Hello my friends today, my guest is Dr. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu. He is a psychologist and has training and clinical and community psychology, Yoga, meditation, and Chinese medicine. He holds a Doctorate from Harvard University. He’s been a teacher and counselor in Japan and the United States working with all ages from daycare to medical school. His current research is in the assessment of mindfulness and promoting personal wellbeing, leadership and social transformation. I was privileged to find Stephen’s book in the basement of the Strand bookstore in New York City. In it, he uses his personal experience to expand concepts that help us to transform ourselves, ultimately help us transform society using compassion. Stephen talks with me about the power of listening and how to be a more effective listener, what it really means. He also talks about actually seeing others and being seen, why it matters how we can do it. Stephen talks a lot about this duality, this tension between serving our ego, which of course we all have while remaining humble. So how do we walk that line between ego and humility? How do we share the things we know, the gifts we have with others in ways that make a difference while not letting it go to our head, not just being arrogant jerks. With that, please enjoy this conversation with Dr. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu.
00:04:03 – Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu on what life’s about.
00:07:06 – Living to 111.
00:15:10 – A short meditation.
00:28:49 – Unhappy students.
00:38:41 – Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu’s mentor.
00:49:20 – Intellectual compassion.
00:57:29 – Lightning round.
01:21:16 – Who inspired you to write?
01:34:22 – Technical writing tools.
Bryan: 00:00:53 Hello my friends today, my guest is Dr. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu. He is a psychologist and has training and clinical and community psychology, Yoga, meditation, and Chinese medicine. He holds a Doctorate from Harvard University. He’s been a teacher and counselor in Japan and the United States working with all ages from daycare to medical school. He’s also a Fulbright Scholar. His current research is in the assessment of mindfulness and promoting personal wellbeing, leadership and social transformation. I was privileged to find Stephen’s book in the basement of the Strand bookstore in New York City. In it, he uses his personal experience to expand concepts that help us to transform ourselves, ultimately help us transform society using compassion. Stephen talks with me about the power of listening and how to be a more effective listener, what it really means. He also talks about actually seeing others and being seen, why it matters how we can do it. Stephen talks a lot about this duality, this tension between serving our ego, which of course we all have, while remaining humble. So how do we walk that line between ego and humility? How do we share the things we know, the gifts we have with others in ways that makes a difference while not letting it go to our head, not just being arrogant jerks. With that, please enjoy this conversation with Dr. Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu. Stephen, welcome to The School For Good Living Podcast.
Stephen: 00:02:27 Thank you for inviting me. I’m glad to be here.
New Speaker: 00:02:30 Yeah, I’m so glad you’re here. Um, I know when I reached out to you that um, we didn’t know each other, but I found that your book from Mindfulness to Heartfulness in the basement of the Strand Bookstore in New York City, uh, when I was there last year and uh, it just, it just called to me and I, and I’ve been reading it and I really love this book.
Stephen: 00:02:54 Thank you. Glad you found it.
Bryan: 00:02:57 Me too. Me Too. One thing I want to share, I thought this was interesting in the book. I did find it, it was gently used and so someone had owned it before me. They had taken great care of it. There were no marks or anything. I thought it was interesting that inside the book is actually a prescription for someone. It has their name. Of course, I won’t read that, but it’s, it’s referring them for ECT for TRD and I, it just reminded me, you know, if that’s Electro, Electroconvulsive Therapy for Treatment Resistant Depression, that a suffering is real. Right. Wow. Yeah. So I think you’re reaching a lot of people with this.
Stephen: 00:03:38 Yeah. I feel that a lot. You know, I live a normal life. I work at a college and I see students going through a normal, what appears to be a normal day. And yet if the space is created for them to really be present and vulnerable and open, then you just see the suffering that everybody is experiencing, but just doing their best to get through the day.
Bryan: 00:04:03 Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It makes me think of what that saying. Um, everyone, everyone you interact with is fighting a hard battle unit. Nothing about something like that. Yup. Yeah. Well, let me, let me ask you the question that I like to ask all my guests at the outset. What’s life about?
Stephen: 00:04:27 Wow. I was hoping for an easy one.
Bryan: 00:04:32 What’s difficult about that?
Stephen: 00:04:35 Well, you know, in some ways it’s perhaps the easiest question, right? You wake up every morning and ask yourself, well, okay, I realize I’m awake. Yeah, I realize I’m alive now. What do I do? What’s, what’s this going to be all about that I get up, uh, that I exist at all and I have, I have always have a moment of doubt every morning when I wake up and then think, well, what is this all about? And I don’t know if I achieve clarity. I think clarity takes a while. And I have some rituals I go through to, I make a chai every morning with grading, fresh ginger and some seeds, cardamom and black pepper and cinnamon sticks. And so I have a ritual and then I feel like my, I, my head is clearing somewhat. And then I start to, uh, often I read different things or I say different things. So I have this like by my, uh, my, my desk. It’s from the Dalai Lama. And it’s a, it’s a reminder that simply you’re alive and that your, your life is precious, and that you can do what you can today, right. What can you do to use your energies to live the best you can with some kindness and compassion and, uh, and it may not be anything dramatic and it may be something very mundane, what you’re called to deal with. There was a dog here and you know, to feed the dog, take, let the dog take care of its biological needs. And, um, I live with a partner and I to have see what her needs are and what I might be able to do to, to meet those. And then, um, I have, I believe in the, I have a, a gift of writing. And so I often feel like, okay, what can you do with, well. Maybe a more direct answer would be, I feel like I’ve been told by so many wise people of different kinds that it’s to do what the best you can with what you’ve got. So in a sense to, to realize, you know, who you are, what you’ve been given, what might be your unique purpose in, in the, uh, for your existence. And then to do what you can to fulfill that.
Bryan: 00:07:06 Yeah. Well that, that introduces a lot of questions about how we can know and you know, how we do it once we have an inkling and, and all that kind of thing. Yeah. And some of that I definitely want to ask about, one thing that, um, that I want to ask you is, um, I want to ask a few questions about what your life was like growing up and in particular your, um, what are we call your cultural heritage. And I’m specifically interested to start with your grandmother who was a prominent figure in your book and you talk about the fact that she lived to be 111.
Stephen: 00:07:44 Yes. Yup.
Bryan: 00:07:45 That’s some good genes right there and probably some, some good fortune and taking care of herself. Um, will you share with me a little bit about, about your grandmother, what she was like, what you learned from her? Anything that feels appropriate
Stephen: 00:07:59 To me just the, her age in itself is very unusual. I was talking with somebody yesterday and he said, and I never have, you know, nobody ever lives to be 110. And I said, well, actually I do know somebody and uh, who lived to be that long and there was something that was, um, in, in, uh, Japanese, there’s the word seimei enerugī no kankaku. So it’s this sense of life energy that she just had this tremendous power of just being alive. And that emanated from her. And I think I mentioned how when I was in my late twenties and feeling very lost in terms of what the point or purpose of my life was, I just had this very clear message. Maybe it’s the time in my life I have felt the most clear, clearly a message that I might call a spiritual. That something was very powerfully and very clear saying you should return home. And home to me meant Japan. But it also will meant my grandmother. And uh, and there was something that was I think life, uh, sustaining about that. It was like, this is how you will renew yourself if you can get with this person who is somehow connected to you in some kind of a soul or spirit manner, which I didn’t really couldn’t define. But there was some something there that was calling me to be with this person who then welcomed me with open arms. And, um, I felt like I was gradually, um, absorbing or gaining some of this, uh, this life energy that was in some ways I had, was very disconnected from my own energy and my own, um, spirit life spirit. And that, that was, uh, just being with her enabled me to get some of that back. And it was, uh, uh, um, so the book is really an attempt to reflect on that process and to see how, what, what was happening at that time in my life and how it was this one person. So influential, uh, in terms of teaching me things that seemed like important life lessons that, um, and that have stayed with me and now I feel like that’s something I can pass on now to others.
Bryan: 00:10:28 Yeah. Well, can I think you’ve done such a wonderful job of sharing universal concepts in a very personal way. And distilling, I mean, these chapters here about beginner’s mind, vulnerability, authenticity, connectedness, listening, acceptance, gratitude and service. Right. And, and throughout, um, sharing some of these, the stories and experiences and in one of them that I was really touched by was the one where you talk about when your grandmother came from Japan to the United States for a while to see if it made sense to care for her here. And I was really touched by your thoughtfulness and your family and supporting her that way, but ultimately her decision to return to Japan. Yeah. Will you talk and, and what I was struck by it by the way, was this idea of how ultimately, you know, we are individuals and we’re part of something larger. And it seemed like your grandmother had a real sensitivity to that and not wanting to burden your family. And would you talk a little bit about what that was like and about her decision ultimately to, to return to Japan.
