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Morita Shoma

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Dr. Morita Masatake (1874 - 1938) (森田 正馬) was a contemporary of Sigmund Freud; however, Morita was the founder of a very different branch of clinical psychology, rooted in the writings of Shinran, the founder of Shinshu Buddhism. In his capacity as the head of psychiatry for a large Tokyo hospital, Morita Masatake (also pronounced "Shoma"), began developing his methods while working with sufferers of shinkietshitsu, a chronic shyness common in Japanese culture.

In the Morita view, how we feel is important as a sensation, as an indicator for the present moment, but feelings are seen as uncontrollable; we don't create feelings, feelings happen to us. Since feelings do not cause our behavior, we can coexist with unpleasant feelings while still taking constructive action.

"My way of doing things is simple. It's not necessary to make impossible efforts when troubled. Put simply, when you are vexed just be vexed and say, 'Yes, and what shall I do?' Just be in suspense about the outcome and move forward a little at a time."

The essence of Morita's method is often summarized in three rules: Accept all your feelings, know your purpose(s), and do what needs to be done. When once asked what shy people should do, Morita replied, "Sweat."

  • Accept your feelings - Accepting feelings is not ignoring them or avoiding them, but welcoming them; Vietnamese poet and writer, Thich Nhat Hanh recommends we say, "Hello Loneliness, how are you today? Come, sit by me and I will take care of you." Morita's advice: "In feelings, it is best to be wealthy and generous" - that is, have many and let them fly as they wish.
  • Know your purpose - Implicit in Morita's method, and the traditional Buddhist psychological principles which he adapted, is an independence of thought and action, something a little alien to the Western ideal to "follow our whims and moods". Morita held that we can no more control our thoughts than we can control the weather, as both are phenomenon of most amazingly complex natural systems. And if we have no hope of controlling our emotions, we can hardly be held responsible any more than we can be held responsible for feeling hot or cold. We do, however, have complete dominion over our behavior, and for Morita, that is a sacred responsibility. "What needs doing now?" is like a mantra in his methods.
  • Do what needs doing - One can feel crushed and alone or hurt and homicidal while pulling up the weeds in your garden, but one wouldn't be doing it at all if one hadn't intended to raise flowers. Morita's way of treatment is very different from the Western diagnosis/disease model. Morita's methods lead his 'students' through experiments, and in each assignment, the lesson is not explained by a master, but learned first hand, through the doing or 'taiken', that knowledge gained by direct experience.

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