October 12, 2023
Zen Meets Depression and Anxiety

Butterfly and Jisho


By Jisho Lisa Beth Hoffman

When you walked by the workshop named “Transforming Depression and Anxiety” (TDA) at San Francisco Zen Center, the hearty laughter and vibrant energy might have made you second guess the title. As I have co-led this workshop for years, a deep sense of connection and inspiration has always pervaded me. Being someone who has dealt with a tendency toward depression and anxiety my entire life, this workshop and my Zen practice has played a fundamental role in my transformation.

One day, a revelation occurred when a student mentioned she was taking the online TDA course to merge her Zen practice with her understanding of depression and anxiety. Instantly, a new title popped into my mind: “Zen Meets Depression and Anxiety.” But why this new direction?

The TDA series is primarily about weaving contemporary psychology with mindfulness. It was designed to provide the tools to interrupt patterns that augment feelings of unhappiness and depression. However, the inspiration for “Zen Meets Depression and Anxiety” is distinct. This fresh course is not just a modification but a deepening. The core idea is to explore the intersection of Buddha’s Four Noble Truths about the origins and cessation of suffering with the modern-day psychological and mindfulness techniques that the TDA program offers. Essentially, this new program uplifts the idea that within suffering lies the potential for transformation.

While TDA was about skillful compassion, this new course brings forth the Zen Buddhist lens, complemented by contemporary mindfulness practices. It seeks to illuminate the profound link between grasping and suffering, placing a special emphasis on the Buddhist teachings. The two texts we will lean on, “The Mindful Way through Depression” and “The Four Noble Truths, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching,” represent the combination of traditional and contemporary approaches.

I have seen over the years so many TDA students come to embrace something that Suzuki Roshi, SFZC’s founder said: “To be you is enough, you know …” Many have told me how surprising it’s been to practice mindfulness and acceptance toward the lowered and agitated mood states they’ve hated for their whole lives. They tell me about feeling the relationship between suffering and grasping in a different way. They describe the compassion that mindful acceptance cultivates as being profoundly healing, and connecting – first with others in our offerings, then with the people in their lives.

With this new course, I eagerly anticipate exploring these depths further and witnessing even more transformative journeys. The Zen Meets Depression and Anxiety six-week course begins on Tuesday, November 14, 5:30 PM-7:00 PM PT and ends on Tuesday, December 19. It’s geared for seasoned practitioners as well as those who are new to meditation and mindfulness, and anyone interested in this rich investigation. This class was canceled due to unforeseen circumstances. Please consider an upcoming online three-month course that includes many of the same elements of practice and learning: Transforming Depression and Anxiety Practice Group, January 15 – March 25, 2024.