Existential Anxiety

William B. Turner
2 min readOct 11, 2020

It would be very interesting to do a really large study to find out if this is common. Once people advance well along the path of meditation, how common is what I will call existential anxiety?

Anxiety is a common problem, apparently, in our culture. Lots of people report it, to the point of having “anxiety attacks,” which can be debilitating. Meditation seems like a very obvious aid in dealing with anxiety. It assumes that one can find a relatively quiet, calm place, which should help reduce anxiety all by itself. If you cannot do that at all, you may have a bigger problem you need to deal with.

Once your meditation practice is well developed, you can meditate pretty much anywhere. Meditation takes over your life, such that you may sort of feel as if you are meditating all the time.

But not if you have a lot of anxiety. Once you have a quiet, calm place to sit, and focus your attention on your breathing for a while, you may also in the immediate term, see an increase in your anxiety, since anxiety is always just a mental state, and the point of meditation is to watch your mind, your thoughts and your mental state, to learn what is going on.

But even after you may have calmed any daily anxiety you feel as the result of your situation or common events in your life, you may also find a much more deep seated, persistent anxiety that I am calling existential anxiety and I wonder if it is not just part of being human.

To my mind (pardon me while I intellectualize), if, as the Buddha says, ignorance is a constitutive feature of human existence, and the chief other aspect of human existence that we are ignorant of is our status as already enlightened, as always already having Buddha nature that we just don’t recognize, then that ignorance might well produce a certain sort of anxiety. Complete awakening means realizing the deathless, as some Buddhist teachers put it, and death is a major source of anxiety for some humans, anyway, so realizing the deathless, realizing that death is just part of life, that we are all going to die, and that we can escape the cycle of death and rebirth by meditating and realizing the deathless, would eliminate death as a source of anxiety for anyone who figures that out.

Again, our most important, defining thoughts are sub conscious and we see them more and more as we meditate, so it might take some time and a lot of meditation to notice this existential anxiety. Maybe.

Keep meditating and find out.

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