Stephen: 00:11:35 Yeah. That, um, I’m finding that that experience is, uh, had a very deep impact on, on me in terms of understanding what this whole, when we think about the self and we think about happiness and we think about, you know, what is it that would our lives good that it’s, um, there’s a lot cultural, you know, clearly in that story. And I think it’s a, even if we separate it as this is Japanese and this is American, that that’s really false in a sense that we all I think are facing some kind of a dilemma of how, what is, um, how much do we base our sense of self and our sense of happiness on something that is either individualistic or, or collective. And, um, so that story about how we tried to find out what is the source of happiness for my grandmother, um, really made things a lot clearer to me about how we, um, what you just described as that, that we are both individuals in, we are also connected to others and that we can’t, I think some of us are clearer about there that we can’t separate the two a and that if we, we tried to, it’s probably not going to lead us to greater fulfillment. Um, but connecting them is very complex to and may lead us away from a lot of what our popular culture or even the popular, you know, silicon valley culture or the whole culture of achievement and accomplishment and power. And, um, we get certain messages in those, that kind of a culture that tells us that, uh, I think deludes us that are our happiness is really based on something individualistic, something very much about me. And, um, what my grandmother’s story taught me was that it’s that, that I or that me is, uh, or even the you is all something that is deeply connected to others. And so for my grandmother to ask you, what would, what do you want, what it’s going to make you happy, uh, we had a whole sense that she could answer that by saying, yes, me, this is what I really want as an individual. And she was kept telling us that’s not possible for me to answer like that. But what makes me happy will be what makes everybody happy. If everybody can be happy, I’ll be happy, even if it looks like I’m sacrificing my happiness. But that’s not really true.
Bryan: 00:14:17 And you mentioned in the book, um, I don’t remember who it was you referenced, but you talked about there’s this simple but beautiful analysis of the Spanish word nosotros right?
Stephen: 00:14:28 Oh that’s Gloria Anzaldua.
Bryan: 00:14:30 Yeah. Yeah. And how neat that is about like we, but breaking that down a little differently in showing, you know, the power of language and looking at and thinking about, you know, things that we maybe don’t look at differently in recognizing, acknowledging our individuality along with the collective that we’re ultimately a part of.
Stephen: 00:14:50 Yeah. Yeah. That’s a beautiful, beautiful word I thought to, to into, to see that they are one. Right. And then we’re always separating, us in them and this and that. How much they’re suffering in that separation and yet to see them as actually one was a powerful in that word. Yeah.
Bryan: 00:15:10 Yeah. It’s really, it’s really beautiful. Well, one thing, if you’re willing, I would love to do with you and then invite our listeners at this moment to do some of whom will probably be driving. Others are maybe folding laundry or, you know, shoveling snow or who knows what they’re doing. But I haven’t ever had the privilege of sitting in your classroom and being a part of the heartful spaces that you create. But, um, I was, I was hoping that you and I could or that you more appropriately, it would be willing to do something right now that would help provide us the experience of heartfulness. If there’s any kind of a short meditation or visualization or some other kind of process that we could actually do to create more than just a mind conversation, but invite an experience a heart, more of a heart centered experience. How’s that for putting you on the spot?
Stephen: 00:16:03 It really is. Yeah. One of the things that I’ve, found to be really useful is that I, sometimes I do it in a more dramatic way. Like I wear a kimono and I come into the room and I speak in Japanese, some leave and that’s not expected. Or I in Japan, I sometimes speak in Spanish a little bit. And um, so there’s, there are more dramatic forms of it, but I feel like something that I’ve started to do back when I was working with the US Marines and the US Navy and a more conservative environment in which I would not feel comfortable to do anything too strange. I would simply begin every presentation by saying, you know, this is who I am and this is why I’m here. Uh, and that seemed to create a whole different sense about, um, this, the feeling in the space and what, what was going to happen, but what’s happening already.
Bryan: 00:17:02 And what did you say happened? Well, I think it was who I am and this is why I’m here. What are those, what do you say?
Stephen: 00:17:10 I think it was different every time and there was no, uh, prepared. Well, I tried to prepare something, but in the moment I would often say something different. Um, so if I was to do that right now, I don’t have anything prepared. I would say I’m, uh, I’m simply a person who’s trying to, do my best with what I’ve got. I’m here. I’m here because I believe that there is some purpose to my life. And that if there’s somebody like Bryan gives me the opportunity, then I want to say yes. If somebody gives the opportunity to say, could you share what you are learning in your life, uh, with others, then I wanted to say yes to that. And, uh, I’m, I’m here with both a sense of, um, ego. You know, that I have something to say. And also a sense of humility that I have nothing new to say that anybody really that’s not been said over. Um, but that I, I understand that often things need to be repeated. We need to every day remind ourselves why we’re here and what we can do. And, um, so I’m here with that in that spirit of, um, kind of some disbelief, really my, what I have lived is important to somebody else. That’s kind of a unbelievable, but it’s also, it makes me feel, um, that I exist too. Cause I feel like I’m being recognized. Somebody sees me. I see you. And, uh, the other thing that I often do in, in the classes that we do a simple exercise that we acknowledge each other’s existence. And it comes from, um, I started to do it after I learned about, uh, a Zulu word, Sawubona, um, which was taught to me as meaning that, um, I see you. And it’s used as a greeting by some people in South Africa. Um, but at the deeper meaning is that, uh, I am not this solitary individual, but that I am with my ancestors. Uh, I am with, um, I go beyond this individual body of existence. And the same for you. When I see you, I see more than just your individual, uh, existence in that body. But I see you as part of something other people, your ancestors, your people and your communities. And so I asked people to get up and we walk around the room and we simply say, either sawubona if you’re comfortable with that or if you have another word, like namaste was a very similar type of meaning of simply that I, the divine in me sees the divine in you. We, we recognize our existence. We bring each other into existence simply by seeing. Um, so we walk around the room and uh, sometimes people say in, uh, or sometimes they use the word, uh, Hineni I believe is the word, a Hebrew word, meaning I am here. And so this acknowledged simply acknowledging each other and walking around the room. And so I would look at Bryan and say, I see you. And then you would say, I am here and then I would you would do the same with me. I see you. And I would say, I am here. And the what happens then is truly amazing. You know, it’s so simple. And then I asked people, what are you feeling? And they say, wow, it’s a, I realized how much I want to be seen. You know that I feel so good just to be seen. I’m recognized. I, I am, I know I exist. And one person even use the expression, there are no enemies. I realized there are no enemies. When I can look into somebody else’s eyes, even for a moment and say I see you and they say I am here. Then that whole sense of what we were just talking about us and them disappears behind that simple act of, of seeing and being seen.
Bryan: 00:21:27 That’s amazing. It’s really beautiful. And I was touched when I read that. Um, and you, you share a little bit of that on page one on one of your book and, and I love that, that response to sawubona with a response, yeah the response, meaning I am here. So this group, there’s this awesome exchange of meaning that by the act of seeing one another, we come into existence. Yeah. It’s kind of a metaphysical thought, but experientially there’s something very profound. Yeah. Really, really beautiful. Yeah. Now that, that’s wonderful. Um, thank you for sharing that.
Stephen: 00:21:59 Yeah. And then what comes in is the sense of responsibility, right? If I see you and you see me and we acknowledged that we are both here, then we also acknowledge our own the suffering that exists here. Yeah. I, you know, I recognize that uh, I suffer and I see, you knew you suffer and then we, we have a way of coming together then and the reason to be together and that we can simply by that sharing something healing can occur. Yeah.
Bryan: 00:22:31 Do you mind if I borrow that for a workshop? I do. You want to try it? I know you didn’t see or hear it or anything, but it’s, and what you said before about about sharing something and having both ego and humility I thought was first of all very honest and I certainly recognize some of that in myself and I, it made me think about something I think was Andre Geday said everything has been said before, but since no one was listening it must be said again. So, yeah. Yeah. No, that’s great. The other thing that, that, there’s two things that this, this conversation brings up for me. One of them is, I really love, this is one of the things I love is I studied Japanese for five years and I was a student in an exchange for one academic year and, and live with a host family. And I felt, I just love, first of all, I love in Japanese, whereas, you know, in some of the Latin a romantic languages, there’s the distinction between masculine and feminine. Where Japanese, I love that there’s the sensitivity to animate or inanimate, like if this is alive, you know, you use a different, uh, a different verb to exist for something that’s not alive of book or.
Stephen: 00:23:40 Oh, I see. Yeah. Right.
Bryan: 00:23:41 And the sensitivity that’s, that’s implied in that. And I also the, um, I love that there’s these kind of call in responses about like, um, you know, [Japanese] and [Japanese] okay, I’m here just now, you know, welcome home. Right. Or I’m leaving, be careful. Right. [Japanese]. Yeah. And, and our family, sometimes we bless our food. We have, we have six kids and we endeavor to eat together every, every night at 6:00 PM we’re at the table. Um, and, and so we don’t always bless the food, but one thing where we’re sure to do is we always do offer the [Japanese] attempting to acknowledge yeah. The gratitude for all that all it is. And at the same time, how these things can become kind of formalities, right? Where we lose the deeper connection or the deeper meaning they might possess. Um, but you talk about that a little bit and I think that might point to the essence of what heartfulness is. But will you share with me, why, why did the world need a book on heartfulness and why did you write this book from mindfulness to heartfulness. What does it mean and why did you write it?
Stephen: 00:24:48 Yeah. Um, well, you know, personally I’m, I’m very deeply immersed in a, in a mind world. I, I, I went through a lot of college 10 years, um, and then even there I was immersed in the world of the mind in terms of focusing on clinical psychology.
Bryan: 00:25:10 So I apologize to jump in, but I just want to call out for our listeners that that’s a very humble statement, but talking about earning a PhD at Harvard. Yeah, I did. Yeah. Right. Yes. And now teaching at Stanford. Yeah. Right. And having also taught at the University of Tokyo. Yes. So some pretty prestigious institutions that you’ve both learned and taught at. I just end the sentence with a preposition, but that’s pretty, pretty remarkable. And you’re, you’re humbling what you’re saying, but, but as you’re mentioning, you live in a mind world, so I interrupted. Please continue. Yeah.
