Reflecting on Reflection: On Love and Naikan Meditation

Naikan meditation, sometimes called the Japanese art of self-reflection, is the practice of reflecting, often in writing, on the following three questions:

What have I received from _____?
What have I given ______?
What troubles have I caused ______?

According to thetodoinsitute.org’s “How to Practice Naikan Reflection,” Naikan may take several different forms: a daily practice in which you reflect on events and people in your day; a weekly (or otherwise extended) practice reflecting on your relationship with a specific person over time (often starting with the beginning of the relationship, through the present); or an intensive week-long retreat meditating on the “movie of your life” as a whole. The intensive experience may be impractical or intimidating for many (although John Kain’s essay “The Beautiful Trap” inspires me to consider it). A daily or weekly practice is within reach. So I decided, in this month of romantic overdrive, to meditate daily for a week on my relationship with Steve, to see what I could discover.

Love

The first lesson

The first experiment fail was the “daily” aspect.

Weekends when Steve and I were together, I felt awkward saying, “Oh, I need to go off in the corner and contemplate us—entertain yourself.” Weekdays, I gave my energy to previously scheduled evening commitments. One night I wimped out after taking notes and prepping for classes until 9 pm.

Since part of the idea is to focus on the acts of giving and receiving themselves, rather than the stories we tell ourselves about those acts—or the judgments we’re quick to pass on them—I simply note: reflecting daily was a challenge. It was also a quick lesson in how easy it is, in the complex worlds we navigate, to let our relationships sift to the bottom of the priority list.

Ultimately I wrote two reflections, in two long blocks of time, each one focused on one of two weekends we spent in each others’ company. Steep learning curve. Continue reading