What is Naka Naka?

Do you know what “naka naka” means? Shoken Winecoff, the Abbott at Ryumonji Zen Monastery, explains it: Naka naka is the Japanese term for “being with what is.” Somehow, the expression seems different from our usual “it is what it is,” which implies that I have to accept it, and I’m powerless in the face of it. To “be with what is” invites us to explore how to BE, who to BE, what to BE with it. To “be with what is” implies that we have a choice, and that we can exercise a way to respond. So, supposing we encounter some adversity: What comes to mind about BEING with that?

A recent example in my life caused me to consider this concept deeply. When my husband was facing a life-threatening illness, we both attempted to absorb the news gracefully. Beyond getting the news, however, was the dire future to contemplate. How were we to consider all it might mean to basically cancel our lives? How could we cope with the fear? How could we sustain a daily existence on this basis, day after day?

Shoken’s wisdom comes into focus in light of these life-altering events. The occasion might be a job loss, a troublesome diagnosis, divorce, or an aging body. In any case, these are not just “bumps in the road” of life; these are huge chasms, into which we’d rather not look.

The naka naka concept invites us to look now, to practice day by day what it means to live in full awareness now, this day. Doing so enlivens our sense of gratitude, no matter what “is”. To practice gratitude, compassion, love, and peace is to grow our reserves for facing what is, and what will be. How can we do this? A daily practice of mindfulness or meditation helps us access our inner power; discover insights about what to do, be more loving and caring in our daily lives. It also gives us access to grace and abundance of gratitude with which to acknowledge adversity and be with what is in a spirit of love and peace.

As it turned out, the dire news we had lived with for a time was, in fact, reversed! Yes, the medical diagnosis proved to be false eventually. So, then we lived with another new reality and the challenge of naka naka once again: How will be with what is now? How will we experience and share our abundance? Who we are in each moment becomes who we will be in the next moment. Practicing naka naka reminds us that we can choose; that, though we may not choose what happens, we may choose how we respond.