How successful have you been in convincing establishment psychotherapists to adopt Constructive Living?
My job is not to convert anyone to CL. My job is to present reality, the way things are, to the world.
But wouldn't it promote your cause and expose more people to CL ideas if you promoted the ideas in the media, convinced therapists, advertised--in other words, if you went big time?
Maybe someone else will do that with the ideas, the methods of Constructive Living. Again, that's not my job.
Your question prods me to talk in ways that might alienate some people. The truth of the matter is that my work is a calling. I find myself in certain circumstances which inform me of what needs to be done. How I (or anyone else) knows what needs to be done is a complete mystery. My calling is to write and speak as clearly as possible about the way things are.
But you can only describe the way things are as you see them.
Yes, and fortunately I get a lot of feedback from students and readers and, increasingly, therapists who report that they see reality in this manner, too. So I suspect that Constructive Living is not merely the integrated subjective fiction of Morita, Yoshimoto, Reynolds and others.
There are so many realities.
I doubt it. There is only one reality, but there are many perspectives on it. Science, of course, assumes that reality doesn't keep shifting itself in ways that make all generalization impossible. It's likely that people like to talk about many realities in order to justify their personal convenience.
What do you mean?
If all truth were subjective no one's behavior or opinions or beliefs could be challenged as wrong. The criminal who sees society as the cause of his crime would be able to justify it. The psychotic who murders because his victims appear to him to be his mother is merely acting on the basis of his view of reality. Nevertheless, the victims are dead. No, reality is one, truth is not an individual matter to be determined, we have responsibility for behaving realistically.
But not for our feelings?
Of course not. We cannot control our feelings directly; we cannot turn them on and off at will. We cannot be responsible for what we cannot control. It's really quite simple.
But we can't control our behavior either.
Who says so? Certainly we can. We do. You just asked a question. Random words didn't come out of your mouth.
Thirsty, Walking in the Rain: Naikan Notes
David K. Reynolds, Ph.D.
Here is a collection of random notes about Naikan, the reflection aspect of Constructive Living. The notes are in no particular order. If you are not familiar with Naikan I suggest that you read detailed descriptions of Naikan such as found in my Naikan Psychotherapy published by the University of Chicago Press, 1983.
I received from X permission to serve her/him, to give to him/her. Thus, to be able to give something is itself a gift.
Criticizing Naikan by citing difficulties others cause us is like citing rashes to prove that our bodies are worthless. The scale of what is received is immensely greater than the scale of troubles caused us.
"I don't know whether to count my inheritance as something received from Mother," said one student, "After all, Mother was dead." What do you think?
How can husband and wife come to opposing conclusions about who has done more for whom when doing CL reflection? Quarreling couples come to the opposite contrary conclusions before this reflection process, too. Consider two women who engage in barter. One receives a necklace in exchange for a cooking pot. The one with the necklace goes away satisfied that she got the better deal. The one with the pot likewise thinks she got the better deal. As outsiders we may conclude that the trade was equal, but there is no way to determine which of the three perspectives on that exchange is absolutely correct. All three perspectives are subjectively correct.
Naikan asks you to aim at taking the perspective of another. That task is exactly what the shy oversensitive person worries about much of the time: If I give gift soap to X will he think I am hinting that he is dirty? How do I look to X? What does X think of me? The difference lies in the locus for whose convenience the exercise is undertaken-for the neurotic person the goals are selfish and self protective, for the Naikansha the goals are less so.
Beware gift giving in public. It carries the danger that recognition, not giving, is the goal.
Two contrasting views of the past are presented by Skinner and Sartre. Skinner's perspective holds that one's past history holds the crucial key to understanding what one is doing in the present. In other words, our past behavior causes us to display our current behavior. Sartre, on the other hand, turns this sequence on its head. Sartre points out that the meaning we assign to the past (or the past we "assume," as he would put it) keeps changing as we act in the present. Our current behavior causes us to re-evaluate the past. Of course, there is truth in both Skinnerian and existential perspectives. Can you see where Naikan fits in this discussion?
Not doing something can be a trouble caused; for example, failing to go out of one's way to greet a newcomer, attributing our failure to shyness.
Vegetarians kill vegetables and other creatures (insects, for example, indirectly by eating food protected by insecticide and by eating food other creatures might need).
Complainers are experts about what is wrong in their worlds. There is much to learn from them. I usually ask what concrete, specific acts are necessary to alleviate the unacceptable conditions within which they live. What do they need to do to change things?
Naikan is like looking in the pocket of an old overcoat and finding both twenty dollars and an old bill unpaid. --Patricia Madson
Feelings are natural phenomena. There is no need to struggle with them. However it is fine to investigate them in order to get information from them. If hatred is a feeling you experience then it provides information suggesting that you investigate the ways in which you hurt the person you hate and what kindnesses they did for you. This investigation is useful because hatred is usually associated with searching for the opposite (the troubles the hated person caused you and the unappreciated kindnesses you offered them.)
My fear of flying is related to my unrealistic sense of independence, my mistrust of others, my (unrealistic) desire to do much of life on my own. Such tendencies demonstrate my lack of proper Naikan.
Giving thanks to an abstract God can be an escape from looking at the details of the support we receive from people and things.
A fundamental problem with Naikan is that all evaluations are from I-ME-MY center-i.e., what did others do for ME, what did I do for others, what troubles did I cause others. There is no request to look at what mother did for brothers and sisters and the car and the stove. There is really no way to abandon the self by this method, although the self can be diminished.
Notice the difference among:
I gave Mom pleasure by eating the cookies she made for me.
I bought Mom a birthday present from my allowance.
I gave Mom a foot rub before asking her if I could use the car.
I gave Mom my outworn clothes to use as rags and quilting material.
I visited Mom in the hospital instead of going to fun soccer practice.
I donated a kidney to Mom when hers failed.
I died while pushing Mom out of the way of an oncoming car.
Some people are good at noticing how they cause troubles to others and reporting them out during Naikan, but they don't do anything to change their behavior. It is like finding something to fix and not fixing it.
Trees are saving my life. They shade me from ultraviolet rays and reduce my risk of skin cancer.
