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Thread: Does Shikantaza help with anxiety?

  1. #1

    Does Shikantaza help with anxiety?

    After years of believing I suffered with clinical depression, I went to see a Psychaitrsit a few months back who has actually diagnosed me with Generalized anxiety disorder. It makes sense, as I feel I have been unbelievable anxious about so many things. I haven't had a proper job in years due to the condition, and my intense fear of failure.
    I wanted to ask if Shikantaza can help with this? I'd rather not have the 'Shikantaza' is good for nothing brigade answer me. Due to my mental state, I'd rather have a straightforward answer rather than a typical cryptic "zen" answer.
    If it doesn't help would you think adding anapanasati into the mix, i.e breath concentration in the morning and shikantaza in the evening, or will shikantaza suffice?

    I look forward to you responses.

    Greg

  2. #2
    Greg,

    I am no authority and can only speak from my own experience... sitting has not made my anxiety go away, but it no longer spirals out of control and it does not dictate how I act, interact with others, or live my life. I sit usually 15-30 minutes before work in the morning and 30-60 minutes at night, sometimes at midday too. I have always sat Shinkantaza style only, even before I realized that that was what it was actually called. Which means, I sit with NO GOAL to sitting, including the release of anxiety.

    http://www.treeleaf.org/forums/showt...283%29-CHASING

    Hope this helps-
    Gassho,
    Sierra
    SatToday

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Greggorious View Post
    I wanted to ask if Shikantaza can help with this?
    Hi Greg,

    Shikantaza can help with generalized anxiety.

    Gassho, Jishin, _/st\_

  4. #4
    Greg,

    I've experienced panic and anxiety for 15 years now. To put it bluntly, will sitting on a cushion help with anxiety? No.

    And yes.

    Anxiety in it's pure state is a natural occurrence -- we couldn't live, survive, or evolve without it. We are designed to feel fear, in any way that helps us survive. Here's the kicker:

    The brain cannot distinguish between fear that naturally occurs, and fear brought about by yourself. What do I mean by that? If a tiger were to pop up behind your bedroom door, you would instantly feel fear, anxiety, until the danger passes. You run away.

    Now, you have the choice to let it settle, as it always does; or, you can worry endlessly about tigers behind every door. The brain remembers this initial experience, and by worrying about it, it makes you feel the same anxiety WITHOUT any real danger.

    Therein is the beginning of the cycle: anxiety brought about by fear, fear kept alive by fear of fear.

    So what do we do? We accept. As the great Dr. Claire Weekes says, "We notice, accept, float, and let time pass."

    Will zazen remove your anxiety? Absolutely not. That's impossible.

    Will shikantaza practice remind you of Dr. Weekes' suggestion? That's up to you, friend.

    Check out the book, "Hope and help for your nerves" for a much more in depth and accurate form of help from the good doctor.

    Hope this (kinda) helped.

    Gassho,

    Jesse | SatToday, with panic.

  5. #5
    Hi Greg,

    I think that people with a lot of anxiety try to lower anxiety levels by controlling their environment. Since nothing is constant (with the exception of the nothingness of Shunyata), the control defense mechanism never works in the long term. Shikantaza allows one to be with a situation without the need to control it. Hence, it helps with GAD. But that's just my opinion man.

    Gassho, Jishin, _/st\_

  6. #6
    In general I would say that I experience less fear and anxiety than 30 or 40 years ago. But the important point is that I tend to let it go more easily and ditto to what Sierra said.

    SAT today
    _/_
    Rich
    MUHYO
    無 (MU, Emptiness) and 氷 (HYO, Ice) ... Emptiness Ice ...

    https://instagram.com/notmovingmind

  7. #7
    Maybe. I have the same diagnosis, as did my father, and his father (and probably his father). Maybe it helps, but medication saved my life and has allowed me to work and live "normally" (whatever that means). I think the anti-medication brigade is just as dangerous as the drugs-are-the-only-answer camp. I would say seek out further counseling and medical treatment.

    I feel for you man, it's an awful thing to live with. Mine started at age 10. But it can be done; I have a pretty full life now. PM me if you want more details about my Rx and stuff.

    Oh, and 100% go out and get the book "My Age of Anxiety" by Scott Stossell. If nothing else, it will be very reassuring to you.

