of clinical care in hospitals globally. The results are being impressively documented in research.12 While the focus of this practice is stress reduction, it can also potentially lead to compassion for others. The benefits can extend far beyond the individual’s symptom relief to responsible action that brings meaning and purpose to living.
Heartfulness starts with beginner’s mind and mindfulness, with the possibility of moving far beyond the personal health benefits. Beginner’s mind is characterized by curiosity, a word that shares the same root as cure. This suggests that when we give our attention to what we love we can be drawn toward compassionate healing.13
Before you cross the street
Take my hand
Life is what happens to you
While you’re busy making other plans14
In John Lennon’s song “Beautiful Boy,” we see a mundane example of heartful parenting, helping a child to live in the moment rather than in the future. Sometimes it’s the other way around, as children are by nature more mindful than adults. In heartful parenting we are open to learning from our children, as they call us to cultivate the capacity for open-hearted, present-moment awareness. We practice heartful parenting when we are attending as fully as possible to each moment, seeing our children clearly, as they are, not as we wish to see them from our expectations, fears, and needs.15
My extensive training in psychology, medicine, and education helped prepare me for my greatest challenge as a parent. For 27 years I have found parenting to be a demanding way of cultivating heartfulness as a way of life, for it requires full presence in responding compassionately to the moment-to-moment demands of caring for another’s needs. Feeding my children, changing their diapers, bathing them, cleaning up their mess, getting them off to school, taking them shopping, playing with them, cooking for them — everything became part of my practice of heartfulness.
If I can truly see and listen to my children, I am more able to be openhearted and nonjudgmental. I am more aware of what’s happening in their lives and better able to know what I, their parent, need to do in each situation. I hope for greater wisdom to lead my children to live with purpose and meaning, neither neglecting them nor focusing narrowly only on their achievements and certain desired forms of future success.
The words of the poet Kahlil Gibran speak to me: “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.”16
Heartful parenting means respecting the deep connection between us as parents and our children. They can even be our teachers, as they may question everything we know, providing endless opportunities for being mindful. Their challenging gives us many occasions to practice patience, clarity, and emotional balance.
We can learn the essence of heartful parenting from other parents whose children have terminal illnesses and short life expectancies. For some parents, it’s painfully obvious that the end will come early. Their experiences teach them how to parent for the here-and-now, for the sake of parenting, for the humanity implicit in the act itself, cherishing every last moment together.
Heartful parenting reminds us that living for the future is an illusion. Some parents attempt to raise children who outpace all their peers, who achieve status, security, and safety. But heartful parenting means loving our children today, being authentic, respecting our children and ourselves as best we can. A friend of mine, Hatsuko Arima, who lost her child to cancer, reminds me to keep trying to discover a way of parenting that leads to deep connection and love both for my children and for myself.
Hatsuko is the mother of twins born with cystic fibrosis. When her daughter Ana passed away in 2013 after an incredible journey of 41 years surviving cystic fibrosis and two double-lung transplants, Hatsuko received many sympathetic condolences. But she confessed that while sadness was certainly there, she was also filled with joy from deep gratitude that Ana had received 41 years of life and was able to accomplish so much. From Ana’s birth she had been prepared to expect a short life for her child. Parenting with a consciousness that time is limited for one’s child can give appreciation for the preciousness of each day.
Heartful parenting may involve no more, and no less, than respecting and listening to your child. Those of us whose children do not have terminal illnesses live with the belief that our children have a future for which we must prepare them. But the reality is that this is not necessarily true. Some of our children are taken from us long before we have planned. And for those who are not, parenting our children for the future may rob us of the mindful presence required to see and listen to them in a way that enables us to respond to them in the present moment.
Heartful parenting means having moment-to-moment awareness and appreciation of daily blessings, balancing the need to prepare our children for a future while reminding ourselves to never neglect living fully — and to love them each day.
Beginner’s Mind in Leadership
At exactly eight o’clock in the morning, the commanding officer announced, “Let’s get started!” I nodded and said, “Yes, thank you, let’s begin, and let’s start by looking at what’s happening here. Who’s leading this session?” The room was quiet and everyone was listening intently. “I’m the designated leader of this session,” I asserted, and several people nodded. Then I asked, “Who’s telling us it’s time to start?” Smiles appeared on their faces, and even the officer sensed where we were going. With a sense of beginner’s mind, we began to explore what this simple interaction meant for the officer’s style of leadership, his way of taking charge of situations, and how it affected those who worked for him. The room was filled with subordinates on his team, and we reflected on micro-managing, delegating authority, mentoring, and the underlying issues of trust, responsibility, and accountability.
The members of that workshop focused on exploring their inner lives, their ways of being in the world, and their expression in how they would lead others. The commanding officer admitted to being ambivalent about mindfulness, fearing that it meant sitting around doing nothing while someone else was getting ahead by doing. He worried that if he became more present and calm, he would be regarded as spacey, impractical, and passive and would lose his competitive edge and so be unable to deal with important problems that occurred. He needed to be convinced that he would actually be more alert, be more efficient, and have greater well-being.
