A student asks:
Can you give me some hints about how to practise with depression?
Lama Shenpen replies:
Depression is a huge topic, isn’t it? I understand what you said about it not lifting – just feeling like being squeezed and however much you tell yourself it’s simply experience and there is no need to struggle with it, that ‘deadness’ is somehow all pervading and as you described, heavy.
In Tibetan they refer to this condition in terms of prana or energy flow – subtle mind energy or even heart or life energy, life itself, our life force – and it does get blocked which implies its natural mode is to flow – and it flows along channels which are equally mysterious and subtle – and the mind and the body is enlivened and functions by this energy flow.
Sometimes the blockage is so strongly held in the body that actual body movement helps to get the flow going again better than trying to push your mind to do something. Or changes in our body chemistry brought on by anti-depression drugs can help.
Distractions can help if it’s a mild blockage – somehow they let the mind relax enough for something to unfreeze, but sometimes it just makes things worse because you don’t really get to the root of the blockage.
In a way the whole of samsara is like blockages in the flow of the life energy – you could think of it like that! Depression is just a very intense experience of just how bad that kind of blockage can get.
I am not sure there is a lot one can do in terms of meditation when the blockage is very strong, but in general it is very important what kind of thoughts you cultivate and believe in, both when depressed and when out of it.
I think everyone who has had to suffer a lot of depression knows this much better than I do. All aspects of Dharma practice can help and sometimes nothing helps. Even if thinking of impermanence doesn’t help, all mental states are impermanent and so sometimes all we can do is hang on in there and learn how to navigate our way through them.
At least if you can remember to be kind to yourself and not make things worse by telling yourself you are a failure. You can tell yourself that even after spending a long time in such a state it is possible to suddenly pop out of it and become Enlightened!
Lama Shenpen Hookham
Lama Shenpen’s students are all studying the Living the Awakened Heart Training – a structured, comprehensive, supported, distance learning programme in Buddhist meditation, reflection and insight. The training, which is open to all, brings the profound Dzogchen and Mahamudra teachings to a Western audience in an experiential, accessible way, through spiral learning. Find out more and how to join at www.ahs.org.uk/training