naikan for the new year 12.27.2018

Another year passed —
Empty rice sacks remind me
how lucky I am 

Ho Sen

Organizing my desk the other day, I came across an article I’d printed out years ago about Naikan and gratitude. I plan to spend a couple hours on the last day of 2018 in quiet reflection, working through this list.

The basic format of Naikan reflection is simple: You look at a specific person for a specific time period. You then consider three questions, writing down your answers in three separate columns on paper.  In general it is useful to spend 45-60 minutes for each period of reflection:

– What did I receive from _____?
– What did I give to _______?
– What troubles or difficulties did I cause ______?

“As a New Year’s exercise, make a list of ten of the most important people in your life. For each person, reflect on the three most important things they have done for you or given you. Notice how many of these items were important, not just in their own right, but had led to other wonderful experiences and opportunities that may have not otherwise occurred. Then ask yourself, “What can I give to this person, or do for this person, in the coming year?” Try to select something that would be important from their perspective rather than something you think would be good for them. Eventually, the list is completed: ten gifts or services for ten personal supporters who have attended us.”

And here are more suggestions for naikan-related exercises one can do for the new year:

  1. Reflect on your mother, father or other people who have supported you during the past year. You may have received things during an earlier time period, but still benefited from them during this past year.
  2. Do Naikan reflection on someone with whom you’ve had difficulty, conflict, or tension during the past year. This is often the type of self-reflection we don’t feel like doing. Maybe this is an indication that it is needed.
  3. Make a list of 100 things you’ve received this past year without providing any compensation or consideration. These could be things you received as gifts, things you stole, or things you used without payment.
  4. Make a list of 25 important services that were done for you during the past year.
  5. Reflect on ways you caused trouble and difficulty to people you listed in number 4, above.
  6. Reflect on lying and stealing for the past year.
  7. Reflect on your speech this past year. In what ways have you spoken critically, harmfully, or inappropriately about others? How did this cause harm or trouble?
  8. Reflect on ways you mistreated objects during the past year.
  9. What have you learned this past year? Who taught you? Make a list of all the people and objects that helped you learn and grow personally, professionally, and spiritually.
  10. Write thank-you letters to those who have cared for you and served you this past year. Be specific and personal.  You can end the year by thanking those who have supported you and they can begin the year by knowing your gratitude for their efforts.

All of these suggestions are from an article titled “NAIKAN: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection” by Gregg Krech. I’m unable to find this particular article online.

As I work through these reflections, I know my gratitude will spike, if only for a brief time. But perhaps each time I send out a gift or service to one of the ten people on my naikan list (if I can keep it to only ten!) I’ll be reminded of the thankfulness and gratitude in my heart. Happy New Year!


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