    -satToday (and was still anxious)

    p.s. I don't see shikantaza as a relaxation technique. You may be better off with yoga (which also helps me tremendously) or guided meditation for that. I get you, that's why I first sought out meditation. But I no longer see it as a treatment. It's just an act of living out reality right at this moment with nothing to gain. Again, maybe it helps... but that's not the goal.
    Last edited by Kaishin; 07-22-2015 at 12:23 AM.
    Thanks,
    Kaishin (開心, Open Heart)
    Please take this layman's words with a grain of salt.

  8. #8
    Hi Greg,

    I have never suffered from generalized anxiety or panic attacks to the degree of being debilitating, although I have suffered from debilitating depression in the past. Also, I am "Woody Allen" by nature, and do have a tendency to some degree of anxiety and panic at times (I had to overcome fear of flying, helped greatly by Zazen).

    I believe that Zazen would be very helpful. Here is what I usually say ...

    -----------------

    Even if not persistent and disabling "panic attacks" or generalized "anxiety" like some of the folks here, almost all of us can speak of times of fear and anxiety and cold sweat ... sometimes great anxiety and "what if's" flooding the head. That is natural, human, hard wired into our animal brains.

    As some have said above, when feeling panic, just feel panic. Let it be, it is just what is in that moment.

    Try to recall, if you can in the heat of things, that it is merely the staging of mind created theatre that is happening in that moment ... a show on a theatre stage your head is writing ... and just feel panic if panic there is. When in panic, be a Panic-Buddha. When in Panic ... Just Panic Panic Panic!

    There is a difference between (1) feeling panic, just letting the panic move through you, accepting that that is how one feels in that moment, and (2) feeling panic, and then adding self-loathing, "wish it were not so" thoughts, resistance, "this is the way it will always be, no escape from this black hole" thoughts, and the like on top of the panic. The latter are extraneous, more fuel poured on the fire. Remove the resistance and the fire itself may lose much of its heat.

    If you just accept that your heart is beating 200 beats a minute ... and just allow that fact, relax into it ... good chance the beats will slow down.

    As in Ai-ki-do (my wife's a practitioner) ... sometimes we conquer by yielding and letting an attack move past, not by directly resisting head on.

    Anyway, that is how I seek to experience the little "theatre scenes" of fear ... and all the other "junk in the attic" of the head like glumness, depression, anger, worry and the like that naturally arise in any human mind. These too shall pass ... open the grip of thoughts and emotions in the head, and they will fall away.

    (I do not wish to contradict any expert advice by true specialists on panic disorders and anxiety, however. So, do what they advice first.) But the following is my typical response to someone sitting Zazen together with some other issues requiring outside counseling or medication ...

    Our emphasis here is on Shikantaza ... which may be said to be "being one" with what ails one, although not necessarily a cure for what ails one. HOWEVER, that "being one" with life ... can relieve much suffering in life. It is a strange thing ... we do not sit Shikantaza to be "better" or to make life "other than as it is" ...

    ... Yet, in the very stillness of letting life be "as is it" and embracing all of life ... and in dropping the hard borders and divisions between our "self" and the world ... this practice does thereby leave almost all people better ... and often does work an effective cure (or is one helpful part of the cure) ... from depression, stress, addiction, compulsive disorders, eating disorders, anger issues, self loathing ... you name it.

    We do emphasize mindfulness of our thoughts and emotions ... but not as a form of meditation. However, our Zazen is the radical non-doing of Shikantaza, and the "mind theatre" and tricks and games of the human mind is something that naturally we also become better able to recognize and avoid from sitting.

    ... I suspect that Shikantaza ... in its quietness, in the total stillness and acceptance ... would be something helpful with what you describe ...

    Zazen is -NOT- a cure for many things ... it will not fix a bad tooth (just allow you to be present with the toothache ... you had better see a dentist, not a Zen teacher), cure cancer (although it may have some healthful effects and make one more attune to the process of chemotherapy and/or dying), etc. Zen practice will not cure your acne on your face, or fix your flat tire. All it will do is let one "be at one, and whole" ... TRULY ONE ... with one's pimples and punctured wheel, accepting and embracing of each, WHOLLY WHOLE with/as each one. There are many psychological problems or psycho/medical problems such as alcoholism that may require other therapies, although Zen can be part of a 12-Step program or such (a few Zen teachers in America with a drinking problem had to seek outside help). My feeling is that some things are probably best handled by medical, psychological or psychiatric treatment, not Zen teachers.

