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At this time of year many nurses are wondering how to enter the busy holiday season with more intention and ease. They want to remember the important things about Thanksgiving and bounty and blessings, say, but in the midst of Black Friday madness? Those “gotta get it now” sales can turn anyone’s attention from gratitude to greed. And then the gift-giving holidays kick in, so the focus on materialism becomes even more intense.
Maybe you’ve tried some of the recommended hacks for generating heartfelt warmth, peace, and grace. Oprah popularized one such method, the gratitude journal, when she recommended that viewers write three things they were thankful for each day.
There’s good research to back Oprah but some nurses don’t like to write out their reflections— they want a more active approach. Or they’ve kept a list of three items and it didn’t change how they felt—frazzled, harried, lacking, or just emotionally flat when everyone around seems to be caught up in the spirit of the season.
There are many active and powerful ways to create an awareness (and often the feeling follows) of gratitude which is closely related to compassion. That can be a powerful duo for nurses who may wrestle with compassion fatigue all year long, but feel it especially at the holidays.
The Japanese method of Naikan (translates to “looking within”) provides one. I like to use the end of November through the end of December for this style of structured reflection. It always results in a profound sense of gratitude for blessings that were always there but went unnoticed.
It takes about me 15 to 30 minutes a day to do Naikan, and I get so much out of it that I do it every year.
Daily Naikan practice asks us to examine these three areas of living:
- What have I received? [from life, or a certain person, place, or thing.]
- What did I give? [same as above—you can time limit it to that day or year or the whole length of employment or relationship, etc.]
- What troubles and difficulties did I cause? [ditto]
The first two questions are usually pretty easy to answer and we may be able to go on and on about what we do for others. But slice up your time in uneven sections with 60% of it devoted to the third question. That’s the most difficult one. After all, it’s natural to think that problems are caused by other people while we’re hardly ever responsible for upsets.
Search your conscience for where you missed the mark, even in some small way. Here’s an example of one day’s list:
Troubles and Difficulties I Caused
- Sent thank you email a week after dinner party
- Snapped at young, inexperienced nurse
- Wouldn’t let my youngest use Pinterest
- Snide tone to husband on phone call
- Checked my social feeds while at work
- Ignored my son when he wanted to play
- Wasted water by letting shower run for 15 minutes
If you want an active reflection that’s a bit off the wall, I like to do something I call Garbage Naikan. Every time that I throw away or recycle an item, like floss and coffee filters and train tickets … I think about the service I got from that thing, what I gave it, and what problems I caused it. This may sound eccentric to Westerners but maybe not now, after Marie Kondo’s Japanese book on tidying up your home became a mega-bestseller. She recommends thanking any object that you toss out while decluttering.
So, you may feel ridiculous, but give it a go. When recycling a sock, say “Thank you sock for your service in keeping my feet warm. I treated you well by gently folding and setting you in my sock drawer. I’m sorry I caused trouble by walking around on hardwoods without slippers and wearing you out before your time.”
Finding creative ways to examine your life using psychological or spiritual methods (like Naikan) will help make you mindful of the overlooked gifts we receive daily.
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