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Excerpt Wednesday - “Naikan: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection" by Gregg Krech

Thomas Joel - Wednesday, November 16, 2016

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, 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.

It’s no secret that Thanksgiving can quickly devolve into heated political debates and cringy ideological divisions between family members; however, by consciously implementing the Naikan tradition, the essence of this American holiday – gratitude – can easily be delivered from the frustrating miasma of squabbling contention and discord. With this in mind, the excerpt below offers incisive and profound insights and tips on how to express and receive gratitude in a more heartfelt, active, and humble way:

To live a life of gratitude is to open our eyes to the countless ways in which we are supported by the world around us. Such a life provides less space for our suffering because our attention is more balanced. We are more often occupied with noticing what we are given, thanking those who have helped us, and repaying the world in some concrete way for what we are receiving and have received in the past. Our minds are absorbed by noticing and reflecting; our bodies are kept busy expressing and repaying. Perhaps you are more aware of repaired potholes in a road or someone opening the door for you at the store. But perhaps there are also times when you notice such things and still don’t feel grateful. What should you do when your expanded awareness still leaves you feeling upset, depressed, or resentful?

It is important to distinguish between the internal experience of gratitude (thoughts and feelings) and the expression of gratitude in the form of words, thank-you notes, services, or gifts. We may receive something and not feel grateful. It is not necessary to struggle to create such a feeling. We simply feel what we feel. Such feelings are beyond our power, and it is a misuse of effort to try to fight our feelings of ingratitude or create feelings of gratitude. Rather, we should respond with an expression of gratitude, such as a verbal thanks, a letter, or a gift. Those who have supported us deserve our attention and our thanks. Such actions are possible even where there is an absence of felt gratitude. Often it is the active acknowledgement of what we have received that stimulates true feelings of gratitude. Our efforts to reciprocate by offering a gift or service of our own may actually awaken us to the experience of gratitude. But if we “go after” such a feeling, we become preoccupied with our own comfort and pleasure. Naikan simply asks us to be aware of reality, and our gratitude is expressed because it is deserved by others.

Are we willing to examine our own lives and see how often we have failed to express gratitude for what we have received? This is dangerous territory, for it is uncomfortable to acknowledge our own gratitude. But through such an investigation we can become aware of the mechanics of ingratitude and perhaps bring more appreciation into our own life as well as the lives of others.

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.


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