If you look around you in your home or office you will probably see walls. Many walls are very smooth and painted. In fact, if your wall is painted, you are really just looking at paint — you can’t really see the wall. But what’s inside the wall? Have you ever seen or walked through a home that is under construction or being renovated? If you have, you may have seen the inside of a wall before it is closed up and painted.
Important things are inside your walls. First, there are electrical wires. Wherever you see an electrical outlet, it means that there are wires that run all the way to the source of your electricity, like a system of nerves that travel through your body. Because these wires are placed inside the walls you can’t see them, but they allow you to plug in a lamp, or a toaster or a television. Also, most walls are built around the structure of wooden studs. These pieces of wood, when nailed together skillfully, make the walls strong which allows them to hold up your house. You can’t see the wooden studs — they aren’t visible. Finally, you may also have insulation in your walls. This insulation keeps the heat inside your home on a chilly morning or a cold winter night. If you have air conditioning, it also keeps the cool air inside on a hot, summer day.
Your body is a kind of home also. Your skin covers most of your body so we can’t actually see what’s inside. But what’s inside is really extraordinary.
Your body is a kind of home also. Your skin covers most of your body so we can’t actually see what’s inside. But what’s inside is really extraordinary. You have a heart that never stops beating. You have a brain with 85-90 billion neurons. You have a network of blood vessels that, if laid end to end, would measure about 60,000 miles! You have a nervous system with about 1,300 nerve cells per square inch embedded in your skin. You have over 200 bones. And of course there are many critical organs like your liver and kidney which keep you alive each day. All this, and much more, are inside a body that you think of as “you.” All hidden inside the skin.
There’s a Japanese word, okagesama, which is often used conversationally to express thanks. The root of this word, kage, means “shadow.” It acknowledges that there are unseen forces in this world which make our life possible. Okagesama is grounded in an awareness of what’s inside the walls of our home and what’s under the skin of our body. Of course, it goes much further than that, because virtually every aspect of life is supported by unseen forces that include objects, energy, people and even money that makes life possible. These are the elements of our life that are in the shadow, so to see them, we have to look very deeply at our life. We have to see with more than just our eyes.
During a Naikan, participants have a chance to reflect on a particular skill, like driving, cooking or playing a musical instrument. They are asked to trace that skill and identify all the unseen forces that made that skill possible for them. When we do this, we may find that it is an endless exercise. It is an investigation that can never be completed.
Self-reflection allows us to see inside the walls and under the skin of our day-to-day existence.
I play the piano, yet I have never been able to fully comprehend what has made it possible for me to play. My mother encouraged me to take lessons and was always singing and playing music herself, which was inspiring. My father paid for my first piano and would drive me to my lessons and wait for me. My teacher, Mrs. Braverman, provided me with instruction and sheet music. She was able to teach me because she had a teacher when she was younger. The piano itself is an amazing instrument and the process of building a piano is complex and precise. It involves wood, which came from living trees that had to be cut and milled. It has more than 225 strings, which are made from high carbon steel. Each of those strings has to be tuned, regularly, to maintain the piano’s lovely sound. The keys themselves are made from wood and plastic. There are people who transported the pianos on which I practiced. There was gas and oil required for my father’s car to drive me to lessons. My father received money, from his job at a bakery, in order to pay for my lessons. My hearing allowed me to listen to music so I could learn to play. It goes on and on. Endlessly.
Okagesama is the recognition of these forces that are hidden in the shadow of our lives. Self-reflection allows us to see inside the walls and under the skin of our day-to-day existence. We become aware of how we are supported, cared for, and loved even as we send an email, drink a cup of coffee, or take a shower.
Because something is in a shadow, it does not mean it doesn’t exist.
A shadow does not negate the existence of what is hidden. It simply means we can’t see it because there is an absence of light. And when we bring the light of awareness to that shadow, what do we find? We often find love. Quiet, inconspicuous, unassuming love. And that love brings a smile to our heart.
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thank you for your answer at the end of this side. It would be great to watch this video, thank you! Unfortunately I can’t see your postet link. Or is it just my old fashioned PC with windows 8?
Greetings from Korakas
I think the forum doesn’t allow links. You can try googling “tricycle-japanese-art-self-reflection-naikan-and-buddhist-path-gratitude-grace-and-faith”
As I tune pianos I will try to imagine someone in the story of the piano in front of me; perhaps selecting the soundboard wood or installing strings or case parts. All I can know is that someone did it, and having rebuilt pianos myself, I know that it is hard work. So I see that even the most humble instrument embodies a very big story.
The piano I’m tuning will serve the expressive needs of human hearts.
I often tune for pianos for children. Knowing in myself how musical learning happens, I consider how the piano I’m tuning may serve a learning moment which will live in someone and be shared for eighty years, maybe into the next century.
What does it tell us, so much effort to make music possible? It’s a very rich life, being in the middle of all this.
I play piano and often tune it myself. I appreciate the intricacy of the tuning of each string. And without a good tuning, all the effort and craftsmanship of building the instrument can’t rely come to fruition.
Keep up the good work!
Your reflection on okagesama certainly brought a smile to my heart, Gregg. Drawing our attention to what lies behind a wall or under our skin is such a helpful way to encourage seeing with more than just our eyes. Thank you for sharing these practical but powerful metaphors that remind us of the benevolent “forces that are hidden in the shadow of our lives.” I am not familiar with Naikan orJapanese self-reflection, but clearly there is much richness to be found in this tradition. Looking forward to exploring in more depth…
Thank you 🙂 I’ve recently been dwelling on the silence and darkness of the Father or pregnant Nothingness and oneness of spirit out of which everything flows forth into being starting 13.7 billion years ago. It’s incredible how powerful the practice of mindful gratitude is. It’s almost like stepping on an elevator and pressing “up” in consciousness. Loved this article.
Oh, Gregg your essay is so powerful, inspiring and humbling! Thank-you, thank-you! To contemplate the changeless, tender and loving Presence that is Life, is so profound and beautiful! Your sharing is truly appreciated! Bless you, Gregg.
Thanks, Sheila. Enjoy a day filled with joy and mystery.
Dude. So nice. Okagesama.
I love this side because it brings so many new informations and inspirations for my life and for developing myself. This „method“ or awareness of Naikan and Okagesama is something new for me. But it talks to me and will start reading about it. Thank you for sharing this here, Gregg! I know who is there in the shadow and speaks with love to me (and the whole world). But I have to be more open and aware of him and all the good things poeple do for me day by day. Thank you!
Hi Korakas,I have a video introduction to Naikan (Japanese practice of self-reflection) which can be viewed on Tricycle magazine: