June 14, 2004

Arugamama: The Challenge of Acceptance

by Gregg Krech

Morita Therapy is sometimes referred to as the "Psychology of Action" and most people use it as a tool for getting things done. But there is a less obvious, and especially profound side to Morita therapy that addresses a very different issue�the difficulty many of us have with simply accepting things as they are. The term Arugamama was used by Morita to describe the state of accepting "things as they are." Acceptance was the best way to respond to one's own psychological and emotional flow of thoughts and feelings. In essence, we stop trying to fix our internal experience and by doing so we can discover our authentic nature. But the value of acceptance goes far beyond acceptance of our thoughts and feelings. Most strong-willed people consistently try to control the external conditions of life. In some cases these external conditions can be controlled; but in other cases (for example, the weather) they cannot be controlled. Perhaps most common is our tendency to try to control other people�what they do, what they think of us or how they feel. To be blunt, this effort to try to control external conditions often gets us into trouble. So we need to learn the wisdom and skill of simply accepting what is. Life cannot always be the way we want it to be. Our plans rarely go according to plan. Flexibility and acceptance are qualities that help us live more wisely�spiritually as well as psychologically.

My family and I recently returned from a trip to Costa Rica. We had a four-wheel drive car, luggage, two children, a map, and often no plans beyond the current day. As our journey unfolded I found myself increasingly trying to control our daily affairs. My basic motivation was to keep my family safe and have an enjoyable and educational trip. But I began imposing on others my own ideas of how things should unfold--where we should stay, what roads to take, what restaurants to eat at, when we should drive and what places to explore. Rather than enjoy the trip as it naturally unfolded I was trying to get it to unfold according to my wishes.

So one night I announced to my wife that I would just stop doing this. I made the next day an "acceptance day." I deferred all decisions to my wife or even my children, when appropriate. The only element of "will power" I exerted was in situations where safety was an issue (like a rip tide at the beach). Initially, I found myself struggling to accept things that went against my own mental desires and preferences. My mind and muscles would tense up as I saw choices emerge that were different from my own ideas. But as they day wore on I found myself relaxing into this experience and enjoying it much more than the previous days. I learned (or relearned) that things could progress in a way that was different from my desires and still work out nicely.

I certainly haven't mastered the "action" element of Morita therapy, but the "acceptance" element is what I still find most challenging. So I am grateful to have opportunities to practice this skill and thankful to my fellow travelers who are patient with me and, to a great extent, quite acceptant of my limitations.

Gregg Krech is a leading expert in Japanese Psychology and director of the ToDo Institute where he conducts certification training, workshops and seminars. He is the author of several books including the award-winning book, Naikan: Gratitude, Grace and the Japanese Art of Self-Reflection.

__________

Do you want to be free? Most of us are held hostage in life by our likes and dislikes. We are bound hand and foot by countless little preferences in food, clothing, d�cor, and entertainment�the list goes on and on.

For example, the person with rigid tastes in food is likely to have rigid tastes elsewhere as well. He will probably enjoy only one kind of music, she will appreciate only one style of art, and when it comes to people, he has definite allergies. In any case, he is conditioned to be happy only so long as he gets everything the way he likes it. Otherwise�which may be ninety-nine percent of time�he is unhappy over something.

The way we respond to small matters reflects the way we will respond to the larger matters of life. So, if we can begin to release ourselves from our little likes and dislikes, we will find that we are gaining the capacity to weather emotional storms. Then we can face whatever comes calmly and courageously.

- Eknath Easwaren, from Words To Live By

Posted on June 14, 2004 7:20 PM
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