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Daily Life Practice

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Daily Life Practice (formerly known as Adaptation Practice[1] and as Adaptation Behavioural Therapy[2]) is a structured training to deal with emotional problems ranging from sadness, depression, anxiety, anger and stress to facing the challenges that prevent us from performing to the best of our ability. Daily Life Practice was developed by psychiatrist Clive Sherlock in 1978 based on his Zen Buddhist training[3] and his background in medicine and psychology.


In common with Zen Buddhist principles Daily Life Practice suggests the cause of emotional problems, including depression and anxiety and less than prime performance, is normal emotion flaring up within us in response to what are perceived as harmful or threatening circumstances, such as not getting what we like and not being able to get rid of what we dislike[4]. Such emotion drives us blindly in what we say, do and think, which in turn leads to more problems than it solves. In this view emotional problems are not thought to be due to physical or psychological (including cognitive) abnormalities that need drug treatment or psychological therapy but to our own reactions to life; reactions, which we can change. Nor are emotional problems thought to be due to something wrong with our personality or character. According to this view there is no stigma associated with emotional problems: only a need to change how we behave[5]. To this end Daily Life Practice entails specific changes in behaviour, which ensure that the emotions are not allowed to drive us in what we say, do and think. Our changed behaviour changes the nature of the emotion by taming it out of its wild primitive state[6]. Consequently, our thoughts when no longer blindly driven cease to be a problem in the vicious cycles (of emotion-thought-emotion) that usually lead to emotional problems. The emotion becomes humanised and civilised[7]. Like its Zen origins, Daily Life Practice starts by developing inner strength and awareness as prerequisites to taming emotion[8]. Developing inner strength and growing awareness in turn lead to an ‘increased capacity for coping with mood states’[9] and a fading of ‘persistent, worrying thoughts’[10] and so to better performance, stable emotions and peace of mind[11].


Daily Life Practice is the product of Sherlock’s grounding in medicine and psychology together with Zen practice, which emphasizes meditation. Sherlock trained for twenty-five years (from 1975 60 2000) under the Zen teacher Venerable Myokyo-ni. The seeds of Daily Life Practice were planted in 1977 during his postgraduate studies at Oxford University when he realised that the visceral presence of emotion in the body was unrecognised in western science, medicine and psychology. He met this aspect of emotion through Zen practice and realised its central and vital role in causing emotional problems, such as doubt, guilt, depression, anxiety, anger and stress. He also recognised its role in hampering high performance in the arts (such as dance, music, theatre), in athletics, the military and the professions (such as medicine, law and teaching).

Emotion was not the only crucial causal factor missing in western culture: Zen taught him what delusion was and its fundamental role in causing emotional problems. Delusion in this context is not being fully aware of and not accepting how life actually is[12]. In practice this means not accepting that we cannot always have what we like. He realised that this leads us astray because we become upset when disappointed, frustrated, annoyed, frightened or sad. Our normal reactions to our upset blinker us and lead us down the slippery slope to depression, anxiety, anger and stress.

His first trial of Daily Life Practice was in 1978 with a woman who, when in hospital in Oxford, had not responded to any of the treatments for anxiety, panic, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and depression. Initially he got her to keep to a simple routine through the day and to attend to the ordinary physical activities at home and when feeling particularly anxious to exercise fairly vigorously. Gradually he added more to the practice for her (for example, learning to meditate). Within a few weeks she was able to function normally and felt in control of herself again. She has continued to live day-to-day in the focussed way of Daily Life Practice with tolerance and patience and has remained well ever since. As with Zen, and indeed with all Buddhist practice, the day-to-day practical training is the foundation for meditation[13] - an important point often missed in western society.

Daily Life Practice approach

The roots of Daily Life Practice lie in Zen Buddhism, which is in accord with contemporary science; indeed researchers in neuroscience have recently become interested in Buddhist meditation and have found unexpected positive results[14]. Like Zen, Daily Life Practice deals directly with emotion as a visceral energy that drives speech, action and thought. This distinguishes Daily Life Practice from western understanding and ways of dealing with emotional problems (such as depression, anxiety, anger and stress)[15][16]. According to Daily Life Practice, working with emotion as a visceral energy or force is fundamental to understanding the causes of emotional problems and therefore to dealing with them. Why, for example, what we say, do and think is out of character and unreasonable when we are upset. To realise in practice (in our own direct experience rather than in theory) that we are taken over by underlying emotion not only explains why we behave and think as we do, it also gives us the possibility of doing something fundamental about it. Paying attention to what we think keeps us locked in thought, which, when upset, is an effect (a symptom, not a cause) of the underlying emotion. And so thinking about our problems or changing what we think about them only addresses the effects: it does not address the cause[17][18]. Daily Life Practice turns the attention away from what is happening in the head towards what is happening in the ‘heart’ and the ‘guts’ (as in a ‘broken heart’ and a ‘gut feeling’) and to our behaviour based on this. This makes each and every one of us responsible for our behaviour and its consequences and maintains our dignity[19].

Daily Life Practice is a guided self-discipline to contain the emotion in the body and not let it drive us blindly in what we say, do and think[20][21]. The initial effects of this discipline appear almost immediately and form the foundation for meditation. Meditation then becomes part of the day-to-day practice; these two aspects of practice complement and reinforce each other as inner strength, clarity and peace of mind grow.


  3. The Zen Way by Irmgard Schloegl. Sheldon Press (1977).
  4. The Bull and his Herdsman by D R Otsu,1989, The Zen Centre, London
  5. The Zen Way by Irmgard Schloegl. Sheldon Press (1977)
  6. Gentling the Bull, Myokyo-ni
  7. The Bull and his Herdsman by D R Otsu,1989, The Zen Centre, London
  8. The Ceasing of Notions by Soko Morinaga Roshi, 1988, The Zen Centre, London
  9. The Times newspaper London February 16 1999 [link to Daily Life Practice website page] [in this feature article Daily Life Practice was referred to as Adaptation Behavioural Therapy (ABT)
  11. The Zen Teaching of Huang Po, The Buddhist Society, London. 1968
  12. The Central Conception of Buddhism and the Meaning of the Word Dharma, by Stcherbatsky Th, Royal Asiatic Society, London. 1923
  14. Ref Mind-Life Institute:
  15. Ref to Albert Ellis and Aaron T. Beck cognitive theory.
  16. CBT:
  18. Dream Conversations On Buddhism and Zen, by Muso Kokushi, Shambala. 1996
  19. The Buddha's Ancietn Path, by Thera Piyadassi, Rider. 1964
  20. The Zen Teaching of Rinzai. Translated by Irmgard Schloegl, The Buddhist Society, London. 1975.
  21. The Zen Teaching of Huang Po. Edited and translated by John Blofeld. The Buddhist Society London 1968.

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