Dr Clive Sherlock
Starting in medicine
I pioneered and still teach Adaptation Practice. I studied medicine at Charing Cross Hospital Medical School, Imperial College, London. After a few years working in hospital medicine, I went to the University of Heidelberg and studied western and far eastern philosophy and psychology.
There’s an elephant in the room
I returned to London as a junior doctor to work and do research in psychiatry and clinical psychology. I soon realised there was an elephant in the room. I saw, first-hand, how all too often the treatments we were giving patients were far less effective than we had been led to believe. How all too often they caused serious side effects, including addiction and suicide. I am sure that secretly we all knew this but we were under a lot of pressure to ignore it, not to rock the boat, and to go on giving the same. But I could not ignore it. I had to find a safer and more reliable way.
Looking in the wrong place
Researching into the nature and cause of problems like stress, anxiety, anger, depression, disturbed behaviour and similar conditions, it became clear to me that we had all been looking in the wrong place. We had been looking in the mind and the brain, and even now, forty years later, we still have not found an answer there.
Something is missing, like the key to a lock.
The people we are meant to help have one thing in common: they want to stop the distress and suffering caused by how their moods and feelings affect them. But we know very little about moods and feelings, what causes them and how to deal with them. However, the studies in Heidelberg had introduced me to the philosophy and psychology that comes from Zen Buddhism, and this does deal with how emotion, moods and feelings affect us. Because Zen Buddhism is more practical than theoretical I chose to train in it, in the traditional way – and have continued for over forty years.
Adaptation Practice is based on the training and years of experience I have been through in both western medicine and psychology and in far eastern philosophy and psychology.
Look at what happens when something goes wrong
It became clear that when something goes wrong, emotion flares up in us. This is a perfectly natural and normal response. All emotion is normal. Emotion gives rise to our moods and feelings, and drives us in what we say, do and think. The symptoms of our problems (feeling stressed, depressed, anxious, angry, etc.) are effects of this emotion, just as smoke is an effect of fire. But there was (and still is) no ‘science of emotion’.
We are driven by emotion
It is difficult to understand why emotion is not the main subject of research and study for everyone concerned with emotional, psychological and mental health and with behaviour generally. After all, emotion affects every organ and system of the body and every function and faculty of the mind. It drives us blindly in what we say, do and think, often without concern for the consequences. Emotion is what excites us, moves us and motivates us. Or it leads to inactivity. It is the energy that leads us to perform good deeds and to commit acts of violence – including to ourselves. No wonder emotion is at the root of ‘emotional problems’, which doctors call ‘mental illnesses’.
However, through Zen training I have come to know from personal experience that, depending on our likes and dislikes, our desires and fears, something stirs in the body and gives rise to the different moods and feelings: joy, love, hate, anxiety, fear, depression, anger. I was very surprised by this because I had not previously been aware of anything ‘stirring’ in my body. I had not been aware of anything in me causing my moods and feelings, affecting so much in my body and my behaviour, or driving my thoughts. And I could no more have imagined what it would feel like than know the taste of salt before ever tasting it.
This stirring in the body underlies, is the basis for what we commonly call emotion, moods and feelings. It is the precursor to what we feel.
If we are to deal with the underlying cause of emotional problems and stop our distress and suffering, we need to deal with the underlying-emotion. We become familiar with underlying-emotion by learning how not to express and suppress unwanted emotions, by not distracting ourselves from them and by not numbing ourselves to them with chemicals. We need to develop the inner strength and resilience not to let our moods and feelings control us as they normally do. When we do this in the correct way the underlying-emotion no longer gives rise to troublesome moods and feelings or to the distress and suffering these otherwise cause.
We can only become familiar with underlying-emotion in our body, just as we can only know the taste of salt in the body – not by thinking about it. We cannot learn it from a book or a video. No one can tell us what it is and no machine can detect it.
Psychologists are starting to suspect something might be there
In recent years a few western psychologists have started to realise that there seems to be something underlying the symptoms of emotional problems. In 2011 Frijda and Parrott, for example, suggested that there might be what they referred to as a state of ‘action readiness’ in the body, which they called ‘ur-emotion’. Talking about this, Professor Frijda said ‘this is not an emotion; it is before emotion’. It is not altogether different from the experience of underlying-emotion, but, and it is a very important but, it is a concept and not an experience. More recently still, in 2013, Caspi, Houts, Belsky and others, have found that something seems to give rise to effects and they do not know what that something is. They call it the ‘p factor’. It seems to be common to a number of psychiatric conditions, including anxiety and depression. Could this mystery factor be the underlying-emotion which has long been known to underlie all psychiatric conditions as well as all other instances of distress and suffering?
These research psychologists might be on the right track to finding signs of what has been well-known and documented for more than a thousand years particularly in traditional Zen Buddhist practice.
Learning in medicine and psychology comes from observing what happens in other people and what they say. By contrast, learning in Adaptation Practice comes from personal experience of what happens inside. It is not based on concepts or theories. Nor is it an interpretation or opinion. It is direct experience like knowing that you are happy or sad, feeling well or ill, and becoming familiar with underlying-emotion. This is the safe and reliable way to stop distress and suffering.
Contact with the Media
BBC Television: on stress and emotional experiences – Mysteries with Carol Vorderman, 2 October 1998.
BBC Television: on emotion, stress, anxiety and depression with failed in vitro fertilisation (IVF) – Current Affairs, 2015.
BBC Radio: on the emotion of addictions and gambling – 2014.
LBC Radio: on emotion, mood disorders, anxiety and stress – multiple programmes 2013-2017.
Wikipedia: Clive Sherlock: a British doctor …
Please feel free to ask any questions here.
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