A Moment of Heartfulness


Dr. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu discusses the value of heartfulness and using vulnerability as strength in his Keynote Speaker event at Splash/Stanford OHS Homecoming on Friday, November 20, 2020.

As a part of the Splash/Stanford OHS Homecoming events, Dr. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, the keynote speaker, gave an introduction to the power of Heartfulness in “A Moment of Heartfulness.” Heartfulness, as he defines it, is the combination of the Western practice of mindfulness and techniques of embracing vulnerability, humility, acceptance, and empathy. Heartfulness focuses on a balance of the mind and heart, the mental and emotional aspects of being, rather than the implied dominance of reason in mindfulness. Dr. Murphy-Shigematsu engages with this concept by telling personal stories, describing common afflictions of students, and even playing clips from movies that articulate a certain feeling especially well.

After being welcomed and introduced by Dr. Tracy Steele, Director of Student Affairs at Stanford OHS, Dr. Murphy-Shigematsu began speaking in Japanese, much to the confusion of the audience. After about two minutes he corrected himself and explained that this was an intentional confusion technique to disarm the listeners and begin with a sense of vulnerability among the audience. Vulnerability, he believes, is crucial in eliminating prejudice and promoting empathy – a concept he further illustrated with the historical example of the low doorways of ancient Japanese tea houses that required samurai or Japanese soldiers to remove their weapons and bow their heads upon entry as a sign of vulnerability to calm themselves and their fellow patrons before a battle. 

The way of the Samurai, known as Bushido, is a concept that can be applied in our daily lives according to Dr. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu.

Dr. Murphy continued to expertly weave historical examples from Japanese culture, stories from his own life, and the experiences of his students to brilliantly convey his personal philosophies and heartfulness techniques. He frequently returned to the Japanese phrase, “ichi-go ichi-e,” which describes the fleeting nature of each moment and the necessity of savoring each before it disappears, never to be experienced again. He also discussed the concept of Bushido (meaning the way of the warrior), a set of codes including virtues such as compassion, honor, and honesty, which was used by ancient Japanese warriors to become better, more well-rounded humans and to become mentally balanced to maximize their efficacy in battle. He described this concept with a scene from The Last Samurai. These two principles, along with personal prayers or beliefs, can serve as anchors in life and aids to those in need of stability. 

One of the most influential experiences of Dr. Murphy-Shigematsu’s life has been meeting and interacting with Stanford University students. When he first observed these students, they appeared very capable and in control, but once he began learning more about them, he discovered that many were stressed and emotionally unwell. He described this as the Stanford Duck Syndrome, likening the masked struggling of the students to a swimming duck – the duck appears to be serenely gliding through the water because the observer cannot see the frantic paddling of its legs. This issue resonated with families in the audience, who centered their questions around this issue during the question and answer session. Dr. Murphy-Shigematsu discussed strategies for solving this issue, mainly focusing on techniques of achieving contentment and peace in the face of stressful events.

Dr. Murphy-Shigematsu is constantly striving to aid those who are struggling and to help others realize the power of Heartfulness and vulnerability. He is an incredibly eloquent speaker and effective storyteller, immaculately depicting and interlacing his personal philosophies and life with historical tradition and wisdom, and applying these to pressing, immediate concerns.

It is possible to connect with him through his website: https://www.murphyshigematsu.com