Last Sunday my minister (sensei) shared memories of past Thanksgiving dinners with his relatives; one in particular always annoyed him. He then told a story of a man who had gone on a hike through the woods to reach a cliff that had a spectacular vista. As the man walked he complained about all the trees that had fallen across the trail. Why can’t someone cut down the dead or dying trunks and limbs before they fall, he grumbled. On his return trip he decided to count the trees that had been cut out of the way and those that obstructed the path and he learned that more trees had been cut than had fallen.
This is the lesson of Naikan therapy, one worthy of our attention over the holidays. At those family gatherings, ask yourself three questions: what have others done for me, what have I done for others, and what have I done to others. If the annoying relative sits at your table, you may come away with a better understanding of that individual and your behavior with respect to him or her. (Or you might come away more annoyed. No one is claiming miracles from trying this once.) If all your relatives are lovable, you can focus on the first two questions and truly enjoy a day of gratitude along with a day of turkey.
This is my husband’s and my first year as orphans. I lost my mother and that took care of our immediate family. No relatives to complain about, no relatives at all, (fortunately we have good friends to join us in our Thanksgiving celebration), a sentiment which haiku poet Issa, also an orphan, expresses in this poem from the website Haiku of Issa: The Gold Scales:
the year-end party . . .
I am even envious
Of scolded children