I often ask my students to put a check mark by items related to what they did for others that didn't also benefit the student. Beware that this assignment also generates thinking about favors received that benefited those others who did the favors.
Mom telephoned to say that her heat was off. Would I come over to reset the circuit breaker for her? Of course. Thousands of times she covered and warmed me as a child. How fortunate I am to have this chance to work on that debt.
To state or imply that a student doesn't say thank you or I'm sorry enough is to place the instructor in the position of a judge. A more useful approach is to point out that I, the instructor, don't say thank you or I'm sorry enough.
Feelings are uncontrollable directly and do not fall into any of the Naikan themes for CL. So becoming angry is not a trouble caused someone, feeling happy and content is not something given to another, love is not something received. The behaviors associated with those feelings do fall into the three themes, of course.
When someone is angry and doesn't want me to do anything for them, then my giving to them is also a trouble for them.
Most of us want to do a good job. We want to be seen as competent and responsible. We want to be the kind of person others want to have around. But to become competent, we would do well to look at areas where we are incompetent. To become responsible, we might look at areas where we are irresponsible. If we want to be a positive force in our organization, we must be able to see ways in which we have been a negative force. We may feel guilty. Guilt isn't necessarily to be avoided. Guilt may accompany a message indicating we need to change, to act differently. Guilt comes from a desire to do well. We can nurture this healthy desire by making constructive changes in our work and life. We can thus unlock a door allowing us to move further toward fulfilling life's potential. Naikan gives you perspective on neurotic guilt. You discover that you have just been tweaking your mind with guilt until you diligently try Naikan.
Naikan points out that extreme concern with getting one's own share results in unnecessary suffering. Why is it that one never encounters a neurotic person who is filled with gratitude? The self- centeredness of neurosis precludes recognition of others' efforts in our behalf. When we recognize that in spite of our imperfection we have been supported by our surrounding reality (including people, objects, electricity, and so forth) our neurotic tendencies are diminished. Our focus shifts from self-protection to serving others in self-sacrifice.
I've never met a suffering neurotic person who was filled with gratitude. Isn't that something? Gratitude and neurotic suffering seem to be antagonistic. If there is anything characteristic of neurosis it is self-centeredness. Gratitude, on the other hand, is other-centered. It carries with it the desire to serve others in repayment, even if it causes some inconvenience to oneself.
Yoshimoto was scheduled to give the distinguished lecture at the first Naikan Congress in Japan. He stood at the microphone and said, "You came so far, instead of talking about Naikan let's do it." So his lecture time was spent with all doing Naikan.
Intensive Naikan is valuable-I did a week of Naikan sitting with Yoshimoto, I did mensetsu interview rounds with Yoshimoto, I conducted the first Naikan retreat in America. I believe that intensive Naikan is sometimes conducted and practiced as something special in Japan. That something special quality of some Naikan in Japan leads to moments of a sort of showy humility, showy expressions of thanks, ritual gift giving, righteousness and piousness. Hopefully, in fifty years that gloss will have worn off intensive Naikan and Westerners will be able to do intensive Naikan as an ordinary, everyday Western thing-if not, I fear that no one will be doing it at all. We have a model, our cousins in Zen, for the trials and tendencies and dangers of adopting a Japanese practice with all its cultural baggage into the West.
Mrs. Nakada sent daily Naikan postcards to Yoshimoto for many years. When interviewed she said Naikan was very valuable, whatever happened Naikan gave the answer. She said that even when you don't need money you want it deeply. She believed it is possible to store up good works and have a plus ledger temporarily of things given over things received.
At one Naikan meeting there was a report of a patient whose symptoms decreased following Naikan though the Naikan was shallow and sporadic. The case was reported as a success. It is a dangerous trend, moving Naikan in the direction of Western psychotherapy's goal of symptom reduction. To use Naikan to reduce anxiety, to cure neurotic symptoms, even to ease body pain is to sell Naikan cheaply.
The task of a Naikan guide is to listen during mensetsu. In early Naikan years to be qualified as a Naikan guide all that is necessary was a personal experience of intensive Naikan and a pair of ears. There was no need for a license. However, in recent years various training programs for Naikan guides as counselors have been initiated. It may be useful to counsel before and after Naikan. In Japan there was a trend in the 1990's to believe that particular guides had wonderful, perceptive styles of mensetsu. Some Naikansha clients would only do Naikan with such guides. That tendency is foolishness. Each Naikansha must find his or her own way. If the guide gives bad advice, it is useless; if the guide gives good advice, dependency on the guide follows. Guides want to be respected and thought well of; Naikansha want to be saved by someone else's effort. Beware!
One reason why the single theme "what was received from others" without the theme "troubles caused others" is not acceptable for Naikan is the danger that the Naikansha will think that what was received was deserved, that the Naikansha is specially blessed. The recognition of how much was received must be balanced by the understanding of the truth that the largess is not earned.
Yoshimoto asked Mrs. Tohma to help me in U.S. when he learned that her husband worked for a U.S. corporation, traveled to America and spoke English.
The place where tariki (other power, as in Jodo Shinshu) and jiriki (self power, as in Zen) become one is the place where others become me, where all becomes one.
Recently one young man presents Naikan every year to Jodo Shinshu priests. They express interest but only about one a year actually does Naikan.
Ishii reported that "good" for Yoshimoto meant doing Naikan, "bad" meant not doing Naikan.
Mrs. Miki remarked that when you have a week of time available, when you face a big problem or tragedy or decision, when you desire self improvement, when you are between school and job or between job and job, then intensive Naikan is particularly useful.
Dr. Mitomo preferred the old Japanese way of counting birthdays beginning with age one at birth because it recognized (by Japanese count, ten) months in the mother's womb, and acknowledged her contribution.
I'm impressed that we keep putting our lives in the hands of strangers without even thinking about it. We entrust ourselves to pilots and bus and train engineers and taxi drivers, even to the drivers of oncoming cars, to bridge builders, food preparers, and pharmaceutical chemists. Very likely we don't know any of these people personally. Yet our lives are in their hands, and we think nothing much of it. We all live by faith.
