Naikan in Nature – The Path to True Appreciation

How many of our problems are caused by taking things for granted?

We live lives of relative freedom and ease.  No matter our circumstance or difficulty, it is undeniable that we modern day humans live better than kings of generations past.  For twenty-first century man, day-to-day existence is clean and convenient, largely free from death and destruction (even during a plague!).  Most of us have to choose to exert ourselves: physical toil and strain are not part of daily survival.

Our beds are soft.  Our sheets are clean and colorful.  Conveniences like running water and electricity make discomfort the exception, not the rule.  Food is plentiful and varied.  Education is free, and accessible for everyone.  Life is really good.

Yet something about being human causes us take these things for granted.  We don’t notice many of the bountiful blessings in our lives.  Instead, our minds focus in on the things that cause us discomfort.  This is a universal truth.  It’s simply the way our brains are designed. 

One expert on our preference for negative attention uses an example to illustrate: spend an hour cycling on flat terrain or downhill, and you won’t even think about how easy it is.  Hit a 5 minute uphill, and you become acutely aware of every moment of strain.

Recently, I learned about a way to become better at noticing the true nature of our lives and relationships: Naikan.  Step one of this simple, Japanese philosophy asks us to reflect upon what we’ve received – everything we’ve received.  Naikan suggests that you get down into the nitty gritty: your toothbrush and toothpaste, heating and Wifi, that cup of coffee made by your husband or wife, the smile of a child – it all counts towards your daily toll of gifts you’ve received.

Do this, without requirement for judgement or gratitude, and you’ll find that you have a much more positive picture of how good your life and relationships actually are.

But what about applying the philosophy of Naikan to nature?  Perhaps we can better appreciate the real and true gift of our surroundings just by noticing more.

A simple stroll in the yard can reveal hundreds of beautiful gifts.  We receive the music of bird calls, the pleasant noises they make as they fly from one tree to the next.  We receive the gentle breeze that cools us, the sun that warms us, the rich smell of the earth beneath our feet.  Color and texture surround us, shades of green and blue calm our souls.  The sky – the wide and beautiful sky – is like an artwork, always changing, always varied, giving us the gift of variety so we can constantly notice it.

Pay attention to what you receive when you go outside and your perspective will, invariably, change.  There are a thousand rustling leaves to every plastic bag caught on a tree branch.  There are billions of stars, cloud shapes aplenty, raindrops, sunbeams, and colorful wildflowers. Focus on these gifts and help your mind tune in to the truth of your surroundings.

A matter of perspective.

3 thoughts on “Naikan in Nature – The Path to True Appreciation

  1. Hi Susannah,
    We love your posts and use them whenever we can!
    Anyway, no need to go to Japan. Your tradition has exactly the same thing but with Hashem: Chovos Halavovos and Rav Avigdor Miller’s teachings from it use the same advise. Thank you again for your wonderful blogs.
    Kol tuv


    1. You’re so right – our own tradition repeats this same message again and again. Thank you for pointing that out!
      I would love it if you could post a relevant quote from Chovot Halevavot/ R’ Avigdor Miller right here in the comments 🙂

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