New Years Day is almost here, and with the New Year comes resolutions and new beginnings. Every year we take this time to reflect on the past year, celebrate our successes, learn from our failures, ponder what we did right and what we can do to improve ourselves in the coming year.
In the spirit of this self-reflective, self-improving time of the year, we thought it would be appropriate to pull a passage out of “Naikan: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection,” a book that draws from the titular tradition of Naikan ("nye-kahn"), a structured method for intensely meditating on our lives, our interconnections, and our missteps. Through Naikan we develop a natural and profound sense of gratitude for blessings bestowed on us by others, blessings that were always there but went unnoticed. This collection of introductory essays, parables, and inspirations explains what Naikan is and how it can be applied to our daily lives.
The excerpt below is Krech’s introduction to the chapter on “A Moral Self-Examination,” in which he ruminates on human nature and the necessity of reflecting on our mistakes, examining ourselves free from illusions and self-deceptions, and consciously improving ourselves to actualize our full potential as moral human beings. Krech’s incisive prose proffers profound insights and incisive tips on how to reflect on and improve ourselves in a more true, active, and life-changing way:
There is an element of our human nature that is poised to judge the conduct of others as soon as that conduct falls short of our ideals. This is particularly true when their conduct causes problems or difficulties for us. How could she do such a thing? How could he treat me like that! How dare he lie to me! How dare she steal! We do not hesitate to provide punishment – in words and deeds – when others transgress against us. And even when we forgive, we do it for a pedestal.
But what of our own transgressions? How often do we examine our responsibility for the pain of others? How often do we see our own culpability in an argument? How often do we reflect on our own misconduct with the same energy and effort with which we criticize the behavior of others? We seem to have developed a skill for dismissing and excusing ourselves, even as we accuse others who have acted no less virtuously. As Bishop Fulton J. Sheen states,
We wrong others and deny there is any guilt; others do the same to us, and we say that they should have known better…We flatter others because of what they can do for us and call it ‘love’; we lie to them, and call it ‘tact’…We overeat and call it ‘happy’; we pile up more wealth than is necessary for our state in life and call it ‘security’…We begin sentences with ‘I’ and condemn our neighbor as a bore for wanting to talk about himself, when we want to talk about ourselves.
We are a species skilled in the art of self-deception. In the interest of a glowing self-image and high self-esteem, we have sacrificed something much more important: truth. If we venture into the arena of self-reflection, we might discover that our reality does not match the image we hold of ourselves. Then we will have to give up one or the other.
Conducting a sincere and honest examination of our lives is a challenging task. It is particularly challenging when we must face incidents and events of our past in which our behavior was hurtful to others. But if we limit our reflection to only those moments of pleasure, accomplishment, and kindness, we fail to develop an accurate portrait of our existence. The discovery and examination of our innate selfishness transforms love from that which is deserved to that which is a gift. As long as we deny and dismiss this aspect of our nature, we cannot come to this realization.
We are frightened of giving up our illusions about ourselves, yet, in reality, it is not a dangerous journey. It is the safest method of travel. The trip itself gives us direction and purpose. The further we go, the stronger our faith.
With each step,
Shoes, crafted by others,
Protect and comfort my feet.
For more information about “Naikan: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection” or to order a copy for you or a loved one, click here.