I called it "my" car. Then I realized that I bought it with money other people gave me for work I did that other people taught me how to do. Then I got to thinking about the factory workers that produced "my" car and the cars that those factory workers drove to work to produce "my" car. Somebody produced their cars. Somebody fed those workers so they had energy to make "my" car. Someone trucked produce to stores so those factory workers could buy food to get energy to make "my" car. Somebody taught truckers how to drive so the factory workers could buy food to have energy to make "my" car. And so on. I may call it "my" car, but I know it is "ours". All borrowed. Thank you.
How many people greet and thank their empty house when they return home from a vacation?
When bending over to pick up public trash we naturally bow to those unseen others who package our products and build our roads.
As we go through life we become locked into our experience-filled histories. If we experience cheating on an exam or sex or homosexuality or battlefront fighting or promotion to management level or graduation from college, that experience is forever a part of our past. We cannot look again with innocence on those possibilities because they have become realities. We can, however, reinterpret the meaning of the experiences, and we do. And we can misremember. Current research suggests that each time we recall something we recreate (reinterpret, recode) the memory. And memories bring fresh, new feelings; though the feelings may remind us of past feelings. Such research has implications for Naikan.
I have personal doubts that some of the powerful memories coming up during intensive Naikan are actual reflections of the true past. Accurate or not, at least they aren't the self-serving memories we usually hold for our own convenience. But with the pressure to come up with "proper" Naikan some distortion may be fostered. Constructive Living is about seeing Reality as it is. Whether it is possible to review Reality as it was, is an interesting philosophical question perhaps best explored experientially.
Asking students to close their eyes and describe the room in which we are meeting sometimes generates false memories of objects that don't exist in the room at all. Instead of memories of blank spaces or unknowns our minds may send us information that is made up, imagined.
Constructive Living Naikan reflection is not about "expressions" of gratitude vs. "feelings" of gratitude. It is about what was actually given, received and troubles caused others irrespective of gratitude or any other feeling. That distinction is important because for many Naikan leaders in Japan, if I didn't give a gift with a grateful heart it doesn't count as something I gave. The danger of that Japanese position is that if Mom didn't fix all my lunches with a grateful or serving spirit (if she did it out of obligation or because of what the neighbors might think if she didn't) then I don't have to count her lunches as something I received. Constructive Living Naikan reflection counts a gift as a gift whatever attitude or feeling accompanied it.
If you read the Naikan web pages in Japan they are full of words translating out as "Naikan produces joy" "Naikan generates gratitude" "Naikan leads the way to peace and happiness". Constructive Living reflection, like the Constructive Living action or Morita aspect is about noticing and acknowledging reality.
In Naikan rather than try to get at the feelings and motivations of the person who did something for you, look at the details of the behavior. For example, not Mom fixed lunches, but what time did she get up to fix them, when did she do shopping, what other activities did she forego to fix lunches, etc.
Examples of indirect Naikan-- 1. What x did for my child, my mother, my father, my company, my car, etc. These are indirect favors received by me. 2. What I gave to others indirectly. For example, recycled paper that was processed into new paper used by others. 3.What troubles I caused others indirectly. For example, I argued with my boss who then was grouchy during the day to other workers. However, more direct Naikan reflection is powerful and sufficient.
Calculating the number of ancestors for the past 500 years, assuming 25 years per generation yields more than 1,000,000 ancestors.
"Thank you" should be properly followed by specifying thanks for what. "Thank you" alone may be too easily and automatically spoken over time.
When doing Naikan specific topics may include rides offered, thanks returned, food, information, smiles, time, changed sheets, cleaned clothes, words of praise, warmth provided, mistakes corrected, items discarded, work provided, medications given, washed hair, helped when failed, taught words, taught a skill, straightened tie or shoes, taught rules of a game, sports companion, flowers given, directions and routes taught, allowed to go first and the like.
Extending the secret service concept one sort of secret service occurs when you turn the handle of a serving spoon or fork toward the guest or fill the car with gas or clean the sink and the other person doesn't notice your kindness. Your intent may not have been to do the act secretly, in particular, but the result is a secret service.
Naikan topics for kids: Thanks, presents, "sorries"
Here are hints to help recall the past when doing Naikan reflection. Consider holidays, special events; tastes, foods, smells; quilts, bedspreads, pillows, teddy bear; furniture in your bedroom and in the kitchen; medical events, emergencies; troubles such as running away, lawbreaking, fights, vandalism, breaking windows accidentally, and spills. Don't become too comfortable while sitting in reflection in order to avoid drowsing.
On Intensive Naikan
Aside from the potential danger of making Intensive Naikan a "holy" experience led by "holy" people, another potential danger in my opinion is that it is a kind of "setup." Consider a situation in which the persons doing Naikan reflection are being served food and otherwise cared for while they are being asked only to do proper Naikan reflection on what is received, returned, and troubles caused. That experience is fundamentally different from giving a student a CL assignment and saying "You must go do this assignment on your own; no one else can do it for you." The former may produce dependency in a way unlikely in the latter. Of course, no one is self-sufficient; but I hope that CL produces a movement toward independent seeing/doing.
Again, it is not that I am opposed to intensive Naikan despite the above reservations (and others). It remains a powerful means for affecting the lives of people in positive ways. I recommend it to many people and support many who conduct Naikan intensives. It is dangerous in a way that the Morita action approach is not (Morita's method has its own problems, not the least of which is that cool, distanced attitude). For my part, I prefer the Naikan-like assignments of CL to intensive Naikan-they may be less powerful emotionally, but they may be enough to get the job done of discovering the depth of how we "are lived", as the Japanese would say.
David Dunn has a book (Try Giving Yourself Away. Scarsdale, NY, Updegraff Press, 1947, Reprinted by Prentice Hall, 1970) rich in examples of ways to repay our debts to others. Some examples from the book are:
Send ideas, compliments, praise, credit regarding products and services from postal workers, trash collectors, politicians, committee members, and the like.
Write a note to an author.
Praise a speaker or chef.
Telephone the elderly.
Fill in on a job for an hour answering the phone, addressing envelopes, allowing
Compliment strangers on their dress or when noticing their kindness to others.
Safely pick up hazards on the road.
Interview newcomers to town for a column in the local newspaper.
