A practical approach to the understanding
of the emotions
of everyday life
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About this Book
We all experience emotions – and the experience is not always pleasant. Being sensitive by nature, we are inevitably vulnerable
to these feelings. But must we be helpless? What exactly are emotions, anyway? Where do they come from, how many are there, are they any use to us – and, if we don't like their effects, is
there any way to get rid of them?
Drawing on a variety of sources including western psychology and eastern philosophy,
as well as the experiences of a long and varied medical career, the author describes a simple
and practical model which can be used to understand, and potentially to relieve, the emotional
distresses of everyday life.
The book is both a subjective exploration of, and a practical guide to dealing
with, the emotional aspects of human experience. However, it is not a form of therapy, and the
techniques described in it should not be practised during the course of a mental illness. Mental
illness requires medical treatment – whereas this book mainly offers mental exercise.
The elements of the model described have always existed, but they are presented
here in a way which the author considers potentially useful to a wide audience. A single underlying
cause for our many emotions is suggested. Their complex effects on daily life are then discussed
in detail, and simple techniques for their exploration and resolution are described.
This book is written for anyone who would like to understand the human mind better
– or who would simply like a happier and calmer life. However, it certainly does not guarantee
either result. Nor does it pretend to explain life's underlying mysteries – which words
cannot, in any case, effectively address.
On the other hand, a better understanding and fuller resolution of emotions allows
a clearer view of the mental landscape. That might well lead to a more peaceful and joyful life.
But it would be an optional extra – bought with your own hard work.
About the Author
Dr Coates was born in Melbourne, Australia in 1946, and studied medicine at the
University of Melbourne and the Royal Melbourne Hospital. He entered General (Child & Family)
Practice in 1971, working in various parts of Australia and England before settling in Sydney,
Australia in 1977.
His interests in western psychology and eastern philosophy brought him into contact
with psychiatrist and thanatologist Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in 1979, and he subsequently
spent a year studying at her training centre in California.
Returning to Sydney in 1981, he spent the next twelve years working in the field
of palliative medicine. During those years, he directed new departments of palliative care in
two Sydney teaching hospitals, attended a number of hospices, ran a community palliative care
service and was a founding vice-president of the Palliative Care Association of NSW.
His ideas about emotional health, communication, relationships and the untapped
mysteries of the human mind have been considerably influenced by this work with dying patients
and their loved ones, as well as by his later work in geriatric community care and his lifelong
interest in philosophy and comparative religion.
At the beginning of 2007, Dr Coates decided to close his medical practice in order to devote the majority of his time to writing. The first results of that decision were the books
"Wanterfall" (this book) and "Notes on Communication". He is currently writing ebooks and articles on a wide range
of subjects (see full list) as well as managing Wanterfall eBooks, where most of his work is published.
Wanterfall is dedicated to my wife, Suzanne
Norris, who has been putting up with my eccentric ideas about psychology and philosophy for more
than a quarter of a century. She has enjoyed the best parts of my life with me, and helped me
to survive the worst parts. She has been an example of kindness and common sense throughout –
to a degree that I can only aspire to. So, if you should ever want to thank someone for this book,
do what I do. Thank Suzanne.
This book is about one aspect of the human mind – the emotions. But hasn't there already been
too much written about the mind? And hasn't it all completely failed to solve the problems we human beings have lived with since the beginning of recorded history – and presumably before?
Going by the recent and present state of the
world, the innumerable mind experts don't seem to have helped us much. So, in writing this book
about emotions, am I not simply adding to the confusion? Perhaps I am. On the other hand, perhaps
some things written about the mind have helped some people, sometimes. And perhaps this book can
do the same.
For better or worse, this book more or less
grew inside me during my rather eccentric medical career. Throughout that career, death was never
far away – especially during my hospice and geriatric phases, which together accounted for
two thirds of my clinical work. Perhaps that is partly why philosophy and psychology became major
interests of mine.
Of course, powerful emotions were no stranger
to me, my patients or their loved ones. And as the years passed, I became more and more interested
in the origins and characteristics of those emotions. But most of all, I wanted to discover whether
the pain they so often cause could be relieved – and, if so, how.
By the beginning of 2007, after 35 years in practice, I felt sure that my model for the understanding and healing of emotional pain was worth passing
on – if I could just put it in some sort of order. So I withdrew from clinical work at the age of 60, and settled down to write this book. It had a broader scope in earlier drafts, but I decided
to publish much of the content (also via Wanterfall eBooks) under other titles. That left the field clear for the emotions as the exclusive topic of this book, "Wanterfall".
DENIALS: What This Book is NOT
Perhaps, like me, you approach books about the
human mind with some scepticism. I hope so. But you may have various expectations of this book.
