Self-Reflection Naikan Retreat

Schedule: Aug. 31 - Sept. 7, 2019
Location: The ToDo Institute (Monkton, Vermont)

Please contact us about availability of space prior to registering. or 800-950-6034 / 802-453-4440.

Naikan is a practice of self-reflection originally developed in Japan. Most people are born, live and die without ever taking the time to truly reflect on how they have lived their lives. In our busy lives it is hard to find time for serious, quiet reflection. But to fail to look closely at the reality of our lives is to ignore what Reality can teach us. This retreat provides an unusual opportunity to step back and examine your life.

A temple candle.

“I have emerged from this retreat with a heart aching with passion and a crystal clear vision.”
Taylor Rome, Massachusetts

“I’ll never forget this experience and will treasure it always. This is gold for the soul.”
Jocelyne Durand, Quebec


What Is Naikan?

Naikan is a Japanese word which means “inside looking” or “introspection.” A more poetic translation is “seeing oneself with the mind’s eye.” It is a structured method of self-reflection that helps us to understand ourselves, our relationships and the fundamental nature of human existence. Naikan was developed by Ishin Yoshimoto, a devout Buddhist of the Jodo Shinshu sect in Japan. The basic structure of Naikan involves reflecting on our relationship with others using the following three questions:

These questions provide the basic foundation for an examination of a person’s entire life.

“Man need only divert his attention from searching for the solution to external questions and pose the one, true inner question of how he should lead his life, and all the external questions will be resolved in the best possible way.”
Leo Tolstoy


A walk in the forest.

It is rare to meet a person whose life is full of gratitude. Even though the course of a single day may bring innumerable blessings to us, the few moments of genuine gratitude we experience is often overshadowed by our complaints, disappointments, sorrow and frustration. We may not truly appreciate what we have until it is gone. And having lost the opportunity to be grateful, we simply find a new opportunity to be disappointed. Gratitude requires attention and reflection. If we don’t pay attention, the countless and constant ways we are supported go unnoticed. If we don’t reflect, we fail to acquire the wisdom that comes with perspective. During this week of self-reflection you have a chance to examine the details of all the care and support you have received throughout your entire life. Many people are struck by how much they have taken for granted. And too often we miss what is being done for us because our attention is caught up in feelings of selfishness, resentment or self-pity.

“No matter what food you are blessed with, if you weren’t blessed with an appetite too, you’d be in a bad way wouldn’t you?”
Kosho Uchiyama Roshi

What Happens During the Retreat?

Suppose you went away for one week to a small cottage in the mountains. It’s quiet and secluded. All your needs are provided for. Your meals are brought to your room. Your laundry and dishes are washed. You’re awakened early in the morning and an evening bell tells you it’s bedtime. There are no phone calls to answer or bills in the mail. There is no casual chatter and little noise. There is simply silence, a place to sit and a screen to watch. And on that screen is the story of your life. It’s based on a script, but not the revised, edited script you brought with you. No, this is reality’s original draft - what really happened. There is nothing to do each day but watch this movie. What would you learn about your life? At the end of the week, when you return home, filled with an expanded knowledge of how you have lived, how will you then live?

What actually happens during a Naikan retreat? Participants (called naikansha) begin by reflecting on their mother. usually from the time of our birth through age six. Then they continue to reflect for three year periods (age 6-8, age 9-11 and so on). In this manner, their entire life can be examined in relation to their mother on a period by period basis. The naikansha then examine the relationship to their father, siblings, spouse, children, teachers friends and co-workers. During the retreat they will have an opportunity to reflect on those whom they may resent because of difficulty in the past. At the end of each period of reflection, usually 90-120 minutes, someone (the mensetsusha) meets with the participant to listen to his or her Naikan reflection. The role of the mensetsusha is to listen attentively and suggest the subject for the next period of reflection. Little dialog takes place since Naikan is self-reflection and what there is to be learned, is learned by searching and examining one’s own direct experience.

“This has been the most transformational experience of my life.”
Phil Saperstein, Wisconsin

There is usually a daily work period (20 minutes), time for a shower, and three meals. Otherwise, the entire day, from 5:30am to 9:30pm is spent in quiet reflection. The naikansha are given a small area in which to sit. This area is at least partially enclosed by japanese screens or curtains. Traditionally, the Naikansha sit on the floor using cushions but acommodations can be made for those with physical limitations.

Naikan participants are encouraged to spend about sixty percent of their time on the third question--what troubles and difficulties have I caused others? This question is most challenging because relatively little attention has been directed toward it previously. More attention has been focused on how others caused the naikansha difficulties. Now the naikansha must look at themselves through the eyes of another. Every two hours, or so, the Naikan guide (mensetsusha or shidosha) comes and gives the participants an opportunity to report out what they have remembered about this period of their life. This process continues steadily as the participant gradually examines the details of their life and conduct towards others.

During the week you will receive healthful, vegetarian meals and get some exercise during the work period. You will spend the week contemplating your life in the presence of apple trees, organic gardens and goldfinches in the foothills of the Green Mountains of Vermont.

“For those who wait only for flowers to bloom, I wish I could show them the Spring grass in the snow of a mountain village.”
A Zen Forest

Feature Interview on Naikan

The Sun magazine cover, December 2004 A feature interview with Gregg Krech on Naikan appears in the December 2004 issue of THE SUN magazine.





Location and Costs

Most retreats are held at the ToDo Institute in Monkton, Vermont. The ToDo Institute is a non-profit educational center that specializes in Japanese methods of psychology and mental health. The center has offered Naikan retreats and training since 1989.

The cost of the retreat ranges from $665 to $795, depending on membership discounts and time of payment. Room & Board included.

For more information email the ToDo Institute at

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