    My feeling is that receiving outside treatment, medication AND "just sitting" can all work together.

    Walking this path long enough ... we will also come to places where there is NO FEAR at all, no one to be afraid and no object of fear. There is a realm beyond any possible place to fall or be lost. If anyone has been walking this path long enough, they will have some familiarity with such Fearless Place. Have no doubt.

    Of course, that does not mean that, in this life, we will always be free of fear for it is hardwired into our little brains. If I see a hungry tiger in my path, I may break into a sweat and run for the hills!

    But a funny thing that can result is an experience of feeling fear ... while being totally free of any fear ... ALL AT ONCE. Fear and fearlessness, as one. Most folks who have been on this Zen road for awhile will have an understanding of what I mean by that.

    Gassho, J


    PS - So might anapanasati breath meditation be helpful. But if "breath" is being taught as simply a relaxation technique, it may miss some of the power of Shikantaza I describe above. Interestingly enough, and unlike how it is presented these days as a relaxation technique, one traditional point of anapanasati was to realize the illusory and impermanent nature of reality ... which might actually make some folks even more anxious and unstable!. It is thus best to practice with a community and teacher.
    ALL OF LIFE IS OUR TEMPLE

  9. #9
    Hi Greg,

    I am too, trying to ride that tiger.
    And usually, when that control building, Jishin describes, collapses, I am freaking out completely.
    I do feel a change in fierceness due to sitting. Given, that I am only sitting less than a year now, that impresses me.
    Changing some things in my life, helped myself more, but different, for now.
    Things like sleep enough, eat regular, gain physical stability (running), skip being occupied the whole time (even with tv), reduce caffeine, sugar (multiplying factors), etc..

    Just my 2 cents.

    Thank you for posting.
    Gassho,
    Ralf sattoday.

    義道 冴庭 / Gidō Kotei.
    Being a novice priest doesn't mean that my writing about the Dharma is more substantial than yours. Actually, it might well be the other way round.

  10. #10
    Member Getchi's Avatar
    Join Date
    May 2015
    Location
    Between Sea and Sky, Australia.
    Hi Greg,

    New medication, a healthier approach to life/sleep/work schedual and a empathetic counsellor have helped my wife manage her GAD. She says that breath work (of all types im qualified to help her with) increases anxiety, as does most visualisation practices.

    Sitting quietly is pleasent though, when possible.

    Best of luck, and thankyou everybody for the great posts above.

    Gassho,
    Geoff.
    Sattoday.
    Nothing to do? Why not Sit?

  11. #11
    Mp
    Guest
    Hello Greg,

    I cannot add anything that these wise folks have not already said, just be gentle and patient with yourself and know that in the time of anxiety, just sit and breathe ... you are/will do just fine.

    Be well. =)

    Gassho
    Shingen

    #sattoday

  12. #12
    Hi Greg,

    Many years ago before anybody knew what a panic episode was, I had them. Big time. They ruled out heart problems, then prescribed Valium and said "try to come up with something." (Thanks.) Without knowing what I was doing, I began just being aware of what was happening as the panic came on. I avoided using scary self-talk ("My heart is jumping out of my body. I am dying!") As Jundo said above, eventually it just stopped. IMO it's the self-talk that makes it worse. Letting words go, just being present with the -- whatever it is -- allows symptoms to pass. GAD is different from panic, but the principle is the same.

    Hang in there.

    Gassho
    Meishin
    sat today

  13. #13
    Joyo
    Guest
    Quote Originally Posted by Jishin View Post
    Hi Greg,

    I think that people with a lot of anxiety try to lower anxiety levels by controlling their environment. Since nothing is constant (with the exception of the nothingness of Shunyata), the control defense mechanism never works in the long term. Shikantaza allows one to be with a situation without the need to control it. Hence, it helps with GAD. But that's just my opinion man.

    Gassho, Jishin, _/st\_
    Hi Greg, I agree with what Jishin said here. I too have GAD, and this has been my exact experience with shikantaza. I often cannot control my environment to the extent where the anxiety goes away. But sitting has helped me to be more at ease, and more aware of my anxiety so that it doesn't have a roller coaster effect on my thoughts and emotions.