Well, there are a few possible expectations that I would like to nip in the bud. Here are some
things which this book is most definitely NOT.
The "Wanterfall work" described
in this book is not a validated therapy for any illness. The book is an entirely subjective work. It is woven around a model of the origin, characteristics and effects of emotions which
includes generalisations and approximations derived from many sources. These sources include existing
philosophical and psychological writings, personal observations, logical argument and clinical
experience. But they do not include the results of any controlled clinical trials.
The philosophical foundations of the book are
not really amenable to scientific study. However, because self exploration often causes emotional
distress as a side effect, a method for dealing with that distress is described – and that
certainly could be tested. However, it would be a major undertaking, and at the time of writing
it has not been done.
This actually puts it on a similar footing with most psychological therapies, the vast majority of which have not been validated. Indeed, the evidence
for those few therapies currently considered as evidence based is itself quite limited. That said, the approach to emotional distress described in this book does not compete with any type of therapy
– because it is simply not designed to be a form of therapy at all. It is, however, closely aligned with many current concepts in grief counselling. Indeed, its role in "Wanterfall
work" is analogous to grief counselling. It could also be applied, on an empirical basis, to emotional distress due to other causes.
I will include some general information about
common mental illnesses and their treatment in one forthcoming publication, and I will
discuss a few self-help techniques in another. But you will not find anything at all about the
treatment of mental illness in this book – this book is just about understanding and relieving
the emotional distresses of everyday life.
Although relieving emotional distress is one of its aims, the ideas in this book may make you feel worse, at first. If you take them seriously –
which means practising the technique called "Wanterfall work" – it will probably result in a rather rough ride, over successive humps
of personal challenge; some of which you may not previously have been aware of at all.
If your mind is healthy, I don't think you will
ever regret that ride. But if your mind is temporarily unwell – if you are suffering from
any mental illness – now is not the time to read this book. Put it aside. Later,
if your doctor has no objection, you may wish to explore these ideas. But not now.
This book is not all my own work. Considering the subject matter, it hardly could be. Rather, it has resulted from my long-term
interest in eastern philosophy and western psychology, coupled with a fairly continuous attempt
to understand the everyday experiences of my patients and myself, during a thirty-five year career
in clinical medicine.
That medical career, incidentally, has been
divided approximately equally between General (Child & Family) Practice, Hospice (Palliative)
Medicine and Geriatric Care – with a considerable domiciliary component in each case. And
if you are beginning to think me a little eccentric, rest assured that my medical colleagues have
often thought the same.
Among many influential teachers, I am particularly indebted to three. The first was the 20th Century philosopher Jiddu
Krishnamurti, who had a knack of simplifying things to such an extreme degree that the truth of the simplification often escaped
me for years. On one occasion, he listened with apparent interest to my lengthy exposition of the theory and practice of the hospice movement, and then summed it up in three words – "Isn't
it fear?" (He didn't say whether he was referring to some aspect of hospice care, or to me.)
The other two were the unconventional psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross and her down to earth colleague, clinical psychologist Marti Barham. They introduced me to the principles on which my "Emotional EEEEs" technique is based. Although
their interest in reincarnation caused many people to consider them rather eccentric, they taught me more about emotions during a one year sabbatical than I had learned in the previous fifteen years
of medical training and practice.
I am not trying to take away anything that you enjoy. In fact, that is the exact opposite of my aim. There
is an apparent paradox here, but it is an illusion. If you think carefully as you read, you will certainly learn that wanting anything very
much can cause suffering in various ways. But you will not find any advice in these pages to give up the things you like. Instead, you will be offered the opportunity to give up the suffering,
if you choose to – or to keep it, if you prefer.
I will explain, from various angles, how energy
invested in wanting pleasure actually prevents pleasure. Whereas, if you instead apply
that energy to making choices, and taking the actions which those choices imply, it is possible
to leave most unhappiness behind and discover many previously elusive joys. This may sound trite
and obvious, but it does not come automatically to most of us. That is why I wrote this book.
This book is absolutely not a religious
statement of any kind. It does not ask you to believe anything. It
does not offer you any sort of salvation. And it tries very hard not to be moral, immoral or amoral
– whether that leaves anything else, or not.
Personally, I do not follow any religion,
although I was brought up in one of the many Christian denominations. I have also been influenced
considerably by Buddhist philosophy, and to a lesser extent by some Taoist and Hindu concepts.
You might notice these influences at times. But if you are asked to adopt any of them, then you
are certainly not reading the book I wrote. Please download a genuine copy – they are free.
