April 25, 2005

Putting Naikan Into Practice: Naikan and Conflict Resolution

by Linda Anderson Krech

Naikan can be a powerful tool for reconciliation. Sometimes I keep this tool in my back pocket, or even walk around with it in my hand, but this is just about useless. If I take it out and use it in a focused and wholehearted way, it can be transformative, revealing missing pieces that may dramatically change what I see and understand.

Many years ago I, along with a handful of other family members, helped to start a center for those with serious mental illness. Fueled by our passionate desire to help our loved ones and our great disappointment in the existing mental health system, we secured funds, found a space, hired a director (who then hired me as his assistant), and opened our doors. It was a dream come true. The director, however, was not living up to my ideal. On the second day of the program, he did not come in, choosing instead to attend to non-urgent personal business. I had been watching his job performance with some dismay during the preceding months as we prepared to open, noticing all the things that he could be doing that he was not doing, and becoming increasingly disappointed. When he did not show up on the second day, I was livid.

The next day I communicated to him, in front of other staff, that I thought he wasn't doing his job and that I was concerned about whether he could succeed in this position (remember, he was my boss!). Needless to say, things were very disrupted by this encounter, and I wondered where it would lead. That night, not knowing what else to do, I did Naikan reflection on the Director. Not feeling like it, I took an hour and reflected on these three simple questions.

What had I received from him?
What did I give to him?
What troubles and difficulties had I caused him?

What rose to the top of my awareness was all that he had done to move us forward with this beloved project -- things that I would have had trouble doing and didn't enjoy doing, things that enabled us to open our doors. And I recognized specific troubles that accompanied my being on his staff, not the least of which was my ongoing scrutiny of his performance. Before work the next day, I bought him some flowers and left them with a note on his desk. The note said something like "Thank you for all you've done to get us to this point. I hope we can work together to make this an extraordinary center." When I saw him hours later, he could not speak. He was very emotional and indicated that he would talk to me later. And then I found a note on my desk that said, "That was one of the kindest gifts I have ever received."

Naikan's influence is softening. It opens the heart, redirects the attention, helps us to mind our own business, allows us to get unstuck. Naikan helped the two of us strengthen our partnership.
What could have been the beginning of the end, instead became the beginning of a better relationship for us. I got busy doing my job rather than monitoring his; he got busy making extra room in his life for the huge demands of his position. Maybe we could have found our way there without Naikan, but I don't think so. After fifteen years, he is still director of this program and the program is a phenomenal success under his leadership.

I invite you to consider using Naikan when you are caught up in conflict with others. It's worth a try. It may help you to make wiser decisions, ones that you will not regret, decisions that are more fair and openhearted. It may help you put yourself in the other person's shoes. The world could use a bit more of that right now.

Posted on April 25, 2005 6:10 PM

When is naikan no longer an appropriate tool in a difficult relationship?

Posted by: jean on May 15, 2005 2:35 AM

Morita and Naikan therapy has helped me a little, but I still tend to procrastinate, because my life has gotten perhaps too simple.
I am curious if just doing nothing or very little every day is a waste of a life, or is it less stressful and relaxing to not compete in the modern world. I am grateful for my laziness in an odd way. Yet their are times I feel I am not making my mark in the world.

Posted by: Frank O'Connell on May 6, 2005 3:36 AM
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