When faced with difficult situations, we tend to think of ways to escape those instances. However, doing so restrains us from addressing our real problems. Instead of trying to change our situation, we must learn to accept that challenges are part of life and that there are still things that we can be grateful for despite all those trials.
Gregg Krech shares the importance of acknowledging our difficult situations and realizing that those situations are more than just suffering.
Gregg: Naikan actually has a structure to it. The core structure is these three questions:
The first question is, what have I received from others? Or if you're doing Naikan on a person, if you were doing Naikan on your wife, Nick, it would be what I received from my wife? The second question is what have I given? The third question is, what troubles and difficulties have I caused others?
It's a very simple framework which can be used and I've worked with children as young as five years old who can easily understand those questions and work with that type of reflective process.
But to kind of jump into the particular application to our situation right now I recently wrote a poem. I think to me there are two directions we can go in that area that are somewhat off track.
One direction is the direction of looking at our circumstances and just seeing only the problems and the suffering and the difficulties. That's a very seductive path right now because we're challenged by a lot of difficulties and problems and potential things that might come up as this unfolds.
The other path that I think I see is people kind of putting a sugar coating on this, it's creating these wonderful opportunities. It's opening up a chance to remove the pollution from the atmosphere.
I'm not saying that there aren't opportunities or that the atmosphere isn't incurring less pollution. But I think that can be a more pollyannaish type of path where we don't see that there are real problems that we're facing.
So I tried to use this Naikan process to think about this idea, which originally comes from a Benedictine Monk by the name of David Steindl Rast who's based I think in Austria, he writes a lot about gratitude.
He said something once that stayed with me, he said that “We can't be thankful for everything. But we can in any moment, we can find something to be thankful for.”
And I think he said that in response to somebody asking him, Well, can you be thankful for war? Can you be thankful for violence? So today he might be asked can you be thankful for a pandemic? Because that was his response.
And I think it's a wonderful response because we can't be thankful for all these people getting sick and being quarantined and suffering from illness, and in some cases dying. We can't be thankful for that.
But we can be thankful for all of the healthcare workers, the doctors and the nurses and the nurse’s aides and people who are working on the front lines under very difficult conditions. Without in many cases the kind of equipment they need, the kind of medical technology they need, there's no real treatment for this virus at this point.
So we can be thankful that there are people out there who are making great sacrifices and taking great risks to try to ultimately protect us and take care of other people but also protect those of us who are isolated from this disease. So that is something we can be thankful for.
As I wrote this poem I went through that list, we can't be thankful for the United States economy crashing. But we can be thankful that there is a safety net that there's unemployment insurance and that the government is trying to provide people with, financial support that we, most of us, have connections with people in our community, or church or family, who wouldn't let us starve to death as a homeless person on the street.
So we can be thankful for those things even though we can't be thankful for what's happening economically around the world.
Even in my situation, I can be thankful that I live in a comfortable place, I'm surrounded by woods, so I can go out the woods each day, I have internet access, which is how we're talking right now, I have electricity, I happen to be living with two women who are great cooks, I'm eating quite well.
I'm a baker, so I come from a line of bakers in our family so I baked sourdough bread. So I have a lot to be thankful for, even though my life has changed dramatically, and I have my losses and things that I miss, I can find things to be thankful for.
I think that path is in Buddhism, what they call the middle way, but it's the idea that we acknowledge the suffering of the situation. But we see that the situation is more than just suffering.
That there are also things that we can appreciate and be thankful for, within the context of the suffering and the challenges that are going on right now.