Equally, if you have a religion, I will not
try to take it away from you. It is, however, possible that something in the text may accidentally
offend one of your religious beliefs. If so, I sincerely regret it. I do not set out to offend
you, or anybody else. And I do not ask you to agree with anything I say. In this book, I will
simply be trying to explain my Wanterfall concept, to the best of my ability. You may think about
it – or ignore it.
I am not offering to lead you anywhere.
This book does not offer a path to anything or to anywhere. Rather, it maps the
route away from the madness generally called "normal". That map is yours
to refer to – but the leadership must be your own.
In any case, following blindly in the wake of
someone else's ideas can never succeed – words can never lead you anywhere worth going.
To find anything real, you must see every step of the way with your own understanding. That way,
you can be your own, careful leader – and follow yourself.
This book does not come with any promises.
Absolutely none at all. Not even the usual sort. So, bearing in mind that those ones (empty promises)
are the most marketable commodity known to man, perhaps it is a good thing that this book is available
as a free e-book. After all, who would pay for it?
Throughout the book, of course, there is the implied suggestion that the Wanterfall work described is
worth learning how to do – and worth doing. But I don't promise any specific result from this – and in any case, it is your work that is the essential ingredient, not mine. So,
there are plenty of suggestions in this book, but no promises. On the other hand, there is no pessimism, either. If you read this book, and think carefully as you read, I for one am very optimistic
about what may follow.
There are three main cautions to bear in mind,
in relation to the Wanterfall approach to emotions. Although they do not seem very dramatic, they
are nevertheless very important. Ignoring them could adversely affect the health of the reader,
or could conceivably even prove fatal.
The first caution relates to physical or mental
illness, and can be derived from the first heading under Denials above
– the denial of therapeutic intent. But it belongs here, too – so here it is again.
The techniques which I will describe in this book are not treatments for any illness,
either mental or physical.
I emphasise this particularly because many universal experiences such as sadness and anxiety, which are addressed by the Wanterfall
model, can also occur as symptoms of various illnesses – which are not addressed by the Wanterfall model. Quite a wide variety of physical and mental illnesses can present with
symptoms suggestive of emotional distress.
Expert medical diagnosis and treatment will
lead to significant benefit in almost every case of physical or mental illness – and to
complete cure in many cases. The Wanterfall approach has no place in such treatment. It would
probably be useless – and quite possibly harmful. After recovery, it could be reconsidered
– preferably after discussion with the treating professional.
The second caution applies to the appropriate use of the Wanterfall model in the absence of physical or
mental illness. Getting more closely in touch with strong emotions often has the effect of making you feel much worse than you did beforehand. This may be short lived, but it can be very intense
while it lasts.
It is therefore not a good idea to delve deeply
unless you will have time and energy to work through the results. If practised before an examination,
a competition or an interview, the techniques I will group together as Wanterfall work might easily
interfere with your performance.
It is also unwise to make important decisions,
cross busy roads, speak too plainly to your spouse, or indeed do anything that might be adversely
affected by emotional distress, until the shock waves of recent emotional archaeology have subsided.
The third caution again has to do with adverse effects, but in a different way. Quite early in the book
[under "Wanterfall Work: How to Use the Wanterfall Chart"] I define the
two main components of a simple method of self-exploration. However, the second of these components will not have been fully described until every single page of the book has been read.
Therefore, starting to practise the method before
that time would be like driving a car with a good engine, but faulty steering and no brakes. Not
recommended. A corollary of this third caution is the need to start the book at the beginning.
Later parts of the book rely quite heavily on concepts which are discussed in earlier parts, and
could easily be misunderstood if read in isolation.
Those are the three cautions I consider important. However, a fourth question is sometimes raised, regarding the effect of the Wanterfall approach
on motivation. Some people worry that discovering a downside to desire might reduce its motivating effect – they think that, without large amounts of wanting,
no one would have any motivation for doing anything.
But action need not be dependent on desire, nor on the emotions generated by desire. Action only requires that you make a choice – the choice
to do something – and then carry it out. Motivations that do not have their basis in emotions are admittedly not easy to define. They may well be easier to notice, when they occur, than to give
a name to. I will ponder that point to some extent in a series of online articles, but it is really beyond the scope of this book.
For now, I would simply suggest that loss of
motivation as a complication of the alleviation of emotional distress is a natural enough fear,
but I think the fear is groundless. You may experience some changes, if you apply the ideas in
this book, but there is no reason to expect terminal torpor to be among them. On the other hand,
changes in motivation might save a lot of time and energy, which might otherwise have been wasted
on pointless tasks. But that is hardly an adverse effect.
(Click the number of a footnote to return
to its reference in the text)