Stephen: 00:25:45 Um, and, um, I guess I am, you know, I really am not too impressed by myself though. And I think part of the reason is my, uh, my father never went to college and I always, um, you know, from childhood I respected my father’s knowledge and wisdom and that was my grandmother didn’t go to college. And, um, so I didn’t grow up with this. Um, I grew up with a respect but also some, uh, cynicism about what these places, what you’d learn at these places of, uh, the great elite institutions. And now having been part of them for over 30 years, I also have a very realistic sense of where wisdom is and where wisdom is not.
Bryan: 00:26:30 And, uh, so there is a very, very diplomatically phrased.
Stephen: 00:26:35 So it’s, yeah, because I am part of them, so I have to be careful about, you know, not disrespecting them as well, but, sure. Um, but I was in this, I’ve been in this area of the mind for quite a long time and it being part of universities and uh, and then being part of the education system, uh, in which I had studied though from how to you, I’ve worked with kids as young as 18 months old, so I was early childhood educator and I’ve looked at how will, you know, how early do you, can you go to influence people’s development? And so I’ve looked at the whole life range and, um, I really have seen education over the long course and have felt as in universities how much we are in a focusing on the mind, meaning cognitive, rational, logical, uh, analytical discourse, this discourse and debate or argumentation. Um, in a sense that, uh, of emptiness that I was finding in particularly in college classrooms about what we saw as the highest forms of knowledge and wisdom and how you would, uh, transmit those that knowledge from one generation to another generation. And, uh, and then of course reflecting on my own experience as a board student. Um, no matter where I was until I got to Harvard actually, where I’ve met some really amazing teachers, but the, my own sense of bored, boredom as a student. And, um, and then it was also stimulated somewhat by crisis that I encountered at Stanford, which was when, uh, I could see students really going through incredible mental health issues. Uh, and that, uh, it was jarring only in the sense that, um, you know, we are social image about what success is, gives us this strange impression that if you achieve a certain success, then your life is good and life is happy.
Bryan: 00:28:44 What were some of the things that you saw when you got there that concerned you?
Stephen: 00:28:49 Ah, that students were deeply unhappy and that students were feeling very, um, lost, uh, and not a feeling of a sense of purpose. And often they had gotten to that place in their life and that level of achievement, um, by focusing on solely on achievement and the single minded pursuit of their individual achievement. Uh, and as freshmen they start to see some cracks and cracks appear in that vision of life. And by the time they’re a senior, there’s a lot of cracks and some students get them more quickly than others, but there’s a deep sense of, of that is this, is this all what it’s all about? You know, is this all there is? And it’s, and uh, so I felt a need to provide something more than that in the, in a way that, um, would be available to a lot of students. And I had previously worked clinically, which is a lot of working one to one with people in an intense manner. Uh, and I wanted to use that. Those skills are that way of teaching, uh, in a, a setting that would be, uh, people could move quicker and more people could move together. And I felt that that could be done in a healing circle. So if we could get people together in small groups and to simply connect, connect with, um, ourselves better, more, be more open, authentic and vulnerable, that that would create the connection with others. And that that would help people to, to heal faster more quickly than if I was with one individual working with them. And then they had to, okay, now how do you go out and apply this in the world? We have the, the circumstances right there in the classroom. And so that was, there was a general sense that moving from the mind, all of our focus on, on our thoughts and our cognitive processes to more of something that it was deeper and more heartfelt. And that’s the, the, the, uh, a quick explanation of what the title means and why I was moving in that direction. And certainly that feeling that that was what is needed in, in the world that I could see.
Bryan: 00:31:06 Yeah, no, in the last chapter of your book where you write, I sense that my responsibility to my students is to encourage them to live a balanced life. Uh, yeah. And I love that as an alternative to what, what is taught in our business schools around the world, but especially in the United States about maximize shareholder value at all costs. Right. And, and the really, I think if we’re really honest about it, the destructive nature of unmitigated capitalism to environments, to people, you know, this kind of thing. And so I’m really glad to know that you’re, you’re making this endeavor to help students live a balanced and meaningful life of responsibility. One thing that I like to explore with you here is you talk a little bit about the concept of balance and how it’s different in a western sense from a Japanese approach to balance. Will you, will you talk a little bit about how you see the difference in the way those two? I know that’s grouping abroad culture, but in the distinctions and then what that means for how we might approach achieving balance.
Stephen: 00:32:13 Yeah. Um, I know I’ve written about that. I’ve written about it for quite a few years and I, I feel like I’m still finding clarity every day. And what does that really mean? And the, um, because the whole idea of maintaining two different ways of seeing things or of acting, um, at the same time is something that is seems so a contradictory to our sense about, uh, what, how you must decide. It’s either this or it’s that. And that seems, uh, I feel it much stronger in certainly in the United States then when I live in Japan. But it’s, um, I think it’s, it’s still a very difficult concept to gain every day when we are called to make decisions about things and to stay where we stand on things. And, um, but it’s sounds so, it’s something I keep bringing, bringing up over and over and in my teaching because it’s something that we seem to need to figure out almost on a constant basis of what, uh, so the other day in class I was talking about how do you, uh, this concept of [Japanese]. So [Japanese] meaning this sense of acceptance of this is the way I am. This is who I am. This is the way I am. If I can accept it, then that could be the, the source of liberation to being more than what I am. So that sense of paradox of, uh, whereas often in the western psychotherapy contexts, we’re taught the opposite. Don’t, you know, how do you want to change yourself? You know, let’s look at how in, what’s preventing that change? Let’s analyze it. Let’s figure out a solution to how you’re going to change yourself. And, um, you know, in Japanese therapy, but indigenous therapy that goes back to the time of Freud and Young, it was, uh, an acceptance therapy. It was a how can you accept, how can you have this feeling of [Japanese] that you are, this is who you are and that’s, that’s okay. And that can you hold. So in the sense of balance, can you hold that feeling and at the same time feel that you want to be more or that you can be more, or that you will try to be more or that you will, uh, in a more pure sense that you will simply, the energy will naturally be released for that, that positive movement.
Bryan: 00:34:51 That’s such an interesting paradox about learning to accept ourselves or perhaps even love ourselves completely. Exactly as we are right now with no conditions yet. Also recognizing that more is possible. We can become more, we can give more. You know, we could, we can do more.
Stephen: 00:35:10 Yeah, yeah, yeah. And I only can teach that because I have experienced it and, and then I see students experience it and tell me like, wow, it’s, it’s amazing. It’s so strange because uh, that if I tell myself to love myself, to feel compassionate, to be kind to myself, this is who I am than I feel somehow liberated to be different and to do more than that. So like in the first class I, I tell the students, you know, you don’t have to talk this whole course for 10 weeks and you will not be negatively evaluated. And they write in their journals that wow, when you said that I couldn’t, I was just so relieved because I’ve spent so much of my energy into seeing, thinking, not listening to other people, but simply formulating what I’m going to say because I know that’s what the teacher wants. Teacher wants to hear what my opinion is. It doesn’t have to be based on what anybody else has said. I don’t need to listen, but I could just need to be ready to talk. So being told I don’t have to talk. I just felt so relieved. And then one wrote and then I talked more than I have talked in all four years at Stanford.
Bryan: 00:36:24 Oh, you gave them. There’s something really liberating about being accepted as we are right in for what we want and don’t want and, and all that. So I think that’s only something, um, someone whose mother, because you write about this also in the book, that your mother never said she loved you. Yeah. Right. Not because she didn’t love you, but will you talk a little bit about that, about not needing to say things and maybe about your mother not needing to say even I love you.
Stephen: 00:36:52 Yeah. That’s, um, I think it was especially a noticeable because of the cultural context, which is then in the United States and then with a very verbal father who was still a, had broken out some up from his very, uh, he was only a second generation Irish. Um, so there was not a lot of expression, but he was himself, was very expressive. And so to, to see that, uh, the difference between the way my mother rarely said anything and the way my father was so expressive. And then to see friends, uh, and their mothers, you know, telling their kids, I love you at the end of a conversation. And, uh, it was, um, I think at times it was confusing, but it was something that I learned really, you know, as I grew up, as I learned, especially as I lived in Japan, more to see that this was a very powerful way that, um, our belief that things really could not be expressed in words. So that, uh, when I read later the, um, the famous Haiku poet Basho right? Basho was that his name?
Bryan: 00:38:04 Yes. Matsuo Basho.
Stephen: 00:38:09 Matsuo Basho yeah. Um, a statement he apparently made was, what’s the point of saying everything with words? And I thought that was beautiful because it shows both, you know, this sense of futility that you can never find the word that could really express completely. And yet you never stop trying. You keep, you keep, uh, that’s all we, and it’s like, that’s what life is like in a sense. Right. You can never find complete completeness, but you keep going. Anyway.
Bryan: 00:38:41 Yeah, that makes me think of something I’ve heard attributed to Gandhi. My life is my message. Right. Like what a, what a beautiful per perspective. Well, the, speaking of, of not needing to talk and of listening, I know this is something that you teach your students and you mentioned a mentor that you had at Harvard Kiyo Morimoto who talked, he taught you a lot about listening. Will you tell me a little bit about your mentor and what you learned from him and specifically, um, as it relates to listening?
