TIRED OF REHASHING your childhood in the cushy moral relativism of a therapist?s office? Try Naikan, the Japanese art of self-reflection.
Developed in the 1940s by Ishin Yoshimoto, a devout Buddhist, Naikan is the art of looking inward, and appreciating others, by making lists based on three simple questions:
What have I received from _______?
What have I given to _______?
What troubles and difficulties have I caused ________?
You might explore a relationship by filling in the blanks with one person?s name. Or you can use these simple questions to contemplate everything you?ve given and received from people over the course of a day or week. Each list you generate should be detailed, including things often taken for granted. Here are items from my three lists this morning, for example: (1.) My aunt gave me these socks two Christmases ago and now they are keeping my feet warm. The air I?m breathing keeps me alive. (2.) I made my roommate a cup of tea. Later I shared a smile and a chat with the barrista at the coffee shop. (3.) I frightened a squirrel when I backed out of the driveway.
The goal is to reflect on these lists and thereby gain a more balanced view of reality. Such self-reflection ?strips us naked of our excuses,? writes Naikan researcher Gregg Krech in Naikan (Stone Bridge, 2000), ?leaving us to view our life as we have lived it. There is great power in reality as it is.?
Laine Bergeson is Utne?s research editor.