An Excerpt from Naikan: Gratitude, Grace, and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection by Gregg Krech

In this invaluable spiritual resource, Gregg Krech offers new ways to practice attention, gratitude, kindness, compassion, and love. Here's an excerpt on gratitude.

"Perhaps our reluctance to thank things has to do with the distinctions we make. We distinguish the socks (inanimate) from the cotton plants, farmers, and factory workers (animate) who created them. We may be willing to thank the latter, but to thank the former seems silly. Many Westerners who say grace are thanking God, not the food itself, for the meal. God deserves our thanks, but to thank the food would be strange. We'll thank the mechanic for repairing our car, but to thank the car directly for taking us to work seems absurd. As long as these distinctions hold up, we can remain safely within these boundaries of gratitude.

"But do they hold up? What are socks anyway? Are they anything less than the life efforts of the plants and people who made them? A cotton plant's life is the source of these socks. Farmers, factory workers, delivery people, and others gave moments of their lives to make these socks. These socks are full of life! If I subtract all the life from the making of these socks, there would be nothing left. It is true that they do not have a heartbeat. But they serve me just the same. Acting most unselfishly, they go wherever I take them, shielding my feet and softening my steps upon the earth. I have several pairs of thick cotton socks that provide a cozy blanket against our bare wood floors during the frigid Vermont winters. When I am mindful of the service socks offer me and the efforts that went into making them, I am thankful. Yet there is still this sticky problem of whether to say thanks to a pair of socks.

"The best reason I can offer for saying thank you to socks is that they deserve it. Doesn't anything that serves, supports, and cares for us deserve a word of thanks? But here's another reason. Saying thank you to people and things will change your experience of life. Each moment we say thanks is a shift in our attention. A shift away from our self-centeredness toward others. A shift away from our problems and difficulties toward the support we are receiving from the world. Our attention is our life. Shifting our attention opens us to reality and reveals what has been there all along: socks."