We’re about midway through our Taking Action course. People pick a project that is unfinished or unstarted and then use the principles and strategies of Japanese Psychology (Morita therapy, Kaizen, Naikan) to take action and make progress.
For many of us, the biggest obstacle is our feelings and thoughts. We gravitate towards doing things that stimulate pleasant feelings (chocolate, sex, TV, alcohol) and we avoid tasks or activities that we think will stimulate unpleasant feelings (taxes, looking for a new job, balancing our checkbook, learning something new).
One of the strategies that we use in the course is to notice your feelings as you anticipate a task or activity. If you notice uncomfortable feelings like anxiety, fear or aversion, just accept the presence of these feelings and then . . .
Take them along for the ride.
In other words, you don’t allow those feelings to drive, which means you would avoid doing what you know needs to be done. Instead, the feelings are the passenger and they simply accompany you on the trip while you work. If you feel lazy and unmotivated after work, when you had planned to take a bike ride . . . take your ride and allow your feelings to come along. They sit in a little spot on your bike while you ride and get your exercise.
This idea of taking your feelings for the ride has been an effective strategy for some of our course participants, once they learn to do it. The challenge involves recognizing that your feelings and thoughts are not you. The Zen Master Kosho Uchiyama used to use the phrase, “secretions in your head” to describe our thoughts. He would say that our thoughts “happen to us” which is exactly how we view thoughts and feelings in Morita therapy. They just arise. Suddenly there’s a thought like, “what should I make for dinner?” It just pops into your mind. Or a little song pops into your mind, one you heard on the radio recently. Or maybe the thought, “I’m completely overwhelmed. What am I going to do?”
These secretions aren’t something you control. You don’t create them. They happen to you. They’re like uninvited guests – they suddenly show up at your door. If you don’t answer the door (accept them) they keep knocking. If you let them in and attend to them, they use up all your time and distract you. So you let them in, but continue to go about your business. Let your anxiety sit on the sofa while you work on writing your novel. Let your aversion have a cup of tea while you try to figure out your taxes. Those thoughts and feelings are not you. They show up for a while and then, when you’re not aware of them, they leave. And when they leave, you’re still there.
Unwanted guests are part of life. Be polite. Don’t be distracted. Know what’s really important. Live purposefully.
July 12-20, 2014 in Vermont
Gregg Krech Author, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-reflection (2002)| Author, A Natural Approach to Mental Wellness (2004, 2011)| Author, A Finger Pointing to the Moon (2000)| Editor, Thirty Thousand Days: A Journal for Purposeful Living (1993-Present)| Director, ToDo Institute (Vermont) (1992-Pr......