Stephen: 00:39:17 Yeah. Um, yeah. Kiyo Morimoto was a Nisei. His parents came from Wakayama Japan and he was a potato farmer in Pocatello, Idaho. And then the war broke out and he decided that, um, his response would be to join the military and to prove the, that he was a real American and the other Japanese, uh, people here in, in United States, were real Americans. And he was willing to sacrifice for that. And, uh,
Bryan: 00:39:47 It’s a pretty magnanimous expression, I think.
Stephen: 00:39:50 I think so. And it’s, it refers back to, you know, you said earlier, I encourage my students to live a balanced life. And in reality, I, I question whether that’s really enough. And I, the other day in Class I was saying, you know, uh, maybe balance is not all you’re looking for. Maybe you’re really, you’re, you’re a few really discover your purpose. If you really discover what you, a belief that you have a mission, that that’s what you’re here for, then that could lead you into more danger than the simple, uh, comfort of a suburban life around, you know, that, uh, where everything seems balanced and you’ve got everything under control. And, um, and that’s the danger I believe, of really being mindful and heartfelt and being focused and hearing a calling that calling could be one of danger, not one that you choose.
Bryan: 00:40:40 Yeah. It’s certainly part of the hero’s journey, right? The call to adventure.
Stephen: 00:40:43 That’s the heroes. Yeah. And you’re going to say yes, sir, or no. Yeah. Or stay small. Yeah. Yeah. Um, so where were we?
Bryan: 00:40:51 So we were talking about, we were talking about a potato farmer who decided,
Stephen: 00:40:54 oh, the potato farmer. Right, right. Okay. So he decides he’s willing to risk his life to do this and um, but he survives the war. He’s traumatized, but he then gets the GI bill and goes to Harvard. Becomes a, the head of the counseling center there. And so by the time I got there, he was a teaching counseling and it was what impressed me was the way he would tell students over and over again, just repeat, you’re not listening. And it was very frustrating to many of us because we, first of all, you, when you get to that level of thinking, you’re going to be a PhD level of Harvard psychologist that you assume it’s all about an analyzing, diagnosing, and then prescribing that and treating and that it’s all about some kind of knowledge that you’re going to be gaining that is not really in the heart. And he kept repeating, uh, when you do that, you’re not listening. You’re in, you’ve got to start there. And if you’re not even starting there, then the patients and clients will recognize that and they won’t, you won’t connect to them. Uh, and so you’ve got to at least begin there. And so a lot of students dropped out because they, yeah. They realized how hard it was to, to listen and what they really, they really didn’t want to listen. They wanted to simply, you know, analyze our, to tell other people what to do. And, um, so it was impressed me and I felt there was something very deep in the connection with Japanese culture as well that was enabling him to stay with that position of, uh, providing the, the simply the presence for us and the holding place for people to be, um, in that, that was what he, at least we had to at least provide that for anybody to feel that that was a healing space.
Bryan: 00:42:45 I think that’s such an amazing perspective. Um, especially as one who, and maybe this is a very, very common, but find my attention, wanting to divide my attention frequently, wanting to brush my teeth while looking at my messages. Right. Wanting to drive. I’m talking on the phone, um, not wanting to sit and eat. And certainly when I’m with another person not wanting to be fully present many times with whatever it is they’re saying, what the experiences, and as you write in your book that Kiyo believed that the most important thing we could do was to be fully as fully present as possible in each moment with a client. He taught that without being seen where we are. Humans find it hard to move. Yeah. Right. That I, there’s just something amazing. And then you talk a little bit in here about the character, the Chinese or Japanese character for, I guess this is the Japanese Kanji for Kiku to listen. Yeah. Right. Will you talk a little bit about some of the elements that are present in this character or this word in Japanese? I thought that was pretty, pretty amazing.
Stephen: 00:43:54 Yeah. The character is, um, I think it reveals a lot. Um, and that’s something I’ve, I’ve enjoyed is to look at the characters and their, um, what they could have meant to the person who constructed them. And that one. Uh, so the one for, uh, it’s often distinguishing between hearing and listening. The hearing one simply has a ear in it. And so you get a sense that if you can actually mechanically here or something, then you’re, that’s one particular way of being with somebody else. But the more complicated character has ugly the ear. Uh, but it also has a mark for 10, which indicates like maximal, uh, attention. And then the an eye which indicates that you can use all your senses to really listen, picking up on nonverbal things. And we’ll all kinds of nuances in voices. And um, and then there is also a of the number one which indicates a kind of focus, concentration, um, and uh, oh yeah. And then there’s a heart. So the heart indicates that the sense of heart to heart communication and that the sense of all that can go beyond words in terms of how we can simply portray our true human emotion. Which goes back to your question about my mother and that she would never say I love you. And she would instead do things like give me the, when I finished my piece of meat, I would take, he would, she would take it from her plate, what was left and put it on my plate. And so there was, there was a um, you know, clearly a sense of heart to heart communication that didn’t need something, didn’t need to be said. And on the, and some of the older forms on the the left side, there’s also the character for king, which indicates that it’s, uh, the king, the leader leadership really involves listening because you never know completely everything that’s out there to know. But if you’re a good listener, people will come to you and tell you and you will have all this sort of this knowledge. Then if you are the good listener.
Bryan: 00:46:14 I thought that was so amazing. And I love also that you point out that of all the elements present in this about the ear, the 10, the eye, the heart, you know this, but there’s no mouth, mouth present in kiko. Yeah. That’s great. So how can we become better listeners? We know it’s important to leadership. It’s important, especially if we’re in some of the healing disciplines, you know, to really see and hear our clients, to help them move from wherever they are to what’s possible for them. Um, but as a practical matter, I mean, especially right wing Kiyo’s saying over and over to you. You’re not listening, you’re not listening, right? And you’re like, yes, yes I am. Yes I am. But what, what can we do? What, what can people listening? What can I do to be a more effective listener?
Stephen: 00:47:06 Uh, so, you know, I teach what’s called mindfulness or heartfulness. Um, but I’m told that I teach it in a different way than a lot of other people do, even at Stanford. And that, uh, what students say is that it, it’s a way that, um, rather than focus simply on meditation or that kind of rituals, that it’s, I view it simply as the foundation of our way of being, and that that way of being is a way that if we can be in that way together, then we create the place that would lead to something like good listening. So simply being there, uh, finding yourself present, being there with a beginner’s mind starting there and then to moving to places of vulnerability, that sense of sharing. Can you share yourself with others? And you are more likely to be able to do that if you can see them. So certain exercises like that at the beginning, I find very helpful for people to not only feel grounded, but to feel the sense about that they are, uh, to help get themselves out of their own space. And so it’s simply to connect to another person in to say, I see you and I realize you are here. And when I realize that, I realize that you, you suffer. And I realized that I am here and I want to be here for you. And so I feel like it starts to break down some of those barriers and that it’s, um, we don’t have to keep telling ourselves to listen, listen, listen. But that, it can come naturally out of that sense of the, if I see you and I see that you’re suffering than I want to listen. And so that there is, uh, this, uh, Suzuki who popularized zen in the US he has a statement that the compassionate mind comes from beginner’s mind. And so that from beginner’s mind, compassion naturally flows. So if you can actually be present, he will feel the both the, the desire, you’ll be more aware of yourself but also more connected to the other end that you will want to listen. It will be just something that will come more naturally from me.
Bryan: 00:49:20 Oh. And, and it’s something you, that you write in the book I hadn’t heard before. So I’m grateful and I’m grateful for how much by the way that you included from so much learning from so many different sources and, and cultures, but talking about this concept of compassion and as a result of beginner’s mind in this, um, you mentioned the statement, uh, the Dalai Lama makes about if you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. Yeah. Yeah. And as we see, you know, a beginner’s mind to being present, um, listening or all doorways to that because you make a distinction. You pointed something else out. Something else out that I hadn’t heard before about, about compassion. And you talk about, um, you talk about perspective taking and you talk about, I think you called it something like intellectual compassion as a kind of distinguished from, I dunno, true compassion or some kind of an emotional, compassion will you talk about that for just a moment.
Stephen: 00:50:23 Um, I’m not sure what I was, it may have been more the word empathy. Okay and the way that psychologist, a distinguish different kinds of empathy and then also this distinction between empathy and compassion. Um, so in the, um, so in my clinical training I was taught that you needed to have empathy and you needed to connect to your clients and you need, um, but we were also told to have distance so that you were supposed to have an appropriate kind of empathy. And in all that seemed to me at the time to seem very, felt very cold and, and professional. And, um, I remember feeling, uh, I rejected it and I feel like, no, that’s not what is this professional compassion and it doesn’t, it doesn’t fit with why I wanted to be in this profession, in this field. Um, but I’ve come to it now there’s more research that supports this, this distinction between how somebody can actually be more helpful if they have this particular distance. So a particular kind of empathy or some people call it that compassion and they call it the other one. Empathy meaning the empathy as the, when you get into it the same feeling as the other person, which therefore then puts you in a position of not being able to be as helpful to that person because you’re down there with him.
