Naikan reflection questions and the challenges behind them
Naikan is a self-reflection process composed of three segments but Dorothy Dalton asks if there is a fourth question we should be asking
With Thanksgiving on the horizon for our American friends and colleagues, this is the gratitude season. As you know I am a big fan of gratitude. But I want to flip this around and introduce another concept.
Some of you may know I studied this year to become an Ikigai coach. Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means your ‘reason for being.’ ‘Iki’ in Japanese means ‘life,’ and ‘gai’ describes value or worth. Your ikigai is your life purpose or your bliss. It’s what brings you joy and inspires you to get out of bed every day.
I am very much a work in progress and there are a number of really great self-reflection tools which I am incorporating into my coaching programmes. Many of them correspond with other more modern coaching approaches, but one I am just starting to become familiar with is NAIKAN developed in the 1940s by Ishin Yoshimoto, a devout Buddhist of the Pure Land sect (Jodo Shinshu).
Naikan is a Japanese word that means “looking inside,” though a more poetic translation might be “seeing oneself with the mind’s eye.”
This is a self-reflection process composed of three segments. Traditionally, you would go to a Japanese Buddhist Temple and meditate on your own in complete silence for 7-10 days. I have skipped that part.
Naikan reflection is based on three questions:
- What have I received from ____?
- What have I given to ____?
- What troubles and difficulties have I caused ____?
Although the questions are simple the challenge is to see the complexity behind them.
Naikan question 1: What have I received from ____?
Sometimes we take what other people do for us for granted. The invitation for coffee, dinner, or the movies. Photos of my grandkids from my daughter. A quirky tweet or mention from a colleague or network contact.
Naikan question 2: What have I given to ____?
This is the point at which you make a note of what you have done for others. A man recently questioned my credentials to comment on bias in recruitment. I exercised unusual self-restraint which I consider to be a remarkable act of heroism. I will have to check if that counts.
Maybe you thanked someone or recognised their achievement or contribution. There are so many ways to do this in an age of social media and digital communication. Make a recommendation on LinkedIn or give kudos. Send a WhatsApp message to someone you haven’t been in touch with for a while or pick up the phone. There are a ton of possibilities.
Naikan question 3: What troubles and difficulties have I caused ____?
It is this last question that we typically don’t ask ourselves. Mostly we are aware of how other people cause us inconvenience or difficulty. We’re great at doing that aren’t we? I really like this question.
But when we are the source of the trouble or inconvenience, we often don’t notice it at all. Or if we do, we think, “I didn’t mean to.” “It was an accident” or even turn it around into “get over it” and dismiss it as “not a big deal.”
It is that element that can underpin many micro-aggressions either in the workplace or in our personal relationships. Yoshimoto suggested that we should spend 60% of the time considering how we have caused others trouble.
Should there be a 4th question?
I asked my ikigai coach at Ikigai Tribe Nick Kemp, author of Ikigai-Kan, Feel a Life Worth Living if it would be useful to have a fourth question “What did I learn_____?” He kindly posed that question to his podcast guest Dr. Clark Chilson, Associate Professor in the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Pittsburgh, a Naikan expert.
The response was no – you will feel when you have learned something.
This is why I am a work in progress, still unable to let go of Western ways that we need to name and articulate what we have learned to make it real.
Watch this space!
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