April 22, 2014

Use Naikan Meditation for Mindfullness on Earth Day


A few years ago I was introduced to Naikan, a Japanese therapy technique pronounced the same way as the fancy camera. It’s a simple series of three question that guide you through examining your relationship to people place and things, and it’s a great mindfulness tool you can use every day.

Simply ask yourself:

What have I received from __________ ?

What have I given to __________ ?

What troubles and difficulties have I caused __________ ?

These questions can be applied to all the usual suspects, of course, like your boss, your spouse, your children, your friends, even your pet. It helps you to be aware not only of what you have to be grateful for, but also  your contributions, both positive and negative.

For example, you might ask yourself

What have I received from my department?

What have I given to my department?

What troubles and difficulties have I caused my department?

The first might lead you to reflect on your paycheck, your benefits, a sense of camaraderie and belonging, feelings of success and fulfillment, and new skills, for example.

The second might have you contemplate on the hours you’ve put in, the effort, your background, personal connections and experience that you’ve poured into your work. Perhaps you’ve stayed extra hours, picked up a coworker’s tasks, or brought brownies in to the office to brighten your team’s day.

The last might help you realize that you took a long lunch that inconvenienced someone else, or that your delay in responding to email made someone else’s day more difficult. Perhaps you don’t have a skill you need to effectively finish a project. Perhaps you said something that came across the wrong way.

These three simple questions can help you observe and accept the positives and negatives of your relationships day to day. It’s a helpful meditation that gives you room to consider your impact on the world around you without judgement or guilt, but instead proactive acceptance.

Where Naikan gets really fun and interesting is when you apply it to big abstract concepts, like your company, your neighborhood, or your community. You can even apply it to the environment, which would be a lovely way to celebrate Earth Day today. When I first tried Naikan, the practitioner suggested I started with a big, non-human concept to better get a sense of how Naikan could work without getting hung up on the interpersonal side. She had me try it with

What have I received from water?

What have I given to water?

What troubles and difficulties have I caused water?

When you meditate with something as abstract as water, it forces you to really take Naikan to its philosophical limits, which can make more detailed or personal meditations easier. It also introduces you to one of the best aspects of Naikan, which is to understand how you fit into your larger environment and evaluate if you’re making a positive impact on the people, places, and things around you.

So go on— celebrate Earth Day today with a little Naikan meditation. What have you given water? What have you received from Planet Earth? What troubles and difficulties have you caused the atmosphere? Your answers just might surprise you!

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