Bryan: 00:52:00 That’s right. And this was on page one oh six and one oh seven you talk about this, that sometimes we engage in or what’s possible for us is what psychologists called cognitive empathy. Others might call it perspective taking, which simply consists of knowing how the other person feels and imagining what they might be thinking. Yeah. But the limitation to that is that people can be really talented in that regard with having no real concern for other people. So cognitive empathy alone is often insufficient to create genuine connectedness. Yeah. Right. And then what? And then what you go on to say, and this I started because I thought it was so amazing about experienced meditators. So science scientists have studied and scientists, I’m convinced, scientists study everything. They get a grant from somewhere and study every last thing. Yeah. This was fascinating that experienced meditators when they encounter suffering and another person, the meditator’s brain show heightened activities in areas that are important to things such as caring, nurturing, establishing positive social affiliation. But in non-meditators who experienced the same stimuli, who are subject to the same inputs, the areas of the brain that are triggered them associate with unpleasant feelings like sadness and pain. So that’s amazing that this heartfulness, this mindfulness practice can actually change us in some way. Like physiologically that aren’t in natural innate response without trying. Right. Is one that is more nurturing, caring, conducive to actual connectedness and not, you know, so the difference there between compassion and empathy. I thought it was, again, it’s like a really fine nuance, but I never heard that before. He, uh, that’s an interesting distinction. Yeah.
Stephen: 00:53:45 I think it relates back to your question about, um, you know, how do we listen better? How do we get ourselves to listen better? And that it’s, um, like you just said that the practice of mindfulness is something that can help us to be better listeners because we can, we can listen in a way that does not, we don’t just go into that feeling or, or distance from the feeling, but that we get, we actually feel, feel things in a way that we are able to then respond in a way that is, uh, can be helpful to the other
Bryan: 00:54:21 person. Yeah. No, I love that. And it makes me think of something I heard Sadhguru say when he says we do not meditate, we become meditative. Right? Yeah. And in this way of like, how do you become a better listener? To me, this calls to mind that, that saying I’ve heard attributed to Mohammed Ali about champions aren’t made in the ring. They’re merely recognized there meaning, yeah, right. It’s, there’s no trick. I’m thinking like, yeah, there’s like, I think especially like busy executives, they just want to know, you know, uh, what’s that saying about if you can fake it, uh, the secret is authenticity, right? If you can fake that you’ve got it made and kind of thing, there’s no, there’s no trick to listening. But as this research is pointing to what helps us be better listeners and other people experience this as better listeners, this is all the hard work we put in before we ever got in that metaphorical ring before we ever engaged in that interaction with another person. There’s no, there’s no life hack. I think probably, you know, to being a better listener. But what, I mean, what do you, how do you see that?
Stephen: 00:55:25 Yeah. I’m not sure if, I think it relates to the whole, um, ideas about meditation and mindfulness, like the distinction, the, um, and like, I personally don’t do a lot of meditation. I meditate every day, but I don’t do hours and hours of it. And I don’t even go on a long retreats. Um, but I, I always, I’m seeking to be more mindful and to be more meditative in my daily life and that, um, and I see the value. So I’ve been studying more at Zen temples in Japan and I’ll do some small retreats there and I study with the monks and I, um, so I’m studying that and I’m practicing it. But, um, for me personally, I feel that what I want most is to put this meditative, mindful state into action in my daily life. And so I do feel that urge to somewhat, uh, to go to those places of contemplation to the degree in which they can guide and nourish my actions in the world. And
Bryan: 00:56:34 Yeah. No, I think that’s so great in that calls to mind. A quote, uh, I might get this a little bit wrong, but you could, I think it’s Dag Hammarskjold if I’m saying his name right, about the path to sainthood lies through action. Yeah. Yeah. It’s like, it’s, it’s, it’s pretty cool. It’s not just about getting in a mountain top or in a temple or a cave somewhere like any idiot. And it can be peaceful alone in a quiet room. Right. But the real discipline is carrying it through everything. Every moment of our lives.
Stephen: 00:57:06 Yeah. And we often, I think there’s a trap of the other other way of thinking, which is that if the, um, there’s a very funny, a videotape or a Youtube of somebody leading a meditation and they saying it’s not important how long you meditate. It’s important how long you say you meditate.
Bryan: 00:57:29 That sounds like JP Sears. Oh, is that ultra spiritual? Oh, you know. Okay. That’s so funny. That’s great. Okay. So I want to switch gears a little bit with you and go into the lightning round. Are you ready? Sure. Okay. Question one, please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like a,
Stephen: 00:58:02 A journey on a ship to nowhere.
Bryan: 00:58:08 Okay. Next question. What’s the best news you heard recently?
Stephen: 00:58:15 Um, that, uh, you wanted to interview me.
Bryan: 00:58:23 Okay. Next question. What’s something at which you wish you were better?
Stephen: 00:58:29 I wish I was better at just a singing without feeling embarrassed.
Bryan: 00:58:37 Okay. Next question. If you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a t-shirt with a slogan on it or a phrase or a saying or a quote or equip, what would the shirt say?
Stephen: 00:58:51 It would have no words. It would, it would have my book cover. They would have the Kanji for the book cover. The heartful, heartfull one.
Bryan: 00:59:02 I love it. All right. Next question. What book other than one of your own, have you gifted or recommended most often?
Stephen: 00:59:11 The one that you just, you, you just mentioned a Dag Hammarskjöld and he has a book called Markings, which I think is full remarkable sayings about ego and humility and spirit.
Bryan: 00:59:26 And I did not realize he earned the Nobel. Was it the peace prize posthumously?
Stephen: 00:59:31 Yes. Right.
Bryan: 00:59:33 Wow. Amazing. Okay. I have not, uh, I’ve not looked at that book yet, but I will check it out. Okay. Um, why, why is that, that book something that, um, resonates with you? I mean, I heard what you said is in it, but why, why him? Why that book?
Stephen: 00:59:49 I think it’s the way we started out today when I talked about the ego and humility and, um, because uh, Hammarskjöld is somebody who was at the highest levels of society, the secretary general of the United Nations. And, um, and yet he’s, his writing is about this constant battle between this, his humility and his ego in the sense of being called, feeling called to do that he was on a mission and in his case, uh, even to sacrifice his life for his work. And yet this also this other humility that if I’m, if God calls me at any moment to say, this is it, you know, this is all you’re going to do, then I have, I’m willing to say, okay, that’s, that’s it as well. And I’ve, this is all I was able to do in this lifetime. And, um, so the, the writings expressed that for me, which is a constant battle of how much I, you know, I want to write a book and I write the book and I want to feel proud. I wrote the book and I want people to read the book. And yet I’m also saying, well, there’s nothing new in that book, in the eight principles. Everybody knows those eight principles already. And you know how many people are writing books on mindfulness and a, and I’m not going to, I hate self promotion and all that stuff comes into, but, uh, so for me it’s when you enter into this world of projecting your thoughts and ideas into the world and saying there’s a value, then that constant battle comes into about humility. And, um, so I find his writing’s very powerful.
Bryan: 01:01:26 Yeah, yeah, no, that I would definitely check that out. You know, and just hearing you share about that, that balance of the ego and humility, um, and also, you know, not maybe feeling comfortable or not liking self promotion. Um, I’m reminded of something I heard Tony Robbins say, and in or in an interview about something he realized in his early years where he said, I knew from an early age, if I didn’t become a master marketer, my ideas would die on my lips. Yeah. And I thought that was amazing that he connected his mission and propagating, you know, his ideas that he knew could contribute to others with, you know, his willingness to go out and be an incredible self promoter, you know? Yeah. Yeah. And so I, I dunno if he’s found that balance, but, uh, it seems like he’s doing all right.
Stephen: 01:02:17 I think it’s in the book, but a, the, a statement from Rabbi Hillel going way back in history that the three words, the three sayings, if I am not for myself, then who will be if I’m only for myself than what am I? And if not now when, and I find that very powerful just to, you know, that realization that of course you have to be for yourself and your own survival in your own flourishing, uh, and, and that, but if that’s all you’re about then what are you as a, he has a human being. And if you can’t put things into action, then you will certainly not find fulfillment.
Bryan: 01:02:55 Yeah, absolutely. Um, next question. Oh yeah. So you travel I imagine as a teacher, so you travel a ton or you have, what’s one travel hack, something you do or maybe something you take with you when you travel to make your travel more enjoyable or at least less painful?
Stephen: 01:03:18 I, I’ve started to carry a seiza bench of portable seiza bench so that it collapses and then you can, I can pull it out and so I can sit on the floor now, uh, as I fractured both hips over the years now, and I can’t sit cross legged on the floor for a very long, so I have this instead of saying I can’t sit, I actually have a little wooden bench that they carry in it. Uh, I can sit anywhere, anytime very comfortably.
Bryan: 01:03:47 Wow. And Are you standing now? You look like you might be standing?
Stephen: 01:03:50 I’m yeah. So I stand more. I try not to sit.
Bryan: 01:03:54 So your Apple Watch, if you have one, you close that ring every day. No problem. I don’t have one. Yeah, there’s a little, there’s a little circle. They prompt you to stand so often in a day.
Stephen: 01:04:05 Oh, I don’t need that.
Bryan: 01:04:06 Apple looking out for us, but okay. Um, next, seiza bench, something else. You do that it was kind of either a ritual or you don’t leave home without it or.
Stephen: 01:04:17 I carry my pajamas because.
Bryan: 01:04:18 In you’re carrying on.
