Awake-ism: The Heartmind Of Buddhism with Ethan Nichtern

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“Awake-ism,” in Buddhist teacher Nichtern’s view, means to be aware, open, and compassionate. He looks at Buddhist thought as a useful psychological, philosophical, and ethical system that anyone can make use of. We can all agree that living an awake life is a good thing. His advice for living in these times is to maintain our awareness as we move between very personal spaces and collective spaces. Many enter meditation in order to reduce stress and become more mindful. Hopefully our practice will deepen and lead to forming a healthy relationship with our self. It can also point us toward taking responsibility for our own “heartmind” and how we react to things. Nichtern describes ”heartmind” as an entwinement of our head - the cognizing, logical, reasoning intelligence - and our heart - the feeling intuitive, emotive intelligence. He exhorts us to turn our heartmind into our home - one that is safe - and encourages us to welcome our emotions whatever they may be and then let them go. It is about having a relationship with our own mind. He speaks of a transformational activist as one who practices a kind of holistic approach. It is the balancing of three levels of awareness: the personal, the interpersonal, and the collective. He says it is “like looking at each day and saying: did I do my personal practice, did I show up to relationships in a way that was empathetic and compassionate, and am I staying in touch with the larger community and society that I live in? ” (hosted by Justine Willis Toms)


Ethan Nichtern is a senior teacher in the Shambhala Buddhist tradition and the founder of the Interdependence Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to secular Buddhist study as it applies to transformational activism, mindful arts and media projects, and Western psychology. Nichtern has taught meditation and Buddhist studies classes and retreats across the United States since 2002. He is based in New York City.

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Topics Explored in This Dialogue

  • How Nichtern became a Buddhist teacher in the Shambhala tradition
  • What does awake-ism mean in Buddhist terms
  • What is meant by the term “heartmind”
  • What is the deeper tradition of Mindfulness
  • What is meditation
  • What is interdependence
  • What are the different levels of Buddhist practice: personal, interpersonal, collective
  • What it means to be at home with yourself
  • What is a transformational activist
  • How can we acknowledge the wisdom of emotions and successfully navigate their arising

Host: Justine Willis Toms      Interview Date: 5/20/2015      Program Number: 3550

Music Playlist

From Album: Beautiful Wasteland
Artist: Capercaillie
1998 Survival Records #RCD 10441

Opening Essay: Track 01 M'Ionam
Music Break 1: Track 01 M'Ionam (reprise)
Music Break 2: Track 06 Co Ni Mire Rium
Music Break 3: Track 09 Kepplehall