Teaching Adolescents Mindfulness Using the Morita Therapy Concept By Saori Miyazaki, LMFT on 1/24/19 - 12:02 PM

Life presents us with many challenges; successes, failures, negative and positive experiences, and everything in between. Usually, when challenges occur, teens try to manage them on their own. As a marriage and family therapist who believes that we all possess the ability to overcome these challenges, helping my young clients to navigate them is particularly rewarding.

I practice and teach mindfulness including the Morita concept, which is about seeing and experiencing things as they are--in Japanese this is referred to as “ARUGAMAMA,” to accept things as they are. I am aware that the only way for me to find out how things will turn out is to begin taking on a challenge despite how anxious I may feel about it.

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Japanese psychiatrist, Masatake Morita stated that the reason why we may feel anxious or scared to take action is because we have a desire to do well. He framed this as “A desire for life.” If we can try not to be overly concerned about the outcome, we may not feel as hesitant to take on challenges. While the Morita concept teaches us to be mindful about our feelings, it does not ask us to forget what we set out to accomplish. We must realize that the process of achieving a goal often does not happen overnight and that the process may involve a series of mundane steps that we must constantly take. While we may not necessary to enjoy the process of meeting our goal, we must not forget there is important value in accomplishing what we set out to achieve.

I recently had several opportunities to discuss this topic with groups of Japanese high school students who were visiting the United States during the summer to learn how to mindfully take on a leadership role. I was asked by their program coordinator to present how I managed to live in the United States as a young Japanese woman and achieve success. I was also asked to share the same mindfulness techniques, including the Morita therapy concept, that I teach my clients when they face life's challenges.

During the discussion with these Japanese students, some realized that it is very natural to experience a spectrum of feelings as they go through life. They told me that they have more positive attitudes when taking small steps to achieve a goal rather than focusing on one big action. These students learned that life will continue regardless of how they felt in the process, and in fact, many of them already did take an action regardless of how they felt, in order to achieve their goals.

As part of my PowerPoint presentation, I discussed how my life was full of both failures and achievements. I was not aware of the Morita concept when I was a young student, so I gained the necessary life skills the hard way in order to persevere after failure. After my presentation, I asked these students to participate in a short activity to demonstrate how they could pull themselves together in a challenging situation that I created for them. As they struggled to figure out how to achieve their goals, they acknowledged their negative feelings, struggled, contemplated with their fellow students, came together to support each other and laughed when they were able to work through their challenges even though they did not feel empowered during the process. I was impressed with their ability to overcome how they were feeling by reminding themselves of their purpose. It was a powerful experience for me as well to witness the shift in their mindset and see how they were feeling at the end as well.

I thought it was ironic that my teaching of mindfulness, which is rooted in Japanese culture and specifically in Buddhist philosophy, to these young Japanese students was taking place in the United States. In other words, they came all the way to the United States to learn something from their own culture.

As they go through life, I sincerely hope these students remember the Morita concept when they face a challenge and can use it to help them in managing their response to their difficult feelings. After all, it is natural to feel bad when we must do something that we are not enthusiastic about, even though it is necessary in order to achieve a goal. Acknowledging all the feelings as they are, “ARUGAMAMA,” frees us from the need to fight them. We just must find a small action that we feel comfortable enough to take today, tomorrow and every day until we reach what we set out to accomplish.

For a small mindfulness activity suggestion, you may want to discuss the following with your teen clients:
  • Is it true that you must feel good in order to tackle our challenging or new tasks? Why?
  • Explore what your anxious feeling is trying to tell you? Why is it there?
  • Can you be worried about tomorrow and experience what’s present at the same time? How so?
  • How can you be mindful when you face challenges?
  • What is your goal or value in life and your current tasks? 

File under: The Art of Psychotherapy, Musings and Reflections, Child & Adolescent Therapy