Together, we reflected on how leadership demands more than simply controlling. It includes personal competencies of self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation. Leaders need emotional intelligence, including social competencies like empathy and the ability to induce desirable responses in others, influencing them to perform at their peak.17 Heartfulness is a way of cultivating emotional intelligence, with the result that we become more aware of our feelings and better able to control them. It also enhances our social awareness and relationship management by making us more conscious of our position as team leader.
We viewed leadership through the lens of VUCA, a military concept that strategy must now be based on a world that is Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. This calls for a leader to have a new VUCA based in Vulnerability, Understanding, Connectedness, and Agility. Vulnerability is expressed as openness and humility; Understanding self and others is crucial; leaders must actively Connect with others: and they must be flexible and Agile.18
In our workshop, we were developing these leadership competencies in a safe and supportive environment where leaders risk vulnerability, examining their strengths and the areas in which they need to improve. We can all be more heartful leaders by learning how to monitor and adapt our emotions and behaviors at work to create an inspiring vision and atmosphere that fosters emotional intelligence in others. In the Navy workshop, we were working on the ability called reflection-in-action — attending to what is happening in the moment in a reflective way, increasing our ability to act according to our judgment of right action, rather than reacting automatically, impulsively, or emotionally.
This way of leadership is challenging because heartfulness demands continual self-reflection and self-growth, through the courage to be vulnerable and to practice on a regular basis. Perseverance is required in changing old patterns and personal ways of being and acting. This is not easy for those in charge, people with experience, reputations, and titles. Daily mindfulness practice with each new opportunity that arises on the job is a way to raise our emotional intelligence, improve our working relationships, and enhance our leadership capacities.
Beginner’s Mind as a Journey Home
Beginner’s mind is experienced as a journey that has the uncanny sense of returning to where we started — a way of coming home, of becoming whole. Bringing beginner’s mind into my work raises awareness of how I need to live what I
teach, practice what I preach. I am challenged to be mindful, to wake up from my dreamlike state to a fuller awareness. Like most people, I am not “present” much of the time, my mind caught up in worries, fears, emotions, and regrets. Being mindful helps us to focus our energies on the present moment. Though we have to attend to both past and future to deal with certain practical things, rather than dwelling there we can center ourselves in the present moment.
I constantly find that I am not really in the present moment but am caught in the past or in the future, not living my present life deeply. Not long ago, I was at a mountain temple in Kyoto, Japan, when I was suddenly overcome with sadness at the thought of my recently deceased dogs and memories of happy times with them and the loss of future times. Sensing what was happening, I focused on my breath, bringing my mind back to my body and being there in the present moment, becoming aware of the beauty of the falling snow amid grand pine trees on the quiet temple grounds. I felt grateful to be there, recognizing the peace that was within and all around me, feeling calm and content. Mindfulness like this offers a way to truly be there, waking us to the fact that our lives unfold only in moments and, if we are not fully present for many of those moments, we miss what is most valuable in our lives.
Beginner’s mind is a way of being alive, connecting to many principles of the art of conscious living. It’s needed every day, for all of us. A mindful consciousness enables us to be more vulnerable, humble, and authentic. We become more appreciative and more grateful. We use mindfulness as the foundation or the gateway to listening, seeing, feeling, connecting. We become better able to accept or change, and to know when one or the other is called for. A mindful condition leads to compassion and responsibility — the way of heartfulness.
Mindfulness has this transformative potential, if taken as more than a self-centered activity that reduces stress and improves well-being for the individual. Research shows that it has the potential to change consciousness in a positive way by leading to more compassionate behavior, perhaps by altering neural functioning in brain areas associated with empathic understanding and felt associations with others.19 Although the focus appears to be on self, mindfulness can in fact be more than an individual activity with personal benefits, by enhancing attention to others and strengthening awareness of connectedness to all beings. This book will show how heartfulness emphasizes this greater focus, enhancing various principles of living with beginner’s mind and mindful consciousness.
I. Mindful Observation
1. Notice and appreciate simple or common elements of your environment with beginner’s eyes.
2. Choose a natural object from within your immediate environment and focus on watching it for a minute or two. This could be a tree, a flower, the clouds or moon.
3. Notice the thing you are looking at as if you are seeing it for the first time.
4. Explore every aspect of the thing with all the senses possible — seeing, hearing, smelling, touching, tasting.
5. Imagine connecting with the object’s energy and purpose in the natural world.
II. Mindful Work
1. Resolve to do activities and tasks mindfully, rather than routinely, or with an attitude of getting it over as quickly as possible.
2. When you are about to engage in a task, take a brief moment to breathe and focus your attention on what you are doing.
3. Remind yourself of the purpose of your activity, of how it will affect others.
4. Ask yourself to do the job to the best of your ability with any values that might apply, such as patience, kindness, truthfulness.
1. Mindful work is also about exercising self-control over habits that increase stress, such as excessively checking email and social media. Unless you are in a situation that demands a constant check, you can decide to check email only at certain designated times.
2. Use a timer to monitor yourself. If you decide on 30 minutes for checking email, when the timer goes off close your email.
3. Set the timer again for time away from email. Refocus yourself on something else, and resist the urge to check it again until the timer goes off.
For more on bringing balance to our digital lives, see Mindful Tech by David M. Levy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2016).
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