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Contemplation By Design

Yesterday I offered "A Moment of Heartfulness" as part of a nine day Contemplation By Design 2017 Summit at Stanford University. This is a campus-wide, multidisciplinary series of events to "further balance, tranquility, resilience, and creative excellence." Summit participants "have the opportunity take a break from their high-level output of productivity and innovation in order to rest and renew the mind-body-spirit.

My session offered "a moment of respite and revival in heartful community, experiencing the beauty and wonder of coming together in vulnerability, authenticity, and presence." I asked participants to "bring a beginners mind, a sense of ichi-go, ichi-e (once-in-a-lifetime opportunity), and a spirit of witnessing that proclaims, "Here I am!"

I introduced three Japanese expressions to help create in atmosphere of presence. The first is, shoshinsha no kokoro(初心者の心). This is known in English as, "beginner's mind." It evokes a sense of wonder and infinite possibilities. There is a lightness to beginner's mind that enables us to view things with fresh eyes, instead of the heaviness of needing to be in control.

The expression ichi-go, ichi-e ( 一期一会) was explained as related to the tranquility of the tea ceremony. The awareness that what is taking place is a once in a lifetime moment brings heightened appreciation for the opportunity. Our lives can be full or richness with this way of being that acknowledges that each moment in life offers something that will never occur again.

The third expression I introduced was arugamama (あるがまま)which is acceptance of who you are and what is taking place. At the same time, it means acting assertively to promote change. It has the sense of serenity that you are good enough as you are and also will try to be better. Arugamama extends the same generosity to others.

This is how we grounded our session of heartfulness, beginning with mindfulness and extending to compassion and responsibility. A loving kindness meditation helped us to feel compassion for ourselves and others. We also did exercises in reflecting on who we are, in all our wholeness, what makes us feel alive, and what we need to remember on a daily level to truly be ourselves and responsible to others.

We concluded with remembering my friend Ana Stenzel, a woman of great courage and wisdom who learned to live fully by facing illness and death throughout her life. She left us with the message that two things were most important in life: connections and gratitude. Our short moment of heartfulness ended with a sense of gratitude for experiencing connections with each other and for the gift of life that we have been given.

In the evening I attended a session by Rick Hanson, author of Hardwiring Happiness, on "Mindful Cultivation and Neural Plasticity." His work is a good reminder that we cultivate good qualities simply by practicing them. To be more grateful, we should make it a habit to feel and express gratitude. To be kinder, practice kindness.

This is similar to the messages of spiritual teachers like the Dalai Lama, who says, "If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion."

Today, psychologists put these messages in the context of neuroscience to provide the kind of "evidence" so desired by people who can trust only that which can be measured. Their positive message is that we can overcome the brain's “negativity bias” and grow traits of resilience, happiness, and compassion. We do this simply by cultivating the habit of turning ordinary experiences into inner resources that become hardwired into the nervous system.

I guess it doesn't matter who you believe, just that you practice. Despite what may seem like overwhelming forces, you keep trying, you keep moving. Then daily life is full of opportunities for lasting healing, growth, and transformation.

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