    I wish you all the best. I would highly recommend our book club as well, Inside The Grass Hut. It has helped a lot as well with my anxiety.

    Gassho,
    Joyo
    sat today

  14. #14
    Joyo
    Guest
    As others have also said, other things help to manage this as well. Lots of sleep, plenty of alone time (at least for me, being an introvert), healthy food, counselling, shiatsu massage, lots of time out in nature, and a few people willing to be a support.....all of these things go a long way. From my experience, GAD never goes away, but it can be managed. Another thing, shikantaza isn't a magic cure. There are plenty of times when I have sat and it feels like a waste of time, or nothing happens. Sit with it all. As Shingen said. be gentle and patient. But, be consistent. Sit every day, if you miss a day forgive yourself, and sit tomorrow. But get into a routine and do your best to stick with it. =)

    Gassho,
    Joyo
    sat today

    p.s.---oh, and how could I forget yoga! I would highly recommend for anxiety/panic/stress
    Last edited by Joyo; 07-23-2015 at 02:33 AM.

  15. #15
    Member FaithMoon's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2015
    Location
    Southern California
    I've had panic and reduced career options because of anxiety. I agree with all of the comments on lifestyle. They make a huge difference. Where I think meditation may be helpful is it is the practice of "don't resist, don't pursue" meaning when overwhelming feelings (or anything else) arise(s), the practice is to just be one with whatever it is. I actually try to lean into the feeling slightly as a counterbalance to my natural tendency to resist. If I find my meditation is making symptoms worse, I pull back and do more physical activity. (I try to keep up a prostration practice) I suggest the book "A Path With Heart". It's written by a vipassana teacher, but I found it helpful.

    Bowing,
    FM
    sat2day
    Last edited by FaithMoon; 07-22-2015 at 10:23 PM.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally Posted by Jishin View Post
    Hi Greg,

    I think that people with a lot of anxiety try to lower anxiety levels by controlling their environment. Since nothing is constant (with the exception of the nothingness of Shunyata), the control defense mechanism never works in the long term. Shikantaza allows one to be with a situation without the need to control it. Hence, it helps with GAD. But that's just my opinion man.

    Gassho, Jishin, _/st\_
    That makes so much sense. Thank you for that!

  17. #17
    Hi Greg,

    Yes it has most certainly helped me over the year and a half that I have regularly practised shikantaza. I have been through a very bad time over the last three years following the loss my job, relationship break up and more. I could not sleep and found myself awake at 3 or 4 in the morning full of fear and panic and then had to cope with the day ahead feeling too tired to do much - and yes I did seek medical help for a while.

    Nothing happened quickly. I saw no immediate benefits to shikantaza; I did it because I felt I had no choice and also because I felt I must seriously try this practice, day in day out. Only later did I discover that gradually, slowly I found I was able to sit with my fear, anger, panic, sadness. Sometimes the fear was with me right from beginning to end, sometimes less, sometimes more; sometimes it simply dropped away.

    I don't necessarily understand this process of shikantaza or what is going on. I am still learning and keep coming back to this site. I still do not understand what the fear is or where it comes from. I just know that over this year and a half, learning to sit with this fear or any state of stress - but particularly fear and occasional panic - has fundamentally changed how I relate to 'it/them'.

    What can I say? Things have softened. I find a new freedom. I don't think the fear will ever go, but that is no longer so important. What is important is that I keep sitting!

    Gassho

    Gavin
    Last edited by Biffo; 07-25-2015 at 09:04 PM.

  18. #18
    Hello !

    Sitting also helps a lot to not act on fear. Anxiety had me flee classrooms, run away from difficult situations, avoiding going to vacation because i feared driving my car and being far from home, etc, etc. All of this is gone. I still fear the same stuff, i still have anxiety in some situations, but it does not lead my life anymore. I do whatever i want. I started a serious therapy while also beginning to sit, maybe 4 years ago, so i don't know which did what, but being able to sit with stuff rather than acting on it did me a ton of good. It helps to put everything in its right place : fear and anxiety, or even my so poor so sad so terrified little self, are not the most important things in the world anymore.

