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Thinking about Kokoro

Mind and Heart

Yesterday was the Dalai Lama’s Birthday, July 6th.  It reminded me of when I heard him speak, in person, back in 2004 in Vancouver.  One of the important messages he delivered at UBC,  was to not focus exclusively on educating the mind. As he said, North Americans do an excellent job of educating the mind but not so good when it comes to the education of the heart.  This memory started me down my Japanese word list because I knew there was a word for mind/heart.

I recall  postponing a difficult decision years ago because my mind and heart were not in sync. And taking another because they were. The longer I live the more convinced I am that good decisions necessitate both the mind and heart. When they come together and I act, unexpected doors open. It doesn’t take away the hard work but the struggle has less agitation.   When I don’t listen to my heart but overrule it with my mind, I soon regret it.

I want to clarify that I am not speaking of fuzzy thinking or positive thinking. Rather, I am talking about a sincere process of investigating both mind and heart to see if they are in sync.

I couldn’t remember what the Japanese word was to illustrate this so I went looking. My Japanese readers are welcome to add any nuances to the translation. Luckily, I found an interesting  article on the topic and include an excerpt.

Let’s start with the idea of heart.

In Japanese, there are three words for “heart”: shinzou, which refers to the physical organ, ha-to, which is the Anglicized word for a love heart, and kokoro, which means… well, that’s more difficult to explain.

Kokoro is well understood in Japanese, but difficult to explain in English,” says Yoshikawa Sakiko, director of Kyoto University’s Kokoro Research Center. Conceptually, it unites the notions of heart, mind, and spirit: It sees these three elements as being indivisible from one other. “For example if we say, ‘She has a good kokoro,’ it means heart and spirit and soul and mind all together.”

One of the problems of discussing kokoro in English is that by linking words—heart and spirit and mind—with “and,” we imply divisions that simply don’t exist in Japanese. But in this Eastern culture, the three aren’t intrinsically linked as one: They are one.

Researchers are beginning to break down conceptual barriers and explore what artists, writers, mystics, and dreamers of many cultures have long acknowledged: the mysterious tie between heart and mind, a.k.a., kokoro. For example, scientists in Japan consider this concept while working on computer simulations, robotics, primatology, and more; it has allowed Japanese researchers to explore and discuss spiritual matters in a way that’s otherwise impossible in an academic environment.

We should take the interrelationship of our thoughts, feelings, and desires into account in order to understand human experience.

American Scientists

American scientists have also explored the connection between body, mind, and spirit. A 2015 article in The Atlantic, “The Brains of the Buddhists,” highlights the work of neuroscientist Richard Davidson, who studied monk brain activity at the behest of the Dalai Lama. Davidson concluded that compassion activated positive emotion circuitry in the brain and that Buddhist monks were extraordinarily mentally healthy as a result of a cultivated spirit of generosity. “The systems in the brain that support our well-being are intimately connected to different organ systems in our body…compassion is a kind of state that involves the body in a major way,” he said.

But you don’t need to be a specialist to understand the implications of kokoro. In fact, you probably already have a sense of it, even if you had no word for it before. Take a moment to reflect on the interconnectedness of all things, and you’ll feel your heart—the shinzou one—flutter in response.   Excerpt is from this article in Quartz, for those who are interested.

Practical Examples

I have experienced and met several people who had cancer, where the tests didn’t detect it, but where their heart and gut was certain something was wrong, only to discover after much persistence they did have cancer. Now, this is not for one instant a criticism of medicine.  My medical team and all of the medical teams I have been involved with have been remarkable, brilliant, caring and life saving.

What it is, is a reminder to each of us to also trust that inner voice that isn’t satisfied with the test results. Sometimes, we may be over anxious under the circumstances but if a sense of foreboding  persists than check it out. Get a second opinion. Turn over every stone.

This works with love too. We may be crazed with romantic love and refuse to acknowledge the warning signs from our mind. Best to take those into consideration too.

I love the word kokoro – “heart and spirit and soul and mind all together.”


Note 1:) Thank you, thank you, for all of your encouraging words and downloads of my small book. Also, I am not a Facebook user and I was surprised by joy at all the lovely greetings I received as well. I am  fortunate to know so many wonderful people around the world.

Note 2:) A friend sent me a good news video of one woman’s creative gratitude/art project. Here is the link. It is 8 minutes long and lovely.

Note 3:) For my poetry readers I think you will like this. Months ago I told you about the poetry pharmacy and here is an update. For anyone who is in need of a poem, please write to me and I will send you one. In the meantime, the link.

Note 4:) I wish you another lovely July week. Be bold and brave and cast your smiles far and wide. We all need them. warmest wishes, Trudy

8 replies
  1. Carol Ingells
    Carol Ingells says:

    What a wonderful blog, Trudy! Thank you. I will reflect on kokoro. The photos are beautiful, too. I saw the film of the 100 cards showing gratitude. It was lovely. Many blessings, good woman.

  2. Janice
    Janice says:

    I agree with Carol – you are a good woman Trudy, sharing so much light and wisdom with this blog, a fine example of heart and spirit and soul and mind all together! love Jan

    • T Boyle
      T Boyle says:

      Hello my poet friend. I think you have read every single blog post I have written, and at last count that is 167. Yikes. Many thanks for your constant cheer-leading.

  3. Margaret
    Margaret says:

    Trudy, I found myself nodding at this: “North Americans do an excellent job of educating the mind but not so good when it comes to the education of the heart.” I so wish that weren’t the case, but perhaps there’s hope for us yet. Thank you.


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