Stephen: 01:04:21 I always not in the airplane, no, but I, I will, um, I like to carry pajamas. So many in Japan. Of course, many places provide a Yukata so you don’t really need them. But I’ve come very particular about wanting to have a certain consistent comfort of the, uh, of a particular kind of pajamas that I carry with me.
Bryan: 01:04:45 So what, what are the pajamas?
Stephen: 01:04:48 Um, well I have a new one actually, which is they’re made of organic cotton in Japan and they’re like extremely soft and they, uh, are very comforting. And so I’m giving, I give into that sense of physical comfort and how that’s important in a daily sense to help me to get to sleep, even to say, okay, now I’ve got these clothes on and this is time for sleep. Yeah.
Bryan: 01:05:11 Now that’s great. What’s one thing you started or stopped doing in order to live or age well?
Stephen: 01:05:19 I, um, I started to put more discipline into my life to have a more regular life. That was, um, when I was younger, I was more, would go freer with, uh, felt freer to go with whatever was happening and feeling like that was the direction I would find the most discovery in life and the most fulfillment. And as I’ve been aging, I’m realizing that how that is difficult to maintain that kind of a lifestyle. And so I have a much more disciplined, regular lifestyle in and see the benefits of doing that as I get as I age.
Bryan: 01:05:58 What are some of those disciplines?
Stephen: 01:06:01 Uh, go to sleep, go to bed at night instead of, you know, feeling that whatever’s happening could be really interesting and um, this could be the discovery in that I’m looking for and to tell myself to, um, that the day is over and that this is, you have to accept that this is all you’re going to do today. Um, and you will, maybe you were hoping for more or you are, but that this is all that you are able to do today and accept that and go to bed.
Bryan: 01:06:36 You’ll live longer that way I think. I think so research suggests, yes, that’s great. What’s one thing you wish every American knew
Stephen: 01:06:46 How lucky you are to be alive and maybe it’s that simple just into cherish your life and to feel, to believe that your life has a purpose and that you can every day do your best to fulfill that purpose.
Bryan: 01:07:09 Yeah. I wish that, I wish every American knew that as well, even if they don’t have a degree, just knowing. Okay, cool. What’s something that you learned from your parents or maybe your grandparents? Um, is there any advice or anything you observed, you know, them doing that has really made an impact on you in a way that stayed with you? Like you think about a lot, it’s a part of your daily life, anything like that?
Stephen: 01:07:33 Uh, maybe it’s the, um, what, you know, goes back to your, your question about balance, which I didn’t really answer, but it was this, I think it was a sense of seeing, um, the stark contrast in which in my case or are also very visual, the between the Irish side of the family and then the Japanese side of the family and the, the very different ways in which they lived. And that simply that they were in that that was a, I could see the, the beauty in each, uh, and the value in each, I think just by living through living and to, to see that wow, people can be live differently, but that they’re just different expressions of how we all might live in that might be because people are different and that, yeah. Um, but to be open to that realization that we could all be living are a good, live in a different good lives in a different way.
Bryan: 01:08:33 Wow. What a, what a gift. That’s great. Hmm. Okay. So right here before we transitioned into the portion where we talk about writing, when I say this, to make sure that we get that we get to it. Um, two things. First of all, I want to let you know that as a small token of my gratitude, I have made a microloan, uh, on your behalf through kiva.org which started right there at Stanford where you are, um, to an entrepreneur in a Ecuador. So it is a woman named Sandra Zim Anna that she will use this money to buy a computer to further her nursing studies and for her kids schoolwork. So, um, the way her dream is for her family to have the opportunity to improve their quality of life. So in some way together, we’re, I like to think we’re doing that.
Stephen: 01:09:21 Oh Great. Yeah. Good. Thank you. Letting me know. Yeah. Thank you.
Bryan: 01:09:25 And then the other thing I want to do, I want to put here to make sure that we do it and not try to squeeze it in at the end is if people want to connect with you or they want to learn more from you, what should they do?
Stephen: 01:09:36 I have a website and they put a blog on there maybe once a week and they could subscribe to the web, to the blog. Um, I’m, will have very shortly, oh, a site about something that I just started called the Stanford Heartfulness Lab. And so that will be, will go up pretty quickly and people can see the work there, but a lot of it’s already on the, the website, but the lab or a site, we’ll have more Stanford’s specific information, about what I’m doing through the university, um, but those are the, the, the best ways. And then from there they can see that I have an email address to on, on the website that they could contact me.
Bryan: 01:10:21 That’s great. And will you tell us, um, and I’ll put it in the show notes so people can find it easily, who want to do that, but will you also be willing to to say what the URL is for the website? For anybody who’s, who’s just listening now?
Stephen: 01:10:33 Oh yeah. It’s simply my, the whole name MurphyShigematsu.com.
Bryan: 01:10:39 Okay. No, no hyphens, no hyphens. Yep. So, and then Murphy-Shigematsu is just what it sounds like. M U R P H Y S H I G E M A T S U.
Stephen: 01:10:50 Yes. Dot Com.
Bryan: 01:10:51 Dot Com. Yep, that’s right. And of course people can find your books on Amazon.com or hopefully at their local bookstore, hopefully. Yeah, that’s great. Okay. Well then let’s, um, I have just a few questions for you as it relates to, um, writing. And so what do you want to say about writing? Maybe I should quit ask. Just let you say whatever you want to say. I do have a few questions, but yeah, if, if I just opened up a space to talk about writing, um, would you step into it? Yeah. What would you say
Stephen: 01:11:28 I like to write? Um, and then I immediately felt that’s actually not true. Um, I feel called to write and I feel that it was, um, I was told fairly early in life that I write well and that I therefore should want to write or that I should should right. And, but I found it from that point, it was natural to write and to feel the satisfaction in writing. And, um, and so I, but I feel that more than that sense of, I like to write that it feels that I’m, that’s somehow, that’s part of who I am and what I need to do and that, um, when I do it, I do feel the, a healing quality in that, in the writing. And I also feel the satisfaction that I think it perhaps any artists or crafts person feels or, uh, people that anyone who can produce something with their hands. Um, I feel the, the, the satisfaction that I have, um, left something behind in the world to that, um, is very concrete and that it’s, um, so I continue. I’ve written now for a few years and I continue to write and see it as a, just an integral part of my life that I do on a daily basis.
Bryan: 01:13:11 Some, some kind of writing every day,
Stephen: 01:13:14 Some kind. Yeah. And that, but that varies quite a bit depending on the intensity of the, um, the process that, where I am in the process. Uh, what I’m writing for. And um, in terms of a book, of course there are waves in terms of, in terms of how much writing is being done and sometimes a lot and sometimes not much.
Bryan: 01:13:38 I want to check this out in, in your experience to see if I’m, if I’m unique in this or if this is your experience as well. But I have a love hate relationship with writing and, um, and you do talk in your book also about flow, which I appreciate it. Yeah. And I love when I get past my initial or a inertia and I’m into it and I managed to get into a flow state, but it’s, I feel like I’m fighting myself to get to that point. But what I want to check out with you is, is it your experience as well that the act of writing never gets easier. I mean, your quality of your writing might get better, but the act itself is often maybe almost always painful in some way, but then it’s also gratifying, especially when you’re done is that it’s your experience as something similar to that or something different.
Stephen: 01:14:30 Yeah. And I think that’s why I reacted or immediate immediately when I said I like writing because I don’t like writing. And because it’s, it does feel, feels like that. Um, to me also. And I, so when I want to hear it, people talk about writing a book. I have a very complex reactions often, which is, um, one is that I don’t believe everybody has the ability to write a book. And that can come across as arrogant that some people, but I think it’s the reality. Some people write well and some people don’t write well enough to write a book. But more I react to the feeling that, um, I feel like many people think it’s something you like to do and you can do easily. Whereas to me it’s something that is, uh, requires incredible, uh, incredible effort to do it. And that a lot of that, those periods are, are difficult periods in the way that I think I write and, and many people, right, is that you forces you to go very deep within yourself and to um, you know, to really wrestle with some demons and to come out with something that is often difficult to produce because it comes from a place of, uh, it could come from a place of trauma, could come from a place of deep sorrow. It could. Um, but I often find that the best writing comes from a very deep place that is a hard to go to and hard to stay with.
Bryan: 01:16:12 Yeah. Yeah. It does. Remind me a little of the tiny bit I’ve learned about Shamanism, this concept that a shaman is merely someone who goes out and bring something back. Right? And so reaching deep into parts of ourselves, our experience or maybe even the collective unconscious or maybe a super conscious if it exists, you know, going beyond that and then bringing whatever gifts or messages might be back. What I mean, I know that can sound really metaphysical and like, and like crap to perhaps, but what do you think?
Stephen: 01:16:46 It’s a bunch of crap Bryan. No, I’ve, I when you were saying that it really made me aware of the, the, that the state I go into almost is a kind of altered state of consciousness that it really does require. Like when I, when I look at what I’ve written, um, um, if I look at it right now, I’m, I’m amazed often I say, I wrote that, you know, what kind of, uh, and I think what kind of a state of mind was I in when I wrote that, because right now I don’t feel like I’m in that place at all. In a normal daily life. I don’t feel like I can access that place, but what a lot of my writing occurs very early in the morning. Uh, and I often get out of bed without, uh, uh, my head might still be a very foggy or my eyes may have difficulty opening, but my mind is, is so clear and so sharp and it’s in, it’s in places I don’t go for the rest of the day. It’s in these places that are somewhere related to subconscious or the unconscious or these. And it’s got some incredible, a clarity and depth that I, I see later when I look at the writing. But I don’t, uh, and uh, uh, I realized I don’t go there all the time and in every day.