Send books, clippings, or cartoons to friends.
Send a second letter of thanks months or years later to express your remembering
the source and usefulness of a gift.
Pass the salt and pepper.
Listen with attention to others' talk about their hobbies and other interests.
Constructive Living Suggestions and Queries
How were you supported when you were sick?
List those known females who made meals for you since you were born.
While strolling do Naikan on what you see.
Serve others first, let others go first, let others speak first.
Situational Naikan: Reflect on a date or luncheon meeting or other event. What did you receive from others at that time? What did you give to them? What troubles did you cause them.
Find ten ways to criticize someone gently (e.g. soften with humor, criticize oneself, tell a tale)
What did you do that made your mother cry? Your father angry?
Make a list of people thanks to whom you or your ill family member receives or received medical/social care
A Westerner's Experience of Naikan
(Personal communication, the author is not DKR)
I must admit that I was a little nervous as the small train I was riding on made its way to the station. After all, I was going to spend seven days at a temple, sitting by myself and thinking about my past. I wasn't sure what the people there expected of me, or for that matter, what I expected from Naikan. Dr. Reynolds and I had met in Tokyo and he told me that the people at the temple were very warm and that they were more than happy to have foreigners come and practice at the temple. That thought reassured me but I was still a little anxious.
The train pulled into the station and I telephoned the temple to let them know that I was coming. I stood out in the rain waiting for the taxi to come and pick me up. A man from across the street came up to me and asked me if I was going to the temple. I replied that I was and I also inquired as to how he had known. He told me that the priest's wife had just telephoned and told them to take care of me. It was just another one of those examples of the kind of "blanketing" that I had become accustomed to while staying in Japan. I choose the term blanketing as opposed to protectiveness or watchfulness because it's more a way of making someone feel comfortable in unfamiliar or stressful situations than a means of restraint or control. This same sort of thing undoubtedly is part of every society. I think that you notice it and appreciate it more when you're in a foreign country, maybe because we often take it for granted when we're at home.
I stepped out of the taxi and met the priest, his wife, a man who would serve as my interpreter for the first three days, and another young man who was staying at the temple. We all went into the temple which, I was later told, was approximately 500 years old.
They led me into a small guest room where, after some pictures were taken, I was given a short orientation about Naikan training and temple life in general. Although still a little nervous, I was anxious to begin training.
The priest's wife suggested that I take a nice warm bath and rest before starting because of my long train journey the night before. Again that comfortable feeling of being cared for welled up inside me and I decided to take her offer. I realized that I was not going to be rushed, and that helped me feel much more at ease.
After a short nap I was called for dinner. I proceeded into the small dining area and saw two other Naikan trainees along with another man, whom I was later informed, had been at the temple for the past four years practicing "Nembutsu" (sitting meditation). I had decided on the train ride that I was going to fast for the first two days, so my meal consisted of a rice bowl filled with water.
After the meal I made my way to my small carrel and sat down facing the wall. My interpreter came with some square cushions for me to sit on. He told me to examine my life in relation to my mother from birth until age nine. I sat there and tried to recall as many experiences from that early time as I could.
In Naikan you are asked to look at three specific aspects of your relationship with another person: what you received from that person, what you gave back and the ways that you have troubled that person. I thought about these in succession until I had made a small categorical list in my head. I was somewhat anxious about the answers that I had prepared, however. Were these what they expected? Would they think them superficial? This anxiety encouraged me to go back and probe even farther. After another fifteen minutes or so I had gathered a number of other episodes that I hadn't thought of before.
My interpreter approached me from behind and I turned to him, knelt down and confessed all that I had remembered. He listened with his head bowed to the floor without saying a word. After I had finished he paused and then told me to continue with the next three year period, and to do my best.
After he left I sat there, relieved but drained. He had made no comment as to the content of my disclosures. Did he think they were good or did he feel that I wasn't really pushing hard enough? These doubts kept bothering me. Besides that, I could hear the old man across from me sobbing as he related his recollections. I realized that I wasn't really worried about what he thought but that I was being tormented by my own doubts. I knew that I could push harder. One thing that becomes clearly apparent while practicing Naikan is that there is no one there to fool and that your whole masquerade is meant to fool yourself. No self-created subterfuge is deep enough to fool its maker, however, and the whole thing falls apart.
You're left with your hardest and most demanding judge, yourself.
It was very difficult to sit and concentrate for two straight hours though. I found that I would take the first twenty minutes after a personal interview, as it was called, and just clear my mind and rest. Then I would start thinking about my past for thirty minutes or so. It was very hard to keep following a steady stream of thought for more than a few minutes. Stray thoughts would pop into my head and break my concentration.
After having studied and practiced Zen meditation a little I knew that the best way of getting rid of these thoughts was to let them come and pass without focusing on them. Knowing and doing are two different things though, and I often found myself floating off on a tangent for ten or fifteen minutes at a time. I just tried to push as hard as I could in remembering my past.
I was troubled by a nagging question. Was just remembering in itself enough? I decided that I had to take the recovered experience and dwell on it for a while. I looked at what I had done wrong, and how it must have made the other person feel. I tried to put myself in their position and look at the situation and my subsequent behavior. I felt that this was a more effective way of eliciting certain guilty or remorseful feelings on my part, as opposed to just pulling out a long list of remembrances.
After supper, or more correctly, after my bowl of water, we sat for another three hours of Naikan. I was informed that we were all to have individual interviews with the head priest. We waited in line and as the bells rang proceeded one by one into his room. I waited anxiously because I had to do this one all in Japanese. I went in, knelt down and expressed to him what I had recalled. We then started discussing various things about America, Buddhism and Japan. It was rather nice to discuss other things besides my recollections. I found him to be very amiable and open as he sat in a meditative position with his black robes on. He seemed very much at ease and his peacefulness pervaded the whole atmosphere of the room.
After everyone had concluded their interview we got ready for bed. We took down our "futon" or mattress, which is kept in a closet-like space above the carrel, and laid it out. It felt so good to sleep after sitting all day long.
