Monthly Archives: August 2014

Naikan: A Japanese Art of Gratitude


Mt. Fuji by Feross Aboukhadijeh

At the heart of healing, many persons speak of how practicing gratitude proves life-giving. I learned about Naikan, a fascinating Japanese spiritual practice of gratitude this past weekend while speaking at an international Sage-ing Conference in Seattle on Pilgrimage through Loss.  Barbara Sarah led this workshop, a psychologist who uses this method in both her counseling practice and with a large Oncology Support Program in New York that she founded.  Influenced by principles of Shin Buddhism, she believes this systematic structured method of self reflection proves immensely helpful in promoting compassion, gratitude, forgiveness, and attention with her clients and cancer survivors.  It sounds deceptively simple, but it obviously has layers of meaning.



1)  What Did I Receive?

2)  What Did I Give?

3) What Troubles and Difficulties Did I Cause?  (I chuckled at this one thinking of how often in a day I interrupt Jim for help on computer problems!)

The suggestion is to take a few minutes every day reflecting on these three questions.  They can be applied to a specific person (i.e. what did I receive or give from my spouse, parent, child, boss, etc.), general (i.e. all that we receive each day, like the sun rose, or rain for the parched land), or even to an object (I experimented with the newspaper and was surprised by some undercurrents of gifts, like a legal system that addresses injustice, or a fire department responded to an alarm).

The Key is in Specific Details


For example, even before 8 a.m. one morning when I practiced this in the broad sense, I noticed (that’s the ‘pay attention’ encouragement) that the newspaper man delivered the paper, the internet brought email from friends and global news, hot water came from the shower, Jim made a pot of decaf coffee for me and walked down to to box to bring up the paper, and Allie our golden retriever welcomed us with her exuberant joy of life.  I had given Jim and Allie a morning hug, fixed Jim an aronia berry smoothie (a gift from our garden), etc… get the idea!  Later, I interrupted Jim’s reading to ask him to go to the store because extra guests were suddenly coming for dinner, a staff person at Whitworth needed to leave a scholarship event go get name tags at the last minute because I hadn’t thought of it before, etc.



The idea of the Naikam reflection is to keep us realistic about the facts of our life and how interconnected we really are to one another and to embrace our days with the spirit of gratitude.  If you notice, there is no question four that asks “What troubles and difficulties did others cause us today?” because the sense is we are all quite aware of who upsets and disappoints us which is often the source of our unhappiness.



What About Creating Healthy Discomfort? 


My one concern when hearing about this was did the Naikan practice stifle or even silence healthy expressions of discontent, such as emerge from activists addressing significant injustices in our culture like civil rights, personnel issues in the workplace, or emerging global concerns like climate change?  Sarah responded that she actually was an activist too and that the third question didn’t contribute to limiting her thoughtful participation in issues.  The attempt is a realistic assessment, so it is feasible that the answer to number three could be an intentional attempt to create awareness of a problem, such as “I wrote my congressman expressing concern for coal trains coming through the city of Spokane.”  More often, however, we fail to even notice where we create difficulties and this practice could help us expand to see more of the other person’s point of view on an issue.


Further Resources

I’m presently reading Gregg Krech’s book Naikan: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection to understand more. He is the Executive Director of the ToDo Institute, an education and retreat center in Vermont.  Naikan has a growing field of mental health professionals in Japan and Europe using this practice as a tool in the areas of alcoholism, addictions, marriage and family therapy, conflict resolution in the workforce, and with children struggling with behavior issues.   I’ll write more as I learn more.  It’s just one more tool, like the gratitude journals, that draw us to a profound sense of thanksgiving for blessings that often go unnoticed.


A Year Out…Creating Rituals of Remembrance

Adding Grandfather's leaf to the Tree of Life

Adding Grandfather’s leaf to the Tree of Life

Remembering OpPa

Remembering OpPah

Remembrance Leaf

Remembrance Leaf

How can families remember one we have loved?  This was Nancy Spencer’s question as she neared the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death.


Rather than seeking illusive closure, many families are creating rituals of remembrance.  When Don Spencer, a good friend of ours was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, for the next 20 months he invested all his energy into bonds with his wife Nancy, three children, and eight grandchildren.  A former Olympic trial athlete and Executive Coach, he also used all his physical will and intelligence to fight this lethal disease.  This gave him two more memorable family summers at their beloved cabin at Priest Lake, and the joy of meeting his ninth grandchild, Nicole.