Bryan: 01:18:13 Yeah. It makes me think about the kind of concept I remember reading about you having the sense that there was an old man, right, that inside himself was some kind of an old man from an early age. There was a child that he was, and then this elderly figure inside himself and Ah, and, and I think about this idea of that. There definitely seems to be some kind of intelligence that is part of who we are, right. It’s guiding our respiration, our digestion, you know, all of our nervous system that we don’t consciously control, uh, for the most part. And I wonder, you know, when and how, you know, when we can cross into accessing or tapping into that are partnering with, playing with that, allowing it through. When you say you write early in the morning, how, how early are you talking about? It’s like 5:00 AM sunrise.
Stephen: 01:19:00 I uh, um, I can often, no, I can go from 3:30, but I often, I often resist because I, I know that I haven’t gotten enough sleep. Yeah. But my mind is ready, but I often force myself to stay there and I often can have productive writing going on in my mind for maybe another 30 minutes or an hour. Um, the best periods I will get up about 4:30 maybe. And that gives me a few hours before when I had kids going off to school or the dogs to take care of, I would still have a few hours that I could work in. So for me it has to be very early.
Bryan: 01:19:41 When you write the, you prefer silence or some kind of soundtrack?
Stephen: 01:19:45 Silence.
Bryan: 01:19:46 Silence is its own soundtrack. Right. But you prefer silence?
Stephen: 01:19:50 Yes. I can’t write with, um, with music.
Bryan: 01:19:54 And do you like to write, um, in a, in a private space, like in your home or in an office or do you like to be around people like in a cafe or something like that?
Stephen: 01:20:03 I always write in a private space. Quiet and private.
Bryan: 01:20:09 And when you write, um, what kind of rituals, if any, do you have? You have, you know, light a candle, brew some tea, you know, where a certain robe, anything like that?
Stephen: 01:20:19 No, I, I, well, I always have tea. Yeah, I always have tea. And then I also often will, um, I’ll often read something first and it may be very short, like the, the what I showed you, what the Dalai Lama, the precious human life or, um, I get things into my mailbox. And this is a very tricky though, if you’re going to your computer because you can, yeah. But I get things like the tricycle review, I think it is or the daily good. I get these really inspirational writing can come in and if I feel stuck, I may go to something like that, but I often will do get something very short like, um, to read and I’ll read a little bit and then I’ll go to the writing. So sometimes that works on, but that’s if I don’t have a clear thought already, but if I jump up and I’m ready and I’ve got the clear thought than I can just go right to it with the, but I always get the tea first.
Bryan: 01:21:16 Who has inspired you or taught or guided you in your journey to be a writer and what have you learned from them?
Stephen: 01:21:24 There’s, there’s a couple of people that I think especially there’s the, um, the Jesuit Henri Nouwen, N O U W E N, that, um, I have known since, uh, the days of, of studying to be a counselor. And that I have found that, um, the writing and other writer, Parker Palmer, uh, so two people who are, have written with us with, I feel, uh, dealing with that sense of vulnerability, humility and also ego, the ego to be able to believe you have book after book to read, to write and to publish and to tell the people about the book. And, um, but I found those books to be very helpful for me to, uh, encourage me to write with vulnerability, uh, and to not fall into the trap of, of needing to be the expert and the person that, um, or to write in the best selling way in a, to write in a way that is clearly, uh, saying that you emphasizing to me that you have something more important than other people to say. And I feel like they are there to writers who have written with, um, a good sense of keeping both, uh, perspectives on the writing. And
Bryan: 01:22:59 Henri, Henri Nouwen, Henri Nouwen, he, you actually quoted four lines from him in your book that I wrote a while by. I didn’t right by my lot. I underlined a lot, but I didn’t write down. But when you say so his words, so healing now I had to read this like five times and then I texted it to a friend and we talked about it truly. Um, he said, he said, uh, so healing is the receiving and full understanding of the story so that strangers can recognize in the eyes of their host, their own unique way that leads them to the present and suggests the direction into it in which to go. And this thing about receiving, first of all, telling stories, receiving a story, the wisdom that, that, that the teller of the story already has in finding their own way to go. Right? But you being the person that makes that possible for them and all that. So it’s a bit of a sidetrack, except when you mentioned his name. I wanted to acknowledge that and what you shared really touched me. Yeah. The other thing, it brings up his story, right? Because I’ve talked to a couple of times that you use story, personal story and pointing to other stories very powerfully and um, is we know there’s something really primal that we connect with about stories and linear and the message and, you know, this kind of thing. What’s your advice when it comes to storytelling for writers? Using stories to help make their points or whether it’s to even maybe entertain or teach something. What, what have you found is, is useful because what I’ve seen is, I know storytelling is powerful, but stories seem like the water we swim in there like invisible almost, right from our own experience. But people, when we tell them, often connect with them, they resonate very powerfully. But how can we as writers who are aspiring to connect with and serve others in some way, really find our own stories and use them effectively.
Stephen: 01:24:58 Yeah. That’s, um, I feel inadequate to answer that question because it’s, it’s one I’m, um, I struggle with a lot. I’m not sure that, that, that when I’ve, because when I started this whole process, I was deeply immersed in the academic world and which this was not a mainstream thing to do. You were supposed to write in a way that was academic and scholarly. And so to, to break away from that really took a lot of, uh, belief in that the way I was writing was something of value. And it was, um, when against the current I had to like, uh, so I was, this is like the first book I wrote, which was, um, storytelling of clinical encounters. And it was, uh, something that was, uh, I couldn’t get much support for in terms of my own people that I worked with in the clinical field. But it was, I had to really believe that it was, um, it was a good way for learning for me, but also for teaching and the people.
Bryan: 01:26:09 I’m sorry for those of you who are listening, Stephen just showed me a copy of his book, Multicultural Encounters . Using this as a way of introducing storytelling but still trying to walk that academic or clinical line. It sounds like you didn’t receive a lot of support for back then.
Stephen: 01:26:26 No, it’s, and it’s never been a mainstream in a part of the field. I, I have taught a course at Stanford called narrative psychology. And so there is a recognition that there is something in the field that is, uh, at least can be useful at university level and it’s something academic about it. And, uh, but it’s still hardly a mainstream thing, but it’s something that I have continued to, to use. And I think the, the, there’s a fine line apparently between writing stories also in terms of when they become personal and that when that story becomes a indulgent or a self indulgent story, uh, in the way that you tell it. And that there is a power, there is a lack of power in that, but that there’s a power in if you can tell a story in a way that it is clearly, uh, what is the most deeply personal is also universal. So that I think this is the very beginning of today’s interview. You used an expression like that about the universal that uh, these are universal themes in my book and yet they’re told with particular stories that are unique to me. These are my stories. And so that’s, um, to me the beauty of a story is if you can use your, your deepest personal experiences and insights in a way that connects and clearly shows that this is, this is nothing just strangely about me as this peculiar person. It is my particular experience, but it’s, I tell it in a way that I only want it to, I only want to tell it because I know that it relates to you. I believe that it’s his only, this is a human experience despite all of the particulars that are there. And I believe that you too have this experience in your own way and I want to tell the story in a way that it just goes right into you and you all, yes, that’s my story. You know, his, his mother’s Japanese and his father’s Iris, but that’s his particulars. But the human part that most of the deepest human value that he’s trying to represent in the story is, that’s my story too, because I know
Bryan: 01:28:53 As a, as a practical matter of organizing your content and organizing your book, because I think this is what a lot of people are, I won’t say stuck but maybe don’t know where to begin. And we’re talking about stories. So you have these concepts that you want to, you know, uh, flesh out, you want to share about one way you want to share his story is other ways his research other ways is drawing on other thinkers. Right? And then your own kind of exposition and what you want to say about it. But will you kind of break down or walk us through me and anyone listening through your process? I mean, how do you, from the time you know, you want to write a book about any given subject, in this case, of course it was heartfulness. How do you start to go through that process of figuring out what is it that I’m gonna say, how do I outline it and organize it? Then how do I start to kind of, for lack of a better term, hang, you know, these components on that skeleton and then start to flush it out and make it real. How do you, how do you make a book? How do you basically, how do you take a book from concept to completion? How do you approach that?
Stephen: 01:29:59 Yeah, tough question. So I just started a book called the Transformative 20’s. Um, and I got the. What I find is I get a big idea and then I imagine it as a book and then I get paralyzed because I think, oh my God, how can I write a whole book on that?
Bryan: 01:30:23 And wait you do that too.