    Still, really, therapy helps a lot. Especially when you sit with a strong anxiety, you may encounter deep questions really fast, have strange experiences or feel quite bad sometime while sitting ; having someone to talk about this, someone who is grounded and quiet and knows how to listen, is a tremendous help. Sitting helped with the therapy (sometimes difficult stuff arises and sitting with it allows it to pass) and the therapy helped with sitting in the beginning. In the end if you have the will to just sit everyday whatever happens, it will help, that's a sure thing.

    All in all, life, little by little, becomes a very interesting adventure.

    Gassho,

    Ugrok
    Sat Today
    Last edited by Ugrok; 07-26-2015 at 10:03 PM.

  19. #19
    Hi Greg,

    I too have been diagnosed with GAD. First, yes shikantaza can help with anxiety. There is already some really great advice here I don't want to repeat what others have said. My advice was close to what Jesse mentioned.

    The brain cannot distinguish between fear that naturally occurs, and fear brought about by yourself. What do I mean by that? If a tiger were to pop up behind your bedroom door, you would instantly feel fear, anxiety, until the danger passes. You run away.

    Now, you have the choice to let it settle, as it always does; or, you can worry endlessly about tigers behind every door. The brain remembers this initial experience, and by worrying about it, it makes you feel the same anxiety WITHOUT any real danger.

    Therein is the beginning of the cycle: anxiety brought about by fear, fear kept alive by fear of fear.

    So what do we do? We accept. As the great Dr. Claire Weekes says, "We notice, accept, float, and let time pass."

    Will zazen remove your anxiety? Absolutely not. That's impossible.

    Will shikantaza practice remind you of Dr. Weekes' suggestion? That's up to you, friend.

    Check out the book, "Hope and help for your nerves" for a much more in depth and accurate form of help from the good doctor.

    Hope this (kinda) helped.
    I have read this book and it has helped me tremendously. Start out sitting only a short time if it helps. Sometimes I could only manage 10 minutes, but that was enough. I also cannot stress enough how much exercise - walking, yoga, lifting weights, jogging etc; has helped me. I hope you find a combination that works for you.

    Take care,
    Gassho,
    Kelly/Jinmei
    sattoday

  20. #20
    Hi! Greg.

    Shikantaza is good for anxiety,I think.

    I was at Antaiji in Japan,so at that place I sat Shikantaza style.

    Maybe Soto-zen and another kind of Buddhism have lots of style of Zazen.

    In Antaiji sat at Shikantaza.Shikantaza is only just sitting without meta thinking.
    (Meta thinking is think too much about one things)

    If you sit with meta thinking ,that is not good I think.
    But you just sit at Shikantaza ,that is good.

    I used to suffer some kind of mind trouble,but Zazen is good for me.
    Good things is concentrate one things.Shikantaza is like concentrate such like your good mind!

  21. #21
    First, much metta to you and others suffering from mental illness (myself included). I've been diagnosed with major depressive disorder and GAD. A few years ago I was re-diagnosed with bipolar disorder (heavy on the depressive side). I think it's important to remember that mental illness is a physical illness. It's usually chemicals misfiring in one way or another. I don't think sitting is going to "fix" that. However, like others have said, it can help greatly with grounding and perspective. Both very important tools for managing symptoms such as full-scale panic attacks. In the end, the question is does sitting shikantaza help YOU? I can't answer that one.

    My best to you.
    Gassho, Entai
    #SatToday

    泰 Entai (Bill)
    "this is not a dress rehearsal"

  22. #22
    I've had a more severe case of panic disorder ever since I was a kid. I have often had panic attacks during sitting sessions, and in some ways sitting has made it worse in an increase of sensitivity to triggers, which was disheartening after reading article after article about how meditation supposedly helps. But I gave that notion up after I've studied beyond pop-psychology's twist on buddhist meditation and deeper into the Dharma, that improvement of these conditions is not the point, with the aim being to penetrate delusion and into the Buddha-nature of everything that arises here. My anxiety is still crippling, and I'm unable to leave my house a lot of the time, but I have saddha that the path will yield the proper fruits, even if my conditions of life don't improve in regards to this anxiety.

    Gassho
    -Gil
    Last edited by Bodhitreemonkey; 07-31-2015 at 12:52 AM.

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