A New Appreciation

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.

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