Small Cabin In VermontSitting on the deck of a small cabin in Vermont, I watched the setting sun on my last evening helping conduct a Naikan retreat at the ToDo Institute. Listening to the crickets begin to sing, I contemplated how the self-reflections participants had shared changed them and me. Preparing for the end of the retreat, I was and remain inspired to say thank you more often for the benefits I receive. Supporting others with intense Naikan practice inspired me to be a bit quicker to share apologies for the difficulties I cause. 

Truth SpaceNaikan, when translated literally, means ‘looking inside’ and sometimes is translated as reflection. On Naikan retreats, participants use a structured process for reflecting upon their life, from birth to the present day for six days or more. Participants sit behind shoji screens that enclose enough space for a couple of cushions, an eating tray, and a notepad for about 10 hours a day practicing Naikan. The cordoned-off area is called a “hoza” or “truth space.” 

 

The Naikan process was developed in Japan by Ishini Ishimoto to help people leave their anxieties by focusing their attention on gifts received, gifts given and troubles caused. Naikan Self-Reflection by Norimasa Nishida describes the practice as used in different countries. It shares how a Naikan retreat can be life-changing. 

 

What I found fascinating was how being an interviewer could also be life-altering. Constantly asking myself, how can I support the participants and exploring how I caused difficulties, I did not have time to even contemplate who was at fault for not having tasks done. Instead, it was a practice of searching out how I could help, which is something I take back to my work. The tasks required to support the retreat participants with a constant flow of assignments, interviews and time out in nature fill my six days. 

During the six days, Gregg Krech managed to find time for staff to have a few moments for reflection.  I cherished the opportunity to create a truth space for reflection outside. A small bench surrounded by growing plants and trees set up behind the main house was a place to shift my attention from anxiety to reflection.  It was a space to notice how much of my tensions were focused on what I thought other people might think. I laughed as I realized my worries were often internal dialogues with myself. Shifting to what I received, I began noticing the myriad of causes and conditions that make a moment. It was often humbling. Standing up from my small bench, I thanked the flowers, the bees, the dragonflies and the spreading trees for sharing their beauty.  Gregg and Linda Krech have done so much to have the ToDo Institute host Naikan retreats in the Green Mountains of Vermont. Check out the schedule for Naikan classes and retreats at www.todoinstitute.org 

Todo Institute Retreat Center

Woman In Field

Being Trapped

After surviving traumatic situations, we stay stuck in the muck of fears. In a state of anxiety,  we get hooked by our own emotions and the emotions of others. We feel as though we cannot move, sometimes not even breathe in the presence of others. The world around us seems alien. We become trapped by fears of what might happen. We dream up situations where we lose friends of years or how we become ill. We might stop driving being so afraid we might get into an accident. We become trapped by our own fears and expectations.

Finding a Way Out

The sensation of being trapped is partly due to being lost.  When the thoughts of “I cannot, I’m not good enough, I might…… become overwhelming, then is the time to remember that we all are seekers. The human condition, instead of being a trap, is a resource.  The process of being human can free us.

Walking Free

My training as a Buddhist priest and a Chaplain along with certifications in Applied Existential Psychotherapy and in methods of Japanese Psychology led me to integrate spirituality with psychotherapy.  My mental health clients and mindfulness students have shown me it is possible to recognize and step away from destructive emotions. It is possible to walk free from neurotic fears.

Although it does not happen in one day. It takes some patience and a bit of practice to live life fully. The practice involves being willing to see with a new view. Only when fears are seen as chains do they bind us. Recognizing fear as just another thought pattern, it is not a trap. With practice, we can walk out into the world despite fears and even with our fears. We can use fear as a reminder to notice and to ask what are we seeing and where are we. Using tools of self-reflection and techniques for embracing the human condition, we discover the freedom to heal and grow.   

  –  Carol

Carol O’Dowd, MPA, MDIV, MI, RP
Prajna Healing Arts
720-244-2299

 

 

Even when the world seems dark and fear grabs at your gut, it is possible to find peace of mind. Feeling overwhelmed and filled with anxiety, we focus on the loud and demonstrative voices of fear and anger. Doing so we do not hear the whispering of compassion flowing in life. What we often miss is that Life does not tell us, instead it asks us, ‘Where do you want to place your attention?”

Morita Therapy asks us to be conscious about placing attention. We can place our attention on our difficulties and sing the blame song, “he done me wrong”. Another option is to shift our attention. It can be done with the simple practice of accepting. Oddly enough, accepting in the midst of difficult circumstances is possible. When we feel our hands are tied, sometimes accepting is the only thing to do. Accepting is not about giving up. Accepting is more about assessing what is happening. After accepting what is occurring or what feelings and emotions are raging, then we make a decision as to what to do about it. Part of managing depression involves expanding our view and taking actions that include caring for self.

So often, traveling with my counseling clients through the fears from abuse or the anxiety from illness, loss of job, or death of loved ones, we discover strength. We explore ways to see events with a lens that focuses on lessons learned. We let go of projections others place upon us. We find ways to drop the never-ending tape of Could’a, Should’a, Would’a. One of those ways is to practice listening with heart-mind to what is. What is includes all the causes and conditions that made it possible for us to be in the moment. Shifting our focus is a technique for quieting busy minds, even in the midst of chaos. An effective way to shift our focus is to be active. We do not have to define ourselves by our pain and suffering. We can get up and engage with the world. That can be as simple as washing dishes, fixing a cup of tea, or taking a walk. During such activities, we focus on the sensations of our body. Placing awareness on the soap suds on our hands, or the warmth of a tea bag, the aroma of flowers or the wind upon our face we setting aside ruminations of what could have been and clinging to the past. We can experience, if only for a moment peace.

Opening up to life creates the space for letting in happiness, if only during the instance we wipe a tabletop or pet a smiling dog or cat. Pain and suffering exist. Yet, with life constantly flowing, we do not have to let them define who we are. With an open heart and mind, we can place our attention with full awareness. Doing so leads us to peace, even when in the midst of chaos.

  –  Carol

Carol O’Dowd, MPA, MDIV, MI, RP
Prajna Healing Arts
720-244-2299