Stephen: 01:30:25 Yes. Uh, and then the voices come in, you know, the critics so, so everybody knows that already. And, you know, there’s a hundred books about that and you know, what do you, what makes you think you’ve got anything unique to say about that? And then all of those come in and then I say, well, let’s just start. Let’s just start somewhere. And so the, um, the whole idea is what I want to understand how people navigate this difficult years after, you know, post adolescence or continued adolescence or late adulthood of there’s these traumatic potentially years in which you could either be dead or you could be flourishing. Uh, and you know, some, I know a young person, two weeks old committed suicide and I know other people who are feeling that they are transformed by the simple ways of, of, uh, experiencing the connectedness that they have with others and that, that they feel they find themselves and that there’s all kinds of things going on that end, those, those years. Um, not necessarily confined to the 20’s, but you know, that early life period that I want to know more about, and I believe that I have, I can, if I can learn about that more than I can put something out there that would be a guide to some people to try to get through those years. And, um, so I sat and I say, well, what do I know about it? And I say a little bit because I have been teaching people in those, in that period of time, but a lot of those people are only a, I lose a connection with them after they graduate from college. There’s still only 21, 22 years old. Um, so I said, well, well, uh, go out and connect with those people and find them. And so I, I do have a number of former students who are now all the way up to 30 years old and I still have contact with them. And, uh, so I made it into a, a formalized thing and they say, can we just sit down and I want to hear about how your life is going. Um, and so I started to talk to people in each, each interview. I say, wow, that’s, you know, that’s a really important thing that other, other young people would probably love to hear about how they felt such despair and such that their life was meaningless and that they were doing self destructive behaviors. And then they,
Bryan: 01:33:04 That was me. Totally. That was was, it was, uh, well, yeah, I could have used that book like 20 years ago.
Stephen: 01:33:12 Yeah. And, uh, in one thing I say to the students the other day in the classes was, you know, you know, I, I realize I do this because I’ve seen so many people wake up later in life and it could be even before they die. But, uh, in, often it takes something really, really hard to wake us up to are the value of our life. And it could be a life threatening illness, or it could be a despair that drives us to feel suicidal. They could be, you know, something very hard though. And I said, and I know that’s how we learn the best, but I’m hoping that if we can somehow, you know, in a less dramatic way, learn these values in life, um, in not such a harsh manner that in an earlier that we may have a better chance for, for really living a good life. And that’s why I’m here in this room and this way I bring people who know more than I do about how you get to that place and how you get out of that place. And um, because they’ve experienced things I haven’t experienced and forget where I was going with that. But, uh,
Bryan: 01:34:22 We were talking about how you approach a book from tip to tail and saying you’ve got, you get this concept and you want to ride it and you have the self doubt and you move forward and you start interviewing people. And so you’re getting some clarity perhaps in some material. Yeah. So maybe part of this is how do you start to organize that? How do you particularly keep yourself organized? Do you like to print things and keep them in folders? Do you use Word or Google drive or something else? Evernote, Trello, Scrivener, you know, something about like what are the kind of tactical things that you do as you move into, you know, the creative process?
Stephen: 01:34:59 Yeah. Um, I find it’s helpful to do things in, uh, in steps in the sense that, um, I think many book ideas should never be booked, become books. And certainly you see a lot of criticism about writers said, well they said everything in the introduction or the first chapter. And then they just stretched it out into a whole book. And, um, and I think a lot of books should never become books that it’s, um, so it’s good to, to start with it with articles. It’s good to start with essays. It’s good to start with blogs. It’s good to start with, start somewhere, and then you may discover that, oh, this connects to this other thing I wrote and that, um, it is becoming more than what I, uh, it’s, it is becoming a book. And in other cases you may find, you know, I think I’ve run out of this idea of, I thought it was this kind of a book, this theme, but I had it to seem like it’s not really going to be a whole whole book, but, and then you might redirect yourself even say, but, but this seems to be developing this theme and I can go in that direction. And so I like to write a short, so I like, I find the blogs very helpful. I find essays very helpful. Uh, some of them are just like 300 words. I read a lot of 450 500 word articles and off usually less than a thousand words I find are very, very good writing exercises to bring clarity to my, to my thoughts and that they can then become building blocks towards something.
Bryan: 01:36:36 Yeah. Plus one benefit of that is you also get to see how people respond to it. Right. When they comment, you know what the people who you know will say when they read it and a great, what a great opportunity. That’s, that just makes so much sense. What do you think is important for writers to know or do when it comes to technology?
Stephen: 01:37:03 Technology? Um, I don’t use a lot of technology, so I’m not really sure. In effect, I find it’s, um, extremely helpful for me to print out, uh, as I write. So if I, even if I’m writing a 450 word essay, I will, I might print it out eight times or I repeatedly printed out it because, I just see it differently and better how on paper and see that the see it in his entirety rather than the little bit you can see on the screen. And I am always find that I can write it better if I can see it. So I still use a lot of old fashion techniques in that sense. I will sometimes write on paper still too, because I find that I, I did say I write almost always in my room, but it’s not completely true. I will sometimes write outside, uh, but generally, even in my room, if I’m finding, uh, somehow I just feel moved to write it with a pen, pen and paper. And, uh, it’s sometimes somehow brings up something that feels, maybe it’s a kind of romantic image of a writing rather than, you know, writing on a lap. I know keyboard and, but something comes up. Technology. I’m not sure what else. I, I do carry my laptop with me all the time and it’s, so it’s always, I’m always able to write whenever I have, uh, uh, some time. Um, I don’t write on my iPhone, I don’t write on my, uh, I don’t have a iPad or anything. Um, I’m, yeah, I’m not very savvy with tech. I think other people are using far better.
Bryan: 01:38:51 Well, what I love about that is you, you know, despite not being savvy with tech, you get it done right? And that’s the thing that you cross the finish line, you get it out into the world. And so the means is sometimes interesting and useful, but I think ultimately all of us, like with pretty much everything in life, find our own way. So let me ask you this about creating sentences. Um, what are the qualities of a great sense and how can we write more of them?
Stephen: 01:39:20 I write very simply. And I think that’s, um, something I’ve, uh, I’ve been practicing Haiku lately and I, and the students, I practiced it with the students too. And I think it’s, it’s very helpful for people who think that writing is, has to be complex and the more complex the better. And the Haiku really helps to develop this sense of clarity within with a few words. And, uh, I’m always going for simplicity in the writing and I feel, um, I don’t enjoy writing something that somebody else can’t understand and that they’re using words that a person to say with a high school education would not understand. I don’t like doing that. And I think it’s also, I want my writing to be in sentences that are readable to a lot of people and they could, they could, they could understand them and what’s so when I feel like I’m writing well then I feel like the sentences are very clear and that, um, people are not going to read them and think, wow, that’s, I don’t know what he’s, sounds good, but I don’t understand it. Yeah.
Bryan: 01:40:41 I don’t know what this guy is pointing to that. That makes sense. I remember hearing that advice as well as that writing at a certain era dite level writing is such a way that so academic or high falutin is, is ineffective in communicating. As you know, writing is such a rudimentary level that it, it loses the richness or depth. Yeah. So that makes sense. Well, okay, I know we’re just, we’re just about at time here, so I just want to ask one, one final question. Um, what advice or encouragement would you leave anyone listening to this with when it comes to them getting their book or whatever writing project they’re involved in or any creative project perhaps? No, I’ve just brought in that, but what advice or encouragement would you give to somebody who’s either thinking about beginning has wanted to do it, but maybe it hasn’t known where to start or is in the middle of it and, and, and hasn’t managed to this point to bring it over the finish line.
Stephen: 01:41:41 Yeah. Um, maybe I’ll share another book of mine with you then they, which is the, uh, the title is One Half is Hole and it has a, uh, the image of a moon, of a half moon on the cover. And it’s, um, I thought of it just now because I think we all have so much of ourselves that is in the shadows still. Um, and that what’s in there is something that we, with courage we can discover. Um, but that it’s not going to be easy to go there because a lot of that it’s in the shadows for reasons that we have put it there. And some of that could be though the greatest sources of what we find is powerful in our writing. Um, so I think my, I believe you can go there if you can go there to those places that are still unknown to you and some of that is going to be your own, uh, abilities too. You might find that people have told you, you only know, don’t writing is not important or you know, do this cause this is more important or, or have told you you’re not a good writer, but maybe you they were wrong. But there’s a lot in that, uh, the discovery of, of what you don’t know yet about yourself and that that could be a, if you can take the journey to go there and, uh, then you can find that there’s a lot that you can write about that no one else can write about. Um, but that it’s a tough journey. It’s the hero’s journey and it’s, it’s not something you would undertake lightly and say, I’m going to write a book, but knowing that that process is going to be difficult, but also he could be liberating. It could be joyful. It could be a help you to realize your, your potential, you know, as a human being. And, um, so to see it as something that is a really a meaningful thing that you could be doing in your life.
Bryan: 01:43:47 Yeah. No, that’s great. I know I, that was the last question. I’m just my own curiosity. I just want to ask, do you enjoy, do you prefer writing in English or Japanese?
Stephen: 01:43:58 Uh, I prefer English because my expression, I’m not up clearly, uh, equal, uh, bilingual. So I write better in English and I find that the, the Japanese is more of a, uh, I see, I feel some revelations in that, uh, because of the, um, pry, it pushes me to write in a different way. I think a simpler, even simpler than the English because I, I have less options and I find that the clarity at sometimes or the simplicity of sometimes can be, feel like it doesn’t have enough there. But at other times they can feel like it just cuts right to the, the message or it to the feeling. And a, sometimes it just helps me to say it more simply and that there’s a beauty in that as well.
Bryan: 01:45:00 Yeah, for sure. Well, Stephen, thank you again. Thank you so much for making time to share with me and with everybody listening of your experience and your knowledge. And I would even say if your wisdom, uh, I’ve really enjoyed this conversation. I’ve taken away so much and I think anyone who’s made it, especially to this part in the conversation has as well, so, so thank you for that. Thank you so much. Bryan.