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Why Heartfulness?

This excerpt from the book is in today's Daily Good: March 8, 2018.

Heartfulness describes a way of being in mindfulness, in compassion, and in responsibility. The word mindfulness, by itself, seems insufficient to explain how mindful consciousness extends into compassion and is expressed in active caring. Heartfulness portrays this expansive sense of living with openness and clarity, being true to ourselves, acting in sympathy with all beings, resonating with and being part of the world around us. The word com-passion literally means “feeling with,” and is enabled by first being willing to feel what you feel, opening up a certain rawness and tenderness.

Today’s mindfulness movement is full of potential. Mindfulness training programs in diverse settings, including schools, businesses, and governmental agencies, offer good training in reducing stress and increasing the powers and flexibility of ordinary mental processes. Making mindfulness

more of a biological, cognitive, brain activity has helped many people overcome resistance to it, as evidence-based research findings convince many that it is legitimate.

However, the focus on science also takes mindfulness further from the heart by making it an activity that can be done pragmatically for its benefits. This perpetuates the illusion that we can achieve anything through our intellect and willpower. The science focus disguises the reality that truth, beauty, and kindness are not reached merely by rationally thinking our way to them.

Our love of technology and faith in science is countered by the recognition that these will never provide what we need to live with meaning. We realize that no matter how advanced we become, regardless of how sophisticated our gadgets are and how many of them we possess, they will not give us the essential elements of a good life. A meaningful life is focused in the heart and filled with compassion and giving.

Heartfulness seeks to overcome limitations to the kind of mindfulness that is used for the pursuit of profit and pleasure and doesn’t challenge materialistic beliefs, values, or practices. Mindfulness can enable other virtues, but if we remain on the purely cognitive level, or stay narrowly focused on stress reduction, we are missing its true power. While the science focus is extremely convincing as to the reality of the power of mindful practice, we also need to maintain and expand the heart’s role in mindfulness.

Mindfulness is still becoming equated with the individual pursuit of happiness, with people seeking pleasure and more joy, with less stress and less involvement. Yet the popular culture’s adoption of mindfulness alone risks losing its original meaning. Heartfulness emphasizes purpose through connecting to something larger than the individual self. A heartful life finds meaning in making a difference in the lives of others.

A beautiful expression of this evolving form of mindfulness is in the Japanese word kokoro 心. While minds and hearts are separated in a Western sense, with mind referring to thinking capacity and heart meaning emotions and sentimental feelings, in Eastern thought they are the same reality. In Asia, people often point to their chest when referring to mind as an openness or a universal wakefulness that resonates with the world around them, rather than something created or possessed by their own ego.

 The word heartfulness brings us closer to the meaning of kokoro and the deep meaning of mindfulness. Kokoro unites feeling emotion, mind, and spirit--the whole person-- and seems close to the word heartfulness. This word appears in Jon Kabat-Zinn's writings since the 1990s, in which he suggests another way to think of the gentle, appreciative, and nurturing way of mindfulness is to use the word heartfulness. He later warns that many people are not equating mindfulness with heart, thereby missing it's true essence. Heartfulness is opening and cultivating the heart to enter stillness and silence, becoming more human, more compassionate, and more responsible, both to oneself and to all other beings.

The meaning of heartfulness is expressed in the kanji 念. It consists of two parts, the top part 今, meaning “now”; the bottom part 心, meaning “heart.” This symbol clearly expresses the sense of being wholly present in the moment. Living in a state of heartfulness means listening to one’s heart, to one’s inner voice, affecting our relationship with ourselves as well as our relationships with our family, with our work, and with the larger world.

Heartful Community

I believe that we are at the point now in the United States

where a movement is beginning to emerge. . .demanding

that instead of just complaining about these things, or just

protesting about these things, we begin to look for, and

hope for, another way of living. . . . I see hope beginning to

trump despair. . .in the many small groups emerging all over

the place, to try and regain our humanity in very practical


Grace Lee Boggs

Like the individual psychotherapy that I practice, mindfulness is a solitary activity. But heartfulness is practiced in groups with the clear goal of creating community, a sense of openness, direct communion with others, and an awareness of oneself as part of something greater. Grounding our encounters in mindfulness enables vulnerability and authenticity. People realize connectedness, engage in deep listening, feel more accepting, and are grateful for what is happening. Mindfulness is a path, not an ending — something to be practiced, put into action. It fosters the awareness of being connected to the self, to something beyond the self, and indeed to everything and everyone.

In my work as a psychotherapist and teacher, I know that while some learning takes place in isolation, it can be greatly intensified and accelerated in the company of others, where we can put what we are learning into practice — mindfulness in action. In much of the world, healing is a process done in community, characterized by synergy, in which therapeutic power is unlimited, expandable, and possessed and shared by all. The process of heartfulness focuses on groups as entities in which healing and learning the art of living with others can be done.

The work of heartfulness consists of bringing people together in classes or workshops and developing inclusive communities. Research and experience tell us that intimate contact between people of diverse backgrounds can reduce prejudice if we share common goals, show a sense of cooperation, and have equal status. Pushing back the tables, sitting in a circle, we demonstrate the transformation of consciousness that often occurs during simple, everyday exchanges, when all present are treated with respect. We listen carefully to each other and acknowledge the speaker by saying, “We see you; we hear you.” Even engaging in mundane concerns touches our spirit and enhances consciousness in ways that do not need to be radical or intense; often, learning consists merely of a subtle shift in perspective.

In these groups we open ourselves up to ways of knowing beyond scientific rationalism. We understand through experience rather than using intellectual reasoning to reach a logical conclusion. We affirm the unity of mind and body and of the spiritual with the material. We believe that we are not victims limited to and bound by the past. Crossing boundaries brings joy. Rather than seeking the answers, we try to live the questions — now.

We consciously strive to create “heartful community,” based on the mutual understanding and respect that result from sharing voices and storytelling. Our sense of cooperation is enhanced by the values we practice — beginner’s mind, vulnerability, authenticity, connectedness, acceptance, listening, gratitude, and service. Together, we learn through nurturing and caring in relationships with others.

Our purpose is to cross borders within ourselves as well as between us and others, so that we can cultivate the ability to see the positive even in apparently opposing worldviews, trying to understand and empathize. We value well-being that involves multiple forms of self-care and compassion for others, healing by connecting to all parts of our self and others.

Heartful communities are grounded in storytelling. We expand the boundaries of our stories, allowing room for narratives of difference, seeking more compassionate ways of relating to one another. No one’s stories are privileged; we listen and try to understand where others’ stories come from and how are they situated within our various embodied experiences of the world.

Heartfulness provides for our needs in finding identity, meaning, and purpose in life through connections to the community, to the natural world, and to spiritual values. We are integrating the inner and outer life, actualizing a sense of individual and global responsibility. In our communities, we are acknowledging and embracing our humanness alongside our aspiration to go beyond ourselves, bringing these two together synergistically. We connect more with the heart, extending the circles of compassion more widely to include responsibility to others.

Eight Ways of Cultivating Heartfulness

This book is organized around a way of being and living that is called heartfulness. In my grandmother’s teachings and in my life stories I identify eight principles for cultivating heartful living. These are learned from observing life circumstances, practicing self-reflection, studying human nature, practicing mindfulness, counseling, teaching, parenting, and partnering. There is considerable overlap in the principles, which form the core of the chapters in this book, and there is nothing sacred about the number; they are only the ones that I have identified:

Beginner’s Mind








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