The search for mind-relief often takes many detours. For many, the search ends in the self-help section of a bookstore and/or days, months or years of seemingly endless Google searches. Many promises turn out to be dead ends because while relief is promised, it is often elusive. Hard as you try, change just doesn’t stick. You jot down your notes, download an app that auto reminds you to do “something” prescribed by the book to “change your life.”
Like the myriad diet plans out there, whatever behavior is off the menu is usually the one you crave. At least this was the sentiment of one of my clients who rolled her eyes when I suggested a book to help end her endless searching. As soon as I said “book,” she grimaced and said only, “Been there.”
So I was surprised when that same client attended one of my women’s group workshops where we discussed said book, and she patiently participated in the discussion. One story she told the group was so strongly compelling that I asked her to share her experience with my readers.
What follows is a true story, but first a little background on the book and the basic principles:
The book is titled Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection, by Gregg Krech. The principles are simple. Just ask yourself 3 questions each day:
- Who helped me?
- Who did I help?
- Who did I inconvenience?
I’ll let my client take the story from here . . .
Joan, I had the most incredible experience coming back from the hospital in Tucson where my husband had just had a series of tests. We were both concerned about the outcome and of course, our thoughts were deep in “what if” territory, yet we remained quiet with each other. My husband asked to drive home, and I sat in the passenger side, messing with the radio—he asked me to turn it off; so I turned to my iPhone but no signal; tried to talk with my husband. He was quiet and pensive. So I fidgeted, and tried again to make conversation until finally he said, “Please, I just want to have a quiet ride home. I’m not in the mood to talk right now.”
Next stop on the inner toddler train was: what did I do wrong, was he mad at me, did I do something at the hospital, etc. etc. etc. etc…. fidget, fidget. Then I found the Naikan book that I brought to read. And I began to think about each question. Who helped me today? The people at the VA helped me/us find the clinic, and they shared a smile and a thank you for my husband’s service. The volunteers in the hallway helped me to find the cafeteria where I would wait, fret and watch the clock as doctors did his test. Next question, who did I help? That took a lot of thinking. I finally came up with, “I drove my husband to the test and patiently waited.” That was about as much “giving” as I had done this day. It was the last question that really got me though: Who did I inconvenience? Quite clearly my fidgeting in the car was an inconvenience to my husband who was deep in thought, and I selfishly missed HIS cues while trying to find some sort of “mind relief” of my own. Then I wondered if there was something that I could do to soothe his worry while we passed the time. My mind said “just be quiet already, leave him be with his thoughts.”
Just north of Globe, after 2 hours of silent miles, I thought about how much he loves to open the car window to enjoy the fresh air. I usually complain that it will mess my hair, so he knows not to ask. But today was a tepid summer day with beautiful clear skies and white billows of clouds. So I said, “Let’s open the windows really wide and take in the “breeze” the rest of the way back!” He liked the idea and immediately put all four windows down. Of course my hair was whipping across my face and getting stuck to my lips. It was uncomfortable, but I committed to do something kind for this man I love, who had gone through so much this day.
Soon something amazing happened. All other senses came alive. I felt the sun on my lap and followed the white puffs of clouds as they drifted to the north. After awhile I could smell when the vegetation outside changed from desert to cedar to pine and mossy, stony, rock face coming up Hwy. 260. I could actually smell the moisture and feel the sudden coolness in the air as we approached the Salt River. Arriving at elevation in the tall pines was an extraordinary awakening. The scent of the trees intensified as we got closer to home in Show Low. And when we topped the rim, there was something I had never smelled before. It was so compelling that I had to break the silence to ask my husband if he smelled it too. He did! Although there were no storm clouds around, the air was heavy with humidity and static that I felt on my skin. We both wondered if we would get a lighting storm later.
All in all we spent 90 minutes on the ride home in absolute silence, but we had never been closer before in our 20 years of marriage. When we finally settled in for the evening to the sounds of heavy rain and lightning, my husband said, “Thank you for that suggestion today. I was so heavy in thought but the experience of the ride home gave me a moment to really appreciate this beautiful state we live in and how much it means to me to have you as my partner in this life.” I’m not sure I have ever given a more precious gift than those 90 minutes of mindfulness. A few days later we learned that he would be ok. Another blessing!
Now that I know how, I strive to do this often—with anyone who will play. The 3 questions keep me grounded to the present and make me look for ways to be of use rather than an inconvenience. Want to try it for yourself? Take a “me” minute right now, right where you are, reading this article. First focus only on what you smell and feel around you. Feel the air on your nostrils as you breathe in and out. Is the scent familiar? Just follow it for awhile and let it drift. If you can take your shoes off, feel the ground beneath your feet as you do this. Now close your eyes and see how your senses intensify when you take out the visual track. If you have a bit more time, ask yourself the 3 questions and then see if your worries don’t become a little lighter as you practice this simple technique.
I am forever grateful to Joan for showing our group this book and being my tour guide when I hit sticky roadblocks in life that need to be smoothed with her kind and gentle voice. Since I have had hypnotherapy sessions before, the experience on the ride home felt familiar; like the hypnotic state of mind-relief she provides in her practice. Warm, comfortable and safe. Tracy M. March 22, 2017