We woke at five, put away our bedding, washed our faces and began Naikan again. It may be a misnomer to say that we started or stopped Naikan, however. Although the intensity or form may change, Naikan is supposed to be a continuous process. After about an hour we had a morning service which lasted about twenty minutes. The priest played a special tape in English for me. I heard a different tape, covering various aspects of Naikan and Zen, every day I was there. I felt bad because the other people who were there, all of whom were Japanese, were forced to sit in a formal kneeling position and listen to the tapes even though they didn't know what was being said. Anyone who has knelt in "seiza" will understand my sympathy for my fellow practitioners. The routine of the day before continued. That routine was almost unchanging throughout my whole stay of seven days. After I had finished looking at my relationships with all the central people in my life I was told to investigate lying and stealing. The priest gave me a brief talk about lying and stealing in order to help my investigation. He pointed out many small things, that I would have taken for granted, that are indeed lies or thefts.
After finishing with lying and stealing they told me to go back and look at the people close to me again. This time, however, I would take it in two year intervals instead of three. They said that if I could only remember the same things as before it was all right. If I recalled other things, then that was even better. They put no pressure on me nor did they try to make me feel bad if I couldn't remember anything else.
During the middle of the week I was asked to go to the local junior high school to speak. That gave me a break from Naikan and a chance to talk to a lot of young Japanese students. The next day they told me that because I wouldn't be doing Naikan for ten days, which is the customary time period, I should start a more concentrated analysis. By this they meant taking one hour for every time period instead of two. I liked the idea because I had found that two hours was too long for me. I couldn't concentrate that long and consequently, much of the time was spent daydreaming.
One hour intervals were definitely intense. I would delve into my memory, pull out experiences, dwell on them for a while and then move on to others. I'd take a break and think of how I would say it in Japanese. I would have my interview, take about 10 minutes rest and begin analysis again. It was very tiring and I often grew frustrated because of my lack of concentration and the physical pain of sitting so long. I just kept pushing though, and kept telling myself that I had to do it, there was no turning back. I may have lost some quantity of recollections by switching to one hour intervals but I think that this was counterbalanced. By not allowing as much rest time I was able to engage my psyche and give it little or no time to recover, thus increasing the magnitude of the guilty feelings.
As the last few days rolled by I could feel that a change had been taking place within me. My outlook on my life, on the lives of my parents and friends, and even on people I didn't know too well, had changed. I didn't look as critically at things that had previously bothered me about other people's personalities. I felt a sort of oneness, or more specifically, an empathy for others. A sense of "we're all in 'this' together." 'This' being life. It wasn't an overpowering feeling of love or joy. Instead, it was a more subtle feeling of content. Not an object directed goodness but an overall feeling of interrelatedness with the world around me. It's very hard to explain the feeling without sounding trite and maybe even insincere. Hopefully it will not be taken that way because it was a very real state. I can only suggest that someone try Naikan for themselves. I'm fairly confident that they will experience a similar, maybe even greater feeling of belonging.
Sure, there was a lot of guilt that had come out during my stay. It wasn't a bad guilt though. I didn't feel that I was a bad person. Instead, I felt as if there were many things that I could do to repay the kindness that I had been and still was receiving. There was definitely a lot of energy in me just waiting to be released and I couldn't wait to start letting it go.
The priest and his family saw me to the station. They told me that I was welcome to come and visit anytime I was in Japan. It was a very warm feeling to know that these people had totally opened their arms to me, and that we were friends.
The train pulled away and we waved good-bye. Although we were heading in very different directions, I felt like I was taking a part of their world with me, and I was very thankful.
Ways to Avoid Attention to Debts
You may find yourself overwhelmed by your debt to others when you begin doing Constructive Living reflection. Your mind may rebel against acknowledgment of a life of unbalanced receiving. You may find it convenient to forget to do daily reflection or find yourself too busy to do it. Here are some tips to help you avoid facing the truth of your indebtedness with regard to someone we shall call "X." You may substitute your parents or your spouse or your employer or whomever for X. Consider these tips as a kind of vaccination against avoiding Naikan reflection on troubles caused others.
1. Fail to notice what you owe X.
2. Emphasize what X didn't do for you.
3. Minimize your debts to X by comparing them with what you did for X.
4. Minimize your debts to X by comparing what X did for you with the finer things others did for you.
5. Become angry or disappointed with X so that all debts appear canceled.
6. Concentrate on all you are doing and have done for X.
7. Emphasize all the troubles X has caused you over the years.
8. Pretend you aren't ignoring large portions of personal history in order to arrive at your personally-convenient conclusions.
9. Emphasize your own need to feel good about yourself and to avoid any self-evaluation that might make you feel uncomfortable.
10. Focus on X's faults so that X appears undeserving of anyone's debt.
11. Point out that X did a lot for others (such as your siblings), too, so that your sense of personal debt is diluted.
12. Feel so overwhelmed by the debt that you give up on any attempt to pay it back or even think about it.
13. Distract yourself with introspection about your unconscious need to feel guilty and indebted to others.
14. Distract yourself by worrying about all the other debts (in general) you owe, as well.
15. Emphasize your commitment to the Morita action element of Constructive Living and your dislike of the Naikan reciprocity element.
16. Analyze the variety of possible self-serving motivations underlying X's behavior in your behalf.
17. Drop X a token thank-you card and forget the whole thing.
18. Change your surroundings; take a trip.
19. Wait. It will pass.
20. Get busy on more important projects.
21. Focus on how much you are doing for everyone else these days.
22. Tell yourself that you'll repay X sometime in the indeterminate future.
23. Give up on the possibility of repaying X. X has everything. Anything you might give X wouldn't be noticed or appreciated.
24. Focus on X's insensitive responses to your repayment in the past and conclude that there is no point in making another meaningless gesture.
25. Remind yourself that you could have and would have done that task by yourself had X not helped with it.
26. Point out that you have done Naikan on that person already.
27. Consider that X did something for me at that time but terrible things to me at other times, so they zero out in the balance. (Suggested by Gottfried Mitteregger).
28. Point out that your mother never asked you to do anything for her so you didn't, that she didn't seem to mind when you caused trouble for her or asked for something from her.
