Will Antidepressants Inhibit Your Spiritual Growth?

I’m sorry I haven’t been blogging much lately. I’m working on a new book and it’s hard to keep writing the blog when I do that.

I’m going to see if I can use my responses to people’s emails as material for the blog. I will always protect the privacy of people who email me. Please don’t worry about that. If I use any of your email to me, I’ll remove or change any details that could identify you. This time I’m not even using the email I’m responding to since you can figure out the questions I was asked based on the answers.

Here goes:

Every time I even briefly mention the relationship of the use of medications to treat anxiety or depression to Zen practice on my blog or YouTube channel, I immediately get a bunch of angry comments and emails saying “How dare you tell people about medications! You are not a doctor! Lives are at stake! Think of the children! You must immediately retract everything you said!!!!”


So I’m kind of reluctant to say anything. I’ve never been on anti-depressants but I am certain that I would have been prescribed them in my younger days if I’d been able to afford to see a psychiatrist. I was a mess! The only thing that ever helped me was zazen.


BUT!!!!!! If you feel like medication is necessary, then you should take it. If a doctor thinks you need it and you trust that doctor’s opinion, it’s probably wise to take it. I know some people who can barely function at all without their medication. 


It won’t inhibit your spiritual growth. In the Zen tradition they say there is no such thing as “spiritual growth” anyway. In this moment you are exactly where you are at this moment. This moment is the only real moment. The only way you can talk about “spiritual growth” is to compare this real moment with memories of the past (which are often muddled and mistaken) or anticipation of the future (which is always muddled and mistaken). Comparing this real moment with memories of the past or anticipation of the future makes no sense. 


As to the wandering mind, Uchiyama Roshi said that thoughts are the secretions of your brain the same way stomach acid is the secretion of your stomach. The brain just does what it does. There’s not much you can do to control it. People have techniques that are said to be able to control the actiivity of the brain. But what they usually do is just damp it down. Which would be like forcing your stomach to stop producing acid. In the short run it may be OK or even necessary, but in the long run it will be damaging.


The trick is to open the hand of thought, which is another of Uchiyama Roshi’s expressions. Let each thought go. You may have to do this a thousand times in a 30 minute sit. That’s fine. Keep letting them go.


The other thing is, you can’t think and think and think all day long and then expect that to suddenly stop when you sit down on a cushion. So this letting go of thought is a practice that ought to be carried on as much as possible during the day. Of course there are times when you have to think something through. So do that. But at other times, give it a rest.


The other thing is, we don’t often realize that this sort of over-thinking doesn’t just happen on its own. It’s something we actively do. But it’s such a strong habit that it seems to be automatic. Like a smoker who doesn’t even realize he’s opened a pack and shoved a cigarette in his mouth because it’s become such an automatic action. It’s more a matter of removing energy from the system and allowing it to rest than of putting energy into the system to make it stop.


How not to cling? Notice that a clinging thought is just a thought. It’s no different from the thought of a Gilligan’s Island episode you once watched or any other random thought. Let it pass. If it comes back half a second later, let it pass again. Repeat as needed.


Dogen said, “No one has a realization and says, ‘That was realization just as I expected.'” Whatever expectations you have for your practice will not be met anyway. Your expectations are produced by the same confused mind you’re working on. Let them pass too.


Hope that helps a tiny bit.

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Angel City Zen Center now meets on ZOOM several times each week often with Brad giving the lectures. For details check aczc.org

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