Learning About Morita Therapy and Naikan

Morita Therapy and Naikan are practices that originated in Japan; both can be helpful to our daily living, as they teach us to accept our emotions and reflect on our relationships. Carly Taylor shares how she learnt about these two practices and how they made an impact on her life.

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Wherever your attention is, it's how you shape your life

Carly: I think it was probably about three months later, I found myself on a plane bound for Vermont, and left my two kids, I think they were seven and 11, or maybe six and 10.

I hadn't left them before, so it was a really big deal for me that I went over to Vermont and spent two weeks at the ToDo Institute in this fully immersive experience of Morita therapy and Naikan with Gregg and his beautiful wife, Belinda, and also, Trudy Boyle was there as well. 

So it really changed my approach to my life. I remember distinctly, the very first thing that Gregg said to us in the first lesson, he said: "Your life is not based on your life, your life is based on what you pay attention to." 

And this was a huge wow moment for me. And just the fact that you could use your attention, and this is this powerful tool that you have, and wherever your attention is, it's how you shape your life. I've never even thought about that before. 

And I think it ties in beautifully with ikigai. And also around acceptance as well -- acceptance that as part of the human experience, we experience these thoughts. These automatic thoughts and emotions, and Morita said, to mess with this is like messing with nature, because it's human nature.

Of course once the thought is there, and emotion is there, we can then try and influence it, that these automatic thoughts that just pop up, we can't control those. So accepting that, and coexisting with that, that's what Morita therapy is kind of all about. So it just made so much sense to me.

Nick: It is fascinating. And it's certainly something I'd like to explore more. And it's interesting how you intuitively kind of picked up on these problems with food, it's a coping mechanism to another deeper problem.

I guess, generally, in Western psychology, maybe we dive deep into the emotions and the past, whereas in Eastern psychology, or at least with what I know, from Morita therapy, it's about "don't focus on that, just accept them and understand that that's sort of the true nature of things." 

We have these pleasant or unpleasant emotions, and we can't really change them. And these thoughts that just pop into our head, we can't control. But the only thing we can do is direct our focus and attention and then take some sort of action. And so it just seems to make sense, as well.

Carly: Yeah, it makes so much sense. It's really difficult, especially if you're going through intense emotions, because it's uncomfortable, and as humans, we don't like to feel uncomfortable, we want to solve the problem and we want to get rid of it. And that's when we go into this sort of analysis of why am I feeling like this, I shouldn't be feeling like this. 

And the more our attention is on that, the more we pay attention to the struggle; trying to get rid of them, it's like throwing fuel on the fire, it can just grow. Whereas if you use your attention and try to put your attention on the external world, and not so much on what's happening internally, the ultimate goal is to not get rid of the emotions, but it's also an acceptance that emotions come and go like the weather.

And yes, it might be uncomfortable now, but it won't be uncomfortable forever. And then put your attention on the needs of the moment and what needs to be done in that moment.

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