29. Blur with words like "Probably", "I may have...", "Maybe", "It is possible that"
30. Everybody hated her.
31. She would get angry if I (caused a trouble), so that the emphasis is on her anger and not on the trouble I caused.
32. She didn't appreciate the gifts I gave her.
33. We (brothers) would grumble about...
34. I wasn't able to give her...
35. They wouldn't let me clean up/ do dishes/ work to pay for my rent.
36. Just once I... Usually, I didn't...
37. The doctor said to... (so that it is the doctor's responsibility for the trouble caused)
38. She does it all the time. That is her job, part of her role.
Quotes from Ishin Yoshimoto, the founder of Naikan
Note: The page numbers given in the rest of this chapter are from Naikan Forum, Nr. 1, 1991, (original in Japanese).
The base of all religion is selflessness. p. 233
To know your future look at yourself now. p. 224
If in doubt about cooking, taste it. (Yoshimoto asked a media interviewer to do Naikan.) p. 76
Most people make requests and give thanks for cure on special occasions, but we need to thank God day and night with every breath. p. 225
If a few tears well up there may be lots more underneath. Tears are not proof that the Naikansha is doing deep Naikan. Crying is a release, like watching a movie (p. 94).
Naikan helps you take on an objective perspective, as though you were outside of yourself. If you investigate your past footsteps you can see your present self more clearly. Naikan purifies the mind and personal values (p. 242).
A butterfly is born and dies in one summer; it doesn't know about spring or fall. (Yoshimoto believed that the variety of fated circumstances presented to small children and to adults are proof of karma in past and future lives, p. 224.)
It is certainly wrong to eat other living creatures in order to stay alive, so, while eating, we should apologize to those who died and thank them for sustaining our lives (p. 227, Yoshimoto attributed this idea to Shinran).
The one who needs saving is me now.
The following quotes are from Yoshimoto's followers after his death ( in translation from the Japanese in Naikan Forum, Nr. 2, 1992):
Thinking of yourself as a Naikan guide hurts Naikan. Nowadays rather than thinking of saving many people through Naikan I hope for a single person to do Naikan with me. --Inoue
We don't share in the pain of creating Naikan; we just enjoy the fruits of Yoshimoto's work. -Nagashima
A Naikan Lecture
The following is excerpted from my lecture at the National Naikan Meetings, Toyama, Japan, May 14, 2000
There is a difference between saying arigato and sumimasen when receiving a gift in Japan. Both may be translated as "thank you" in English but sumimasen adds a flavor of "I don't deserve this gift," a sort of lowering of the self. In a similar way, it seems to be easier for Americans and Japanese to write letters of thanks than to write letters of apology. We all protect our positive self-image.
The influence of American thinking is increasingly strong around the world. Americans value independence, self-sufficiency, and individualism. You hear in Japan the American psychological foolishness that children should become independent of their parents, that self-esteem is most important for an individual's development, and that you should take care of yourself first before you meet the needs of others. Don't believe those extreme ideas. They are popular, but they are wrong. Naikan will help you see why.
There is no "self-made man" in the world. Americans would like to believe that we overcame the handicaps of our childhood and our poverty and our social class and our race and our poor education. We would like to believe that it was our own individual hard work and cleverness and patience and good character that brought us success. Americans tend to ignore the importance of others in our success.
Today I'll talk about the importance of Naikan for a realistic perspective on the world. Naikan is an important part of Constructive Living.
II. Gifts from Reality
There are very few truly humble and modest people in the world. We are plagued by egotism and pride. Even within the Naikan world, truly humble and modest individuals are rare. The wonderful thing about Naikan is that it forces us to face our self-centered pride again and again. We must admit that we have done nothing on our own, that we borrow the efforts of others and use the products created by others and seek the approval and applause of others. We may not conquer our pride and selfish behavior, but Naikan forces us to look at it again and again.
Here are some facts: Thousands of people worked to get me to Toyama from Saitama quickly and safely: train builders and operators, road construction designers and workers, those who planned and built cities, electricians and communications experts and government workers. Of course, those people didn't know me, and they were probably paid for their efforts. Nevertheless, their work allowed me to get here. The effect was as though all their efforts were designed just for my convenience. How kind of those people!
The people who make our cars are paid for their work, of course. They may not be thinking of us as they make the cars. Still, we benefit from their labor. Without them we have no cars. My hope is that when those strangers who make our cars receive their paychecks they think of the strangers who kindly buy their cars and allow them to earn an income. We may not be thinking of them as we buy the cars that they make, but they benefit from our buying cars. Without us they have no jobs.
One of the unfortunate elements of civilization is that we can forget and ignore the persons we owe. They are so many; they are so distant.
It doesn't matter whether epinephrine (adrenaline) works (indirectly) to release glucose into our blood on purpose or not. We benefit from it nevertheless. Similarly we benefit from the acts of others. The chair on which I sit not only "represents" the labor of others. It is the concrete result of their labor. Whether or not others made it with me in mind, whether they made it reluctantly, angrily, for wages, or thoughtlessly--however they made it; the result is that I benefit from this chair that they made.
There is no way we can earn or deserve what we receive from others every day. There is no way we can satisfactorily pay them back for what we receive. Naikan teaches us that we are all saved by grace in the sense that there is no way we can do anything but make token payments for all that people and things do for us. Naikan is not about give and take; it is about give and take and take and take and take. We don't have to be perfect; we don't have to (in fact, we cannot) earn the generosity we receive. There is great relief when we realize that "salvation" keeps coming, that we are cared for by others moment by moment, whether we deserve it or not.
It is useful to separate the Naikan perspective from an ecological perspective. In Naikan one doesn't preserve water or other resources because they are limited but because of one's personal relationship with them. Thus, it is my consideration of what was received from and what I owe to this piece of trash, this glass of water, this food, and this electric switch. The process of preservation is personalized.
III. Naikan in Constructive Living
Constructive Living (CL) is an educational method for living well based mainly on the ideas of Masatake Morita and Ishin Yoshimoto adapted for modern people. In 2000 there were nearly 200 CL instructors around the world-in Japan, the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, England, Germany, South Africa, Mexico and elsewhere. A week of formal Naikan reflection is not part of CL per se. We sometimes assign Naikan-like assignments such as writing letters of thanks or apology, cleaning out drawers and suitcases, secret services, picking up trash in public places and even daily Naikan reflection specifically on named people, unknown people, pets, objects, and so forth. Such assignments are specific CL exercises based on the three Naikan reflection themes. They all have an action component. To repeat, our Naikan-like assignments come from the three themes of formal Naikan.
