I had the opportunity to reflect on both my father and mother during many Naikan retreats over the past 28 years. I had turbulent relationships with both my parents during my childhood, but I credit Naikan reflection for opening my eyes and my heart to my parent’s love, and for moving me to a place of greater acceptance that was, in part, built upon the recognition of my own limitations and faults. My own weaknesses as a parent are prominent. My father’s devotion to me is an ideal that I strive for in my devotion to my daughters. And, to be honest, both my children are much easier to parent than I was.
Not everyone will have the opportunity to reflect on their parents while their parents are alive. But when we reflect on them we have an opportunity to rewrite our stories so they more accurately represent the original draft – the draft that took place in reality, rather than our minds. We can create a story more grounded in fact and less tainted by the emotional coloring of our confusion, anxiety, resentment and anger as we unfolded into adults.
There is nothing in Naikan reflection that condones violence or abuse by a parent towards a child. Spiritual and psychological contemplation is not designed to deny our suffering, for we all have suffered. In fact, it’s the recognition that we all have suffered that allows us to be released from the illusion that somehow our suffering is special — somehow it is worse than the suffering of others.
When we see people at work or social gatherings, we see people making their best effort to function despite the suffering that occupies their life in the present and past. We easily make the mistake that these people “have their act together.” But in reality, in the privacy of their bedrooms, in the confidential corners of their relationships, and in the recesses of a mind which harbors their fears, anxieties and regrets about life, they suffer as well.
One of the gifts of Naikan, of quiet contemplation, is that it allows us to see beyond our suffering into how we were cared for and loved. And sometimes, it allows us to see suffering itself as having been the messenger of grace. For many of us, this discovery can only be made in retrospect. For some of us, self-reflection will paint the way we understand the present, and open doors to a future that would otherwise have remained bolted shut.
Excerpted from Question Your Life: Naikan Self-Reflection and the Transformation of Our Stories by Gregg Krech (editor), 2017.