For most of us, our daily lives are busy and complex. We deal with a wide range of people and challenges, not to mention physical and emotional difficulties. And when things don’t go our way, it is easy for us to get frustrated or upset. Likewise, when things go well, we can too easily succumb to pride or greed, hurting others along the way. Either way, we suffer when we are not fully aware of what is happening in our minds and bodies. We end up reacting to situations as they arise, in habitual ways. And often these habitual reactions are not the most skillful or intelligent responses. They are carried out in moments of unawareness, or ignorance. As a result, our relationships with others can become problematic, which causes further difficulty and stress.
One solution to this problem is self-reflection, or introspection. There are many ways to reflect on oneself. One very simple and easy to understand method was developed by a Japanese businessman named Yoshimoto Ishin. He called it Naikan, which in Japanese means, “inside looking”. The practice of Naikan involves the use of three questions, all related to another person or relationship in your life. They are:
* What have I received from others?
* What have I given to others?
* What troubles and difficulties have I caused others?
Notice that the question “What troubles and difficulties have others caused me?” is missing. Yoshimoto thought that the focus on this question comes naturally to most people, and is the main cause of their misery.
In this way, the practice of Naikan causes us to use our relationships with others as a mirror in which we can see ourselves clearly. It allows us to see ourselves through the eyes of others, cultivating gratitude and the awareness of the interconnectedness of all life. It is said that the daily practice of Naikan can lead to greater happiness, awareness, and well-being.
What do you think? In what ways might you use a practice like Naikan to improve your relationships with others and your overall well being?