Some CL instructors are also active in promoting intensive Naikan through retreats. That activity is a genuine contribution to the world, but it is not CL. Formal intensive Naikan meditation in the West carries with it an aura of the mystical and Oriental. Such a mystique attracts some Westerners to try Naikan, and so it can be useful. However, there is no mystery in CL Naikan-like assignments; for example, in a letter written to one's mother thanking her for specific services she performed during a specified period of the past.
In CL we have found that Naikan helps give us a new perspective on present reality, it helps us reinterpret our past using current adult values, and it helps us clarify our purposes. It gives us a useful perspective on what we have done in the past and what needs to be done next.
CL suggests that feelings are natural phenomena. We cannot control them directly by our will. Furthermore, there is no need to struggle with them. However, feelings may provide us with information about what needs to be done in our lives. The Naikan side of CL theory suggests that if you feel hatred or have a grudge against someone then those feelings are telling you to look at the ways in which you have hurt the person you hate and what kindness they have done for you. This investigation is useful because when you hate someone you usually search for the opposite (the troubles the hated person caused you and the unappreciated kindness you offered them.) So feelings can cause us to ignore some aspects of reality. The Naikan part of CL helps us to see some things we have overlooked. It helps us have a more realistic perspective on our lives.
The purpose of Naikan in CL is to make us more realistic, not more grateful. But one natural result of seeing the world realistically is to feel grateful, to feel remorse that we have overlooked so many ways we have been helped by others, and to desire to do our best to repay others for their kindness.
Another Naikan Lecture
The following is excerpted from my Naikan for Foreigners lecture at a Naikan workshop on Oct 31, 2010.
Naikan and Culture
Naikan is the practice of reflection on reality developed by Ishin Yoshimoto in twentieth-century Japan. The three themes of Naikan are 1. What did I receive from others? 2. What did I give to others? 3. What troubles did I cause others? Later I shall discuss some extensions of this reflection practice used in Constructive Living. Although Naikan was initially developed for Japanese, its fundamental questions are relevant for all humans in all cultures. The social costs for Japanese who are not responsive to these themes are particularly high. In Japan one must be careful to reciprocate and cause minimal trouble to others for fear of social ostracism and other social penalties. However, to some degree these social obligations exist in all cultures.
In particular, I find Naikan especially useful for Americans because American culture is so self-centered. It is typical for Americans to believe that their success is due to their individual efforts and their failures are due to the errors of others (improper parenting, for example). Naikan helps the Naikansha (the person doing Naikan) to see the broader picture of reality's support and our own failure to notice that support and respond properly. Interestingly, as Japan becomes more Americanized, the self-centered aspects of American culture become adopted, producing a further need for the insights of Naikan among the Japanese people, too.
American culture is also excessively feeling focused. The idea that Naikan produces feelings of gratitude is acceptable, but the possibility of producing guilt as well makes Naikan suspect. Unpleasant feelings should be avoided or "cured" somehow with psychotherapy or medication-such thinking seems to be common in the United States. That unpleasant feelings can be accepted and used as sources of important information seems less well understood by Americans. There are more important considerations than feeling comfortable all the time. Naikan teaches important lessons while a variety of feelings come and go.
Naikan and the Brain
Much research on brain function is being done these days using MRI and other methods of exploration. Naikan involves memory, recalling past persons and events in terms of the three themes listed above. Current thinking in brain research suggests that our memories of past events may have details wrong, but the general sense of the memories are usually fairly accurate. The memory area of the brain and the brain's ability to predict the future appear to be located in generally the same part of the brain (medial temporal lobe, hippocampus). So if injury to the memory area of the brain occurs, the person has both amnesia and lowered ability to imagine the future. As memory skills increase so does the size of the hippocampus. For example, London taxi drivers who must undergo extensive training in memorizing the layout of London's street patterns also show increased size in the hippocampus area of the brain after training. So it is entirely possible that doing Naikan actually increases the size of the hippocampus area of the brain.
The brain's ability to focus attention is limited to a narrow range. Most of us assume the environment is regular and unchanging, so our brains learn to ignore much of the environment much of the time. Blindness to change is a theme of many experiments in social psychology. For example, in studies where a person asks directions of a stranger, then some large object comes between them and a different person continues to ask the same directions of the stranger, the stranger does not usually notice that the person asking directions has changed. Similarly, college students filling out questionnaires do not notice that the interviewer facing them has changed. One of the purposes of Naikan is to train the brain to become aware of what is received, what is given, and what troubles are caused. Thus, the area of attention is expanded to these thematic areas.
Questions about Naikan from an American student
"1. Most people today are too busy trying to make ends meet. In such a situation why and how would anyone decide to do a therapy like Naikan which involves so much time and patience? Is it really practical?
2. Do you think such a therapy can be used with adolescents?
3. In a place like Japan with its collectivistic culture, a therapy like Naikan would be easier to propose. What about individualistic cultures like the U.S.? How would you convince an American to try Naikan? (After reading about Naikan I do understand that it is very useful to adopt the Naikan perspective, but someone who has never heard of it in detail may not see the sense in reflecting on those three themes.)
4. Do you think Naikan can or should be used with people who have low self-esteem? I think the guilt experienced by the client may make him/her feel even worse.
5. Don't you think Naikan therapy would be suitable for certain personalities and not others because it's not a conventional form of therapy?"
How would you respond to these typical student questions?
