Reader Mail: The Zen of Anxiety

My first reader email! This person found me because I posted a question on Brad Warner‘s blog for inclusion in a video he was making; sadly, my question ended up on YouTube’s cutting room floor.

The email said:


I just saw Brad’s latest blog post about asking questions and I wanted to ask him about one thing. I scrolled down the comments section and saw the usual not so serious comments. Then in the last post, you asked almost the exact question as I was about to ask.

I have been suffering from general anxiety disorder, depression and agoraphobia for about 10 years. I’m soon 30 yrs old and am the father of two young daughters. I have been practicing Zen Buddhism for about two years.

And as much as everyone says that Zen doesn’t fix anything, I still have the longing that zazen will fix my problems. When you read the heart sutra and the words of the Buddha etc, it seems that the practice of dharma extincts [sic] all suffering.

So in some way it should kill these kinds of problems, shouldn’t it? I guess you have been thinking about this a lot too. And my question to you is what your take on this is:

What do you think? Are these problems clinical, like reumatism and Parkinson [sic] — or are they just in our heads?

Personally I think that therapy is greatly needed for these kinds of problems and that zazen really don’t fix it. I think that zazen helps us to see what’s happening, but that therapy gives us the tools to work with it. Please give me your thoughts about this!

And thank you for sharing your question on Brad’s blog. I’m looking forward to his answer in their movie 🙂

All the best to you and your loved ones.

(Name Withheld)

My reply:

Thanks for writing. I try to address a lot of this in my blog but I’m certainly no Zen master.

I’m usually the last one to trust the medical community in their assessments of what characterises a “disorder”; frankly I think they make very broad statements so they can sell millions of their latest pill.

But having lived life with some kind of social dysfunction, and years of trying to seek relief in a host of ways (something I’lll be writing about soon), I have turned to Zen because I feel that the “problem” can be approached in whatever way is best for the individual. By that I mean that if therapy or medication or zazen works, then that’s the best option, but it will vary from person to person.

The only definitive answer I can give is that, like Buddha said, life is suffering from day one. Part of neurosis (and certainly psychosis) is delusion taken to an extreme. Delusion and craving are the roots of suffering and Zen — or your therapist or a big pharmaceutical company — all offer relief. But how “real” that relief is depends on your perspective.

I hope that makes sense. If you like, poke around my blog and see if there’s anything that addresses your interest.


What do you think of my response?


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