To help their family remember his inspiring life and deep love, Nancy created a celebration on August 18th, the 1st year after his death.


First, children and grandchildren gathered at the North Spokane Hospice House where they added an engraved leaf in his memory to the Tree of Life.


Then, they came to our home on the back patio for feasting, music and fun.  She brought engraved rocks with sayings each of the grandchildren had written earlier that will be placed at the lake.

 Then stories were shared, including an experience one granddaughter, Katherine, had on the soccer field in a recent game.  “I was hesitating on making  a shot  and I felt like BoPah was saying “Go for it!” And I did and scored a goal.” Always a competitive coach, we all could imagine those would be his exact words of encouragement for his grandchildren.  Sarah, another granddaughter, spoke of seeing him in the stars at the lake, a favorite stargazing place for the family.


Music from Judy Hafso, a teacher at the children’s school, brought singing and whirling dancing from Liam, his 5 year old grandson and joy for all of us seeing his exuberance, truly a heritage from his grandfather.

Nancy also brought pictures and writings the children had created in an earlier ritual where they wrote characteristics of their grandfather to match the letters in his nickname BoPah. Then, after each word, like Brave, she asked how many shared that characteristic of Don. Lot’s of fun conversation and laughter emerged from the children seeing themselves in their beloved BoPah. The best part was seeing how natural it was for the children to talk in remembrance. They each lit a candle by his picture.

Then, time for strawberry/huckleberry shortcake, in memory of Priest Lake sun-drenched days picking high mountain berries ended our festive gathering.

What could have just been a lonely sad day for all became another Spencer family memory of love and on-going fun together.

Have you created any rituals of remembrance you could share?

blog spencer

Living Their Daughter’s Bucket List

Visit Niagara Falls…on Kristina's bucket list.

Visit Niagara Falls…on Kristina’s bucket list.

Hello again,   Have you ever written or dreamed of a “bucket list”….things you hope to do before you die?  When Kristina Chesterman’s grieving parents began the painful process of  cleaning out their daughter’s apartment, they discovered a rare treasure tucked away in a make-up bag.   To their great surprise,  their 21-year-old daughter left a “bucket list,” probably written in high school. Her exuberant spirit of adventure rings through, from plans to take flying lessons, to wanting to visit 7 of the Wonders of the World including Niagara Falls, or to simple pleasures like running in a field of poppies.  A beloved nursing student at Chico State, she even included “saving a life,” which actually happened by being an organ donor.   A Plan for Creative Mourning   Now her mother and father knew exactly how they wanted to continue their love for Kristina.   I rarely post videos.  However, I found her parents choice to mourn her zest for life by living out her dreams a beautiful story.  They know this offers a way to continue their enduring bonds, rather than the futility of trying to forget.  After her family posted the list on Facebook, to their amazement, thousands of people have written to say they are inspired to also do these in her memory!   Jim and I leave in the morning for the Chatauqua Institution in New York where we are the Writers-in-Residence for a week, then off to Boston to enjoy a week with our two grandchildren and family.  Hope you are also finding moments of summer fun, such a gift after a long winter.   Have you ever been surprised after the death of someone you loved by finding or receiving something that gave you a further glimpse into their life? Enjoy this CBS interview!

Kristina Chesterman from The Kindness Blog

Kristina Chesterman
from The Kindness Blog

Parents mourn daughter’s death by living her bucket list

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About Linda
For everyone, life sometimes brings shipwreck moments.

Ours happened when four friends woke us one beautiful May dawn to break the news that our 25-year-old married daughter Krista had died 7000 miles away while volunteering in Bolivia. Our hearts shattered, much like the shards of her bus that plunged over a mountain cliff.
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Desperate. Determined. Unwaveringly confident. In 1896, a Norwegian immigrant named Helga Estby dares to cross 3500 miles of the American continent to win a $10,000 wager. On Foot. BOLD SPIRIT: Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk across Victorian America introduces readers to this fascinating journey of an audacious act of courage and love of a mother trying to save a family farm.

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Support for Parents

+ Alliance of Hope for Suicide Survivors On-line forum and website

+ American Childhood Cancer Organization (ACCO) (Formerly Candlelighters Childhood Cancer)

+ Compassionate Friends

+ First Candle: Support for Stillborn and SIDS deaths

+ Loving Outreach to Survivors of Suicide (LOSS)

+ MISS Foundation (also in Spanish) On-line support groups : Infant & toddler death and advocacy

+Parents of Murdered Children

+ TAPS: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors: 1-800-959 3277 for survivors of military deaths