Naikan in Constructive Living
We often add a fourth theme in CL (Constructive Living) Naikan. Our fourth theme is "Knowing what you have learned from doing the first three themes of Naikan, what needs to be done?" We add this theme because some Naikansha seem to think that the end of Naikan is to produce feelings of gratitude. In fact, proper Naikan produces a variety of feelings including gratitude, guilt, happiness, sorrow, anger, and many others. If Naikan doesn't result in Naikan-appropriate behavior, it is a no more than a mental exercise. Constructive Living employs both the action aspect of Morita therapy and the reflection aspect of Naikan in combination to produce a well-rounded person. For our American students Naikan helps replace the typical ephemeral self-confidence with a wider confidence in reality's support. The third Naikan theme launches an attack on the self that cannot be defended adequately. The Naikansha discovers the possibility of giving up on efforts to sustain a grand self-image in spite of selfishness and thoughtlessness toward others. A broader base for the self is located in the matrix of realistic support by people and things.
As a child I wondered why I should feel self-confidence all the time in spite of many moments of my imperfection, unkindness, and stupidity. While doing Naikan I also reflected upon why we forget the troubles we cause others, others' favors to us, and why we remember others' misdeeds and quickly forget our own. I realized that our minds are busy trying to sustain a positive ego image, an effort requiring selective attention. Naikan exposes that narrowness of attention and broadens it. I learned that all of my behavior causes trouble to others in some sense--my eating causes something to die, my letter of thanks is written on paper provided by a dying tree, my gift to one person prevents me from giving that same gift to someone else, and so forth. Even my not-doing something causes trouble to others. For example, my failure to greet a stranger, my failure to maintain proper health practices, my failure to give directions clearly, and so forth, cause trouble to others. It is not pleasant to see myself primarily as a taker from the world and not a giver, but it is realistic. There are no self-made men, no people who are only caregivers, no one who takes so little that they "burn out" from giving so much.
The power of Naikan lies in its emphasis on the judgment of the Naikansha. No Naikan instructor will tell the Naikansha what counts as something received, given, or a trouble caused. Decisions about what falls within the three themes are completely up to the Naikansha. Americans appreciate this independence. Just as Morita therapy emphasizes the individual's right to decide what needs to be done, so Naikan gives the individual the right to explore himself or herself without control by the instructor.
'Just as we omit Morita therapy's absolute bedrest in CL, we also omit intensive week-long Naikan. Our instruction is office-based, without the facilities or restrictions of a long-term commitment by the student. Of course, intensive Naikan may be a very useful experience, but we do not include it in CL. Some of our exercises, based on Naikan, are listed below. The CL student is assigned specific exercises to develop Naikan insights. Then the student reports out the results of the exercises. You can look carefully and see which of the Naikan themes underlie each exercise.
1. Offer ten thank you's each day to an assigned person using a variety of phrases. Offer ten words of praise or zero words of criticism to a specific person each day.
2. Walk barefoot to appreciate shoes. Do without something temporarily in order to appreciate its service..
3. Do secret services for others without telling them or being seen by anyone.
4. Write letters of thanks or apology to important people in your life identifying specific things received from or troubles caused to that person.
5. Clean a drawer or purse or some other container thanking each of the contents for a specific service rendered you. Thank your clothes as you put them in the washer.
6. Pick up trash, napkins, cups, paper towels as a service to unknown others.
7. Bow to your computer or dishwasher or car before using it.
8. Do daily Naikan. Do event Naikan on a party or birth or graduation or other event in the past.
9. Do situational Naikan. While working give thanks to those who hired you and cooperate in your work, while eating a meal to those who grew and transported and prepared the food, while driving to those who designed and fabricated your car, and so forth.
10. Consider, then put in to practice, what you can do in return to the service of your shoes, electricity, water.
11. Put into action your thoughts about repaying those who have died.
12. Compute the amount of money your parents spent on you from your birth until you turned 20 years old. Compute the amount of money you spent on them during that period.
13. Do the same two computations from the time you were 21 until the present or until your parents died.
14. List your accomplishments, then list those whose efforts allowed you to achieve those accomplishments.
15. Garbage Naikan is thanking an object for a specific service before throwing it away.
16. Adversary Naikan is making the effort to do Naikan on persons you dislike.
Misconceptions about Naikan
Some misunderstandings about Naikan expressed by American students include the following:
1. Naikan will make me realize how much I have received from my mother, so I will have to do everything she tells me to do. I will become a doormat. (Response: No, doormats are merely lazy, doing as they are told without thinking of what is best for the mother. Sometimes refusing to obey is the best thing we can do for someone.)
2. Naikan is about nostalgia, about looking on the bright side, a Pollyanna perspective. (Response: No, Naikan requires you to look at both the light and dark side of life in a realistic manner.)
3. Naikan will at last allow me to forgive my parents. (Response: You may be surprised to discover that Naikan will also prompt you to ask for your parents' forgiveness.)
4. Naikan is a Buddhist practice requiring strong religious character. (Response: Naikan began as a Buddhist practice, but it has evolved into a practice available to anyone. It requires no particular character type.)
5. Naikan is not for me because it won't improve my self-esteem. (Response: You may find your self-esteem more solidly grounded within reality-esteem. Recognizing your imperfections you find you have been supported by others all along.)
6. I do Naikan all the time anyway; there is no special need to do the exercises. (Response: Let's see how much Naikan you do on a daily basis. Please give the assignments a try.)
Some Naikan leaders say that Naikan allows one to take on the perspective of another, a parent perhaps. But no one can really see one's childhood from the parents' viewpoint. At the base, we all see as we imagine others might see.
The results of our Naikan lie outside of our control. Indirect Naikan might be a smile that is passed on to others, a complaint that puts the boss in a bad mood causing troubles to others. But Oppositional Naikan is also possible. For example, when you give a gift to one person you cannot give the same gift to others, causing them trouble. A complaint to the boss may result in improved working conditions, something given to others. We cannot know with certainty the outcome of our behaviors.
When looked at closely, word labels both reveal and conceal the implications of our actions. Words reveal generalities but also hide details. For example, doing Naikan on named persons is preferable to doing Naikan on "farmers" or "factory workers" or "God". Such latter Naikan may be little more than Naikan on words. The best Naikan is not vague or abstract but concrete and specific.
Both Morita and Yoshimoto independently stated that their methods lead to the door of religion. Naikan prompts us to ask why we are taken care of so well in spite of our wrongdoing and in spite of our failure to notice the bounty we receive and in spite of our failure to return as much as we are receiving. From a religious perspective we are "blessed." A variety of religious doors are available if one chooses to enter.